Venom: Riot and the Life Foundation Symbiotes Explained

With Riot showing up in the Venom film, we look at the life of the obscure symbiote and his siblings Scream, Phage, Lasher, and Agony.

We’re only months away from the Venom movie and San Diego Comic-Con confirmed that we’re definitely getting the symbiote Riot as at least one of the villains. In fact, there’s a good chance we might be getting more, if not all, of the Life Foundation symbiotes. Michelle Lee, for example, has been on the IMDB cast page as Donna Diego (the symbiote known as Scream) for about a year. 

Who are all of these symbiotes? They certainly aren’t as well-known as Venom’s go-to symbiote rival, Carnage.

To explain the likes of Riot, Scream, Lasher, Phage, and Agony, you have to go back to the early ’90s when Venom was starting to get a little too popular. He was a big seller as a Spider-Man villain, and Marvel was starting to flirt with the idea of doing more with him. A couple What If issues suggested the idea of using him as a violent anti-hero. He also teamed up with Spider-Man when Carnage first showed up, and there was even a backup story at some point that showed that in-between getting the symbiote and deciding to go kill Spider-Man, Eddie Brock actually used his powers to help save someone.

David Michelinie, Venom’s co-creator, was writing Amazing Spider-Man at the time and did a two-parter based on 1) making Eddie Brock more sympathetic, and 2) getting him to ease off Spider-Man and accept that maybe Peter Parker isn’t the worst person ever. After all, other than being ultra-violent, Venom’s only real villainous MO was trying to kill Spider-Man. Without that vendetta, he wasn’t going to go rob banks or try to take over the world.

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In 1993, we got the six-issue miniseries Venom: Lethal Protector by Michelinie, Mark Bagley, and Ron Lim. It turned out to be the first arc in a five-year run of Venom stories. Michelinie was either too busy to write the series regularly or just wasn’t interested. He still did Lethal Protector as a fantastic starting point, introducing ideas that were, unfortunately, mostly dropped and quickly phased out. He had Eddie Brock move to San Francisco and find a new role as the protector of a secret, underground society of homeless people. He introduced Eddie’s vindictive millionaire father. He even introduced the Jury, a team of armored former Vault guards who were out to get revenge on Venom for killing their friend.

While Venom’s main villain in the story was Roland Treece (who will be played by Scott Haze in the movie), he took a detour when he was captured by the Life Foundation. An interesting idea from Michelinie’s Spider-Man run that only lasted a few years, the Life Foundation was a shadow organization that used mad science to evolve mankind in order to endure an apocalyptic event. The perfect combination of low ethics, high resources, and lots of potential for science gone wrong.

The Life Foundation was run by Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed in the movie) and his bright idea was to forcibly remove the seeds in the Venom costume to create five more symbiotes. Those symbiotes would be bonded to five Life Foundation grunts and the organization would be one step closer to success. While they were mostly cool designs, these symbiotes were little more than that. They didn’t get codenames or host names until well after the fact and the hosts didn’t even get any identifiable traits.

Hell, only two of them even got lines. Scream (female, red and yellow), the most iconic of the group, got to fight Spider-Man one-on-one. Phage (male, brownish yellow) battled with Venom briefly. They got to talk during those fights, but otherwise, the Life Foundation goons kept it quiet while they took on our heroes five-on-two.

Finally, Venom used a big ass sonic ray on them, which turned the symbiotes into compost and revealed that the Life Foundation, unlike Eddie, had the budget for underwear. Seriously, if your pants are made of liquid and are sentient enough that they can leave at a moment’s notice, invest in some briefs. Seeing Venom’s tongue flapping around is enough as is.

Anyway, Drake escaped and blew up the headquarters, seemingly meaning the whole Symbiote 5 threat was permanently off the table. That turned out to not be the case. As for Drake, he appeared in one more story before falling into complete obscurity.

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further reading: Venom – Who is Carnage?

