The internet has been anything but shy about declaring its thirst for Venom, Sony’s new solo superhero outing starring Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams. But it’s not the A-listers who have everyone’s hearts fluttering, oh no. People really, really love Venom itself. They’re smitten by the hulking goop monster with a mouthful of giant, razor-sharp fangs and an extra-long lashing tongue that wraps itself around Tom Hardy’s naked body.
Venom, the movie, seems aware of this — at least a little bit.
[Ed. note: Minor spoilers for Venom in the next paragraph.]
The rumors are true: Later in the film, Eddie and Venom share a kiss. We won’t spoil the details, but the moment raises questions over what constitutes making out when the globular alien pal is infused with a human, but … who can say. It’s there.
It’s easy to dismiss sexy Venom discourse as just another in a long line of hot-or-not pop culture debates focusing on super villains (Is Cable hot? Is Thanos? Or is it just Josh Brolin’s charisma?) But the strange sexual allure of Marvel’s most famous ooze-based alien parasite isn’t new, and it’s not something we can explain away just by citing Tom Hardy’s broody, bad-boy appeal. Venom has been one of the most unlikely sex symbols in comics for a long, long time.
A spicy origin
Venom got his start after a fan suggested that Peter Parker might look cool if he wore a black costume, an idea that Marvel actually bought and turned into what we now recognize as Spider-Man’s black suit. But the black suit wasn’t just a costume — it was later revealed to be a sentient organism that had secretly attached itself to Peter by adopting the appearance of his clothes.
While a creature literally being worn around by a person is already an intimate concept, things got even more titillating when stories began focusing on the black suit’s growing autonomy — and its emotional attachment to Peter. In a way that was undoubtedly intended to be creepy, the suit was obsessed with Spider-Man, but shift your point of view a bit and the pining frequently felt like, well, an unrequited romance. The suit saved Peter’s life even while the web-slinger was in the process of rejecting its attempts to permanently bond with him, because the suit just liked Spidey so much.
The suit’s uncomfortable Spider-Man obsession never really went away, even after Peter rid himself of it. After it’s identity as an alien “symbiote” had been confirmed, the suit bonded with Eddie Brock (Hardy’s character in the film) and became officially known as Venom. And part of the reason the symbiote was interested in Brock in the first place was their mutual fixation on Peter Parker. Eddie believed that Spider-Man had ruined his career as a reporter, and the symbiote considered itself left at the figurative altar.
And, despite having the ability to shapeshift into anything, Venom never gave up its (their?) Spider-Man-inspired appearance, choosing to keep the design it had adopted before Parker had so callously tossed it aside.
A time-honored monster loving tradition
Mutual obsession and violent fixation don’t make for a particularly healthy love story, but it certainly built a strong foundation for Venom’s characterization as a deeply emotional creature. Toss in a dash of classic bad-boy character tropes and you’ve got the makings of a particularly spicy recipe for the hearts and minds of fans.
That potential for romance deepened when Venom stories began to pivot from pure antagonist to antihero. The danger was still very much present — he was as likely to save someone as he was to eat their brain — but it came tempered by a level of (admittedly ooze-coated) tenderness. Sure, he was a hulking, flesh-eating beast, but he was also … kinda sweet? Maybe even a little cute? Certainly not just some terrifying monster.
Venom would oscillate back and forth between villainous and heroic extremes as his stories continued to grow and change, but that core characterization seemed to stick. The symbiote might be a cannibalistic parasite — but it was also something with deeply felt emotions, and considered itself friend and a partner to its hosts.
It was also possessive to a dramatically unhealthy degree, but still. The inherent magnetism of those character traits in fiction have proven themselves to be an engine for sex appeal and romance stories for generations. They can be found in everything from your tween-beloved Tim Burton horror mascots to your classic franchise centerpieces like the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, or Lestat. The vampires of the Twilight franchise may not have been particularly bestial, but they still tapped the same nerve. Monsters, whether they’re covered in black alien tar or they sparkle in the sun, are just sexier than normal people — and they anchor the franchises to prove it.
Is that particular archetype everyone’s cup of tea? Certainly not. But it’s not rare, and it’s not complicated. And even stripped of his emotional layers, at the end of the day we’re still dealing with a creature designed to evoke the same silhouette as a giant muscular man. Venom might be made predominantly out of prehensile goo, but he’s also got an eight-pack. And even that prehensile goo, as Sony’s Chinese social media promotion for the Venom movie helpfully pointed out, would just make Venom a pretty convenient boyfriend.
And then there’s the unavoidable (and unavoidably lewd) tongue — the comics have been pretty self aware of that for a while, too. There’s even more licking and prominent tongue-based imagery in Venom books than the even the most realistic-thinking person might expect, and most of it it isn’t even trying to fool anyone with its xenomorph-flavored … uh, thirst? Sexuality? Phallic symbolism? Of course, the direct sexualization of the tongue is probably supposed to be more threatening than appealing, but when you layer it into the emotional appeal in play, it’s really no surprise that it can easily lose its scary edge.
So yeah, Venom is sexy and has always been sexy. We don’t make the rules here. And what’s more, it’s a sexiness that can and will be evident no matter what angle you approach him with, even if you’re not trying to make a story that seems to have oozed out of a bootleg hentai DVD.
Sure, he’s a terrifying cannibalistic alien — but even aliens can love.
Meg Downey is a freelance pop culture journalist based out of Los Angeles who specializes in comics history and superheroes. You can find her on twitter @rustypolished, where’s she’s probably having a very public meltdown about something extremely embarrassing.