As I’ve said before, I prefer the Year One period of Batman’s career is probably my favourite – the stories tend to be a little more grounded and Bruce Wayne is a more interesting character – though I do still enjoy a little of the old Morrison style ‘Batgod’ every once in a while. The Legends of the Dark Knight book features these stories, and, especially in its first few years, featured some classics. One I always seem to have missed though, was Venom, which is odd, as the story features Batman’s addiction to a strength-enhancing drug. (This is later revealed to be literally called “Venom” and is used by Bane, the villain, who would go on to break Batman’s back.)
Often first appearances can be nothing special, with no greater hint about what the future holds. Equally, sometimes despite deliberate connections to greater things to come, they lack that greatness themselves. This is kind of the case with ‘Venom’. Upon reading it, I realised why I had missed it all these years. Despite laying the groundwork for the biggest Batman story of the 90s, it is nothing special.
Batman fails to rescue a young kidnapped girl from drowning, and afterwards, her father, a rather sinister scientist who shows no feelings of any kind regarding his recently murdered daughter, offers Batman the performance enhancing drug the kidnappers were after. Batman, apparently an idiot at this point in his career, trusts the clearly untrustworthy scientist and starts popping pills on account of feeling a little bad. Which turns out to be Sinister Scientist Man‘s intention all along – he set up the kidnapping, sacrificing his own daughter, with the goal of turning Batman into a drug-addled zombie assassin for the one-note evil general who is funding his research.
Batman spends an issue being a jerk to Alfred before going cold-turkey. Off-panel. So no character development there. (We see a single panel of drooling madman Batman later in flashback, but it still feels like a missed opportunity.)
After a month in the Batcave over coming his addiction, Batman has a shower and a shave before hunting his enemies down, in the process fighting a shark, before writer Denny O’Neil notices the story has four pages to go and everything is wrapped up quickly with a little exposition.
An average story, with average art, no classic for sure. There are a lot of good Year One era stories, but despite its connections to bigger events yet to come, I feel Venom is not essential reading.