From the end of 1994 into the beginning of 1995, Howard Mackie and Rod Randall did a four-part Venom story called Venom: Separation Anxiety. It followed a storyline in the main Spider-Man books where the Scarlet Spider first showed up. The idea was that since Spider-Man was always shown to be physically inferior to Venom in a straight-up fight – usually surviving due to luck or thinking outside the box – Marvel would establish Scarlet Spider as a big deal by having him straight-up kick Venom’s ass. Meanwhile, Scream showed up a couple times to plead for Venom’s help, only to get into their share of brawls because nobody in comics can have a civil conversation.

After the scrap with Scarlet Spider, Eddie was in custody and was separated from the symbiote. No longer influenced/controlled, he had time to reflect and realized that the symbiote made him a monster. He was then kidnapped by the Life Foundation symbiotes. The five not only survived and retained their symbiotes from the previous adventure, but they also left the Life Foundation behind.

Yes, that’s exactly the state of dress you want to be in with shards of glass flying around. Now I know why they call this story Separation Anxiety.

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This comic started gave the hosts first names, but the creative team couldn’t keep things straight and it became confusing since Phage was referred to as both Carl and Ramon. In a world where D-list comic characters are given profiles in who’s who Marvel books, the following names were established:

– Scream: Donna Diego- Phage: Carl Mach- Lasher (male, green with tentacles): Ramon Hernandez- Agony (female, purple and black): Leslie Gesneria- Riot (male, grayish black): Trevor Cole

The hosts wanted Eddie’s help in communicating with their symbiotes. Since Eddie was on a very anti-symbiote kick at the time, he outright refused. Then one-by-one, the captors started getting picked off via a sonic knife. Eddie was the red herring, but it turned out to be Scream’s doing. She’d been insane for years and having the symbiote made the voices in her head even worse.

Venom survived, of course, but Carl, Ramon, Leslie, and Trevor weren’t so lucky.

In late 1995, Acclaim released a video game for SNES and Genesis called Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety. Despite its title, it was actually based on the Lethal Protector storyline, as it not only featured the new symbiotes, but also the Jury and some giant demolition robots from that arc. It was also an inferior sequel to the game Maximum Carnage, which was pretty funny since Lethal Protector’s storyline happened first.

The funniest part of the whole game was that even though it was Lethal Protector, the final boss was Carnage for absolutely no reason other than the fact that Acclaim still had the sprite assets around from the previous game. There was no setup for his appearance in the game (not counting his appearance on the box cover) and even the ending was nothing more than a still of Carnage with “GAME COMPLETE” over it followed by the credits. Fingers crossed that the movie does better than that.

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Even though the comics killed off the Life Foundation hosts, the symbiotes were survived and became prisoners of the government. That led to the creation of Hybrid, an obscure hero who mostly existed in backup stories in Venom’s ’90s comics. The idea was that Scott Washington, an established Vault prison guard who first appeared in New Warriors, saw the symbiotes being tortured and felt bad for them. He helped them escape and got fired for it. Then he was crippled due to unrelated gang violence. The symbiotes tracked him down and bonded with him, fixing his spine.

further reading: Complete Guide to Marvel Easter Eggs in the Venom Movie

The hook was that Scott was super pissed and wanted bloody vengeance while the four symbiotes were all, “What? No! We come in peace!” He eventually chilled out and dedicated himself to wiping out crime in his neighborhood. After two backup arcs, he wouldn’t show up in comics for another 15 years or so.

As for Scream, she made her return in 1996’s Venom: The Hunted by Larry Hama and Duncan Rouleau. The three-issue story was amazing and ridiculous and featured Eddie Brock earning money by using his powers to succeed at extreme skateboarding under the name Rad Eddie. This took place after Planet of the Symbiotes, in which Venom, Spider-Man, and Scarlet Spider teamed up to stop a full-on invasion of Venom’s kind. As Hunted revealed, some symbiotes remained on Earth and Scream was helping the hosts deal.

