STUDIO: Buena Vista Home Video
MSRP: $19.99 RATED: NR
RUNNING TIME: 95 Minutes

Stan Lee’s Soapbox

The Venomous Web with David Michelinie

Episode Intros by Stan Lee


The Spider-Man cartoon enjoyed a moderate period of success in the ‘90s. Created after the X-Men cartoon, Spider-Man was a traditional take on the wall crawler that featured appearances by almost every supporting character and villain in the Spidey mythos. This large selection of characters served as both fuel for an action figure line and a way of appealing to fans.

The show eventually petered out as most children’s cartoons do, failing to hold the short attention spans of its audience. The show wasn’t helped out by the fact that in its later years the story arcs would span an entire season, making them hard to follow. Since the release of the first Spider-Man film, Buena Vista has been releasing collections of the cartoon in different theme packs. The latest release is the Venom saga, which spans from the discovery of the alien symbiote to the creation of Carnage.

The revamping of Peter Parker for the metrosexual crowd didn’t go over well.

The Flick

The Venom Saga is cobbled together from five episodes of the cartoon. In the first three episodes (“The Alien Costume"), Spider-Man discovers an alien symbiote that is brought to Earth by J. Jonah Jameson’s son, an astronaut. The symbiote binds to him, giving him a new black costume and augmenting his strength. However, Spider-Man soon realizes that the symbiote is taking control of him and that he needs to get rid of it. As soon as he gets rid of it the symbiote binds to a new host – Eddie Brock, disgraced reporter and adamant Spider-Man hater.

Brock becomes Venom, with all of Spider-Man’s powers and the ability to evade spider sense. Brock and the symbiote share a mutual hatred of Spider-Man and work towards his demise, but as usual Spider-Man manages to outsmart the villain and save the day. In the last two episodes (“Venom Returns” and “Carnage”), the alien symbiote reunites with Eddie Brock and also replicates itself. This second symbiote binds with asylum inmate Cletus Cassidy to form the creature known as Carnage, who is even more dangerous than Venom. So dangerous, in fact, that Venom and Spider-Man must team up to take him down.

The story of Venom’s origin in the cartoon is noteworthy because it has almost become the accepted origin. When fans discuss the possibility of including Venom in the Spider-Man live action films, they point to the cartoon origin of the symbiote as the most acceptable way of incorporating it. This is because the comic book origin occurred in a maxi-series known as the Secret Wars and involved lots of Marvel superheroes going to an alien planet, a concept not viable for use in the films for both storyline and legal purposes.

At last Spider-Man’s weakness was exposed – playing Sade music at high volumes.

For any fans of this cartoon who haven’t watched it since they were kids, I must warn them that it hasn’t held up well. The animation quality is shoddy and the rudimentary computer effects used in the series are incredibly outdated and jarring. The repackaging of episodes into a film doesn’t work well seeing as each episode usually starts out with a recap of the previous one. In essence, you’re getting a flashback to something you just saw a few minutes ago.

Another problem with the repackaging are the ongoing storylines. The last two episodes are from a season of the show with a story arc spanning the entirety of the season. The episodes include characters such as the dread Dormammu and Madame Web, for whom no explanations for their appearances are given. The viewer is thrown into the middle of a long story arc with no hope of understanding the events that have occurred beforehand. This is the natural consequence of releasing the show in theme packages instead of season sets.

Personally, I’m not a fan of any of the symbiotes in Spider-Man. Venom isn’t a very appealing character to begin with as he’s just an evil Spider-Man at his core. Carnage is even worse, seemingly spawned in a creative session when someone proposed a character “like Venom…but to the extreme!” Not to mention that the introduction of Carnage ruined what little promise Venom showed as a Spider-Man villain by turning him into a hero character.

However, as much as I hate the symbiote characters today, I must admit that when I was a kid watching this cartoon I thought they were incredibly cool. Kids in love with Spider-Man as a result of the films will feel similarly, and they are more likely to be the target audience than someone like me. The Venom Saga is a solid collection of traditional kid programming that delivers on the superhero action kids crave while not insulting their intelligence. Hell, it even has some more adult humor in it that I never would have gotten as a kid (“This is such trash that even the Post wouldn’t print it!”).

6.0 out of 10

The ’90s Spider-Man cartoon is frequently praised for its deep psychological scenes.

The Look

The Venom Saga’s video quality is inconsistent at best. On the plus side, this release has noticeably less interlacing errors than previous Spider-Man cartoon packages. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a lot of them though. Some scenes look terrific, while others look like they’ve been sitting in a basement for years. To be fair, some of the poorer quality scenes may have looked that way in the original broadcast. The colors are rich and vibrant for the most part though, an important quality for a decade old cartoon release.

6.5 out of 10

There are only two ways to get buff as a superhero – work out or be drawn by Rob Liefeld.

The Noise

The sound is mastered in Dolby Digital 2.0. Most of the audio is front channel though. It sounds great, especially the oddly addicting Spider-Man theme song which is as good as I remembered it. What else can you expect from a ’90s FOX Kids show?

7.0 out of 10

It isn’t true Carnage without hideous eyebrows.

The Goodies

If you’re a big fan of Stan Lee you’re in luck since he’s all over the special features. First up is Stan Lee’s Soapbox, in which Stan waxes philosophical on everything from how Venom brushes his teeth to the nature of evil. I’m not really sure who this feature is designed for. Kids will probably be bored to tears a few minutes in, and the subject matter is hardly of interest to older folks. Stan Lee also provides episode intros for each chapter, which I wouldn’t recommend viewing beforehand as he spoils exactly what’s going to happen in each one.

The Venomous Web is an interesting feature in which former Amazing Spider-Man writer David Michelinie talks about various aspects involved in the creation of Venom. David is the creator of the Venom and Carnage characters and recounts some of his motivations for writing them into existence. He also briefly touches on his relationship with Todd McFarlane who served as artist during his writing stint. None of this information is anything any comic nerd wouldn’t already know, but I can definitely see kids enjoying this explanation of the character.

5.0 out of 10

Madame Web was introduced to bring in the senior demographic.

The Artwork

The Venom Saga’s artwork doesn’t deviate much from the other Spider-Man collections. Spider-Man and Venom’s faces are superimposed over each other on top of a black background. It wouldn’t hurt to make a more dynamic cover, but the presence of Spidey alone is enough to make this one sell.

3.0 out of 10

Overall: 6.5 out of 10