As soon as I heard that Martin Li, AKA Mister Negative, was set to return in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, I knew Anti-Venom was going to be part of the story and I had a pretty good idea of how it would be handled. Just as the name implies, the mutated form of Symbiote is the opposite of Venom in many ways. Instead of craving destruction, it has the power of healing. Rather than dominating its hosts through its own willpower, it’s completely passive and mindless.
It may seem like a tall order to introduce a new villain and a variant of that villain in the same story, but the reveal of a sick Harry Osborn in the post-credit scene in the first Spider-Man sets up the perfect conditions for an Anti-Venom story. However, the direction Insomniac took with Anti-Venom was not at all where I expected it to go, and while I was initially thrown off that it blew off such an easy opportunity to be comic accurate, Spider-Man 2’s Anti-Venom is Insomniac’s clever way of making Spider-Man lore its own.
As I said before, if you put Venom and Mister Negative in the same story, you’re going to end up with Anti-Venom. In the 2008 Amazing Spider-Man storyline New Ways To Die, by Dan Slott and John Romita Jr., Venom’s former host Eddie Brock is volunteering at the F.E.A.S.T. Center when Martin Li uses his powers to cure Eddie’s cancer. The Symbiote kept Brock alive and even fed on the adrenaline produced by the cancer cells (however that works) but once Venom moved onto a new host, Brock was left to die until Li used his Lightforce to heal him. During the process, Li inadvertently infused remnants of the Symbiote living inside Eddie with his powers, creating the Anti-Venom. Sound familiar?
Anti-Venom has many of the same superhuman attributes as Venom, but the fundamental difference between them is Anti-Venom’s ability to protect itself from radioactivity, disease, drugs, and parasites, including the Symbiote. The antibodies it produces are so strong, in fact, that it shuts down Spider-Man’s abilities. Also, because Spider-Man was Venom’s first host, it’s also immune to his Spider-Sense. This Symbiote is as much Anti-Spider-Man as it is Anti-Venom.
That’s why I was so surprised when Martin Li turned Peter into the Anti-Venom and not Harry. Just like Brock in the comics, Mister Negative’s energy bonds with a trace amount of Symbiote that remained in Peter and created the Anti-Venom. Instead of negating his powers, it instead restored his Symbiote abilities and made them toxic to Venom.
This is not how I thought things were going to go, even up until the point when it happened. After fighting off the Symbiote, I expected the parasite would either find another host, or use power borrowed from Spider-Man to form itself into an independent being that didn’t require a host. Then, Li would heal the dying Harry and inadvertently transform him into the Anti-Venom. Peter, Harry, and Miles would then take on Venom together, thus healing the rifts in their relationship and establishing Harry as a unique hero to the Spider-Man Gameverse. The actual resolution to Spider-Man 2 is far more bleak and uncertain, and for once I’m glad my prediction was wrong.
The Eddie Brock version of Anti-Venom appears in the underrated Spider-Man: Edge of Time.
The Anti-Venom twist hasn’t been taken well by some fans. Some people expect comic accuracy, but there are also some that feel like Anti-Venom was a cheap way to resolve a gameplay problem. Players were allowed to dump their upgrade points into a skill tree that would have been useless once Peter lost the Symbiote suit, so there needed to be a way to give you those powers back before the end of the game.
I don’t deny that’s the case, but Insomniac found a thoughtful way to justify that decision within the narrative that feels authentic and believable. It works because all of the elements that led to Anti-Venom are well-established beforehand.
For one thing, Li’s negative powers in the Spider-Man game are fundamentally different from the Lightforce and Darkforce he wields in the comics. The nature of video game Li’s concentrated form of negative energy is somewhat opaque, but it’s easy to make the connection that the Anti-Venom he creates is not a super-healing symbiote, but literally a negative version of Venom. Li even says that the Symbiote hivemind is afraid of him and the dark energy he can channel, suggesting that it has encountered something like it before and knows the danger it poses. It makes sense then that corrupting the Symbiote in Peter’s body would give him the power to fight the Symbiote, rather than remove his powers like it does in the comics.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition between Venom’s plan to “heal the world” and Anti-Venom’s purely destructive, negative-infused energy. It’s a reversal of their comic book dynamic, but it fits perfectly with the world Insomniac is building and the story Spider-Man 2 tells. Insomniac consistently finds the balance between respecting the source material and forging its own path through the Spider-Man mythos, and this adaptation of Anti-Venom serves as a perfect example.