Unfortunately for her, there was an alien creature called the Xenophage going around that fed on symbiotes. So Scream’s new friends didn’t last so long. This whole mess concluded with Venom and Scream fighting the Xenophage on a subway train and blowing its head up. Scream came off as more heroic in this story and popped up again shortly after in the incomprehensible Venom/Wolverine team-up Venom: Tooth and Claw. Last seen, Scream was trying to use the Xenophage’s ship to search for other symbiote hosts. Like with Hybrid, that would be her last appearance for about 15 years.

Not her last appearance in general, though. In 1999, the theme park Universal Islands of Adventure opened up with the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. This ride, which takes your usual theme park dark ride and merges it with 3D technology and other tricks to make an incredibly immersive comic book adventure, features a story where Spider-Man has to save the riders from the Sinister Syndicate. Led by Doctor Octopus, the team has stolen the Statue of Liberty via an anti-gravity gun. Ock’s team includes Hydroman, Electro, Hobgoblin, and Scream.

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further reading: The Craziest Moments in Venom History

I guess they were really, really hard-pressed to come up with a Spider-Man villainess. Scream remains part of that ride to this day, meaning Univeral’s been playing the long game on relevancy. Meanwhile, Venom has absolutely zero representation in any of Universal’s rides, but damn if his merch isn’t all over that gift shop.

In 2012, we finally got some follow-up to the Venom spawn. Over the years, Eddie had lost the Venom symbiote, became powered by some kind of nega-cancer symbiote-like organism under the name Anti-Venom, then gave up those powers to save New York City. Powerless, Eddie became erratic and obsessed with wiping out the entire symbiote species, all while Flash Thompson wore his black-and-white hand-me-downs as an agent of the government.

In Venom #11 by Rick Remender and Lan Medina, Eddie went full-on Punisher, hunting down and killing Hybrid despite admitting that he was doing a good job as a vigilante. In the same issue, he got Scream to go after him. He proceeded to ambush her and stab her to death with a blazing hot knife. Eddie’s campaign took a turn when he was forced to bond with the Carnage spawn Toxin, but that’s a story for another day.

That’s the last we’ve heard of Scream’s symbiote, but the government was able to recover the four that made up Hybrid. 2012’s Carnage USA by Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain introduced the Mercury Team. Four special forces soldiers were armed with the symbiotes: Chief Petty Officer Marcus Simms controlled Lasher like a gooey attack dog on a leash; Lieutenant James Murphy used Agony as a means to carry heavy munitions, using rail guns like handguns; as Phage, Lieutenant Rico Axelson could snipe with pinpoint accuracy from a mile and a half away; Petty Officer Howard Ogden, who specialized in stealth and invisibility, was bonded with Riot.

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The team did all right for themselves as they helped liberate a small town from Carnage’s control, but they weren’t long for this world. In 2014’s Deadpool vs. Carnage by Cullen Bunn and Salva Espin, Carnage went on another rampage and Deadpool decided to go hunt him down. Carnage went after the Mercury Team before they could assemble against him and killed off the entire team except for Simms’ dog.

The dog helped Deadpool bond with the Hybrid symbiotes and he proceeded to outfight Carnage before messing with his head so badly that Carnage gave up and allowed himself to be incarcerated again. Having succeeded, Deadpool gave the four symbiotes back to the dog and told him to run off to its government handlers.

And that’s where we are with Venom’s non-Carnage kin. A whole, big pile of dead hosts, a red and yellow symbiote unaccounted for, and a dog running around as a host to four creatures. Maybe with Venom hitting theaters, we’ll see something new come out of this plot thread. Who knows? Maybe Carlton Drake is finally here to stay after 25 years of silence.

Gavin Jasper is impressed to see that all five Life Foundation guys have been remade in Capcom style for MUGEN. Follow Gavin on Twitter!

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