First appearance: Gradius 2 (Konami, MSX, 1987)
Other appearances: Gradius V (Treasure/Konami, PS2, 2005)
Distinguishing traits: Green skin, vertically oriented forehead eyes
M.O.: War via cores
Known crimes: Space treason

Profile by Nicola Nomali | March 20, 2011

The Gradius Military College teaches that even the greatest crises can bear good fortune. The readiest example of this is the original conflict between Planet Gradius and the Bacterian Empire in 6644; recorded as the “Northern Cross,” this battle generated such harmful radiation over the planet that the frail Leek race was nearly eradicated entirely. Among the few survivors was a helpless toddler, who was taken in by the Space Science Agency as an opportunity to study the Leek’s latent psychic powers. To call that good fortune would be a disgrace, though: the true silver lining to that disaster was that this three-year-old boy would grow up to become the pilot of the Leek-powered Vic Viper fighter craft, Emperor, and savior of all of Gradius, James Burton.

War historians find it easy to appreciate this chance occurrence, for as fate had it, the same catastrophic event that sent James into the arms of the Gradian Empire gave motion to its most despised enemy: the vile and infamous traitor, Dr. Venom.

Like James, Venom was a survivor of the Leek race. Also like James, he found his way into the Gradian Empire and dutifully worked his way up through the ranks, albeit as a scientist rather than a pilot. The practical difference between them, though, was intent: James swore allegiance to Gradius, and Venom sought to destroy it from the inside. His true nature only came to light in 6664, six years after James singlehandedly won the First Bacterian War, and twenty years after the Northern Cross; having become the director-general of the Space Science Agency, Venom openly attempted to depose the Emperor and seize control of Gradius. His coup was quickly thwarted, and Lars XVII sent him and his ten co-conspirators to be stranded on Planet Sard. However, they escaped a year later, and with the Empire in disarray over Lars’s death, the Imperial Armada failed to identify the means of their escape or track their heading.

In 6666, Gradius suddenly lost contact with bases on seven different worlds in what became recorded as the “Silent Nightmare Incident.” Not only did Venom reveal himself to claim credit, but he was now a changed man, in both mind and body: he had become an agent of the Bacterian Empire. Fortunately, James was there to liberate the Metalion system world by world. For his overwhelming heroism, he was appointed Emperor Lars XVIII, and Venom was presumed dead.

No more was heard from Venom until 6709, during the Salamander conflict, when James was was an old man. Amidst the Bacterian entities Salamander and Zelos Force, he suddenly appeared to taunt the Gradians, looking just as he did forty years prior. James and his protégé pilots were undeniably rattled, but once the operation was won, Venom seemed to have disappeared as he’d come, like a phantom. Nine years later, James passed away in peace, yet never to resolve Venom’s vendetta as a Leek.

Venom’s last appearance in James’s life—or perhaps his first—was back in 6644, during the Northern Cross. As historians have come to understand it, the very first battle between Gradius and the Bacterians was the result of a mission enacted in 6809 to travel back in time and eliminate James when he was just a child, thus altering history in the Bacterians’ favor.

The “Northern Cross” was named such because, in searching for James, the Bacterians first targeted Gradius’s more populous northern hemisphere before crossing over to the south, where the Leeks were concentrated. And heading the campaign was none other than Venom.

As the Military College teaches it, this already convoluted story ends with James’s descendant David Burton rescuing James, fighting off the Bacterians, and returning to the future. However, for those willing to look more closely, the sequence of events bears bitter implications for Venom. Venom was older than James when he was on the receiving end of the Northern Cross, so like many Leek, he may have already resented the Gradian Empire for ongoing policies that marginalized their people; likewise, while there was never a conclusive investigation, many suspected that the radiation that wiped out the Leek was at least as much the Gradian combatants’ fault as the Bacterians’. Again, Venom and James are revealed as two sides of the same coin: James was raised with the belief that the Bacterians killed his parents, and Venom lived with the conviction that the Gradians had annihilated his people—each man choosing to view the same event in momentously different ways, inexorably setting the course for the rest of their lives.

Venom’s fate is more bitter than he could ever have known. Not only was he consumed by hate, but the truth—which he could never know until it was too late—was that he himself was the rightful target of all his frustration and contempt.

Perhaps that ultimate discovery, to find his own voice shouting the command that would destroy his future, finally drove Venom insane. Or maybe he was too far gone by then—too deeply pierced by the Bacterians’ tendrils to recall a shred of himself save for that burning malice. The last time Venom’s presence was recorded was in 8010, over twelve hundred years after his last known activity. Nothing left of him but an oversize brain, he embodied the final authority commanding the Bacterian army once more waging war over Gradius. The latest-generation Vic Viper destroyed him with ease, but just prior to total vaporization, the following transmission was received:

I am just a small part of what was known as Venom.

Pieces of me are scattered throughout the cosmos.

Eventually, another will become sentient and exact retribution.

You will never escape the shadow of fear.

My hatred for your kind... is eternal.

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