We’ve established that Brock was a delusional psychotic but there is in fact much more to his psychology that has to examined if we are to address the criticism in question.
· Eddie Brock’s motivations for hating Spider-Man are weak and make no sense
Whether you believe Brock was always delusional or that his delusions began upon the loss of his career, it wasn’t as though he was one symbiote away from being the homicidal maniac we meet in ASM #300.
Indeed, it is possible to argue that Brock was not truly mentally unstable at the time that he began blaming Spider-Man for his job loss, merely that he was in denial over it being his fault.* However whether you believe that or not there is no doubt that he was clearly mentally unstable and truly delusional by the time the symbiote found him, and that it was in this state that they gave birth to Venom.
Brock came to be in this disturbed state not so much because of the loss of his job in and of itself, but from the life he led in response to his ruined career. It was this that truly drove him into the depths of depravity and cemented his delusions along with his burning hatred of Spider-Man.
For starters Brock’s life fell apart, which would already put a massive strain on anyone’s mind. This would be an especially big blow if we believe that he really did have a prestigious career as he claimed and was now facing accusations on ethical grounds. However to merely survive he had to demean himself to trite articles about trivial matters such as celebrity scandals. This would give his ego, self-esteem and general mental stability another blow. Again this would’ve hit home even harder if you run with the idea that he had begun as successful and respected news journalist to a major metropolitan newspaper.
One might also argue that long-term exposure to such seedy material could also have poisoned (if you’ll pardon the pun) Brock in regards to his mental health. This is not dissimilar to how police officers exposed to horrific crimes can be mentally affected by what they see. The same can be true of soldiers.** Brock even touches on this notion when he says:
And the garbage I was forced to write began to rot my soul.
Not helping matters was the apparent isolation Brock experienced. I don’t just mean being shunned by his colleagues (or as we later find out, by his ex-wife and father) I mean looking at the flashback images they paint a picture of Brock as truly having no one in his life. No friends, no other colleagues, nobody, at least nobody he’d have any kind of comforting connection to. The impression given is that he was just by himself doing little except furiously exercising, writing mean spirited drivel, and ruminating upon his misfortunes and the causes of them, all of which is obviously unhealthy.
When in such a dark place in his life and surrounded by little but ‘venomous’ articles and his own frustrated and tormented thoughts (many of which focused upon hating Spider-Man) Brock’s mind likely magnified his negative feelings. In doing so he reinforced his beliefs and by extension exacerbated the mental instability he was suffering from; almost like a psychological echo chamber. If I am not mistaken, in psychology this would be referred to as ‘positive reinforcement’, although the things it is positively reinforcing are negative thoughts and behaviours.
This is likely the reason that all of Brock’s exercise didn’t relieve his stress. And given just how much muscle he had, he was he was obviously doing a lot of exercise, giving us an indication of just how incredibly stressed, frustrated and otherwise negative he was.
Indeed the degree to which Brock exercised, the way he describes violently hurting Spider-Man and the wall of news clippings about Spidey he possessed speaks to someone with an obvious unhealthy obsession. Brock again admits as much about this when he claims the headlines on his wall ‘fed his hatred’, as much a constant reminder of what he’d lost as his seething hatred for Spider-Man.
Essentially Brock was in a vicious cycle that simultaneously made him more and more mentally unstable and reinforced his irrational delusions about himself and his hatred for the Wall-Crawler. Add on a Catholic upbringing that seems to have provided a problematic way for Brock to contextualize the world and you have a recipe for disaster.
And at first that disaster took the form of Brock seriously considering suicide, which truly speaks to how mentally fragile he really was at the point where he encountered the symbiote.
Is it honestly any wonder that someone under these conditions might irrationally blame someone else for their misfortunes and then fan the flame of that blame into an obsessive hatred?
I’ll go a step further. Does this truly make for such a ‘weak’ motivation from a creative point of view?
There are other cases real and fictional that echo Brock’s actions, at least as far as his irrational delusions and scapegoating blame are concerned.
In the excellent animated television series Gargoyles (courtesy of Greg Weisman, of Spectacular Spider-Man and Young Justice fame), the villainess Demona seeks to give her people (the eponymous gargoyle creatures) dominion over the castle they share with medieval humans, whom she has little love for. To this end she arranges for the castle to be invaded by Vikings, the intention being that they would rid the castle of the humans leaving her people in peace.
However, things go awry and her own people wind up massacred. Whilst initially seeming to blame herself, she quickly shifts all the blame she quickly shifts all blame onto the humans who actually perpetrated the massacre and by extension all humanity. She accepted little-no responsibility as the true instigator of her people’s demise, spending centuries blaming others.
Both Emil Gregg and Stan Carter themselves in fact present cases of delusional and mentally unstable individuals.
From a sane and rational point of view anyone looking at either character must ask why precisely Gregg would ever believe himself to be a mass murderer when he has no evidence of that beyond hearing plans for some attacks that eventually took place.
And in Carter’s case, why would he think it was a good idea to kill people merely because they were soft on crime, especially when he was himself a police officer and could probably be tougher on crime himself in various ways?
Well in the former’s case ‘he was crazy’ (in what way I do not recall ever being specified) and in the latter’s he was also mentally ill due to experimental drugs.
