By Xavier Mendoza
Venom (2018) #1
Written By: Donny Cates
Art By: Ryan Stegman
Colors By: Frank Martin
Inks By: J.P. Mayer
Letters By: Clayton Cowles
Venom is the fan favorite Spider-Man villain-turned-anti-hero. When a down on his luck journalist goes to a church to seek forgiveness in his decision to commit suicide, he’s met with a dark counterpart that gives him a new purpose in life. Eddie Brock joins with the savage alien symbiote that once served as Spider-Man’s rambunctious costume, and the pair works together to protect the innocent in the most lethal way possible. Here in Donny Cates’ and Ryan Stegman’s new series, we see Eddie Brock contending with the mental stress of his extraterrestrial counterpart’s degrading mind sharing space with his own. Eddie encounters a mysterious stranger that informs him there is far more to know about the symbiote than Eddie thinks and of a secret history of their species’ involvement in human history.
What you missed:
Since the character’s debut, the Venom symbiote has held a large number of hosts over the years, and the most memorable is and always will be the well-meaning psychopath Eddie Brock. As of the last run on the character, Eddie Brock was finally reunited with the suit after a long hiatus since Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights: Spider-Man in 2004. This last year we’ve seen the growing pains of Eddie and the Symbiote accepting their second go at being a hero, both having dealt with a lot of character growth in their time apart. The duo battled new villain Maniac in Venom Inc., took a journey through space with the X-Men in Cullen Bunn’s X-Men Blue, and went on an inter-dimensional adventure in Venomverse. During all of these events though, Venom still never truly felt like himself, and there was this strange disconnect with the version of the character who was so prominent and loved in the 90s. I’m happy to report that the true return to form is finally here with Donny Cates’ new series that has a clear love for the classic take on the character.
In this issue, Eddie Brock wakes from a nightmare that isn’t his own and decides to ease his alien other’s troubled mind by going for a night on the town. As they attempt to break up a relatively small crime, the two of them discover the symbiote acting erratically and taking a strange new form. Before they lose control entirely, Eddie and the Symbiote are then captured and interrogated by an old soldier, claiming to have once worn a symbiote of his own. This mysterious warrior tells Eddie and the Symbiote about a secret history of symbiote soldiers owned by the government, all of whom have gone insane in a similar manner to what Eddie and the Symbiote demonstrated earlier that night. Together, Eddie and the suit embark on a new quest to discover more about the history of Klyntar and what terrifying thing has caused the Symbiote’s recent nightmares and bouts of insanity.
I think its safe to say as longtime Venom fan who has read every Venom solo comic thus far– I am now madly in love with this book and hope it continues as strongly as it started. Over the past few years, I found myself enjoying Symbiote comics from Marvel less and less because we as the readers knew essentially everything about them at this point. The air of mystery and horror melted away when other writers told us far too much about these creatures and made great efforts to change them from being scary to being a hot fashion accessory that everyone in the Marvel Universe sports at one point or another to sell variant covers. After a somewhat underwhelming return as Venom, Eddie Brock’s stories began to feel akin to a Saturday Morning Cartoons with minimal weight or emotional depth and a heavy emphasis on crossovers. In a sense, Symbiotes had become predictable and boring.
This month Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman throw all that out and start fresh with a take on the character that beautifully marries the modern and classic depictions into a more believable protagonist. After a very inconsistent characterization for both Venom and Eddie over these last few years, Cates delivers a version of both that feels true to every depiction so far, be it the classics of the 90s or the recent ones. Eddie Brock feels like a more responsible and well-meaning hero, struggling to keep his alien partner at bay. The Symbiote no longer feels overly cruel and full of malice towards criminals, but also isn’t a harmless puppy dog either. Cates pulls off the delicate balancing act of getting both of these characters to feel as they should, both having stints as violent and insane or noble and heroic. We finally see Eddie Brock and the Symbiote riding that line in a way that feels earned with all previous stories. And on top of that impressive feat, Cates also manages to make all Symbiotes interesting again.
After so many years of knowing every intricate detail of how this fictional species functions, Cates gives us a curveball with new behaviors and transformations of the Symbiote we didn’t think possible, which I personally am very excited to learn more about. He also boldly introduces new lore and history for the creatures that put a very large portion of Venom books into a new perspective. The scene that really sold me on this and any other comics by Donny Cates was when a character sits Eddie down and asks him if he knows the age, name, preferences, and origin of the Symbiote. He also asks Eddie the interesting question of whether he ages while wearing the suit. All of these are such simple questions to ask but have remained relatively untouched since the character’s conception. I eagerly await Cates’ answers to these and more questions, as he is clearly thinking outside the box with the character. It’s refreshing and exciting to see a talented writer take this character seriously and attempt to tell a more nuanced and intricate story with him than we’ve seen in a very long time.
In addition to Cates’ stellar storytelling, artist Ryan Stegman delivers a visually visceral and roughly textured world that sets the tone of this story perfectly. The dark and gritty art grounds the situation in such a mysterious and ominous tone, while still also having a heavy kinetic feeling during the action sequences that give Venom’s immense strength a believable impact on his foes. Every panel is gorgeously rendered in shadows and jagged lines that fit the character so well, it seems as if Stegman was born to draw Venom. Stegman and Cates are a match made in heaven for Venom fans and their work on this book will go down in history.