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What began life as an alternate costume to our favourite web-slinging superhero Spider-Man is now one of the most formidable anti-heroes to come out of the Marvel pantheon. And for the first time in his 34-year-long comic book history, the alien symbiote Venom is about to make his solo big-screen debut. (If you’re wondering about Topher Grace’s turn as Venom in Spider-Man 3 — part of Sam Raimi’s trilogy starring Tobey Maguire — we don’t like to talk about that.)

As a result of Sony’s licensing deal with Marvel, Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters (yes, it’s a mouthful; and yes, we hate it) is going to spawn its own version of a shared universe a la the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first of which is Venom, out in the UAE on October 4.

Spearheading this nifty project is Tom Hardy, who plays Eddie Brock, the hapless journalist who bonds with an alien symbiote to form Spider-Man’s most infamous villain, Venom. But who exactly is this gargantuan alien scoundrel who can give Gene Simmons a run for his money and is also the inspiration behind countless disturbing fan-fiction stories? Here’s our handy primer:

Venom

Believe it or not, the first idea for Venom, or something close to it, came from a fan letter to Marvel. A fan named Randy Schueller suggested that Peter Parker’s Spider suit could use an update with a new look and some new powers. Marvel loved the idea and bought it from him for a measly $220 (Dh807.9).

But the idea pretty much blew up from there. The new costume was turned into a then-unspecified alien lifeform that would take over Peter Parker at the end of the Marvel arc Secret Wars (1984-85). Over the years, more back story was fleshed out to include the Klyntar race and their deranged maker Knull.

In a recent arc, it was also revealed that before bonding with Spider-Man, Venom’s first human host was none other than Deadpool, the fourth-wall breaking merc with a mouth. Venom’s brief bonding with the deranged Deadpool is attributed to Venom’s homicidal antics, an anomaly in an otherwise peaceful and compassionate race of symbiotes.

Symbiotes/the Klyntars

Behind the massive fangs and giant tongue is just a misunderstood alien symbiote looking for some peace. While Venom’s back story has been reimagined several times, the primary beats remain consistent through its comic book run.

The Venom symbiote is part of an alien race called the Klyntars, who are primarily fully-sentient parasites, brought to life by an all-powerful deity called the Knull, a creature of darkness that existed well before the Big Bang. Knull created the symbiotes from his own body as a weapon to destroy all beings of light and he created millions of symbiotes in a bid to take over planets and galaxies. And for centuries, he waged his war, until he reached Earth, where he met with Thor, the Asgardian prince and bearer of thunder.

The cosmic battle between the two severed Knull’s connection with his symbiote army and without the hive mind ruling them, the symbiotes were free to take on new hosts. Separated from their demonic maker for the first time, the symbiotes realised that there’s more to existence than death and destruction. And to stop Knull from causing more harm, the symbiotes engulfed Knull, forming a physical prison large enough to be a plane, and they called this planet-sized prison Klyntar, which is just symbiote for “cage”.

Venom's powers

Having been around for more than three decades, Venom’s powers have exponentially grown over the years to include some pretty useful tricks. Having the ability to imbibe its hosts’ powers and personality traits, most of Venom’s initial powers mimic those of Spider-Man’s and dial it to 11, which makes him more powerful than Spidey himself. But apart from limitless web-slinging, superhuman strength and healing powers, Venom also has the ability to shape-shift, he can create lethal weapons out of his own body, is telepathic (which ensures communication with the host body) and of course, his bite is actually venomous (those pearly fangs are not just for show).

And while it was earlier believed that he needed a host to form anything more advanced than an amorphous black puddle of goo, new arcs have confirmed that Venom can exist in solid physical shape for as long as 12 hours without a host.

Venom's other famous hosts

The list is long, but the rogue’s gallery includes Deadpool, Scorpion, Anne Weying (Eddie Brock’s ex-wife), Flash Thompson, Ghost Rider, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket, Groot, a Tyrannosaurus Rex (in the Old Man Logan universe, for those wondering), and also, very briefly, a German Shepherd.