In fact at one point during the Death of Jean DeWolff arc, the story goes out of it’s way to point out how Sin Eater is a ‘religious lunatic’. It presents Carter himself basically outright stating that his rationale for killing only makes sense to himself. He does this whilst confessing to a Priest, claiming his actions have religious righteousness behind them. Then he kills said priest, which one would imagine is at least a little hypocritical of him.
Retroactively the same came be said of Carter’s murder of Jean DeWolff herself. In a sequel story called ‘the Return of Sin Eater’, Peter David (author of the original story) had Carter claim that he and Jean were lovers.
It is arguable that this was a claim born of Carter’s disturbed mind. However if taken at face value Carter’s decision to kill someone he cared about (maybe even loved) seems rather confusing from a rational point of view.
Additionally Gregg was on some level aware that the priest in question was a target for murder and admitted he tried to warn him but did so in a vague, indirect way, claiming he couldn’t bring himself to confess. Isn’t this arguably just a little illogical on his part?
En masse readers of the time and later years have accepted Gregg and Carter’s motivations as perfectly valid for their actions. Indeed the story that both characters were vital parts of (‘The Death of Jean DeWolff’) has been acclaimed since its publication in the mid-1980s.
Yet despite both of them being directly referenced in Venom’s origin, Eddie Brock similarly being mentally unstable and that instability being inherently linked to his hatred of Spidey, Venom’s origin and motives are regarded as an unacceptably weak. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
In fact there are villains a plenty in superhero fiction who, like Brock, take up a vendetta against people for reasons which boil down to them looking for someone to blame and/or their own issues; which can include mental instability.
Perhaps the prime examples from the Spider-Man franchise are J. Jonah Jameson, Harry Osborn and Norman Osborn, all generally popular characters.
Jameson of course hinges a lot of his career and reputation on the ruination, capture or sometimes even death of Spider-Man to the point of where it is truly irrational. There has never been a truly definitive answer on that one and the answers we have gotten boil down to Jonah having serious issues. But these answers don’t make Jonah’s actions any less irrational or unreasonable. Especially when he is literally creating super villains like the Scorpion to capture someone he simply doesn’t like for no valid reason.
It is curious how readers accept one person with a flattop haircut having a seething and irrational hatred for Spider-Man but not another one. Especially when that other one is so over the edge that he wants to violently murder the wall-crawler and considered suicide?
Harry Osborn of course was a drug addict in his youth, but as we later found out was also himself in denial (and possibly delusional) about the nature of his upbringing. Whilst he’d believed for years that he and his father had a friendly relationship flashbacks revealed that to not be the case. Norman Osborn was at times distant and at other times critical and abusive.
In the iconic Amazing Spider-Man #122 Harry witnessed the ‘final’ battle between Spider-Man and his father Norman Osborn/the green Goblin, wherein the latter tried to impale Spidey in the back with a glider. Of course Spider-Man dodged thanks to his Spider Sense and Norman was seemingly killed instead.
Despite witnessing this scene (and being aware of his father’s murder of his friend Gwen Stacy) Harry unabashedly blamed Spider-Man for his father’s death. Initially the story culminated in Harry being taken to a mental institution and despite recovering, in later life he relapsed and was clearly mentally unstable.
In Norman’s case he was explicitly implied to be insane in ASM #40.
Later in ASM #121 Norman blames Harry’s drug problems not on Harry himself, nor on his own failure as a father, but on Harry’s friends, especially Peter.
In the 1990s one shot ‘the Osborn Journal’ Norman does something similar. Not only does he blame Mary Jane for Harry’s drug problems, but he also blames Peter for driving Harry to his death. Harry had used a new version of the strength enhancing Goblin formula that proved toxic to his system. Norman was fully aware of these facts and yet instead of attributing blame to himself or Harry he blamed Peter Parker.
In both cases we have clearly mentally unhinged individuals who are blaming Peter Parker for bad things in their life which rationally it is at best difficult to truly hold him accountable to.***
J.R. Fettinger (whom I’ve cited before in this series) not only finds these motives for both characters logical, but also (rightly) celebrates Norman Osborn as a great and complex villain character. He is not alone as I’ve yet to encounter anyone who finds these motivations illogical or examples of poor writing. But despite Venom being far from dissimilar to either character Fettinger and other readers still hold him in contempt on both counts.
To be fair, their problems with the character and issue as a whole might lie less with recognizing Brock’s mental instability and more with his seemingly flimsy reasons for targeting Spider-Man specifically.
That’s okay though, because that’s the subject of the next instalment.
*I find this very unlikely personally. I think Brock was delusional to some degree when he lost his job and just got worse.
**This is partially why alcoholism and other substance abuses can be prevalence among the police officers and soldiers.
***I admit that Norman and Harry Osborn’s vendettas against Spider-Man began in the 1960s-1970s when writing standards for comics were not what they were by the time ASM #300 was published. However both characters had revivals as villains in the 1990s and those old vendettas revisited and expanded.
P.S. The symbiote’s interactions with Brock and it’s unnatural presence as a part of his mind and body probably wasn’t going to help his state of mind given it’s fragility at that point in time.
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!