Why is this man smiling?
In spite of multiple efforts by both ToyBiz and Hasbro, toy collectors still lack a truly great version of Venom. This is odd, considering he’s really just a muscled-up take on Spider-Man. How hard could it be to deliver a basically nude figure with minimal paint apps and a comic-accurate head? The answer is, it’s nearly impossible. The need to saddle the character with “symbiote blasts,” lashing tongues, slashing tails, and half-morphed duck-faces has proven irresistible to toy manufacturers, leaving collectors with few options when it comes to a bare-bones, comic-styled figure.
Thankfully, the need to produce store exclusive product on a limited budget meant that ToyBiz was forced to work against its own worst instincts. For the Spider-Man and the Sinister Six box set, the company reused the Sabretooth body from the fifth series of sister-line Marvel Legends. The build is appropriate for a “classic” version of Venom and the complete lack of texture on the body really sells the nature of the symbiote suit. No weird pockmarks, bumps, or wrinkles here; this guy is smooth as Dean Martin after a three-cocktail lunch and twice as oily.
Sculpted by longtime ToyBiz artist Phil Ramirez, Venom is actually a fairly menacing figure. Eschewing Todd McFarlane’s clean angular lines in favor of more of a more modern video game aesthetic, Ramirez captures the gleefully hateful essence of Venom without descending into the overly ‘roided, saliva-spewing parody the character eventually became. The head has more texture than the body, but this is more noticeable in pics than in person.
Venom shares Sabertooth’s hands, which mostly works. He’s not always drawn with giant claws, but it seems there’s enough of a precedent that I can’t take much of an issue with it. The hands themselves are expressive and allow for some nifty posing.
Aside from the head and the hands, there’s not much else to say about the figure’s sculpt. Well, okay, there is one more thing. He’s got these:
Looks pretty weird, huh? I guess the thinking around the office was “Hey, Venom could have arm spikes if he wanted ’em. Go with it!” ToyBiz often came so close, only to make some off-the-wall choice that negated all of their effort. I’m not saying the spikes are a deal-breaker, but they sure aren’t a Christmas present, either. Aside from that issue, the Sabertooth reuse works. In spite of the unsightly ball hips and overly small waist, Venom has a nice flow and towers over any Spidey figure unlucky enough to get in his way.
There’s not a lot of paint here, and what there is could be better. The design on the figure’s chest is messy and asymmetrical — there is even some hand-retouching going on with the spider’s upper left leg. With a design this basic, missteps like this are difficult to overlook. There’s just nowhere for a mistake to hide against the figure’s unpainted black plastic, and the effect is jarring.
The paintwork on the head is much better. The eyes are mostly clean with minor slop at the edges. They receive a subtle overspray because ToyBiz never met a shade of white that couldn’t be bluer. It’s not as bad as some of their previous efforts, but, once again, it’s just off-model enough to be distracting. The mouth fares better, with some dark red set off by a dingy bone-white for the teeth.
The grey used for the veins and talons looks pretty weak; in fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the figure would be better off without it. When Venom does have claws, they’re usually the same black as the rest of the suit. As far as veins go, the more toned down, the better. Left unpainted, the room’s lighting would highlight them, which would have been less obtrusive and truer to life than the drab institutional grey ToyBiz hit them with.
Venom has a ball-jointed neck, ball-and-socket shoulders, double-hinged elbows, cut-joints in the wrists, hinges at the hand, and fingers with swivel thumbs. He has the usual ToyBiz ab-crunch over a swivel waist, ball hips, upper thigh rotation, double-jointed knees over boot swivels, single-jointed ankles, and a mid-foot hinge. It all works quite well, but age and play have left some of the joints a little loose.
With Spider-Man Legends Infinites doing well at retail, hopefully it’s just a matter of time until more figures are announced. After more than a decade, collectors may soon have the classic Venom they’ve been waiting for. In the meantime, many will be keeping this guy on display. He’s not perfect, but he’s a damn sight better than the alternatives:
“No thanks, I use toilet paper.”
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