So the Venom symbiote suit is an iconic part of comic book history, but how it came about
was a… lot more complicated than you might think.
This black and red costume is how it originally looked, but it finally came to comics thirty
seven years later!
Buckle yourselves in, guys, because we're going to take a deep dive into the history
of the lost Spider-Man suit.
So back in the 80s, Marvel ran a contest for aspiring comic writers to pitch their ideas
to the company.
One such participant was a dude from Chicago named Randy Schueller and he actually told
his story to CBR back in 2007 which I am going to be pulling a lot of information from.
Schueller pitched a story that would upgrade Spider-Man’s powers and looks and he would
kill two birds with one stone by having a high tech costume designed as a gift by Reed
Richards of the Fantastic Four and fashionista extraordinaire, Janet Van Dyne.
This new costume would be a stealth oriented suit that was entirely black save for a blood
red spider emblem.
It was to be made out of the same unstable molecules as the Fantastic Four’s uniforms
and would allow Spider-Man to cling to walls a lot better.
It was also going to feature under arm glider webbing much like the original Spidey costume,
but this was actually going to extend to be practically the length of his entire body.
Kind of like one of those skydiving wingsuits.
Plus, the new costume would also have cybernetic web-shooters that responded to mental commands.
As a trade off though, this cybernetic system did block Parker’s Spider-Sense.
Included in the letter to CBR was an image of the response that Schueller received from
Marvel’s then Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter.
Cutting right to the point, Shooter said “I want to buy it." and offered to pay $220 (about
$580 when adjusted for inflation) for the concept and gave Schueller the opportunity
to write the story himself.
Schueller accepted the deal, wrote a second draft, and had a couple of phone calls with
editor Tom DeFalco to develop the script.
In an interview with Back Issues magazine, DeFalco mentioned that the story was supposed
to take place over the course of a single issue with Spider-Man getting the new costume,
using it for a little bit, and then getting rid of it entirely at the end of the issue.
While Schueller doesn’t remember the exact reasoning of why this never came to fruition,
DeFalco claims that after months of working with the novice writer, it was clear that
they weren’t going to end up with a quality story and the deal fell apart as a result.
However, Randy Schueller said he has no regrets about this and that this entire thing was
a very cool moment in his life.
Still, even though the issue didn’t go anywhere, Marvel still owned the “idea” of the black
suit and the concept would see new life in the iconic 1984 event, Secret Wars.
Admittedly, this event mostly existed so that the toy company, Mattel, could release a line
of action figures in order to go up against DC’s toy line which was being handled by
rival company, Kenner.
Written by Jim Shooter and edited by Tom DeFalco, the Secret Wars event would also be the catalyst
for many changes to Marvel’s status quo.
She-Hulk replaced The Thing on the Fantastic Four, there was a new Spider-Woman in town,
The Hulk had a broken leg, and of course, Spider-Man had a new costume.
However, news about the black suit leaked before it was introduced and the fans hated
the idea despite not really knowing anything.
While the outrage of fanboys getting mad about something that they haven’t even read seems
like a modern day problem, the Marvel staff received an absolute flood of angry letters
about this in 1984.
Because of this, many writers did not want to be on the receiving end of criticism when
the outfit was finally going to be introduced in the Amazing Spider-Man series, prompting
DeFalco to take over the writing duties.
In the meantime, the Marvel staff tried to calm their audience down by releasing concept
art of the new costume design in issue twelve of their official news magazine, Marvel Age.
What we saw was very much in line with Schueller’s original idea save for the glider webbing
being absent and the addition of these little patches on the hands where webs would fire
A note on the concept art asks if these web-shooters would be mechanical or organic which we now
know would end up as the latter.
Still, the backlash was scathing and Jim Shooter wanted to ditch the new design after only
one issue, but there was a slight problem to this plan.
See, although Spidey got the black suit in the Secret Wars event… it wasn’t actually
going to be released when the costume itself was going to make its first appearance in
the Amazing Spider-Man series…
Yeah, so Secret Wars is all about multiple heroes and villains being transported to a
strange planet called Battleworld.
To help hype up the event, the heroes would disappear at the end of an issue in their
own book and return from Battleworld at the beginning of the next with these new changes
If curious readers wanted to know what happened, then they were going to need to pick up Secret
Wars which would release soon after.
This created an awkward situation where Jim Shooter wanted to get rid of the new Spider-Man
costume before they actually even introduced its origins.
Despite the fan outcry, the team was going to have to let it ride.
While all of this frustration was going on at Marvel, Mattel on the other hand was super
excited for the black suit since it now means that they could sell two versions of their
new Spider-Man action figure.
When Amazing Spider-Man #252 was finally released and the world was introduced to the wall crawler’s
The fans actually loved it!
