Now here is where we start to get to the heart of the character.
As always for these instalments here is the specific criticism I will be addressing and the relevant pages from ASM #300
· Eddie Brock’s motivations for hating Spider-Man are weak and make no sense
I’ve said in prior instalments that Brock is a hypocrite, but what is key to understanding Brock is that his hypocrisy is deeply interconnected with deeply held delusions.
Eddie Brock put simply is a psychotic who as part of his particular psychosis has a real life mental condition known as ‘Delusional Disorder’.* This means he would have a certain loss of contact with reality and could/would thus become convinced of things which are not true. From Wikipedia:
…Although non-specific concepts of madness have been around for several thousand years, the psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers was the first to define the three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional in his 1913 book General Psychopathology. These criteria are:
· certainty (held with absolute conviction)
· incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
· impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre, or patently untrue)
Furthermore, when a false belief involves a value judgment, it is only considered a delusion if it is so extreme that it cannot be, or never can be proven true. For example: a man claiming that he flew into the sun and flew back home. This would be considered a delusion, unless he were speaking figuratively, or if the belief had a cultural or religious source.
Reread Eddie Brock’s account of his fall from grace, particularly his reason for hating Spider-Man. Doesn’t that fit the above criteria quite a bit?**
Let me be clear here. The Eddie Brock of ASM #300 (though not necessarily of later stories) is not someone who would literally hallucinate and see/hear things that were not there. That is a different mental condition altogether. Rather his interpretations of reality would not be like those of other people. It would be like hearing an obvious compliment but truly believing it to be a scathing insult, only much more extreme than that.
This is corroborated in (the canonically dubious) Uncanny Origins #7 where the narrator outright states that Venom sees himself in a way that is at odds with the reality of his actions. Later in the story , when Venom has abandonned his vendetta against Spider-Man, he himself even admits that he wasn’t seeing things the way they were.
In Brock’s case he might very well have been delusional from the time he was first contacted by Emil Gregg. This could very well provide a different explanation for Brock felt Sin Eater was worthy of sympathy. It should be noted that possessing delusions doesn’t mean you can’t function in your day-to-day life. Brock could have walked around for years perceiving aspects of reality in a different way to most people and still had a career as a journalist with no one the wiser to his condition.
Alternatively it is possible that Brock developed a case of Delusional Disorder as a direct result of an inability to accept his own part in ruining his life/career and a strong desire to scapegoat his failings onto somebody else. Notice how he even admits that he made an ‘error in judgement’ but is clearly doesn’t see this this as the real cause of his misfortunes, instead laying the blame on someone else.
His profession might even have played into these delusions. As a journalist Brock had experience spinning stories and manipulating factual details. Thus it’s not unreasonable that he’d have deliberately/subconsciously been employing those skills and experiences to paint himself in an absolving light.
These delusions are also the root of his ridiculous assertions about how Stan Carter might have stopped his killing spree. He seriously entertains the idea that someone as obviously disturbed and unhinged as Carter (who’s instability was a matter of public knowledge) might simply have ‘stopped’. It is patently delusional and also smacks of Brock trying to construct a feeble narrative to justify his hatred for Spider-Man, which is also rooted in these serious delusions. Indeed Brock is so delusional that he places all blame onto Spider-Man despite the fact that as soon as Carter struck again his story would’ve been debunked anyway. This is to say nothing of the consequent investigation into Gregg.
Simply put Brock’s vendetta against Spidey was motivated by an inability to accept his own failings combined with a further inability to perceive reality in a sane and rational way.
This is an interpretation corroborated by numerous stories published after ASM #300.
Michelinie himself implies this idea in Amazing Spider-Man #375.
Paul Jenkins in Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 2 #5 has Spider-Man himself call out Eddie Brock, labelling him as someone who’s scapegoated the problems in his life onto someone else.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa in Sensational Spider-Man Volume 2 #38 all but spells this interpretation out for you.
