My next trade from “The shelf” was, you guessed it, another Batman collection. It seems for every non-Batman trade I read, there are five Batman collections just waiting in the wings.
Good thing I like the guy.
Batman:Venom consists of a five-part miniseries written by Dennis O’Neil. As it begins, Batman is trying to save a little girl from drowning but, due to an impossibly large boulder blocking his path, he fails to reach her in time. In a move uncharacteristic of Batman comics until now, the young girl dies. Unsurprisingly, Batman is deeply troubled by this tragic event.
As it happens, when Batman goes to inform the little girl’s father, he learns that this man manufacturer’s mind and body-altering drugs. This man essentially offers a form of steroids to Batman who, grief-stricken and ashamed of his limited strength and power, accepts them.
The drugs work as promised, but with negative side effects. Batman, always so sharp and focused, starts to lose his mental acuity. Furthermore, he begins to display highly uncharacteristic behavior, becoming more violent and finding himself lost in fits of hysterical laughter.
As Batman’s drug-induced mania spirals out of control, the reader learns that the man who gave him these drugs is plotting something bigger, developing newer, stronger drugs with which to create a “super army”.
Luckily, through his hazy thoughts Batman maintains some small sense of himself, and in a moment of clarity, orders Alfred to lock him in the bat cave for one month, so that he may flush the drugs out of his system and overcome the symptoms of withdrawal.
Alfred obeys, and Batman emerges from the cave one month later looking filthy and disheveled, but clean.
I admit, once or twice there was a panel which felt a little too much like an after-school special, with everyone’s favorite superhero instructing children that drugs are bad for you. Luckily, these moments were few and far between and didn’t detract from the overall story.
Newly sober and regaining his mental prowess, Batman decided to hunt down those responsible for feeding his addiction. His search takes him to a tropical island where things start to take on a more deadly tone as Batman comes face to face with the latest victims of these drugs.
This is the point where the comic started to lose me a bit. I can handle the violence and brutality shown in comics to a certain degree, but there are times when it feels misplaced. One such instance occurred while reading this comic, in which a young man, heavily drugged and unaware of his actions, snaps his own grandmother’s neck:
I understand the point O’Neil was trying to show with this panel, that these drugs are so all-consuming that their users become completely obedient with no thoughts of their own. this crossed the line for me though. The stark brutality didn’t fit the overall tone of the comic, and it made the scene unnecessarily jarring for me. There were plenty of other scenes depicting the drugs’ all-consuming power; this just felt a bit overboard.
As would be expected, Batman is ultimately triumphant, defeating every foe thrown at him without having to resort to taking the all-too-tempting pills again. While this particular story is complete, there were plenty of teasers on the back of the trade to indicate that this isn’t the last time this drug will make an appearance.
I must say I’m happy to see that although the comic featured some unnecessarily gruesome images, it still maintained its levity at times. My favorite being when Bruce, seeing that a missile is heading straight for the plane they’re in, pushes Alfred out of the door, to which Alfred responds:
I actually laughed out loud at that one. Thank goodness for Alfred and all of his witty quips. Where would the Batman comic be without him?
(And now that I’ve posed that hideously naive question, I’m left worrying that Alfred will face a dreadful end one of these days, just so the reader can see how Bruce reacts with absolutely no support system whatsoever to which I say… No. Just…no. If Alfred dies, I riot.)
My feelings after reading this trade are mixed. The story was good, and Batman’s spiral into addiction and struggle to overcome it felt realistic enough. The tone was unclear at times though, with some scenes feeling almost preachy while others were graphically violent. While reading I found myself wondering who exactly the target audience was, something I haven’t asked myself very often. Despite the lack of a clear audience, the story still played out to a satisfying conclusion, leaving me wondering how this destructive “venom” will make its way back into the Batman world.