The issue was selling out left and right with one scalper even charging fifty bucks for
it which is about $124 today when adjusted for inflation.
Oh, would you look at that.
Whiny fanboys yelling about Marvel stuff that they’ve never seen ended up doing nothing
to harm the success of a controversial new release.
Gotta love how history repeats itself.
Now obviously, the red accents on the suit were changed to white, but Secret Wars #8
finally rolled around and introduced the outfit’s origin.
In the book, Spider-Man tried using a machine to make him a new costume and this black goo
kind of just popped out of it.
The explanation for the design change was that Peter must have subconsciously been influenced
by the costume of the brand new Spider-Woman that he met on Battleworld.
Yeah, this whole origin was clearly VERY different from the original idea that Schueller sent
in a couple of years prior, which he said was both thrilling and saddening.
It also hurts to hear a bit that Schueller admitted that he was never really a fan of
Venom, the character that the black suit would eventually evolve into.
Ordinarily, this is where the story ends and I’m not going to pretend like I’m the
first comic book historian to talk about this online, but what got me interested in making
this video is that the original red and black suit is back thirty seven years later and
it’s actually really cool how it came about!
So in honor of Marvel’s 80th anniversary, they released several Spider-Man one-shots.
Most notably for this video is the Sensational Spider-Man: Self improvement which contains
The first one is actually an adaptation of Randy Schueller’s original pitch from all
the way back in 1982!
This new adaptation, titled “Burn Job”, had Spider-Man going up against a minor villain
named Firebrand who burned through the web head’s costume.
Thankfully, the Human Torch was in the area, helped out, and brought Spider-Man back to
the Baxter Building for Mr. Fantastic to patch up.
With Parker’s costume out of commission, Mr. Fantastic kind of just threw together
an insanely powerful new black and red outfit for Spidey to wear.
It’s made out of unstable molecules and while it doesn’t increase Spider-Man’s
sticking ability, it facilitated a completely original upgrade in that it is completely
fireproof down to the webbing.
Not to mention that Richards improved on Spider-Man’s web-shooter design, having them built right
into the costume and activated via a cybernetic link.
Unlike the concept art for the Secret Wars suit, this new adaptation features the under
arm webbing, albeit not as dramatic as the wingsuit that Schueller originally pitched.
Additionally, while the adaptation’s costume doesn’t seem to interfere with the Spider-Sense,
the new web-shooters were too wonky for Peter to use effectively.
Despite the difficulties using the new suit, Spider-Man was able to defeat Firebrand and
save the day, but he ultimately decided to return the costume to the Fantastic Four since
he didn’t like how evil it made him look.
Obviously, this story is still pretty different from the one that Randy Schueller pitched,
but it’s honestly great to see that he got credit for the idea, especially since he lamented
in the letter to CBR that he never received any kind of credit for the costume inspiration
in the old school comics.
Up until this point, the only real credit that Randy got was a very quick reference
in the 2018 Venom movie.
“I got him!
He’s in the alley behind the Schueller Building!”
The rest of the Self Improvement one-shot was pretty neat as a fan of Marvel history
since it included pictures and transcriptions of the first two drafts of the original storyline
that Schueller wrote out along with the notes that editor Tom DeFalco added on the latter.
Now I’m sure that many of you guys are probably wondering if the red and black suit in canon
to the main comic book universe.
And look, as much as I love the Marvel Wiki, one of my biggest complaints about it is that
they label pretty much any comic that doesn’t explicitly say that it’s in an alternate
universe as canon to the main continuity.
In my personal opinion, I think that the Self Improvement one-shot doesn’t count because
of two important key factors.
The first one is that this Firebrand is a character named Russell Broxtel who didn’t
appear in the comic books until 1991.
If this was meant to take place around 1982 when the pitch was sent in and as the adaptation
implies, then the Firebrand character would need to be Gary Gilbert who was first introduced
Second, when Reed Richards eventually discovers that Spider-Man’s black suit is a symbiote,
he helps get it off of him.
Since Peter was mostly naked and he still needed to protect his identity, Johnny Storm
let him borrow a spare Fantastic Four uniform and a bag for his head.
Although this is hilarious, it would be entirely unnecessary if Reed still had the red and
black suit laying around and it’s unlikely that he would ever throw it away.
So yeah, I know it’s a bit disappointing that the red and black suit is most likely
not canon, but I hope this video at least better explains why I think that the Self
Improvement one-shot is just really cool from a Marvel history perspective and hopefully
now that you know this story, you can go, like, impress your friends or something.
Yeah, if you can’t tell, I’m dressed up as emo Tobey Maguire and I did promise you
guys that if I got to 250,000 subscribers which I did that I would do the dance.
I went and bought a new blazer for this so let’s que the royalty free jazz since I
would get copyright claimed for James Brown and uh, yeah.
Here’s the dance.