In the issue Eddie Brock systematically blames Spider-Man for everything that went wrong in his life. This includes his cancer, something he admits he can’t blame Spider-Man for, but only because he has yet to figure out how it is his fault.
Finally Zeb Well’s also touched on the notion in his (non-canonical) mini-series Venom: Dark Origin, which revisits Eddie Brock’s life and ASM #300.
All pretty clear evidence of Brock’s inability to accept his mistakes/delusional nature wouldn’t you say?
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that makes Venom’s mental instability obvious, many readers of ASM #300 (and consequent Venom stories continue) to either not notice or unjustifiably dismiss this key facet of the character which addresses most of their criticisms of his motivations and origin. Perhaps Brock isn’t the only hypocrite around eh?
In their defence whilst Brock’s delusional nature might have been present in ASM #300, the story didn’t just spoon-feed the concept to readers. This is where the communication problems of the story are perhaps most prevalent.
You will recall how in Part 5 how David Michelinie explained the scene where Brock revealed himself to Spidey was played as a shocking moment because it was written from Peter’s POV, not the readers’. Well it’s likely that as the scene continued the same kind of methodology was applied to Brock’s origin, as he was the one telling the story and having the flashback.
At face value it might seem as though the story is seriously implying Brock’s actions were reasonable, that there was obvious valid cause for Brock to blame Spider-Man for his misfortunes and that his rationale for Carter stopping his killing spree was logical. But the only reason the story is presented this way is because it is Brock himself giving account of this stuff. In his own twisted mind all those things hold up to scrutiny and he passionately believes them. He believes them either because not believing them would mean accepting the devastating fact that he was the one who ruined his life and/or because he can’t help but believe what he believes because he doesn’t perceive reality correctly.
It is not the case that Michelinie or McFarlane themselves honestly buy Brock’s logic, nor is it their intention that the readers should either. Rather the intention in Brock’s flashback (given context by his actions at points before and after in the issue) is to convey the fact that Brock is…well…nuts.
Neither the narrator nor Spider-Man ever directly say that in the issue, but the obvious contradictions inherent in the story alongside Brock’s violent tendencies (some of which he obviously delights in) should make that pretty obvious. As should Spider-Man’s own dialogue at the end of the issue where he offhandedly refers to Venom as ‘a homicidal maniac’.
As further food for thought, consider that this is Spider-Man we are talking about.
Peter Parker has a tendency to blame himself for things, including things that aren’t really his fault. He’s a guy who accepts responsibility for things; it’s arguably the whole point of the character. But to my knowledge Peter never actually blames himself for allegedly ruining Brock’s life.
Much later in Michelinie’s run Spider-Man is put on trial for bringing the symbiote to Earth and in doing so inadvertently unleashing Venom, Carnage and all the other symbiotes. Yet a central point of the story is to assert that Spider-Man in fact does not feel he is truly responsible for this alleged crime and doesn’t feel guilty about it.
Whilst Michelinie should probably have communicated Brock’s insanity more clearly to readers, it is still nevertheless evidently present and should therefore be understood as integral to the character and his motivations and core concept.
*Note that someone who is psychotic is not the same thing as someone who is psychopathic.
**It should also be noted as food for thought that David Michelinie in ASM #296-297 as well as in ASM #317 (which also featured Venom) had Spider-Man interact with a mental health doctor and utilize psychology as a means of stopping Doc Ock’s scheme and defeating Venom respectively. I’m not suggesting Michelinie has well read in the subject, but he seemed to have a certain degree of rudimentary understanding in order to implement some of the concepts.
***Additionally Sensational Spider-Man #38 implies Brock learned of his cancer after bonding with the symbiote. However in Jenkins’ Spectacular Spider-Man #5, it is stated that Brock knew before that point in time. This again further implying he’s out of touch with reality.
Author: Alex Evangeli
I’ve loved Spider-Man, Spider-Girl and the Clone Saga since I were but a wee lad living in the United Kingdom. Glad to be here!