It should shock absolutely nobody that the recent release of Venom, with Tom Hardy in the dueling lead roles of Eddie Brock and the Spidey-verse’s most infamous symbiote, has led to an increase in sexy talk about the title character. The past 12 months have seen one-track-mind geeks everywhere make sex symbols of Pennywise, the fish-man from The Shape of Water, Thanos, the robot from Lost in Space, and too many animated characters to note.
Of course, Venom would follow in those scaly, slimy, ceaselessly terrifying tracks. He’s large, muscled like a bodybuilder, slimy to the touch, has an unnervingly long tongue, is in a co-dependent relationship with an adorable “aww shucks” reporter who likes dogs (because all Tom Hardy characters, secretly or otherwise, love dogs), and he offers great emotional support when he’s not eating Brock’s organs from the inside. The Hallmark cards write themselves!
The best moments of the film come from Venom and Eddie’s pseudo-romantic relationship, part sado-masochism, part life-coach platitudes. It’s a dynamic made all the more appealing for budding fanfiction writers thanks to Tom Hardy playing both roles and enthusiastically playing up the buddy comedy nature of their relationship (not to mention the multiple jokes about people having Symbiotes up their asses). Venom may not work as a traditional superhero movie but as a man coming to love the uber-masculine parasite that envelopes him at the most inopportune moments, it’s pretty damn fun! Venom’s weird sex appeal is nothing new. Indeed, the comic books have been playing around with it for many years now, both in suggestion and more obvious ways. It could be argued that the character has always had a psychosexual subtext, although it was more likely than not unintentional.
Venom first appeared in the Spider-Man comics in December 1984, when the Symbiote alien bonded with Peter Parker, giving him a black spidey-suit for a brief period. The Symbiote would take over Peter while he slept and go out at night exploring the city. When Peter discovered that the Symbiote was trying to permanently bond with him against his will, he rejected it. Later, the Symbiote would find Eddie Brock, a cocky former Daily Globe reporter who had lost his job when he got the facts wrong on a major story, something he would blame Spider-Man for. Sinking into a suicidal depression, Brock sought solace in the church where Peter had rid himself of the Symbiote, who sensed Brock's hatred for Spider-Man and took him to be his new host.
For Peter, the power and pull of the Symbiote was a toxic influence in his life, one he had no desire to be a part of. Yet for Eddie, the thrall proved far more intoxicating. Fueled by their mutual bitterness towards Peter, the pair proved a formidable villain to Spider-Man and became one of the most iconic in a canon chock full with memorable baddies. Venom would have other hosts — including Flash Thompson and Lee Price, the latter of whom would flip the power dynamics with the Symbiote and leave even Venom feeling traumatized by the experience — but he always comes back to Eddie. Their dynamic is familiar and satisfies them both, although Eddie’s journey from villain to anti-hero to somewhat regular guy proves difficult with Venom inside him. That sexual angle writes itself.
As noted by Charles Pulliam-Moore at io9.com, "There’s a newfound intimacy between Eddie and Venom that’s markedly different than before, and it most often comes across as affectionate, bordering on romantic. Eddie frequently refers to Venom as his “love” and Venom expresses a deep desire to protect Eddie from harm that comes across as more than the symbiote looking out for its own self-interests. Much in the same way that Jean Grey and the Phoenix have come to understand that they are two halves to a much larger whole of a being, so too have Eddie and Venom."
Venom is Eddie’s other. They are one another’s significant halves and refer to each other as such. After reuniting, Eddie refers to their status as having "recently got back into a relationship", one he had "been dreaming of... for years." The mutual psychosexual hunger that binds them is the stuff of classic erotica drama, and it doesn’t help that the physical aspects of their relationship involve an already muscled Eddie getting more physically imposing and dominating when Venom takes over. Even if you divorce Venom and Eddie from their narrative, the sheer aesthetic and creative mystique of that image has proven immensely alluring for a long time. In the world of erotic horror and hentai, there are plenty of Venoms. Monster porn is practically a breeding ground for this, which would make the oft-conflicted Eddie feel right at home.
Over the past few years, erotic horror and monster porn genres have attracted plenty of negative and derisive attention. When the brief self-published dinosaur porn craze of Amazon went mainstream, it was tough to find any reporting or analysis of the phenomenon that didn't look at it with cynicism or outright hostility. Following these reports, Amazon.com ended up removing a number of erotic monster novels from their site. Plenty of paranormal romances and erotica delve into the monstrous — vampires remain sexy for a reason — but it’s erotic horror that takes the speculative to its natural sexual conclusion, and that’s typically considered “too much” for many. The Shape of Water may not skirt over the fact that Sally Hawkins and the fish-man do it but it’s erotic horror that provides the details. And plenty of people want to know every gooey tentacle-writhing detail.
Venom is not an erotic character nor is he written to be actively sexualized in such a manner but he readily fits many of those tropes that erotic horror fans are so attracted to. He’s gooey and fires tentacle-like tendrils out of his/Eddie’s body, which he likes to engulf people in; he's exceptionally strong and obsessively protective of his host; with the right person, he can be tamed and satisfied; and, of course, there’s that tongue that he likes to drag up and down people’s faces. In the film, this habit is played more for laughs but it’s not hard to see the appeal for people who are super into that type of thing. The movie’s marketing giddily played up the notion of unleashing one’s inner anti-hero, partly as a way to differentiate Venom from the more typical superhero films it’s trying to follow in the footsteps of.
Really, the film doesn’t treat Eddie or Venom that much like anti-heroes. It’s way more interested in telling a frequently comedic relationship drama occasionally broken up by action scenes, head munching and a pseudo-threesome kiss that will inevitably spark a lot of graphic fan-art. Yet that central dynamic remains one of intense sexual fascination, even in a PG-13 movie. It’s the bad boy story reimagined as an Eldritch horror; the closest attraction can ever be, the most primal version of an oft-told monstrous narrative.
In a world where people ship Pennywise with the Babadook, Venom as a sex symbol is probably one of the tamer geek fantasies, but his strength as an introduction to the tropes of erotic horror deserves some kudos. Besides, that tongue…