Venom — Sony’s recently released tale of the world’s worst journalist and his head-chomping pet alien parasite — poses a number of interesting questions, such as “Is this movie bad or perfect dumb fun?” “Where do the heads go when Venom eats them?” and “What kind of accent, exactly, is Tom Hardy trying to do here?”
Leaving the cinema, however, one thought in particular stuck with me: “What would happen if you crammed Venom in an e-cigarette and vaped it?”
At its most basic level, the Spider-Man adjacent buddy comedy operates as a story about scientific hubris.
After recovering some sludge-like alien parasites from a comet, a villainous Elon Musk type begins a series of deadly human experiments to find them suitable hosts. Eventually, one of these “symbiotes” bonds with Tom Hardy’s character, transforming the two of them into the toothy anti-hero Venom.
Watching the symbiotes slither across the screen, my inner mad scientist took over. Soon, I was wondering if they — like Tide Pods and Carolina Reaper peppers before them — had potential as an e-juice substitute.
Surely I’m not alone. As a movie which prominently features an Eminem song in the year 2018, e-cigarette enthusiasts are presumably a major part of Venom’s audience.
To help answer my question, I talked to Dr Shane Campbell-Staton, an assistant professor of biology at UCLA. He’s also the host of The Biology of Superheroes Podcast, where he regularly applies his expertise to fantasy worlds like the one depicted in Venom.
According to Dr Campbell-Staton, the premise wasn’t totally unfeasible (by comic book standards), but the results would not be pretty.
Dr Campbell-Staton said the “key biological question” was whether the Venom symbiote could survive the vaporising process, which would convert the alien life form from a semifluid into an inhalable aerosol.
“E-cigarettes use an electrical charge to heat and aerosolise liquids containing nicotine and other solvents,” he said, and “Venom is known to be vulnerable to fire, which suggests the high temperatures associated with vaping would not suit him well.”
Of course, for Earth’s non-comic book organisms, the effects of being vaped would be deadly.
“High temperatures can have devastating effects on all kinds of biological processes from denaturing proteins and DNA to destroying cell membranes,” said Dr Campbell-Staton. “Vape machines can heat liquids to 200-250C. Even the most heat tolerant life on this planet, a microorganism known as Pyrolobus fumarii, can only survive temperatures slightly higher than 120C.”
In several fictional depictions, however, the symbiote is shown coming to Earth after living on an asteroid or similar space object, which Dr Campbell-Staton said suggests Venom “found a way to withstand direct sun exposure along with an onslaught of UV radiation and the vacuum of space... so maybe a vape machine isn’t that far-fetched”.
Ultimately, the technical challenges of vaping a living alien are probably less important than the likely outcome.
“Given its short temper and general disregard for human life, I imagine that after enduring such an unpleasant experience, the alien entity would devastate the body of its ill-advised host in an imaginative onslaught only fit for R-rated cinema before finding another body to inhabit,” said Dr Campbell-Staton.
Finally, science had given me an answer. But what did the creators think? To find out, I contacted numerous artists, writers, actors and directors who had worked on various Venom-related projects. Strangely, most did not respond to my queries.
The lone outlier was writer Robbie Thompson, who penned Venom: Space Knight and offered me an interesting lead. He claimed that Ryan Stegman, the artist on Marvel’s current Venom comic book run, had actually vaped the Venom symbiote.
According to one person, at least, vaping Venom might end not in death, but in glory.