King in Black is the latest Marvel Comics event to take over the entire line of comics, and will span over three months of storytelling. It’s kind of a big deal, especially since Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman have been building towards this story since they took over Venom in 2018. The five-issue series, with many tie-in comics, starts this week and its main purpose is clear: Knull is coming.
Coming in at 39 pages, King in Black #1 has all the trappings of a classic Cates/Stegman joint. It features multiple dramatic turns, brings big shocking moments, and customary of modern Marvel events, all-out war. Knull is coming to Earth, and he’s bringing his Symbiote dragons and a whole lot of pain. For a character we don’t know a lot about, this is an exciting event because it doesn’t connect back to Marvel history. That makes it feel quite new compared to the other invasion events like Empyre and War of the Realms.
This issue opens with the Avengers being on Eddie’s side and is split down the middle between Eddie doing something that might help against Knull, and the world’s heroes trying to protect as many people as they can. This allows the narrative to jump between Captain America, the X-Men, and the world’s greatest heroes fighting in the streets with Eddie in a quieter, more strategic attempt at thwarting Knull. In a sense, this entire issue is like the storming of the beach of Normandy as Knull’s forces are many and near unstoppable, yet they soldier on. This issue is effective in showing how Knull and his forces not only outnumber our heroes, but out-power them too.
The art by Stegman is spectacular and some of his best work yet. JP Mayer inks with colors by Frank Martin, who accompanied previous Venom and Absolute Carnage books. This is a very dark book with much of the characters cast in shadow with a glowing red seemingly lingering on every page. The general feel is a horror story like no other and it delivers on that front in multiple cases. In one scene which involves an impactful death, Stegman employs an interesting sketchy effect around some intense gore, which is very different from what we’ve seen in more clean-lined superhero comics. It is one example of how the book takes some visual changes as it attempts to hammer our lizard brains with fear.
Sticklers might point out the reveal that Knull blocked out the Earth doesn’t match how Venom #30 ended. A minor gripe to be sure. Something else you might notice is how little we know about Knull. We know where he came from but so far we haven’t had much in the way of character development so at this juncture Knull is a “evil for evil’s sake” sort of character. That makes this issue more about the heroes attempting to stay alive against impossible odds, which makes motivations and where we go from here rather vague. Even though this does have a slight twist on the invasion of Earth narrative, it’s also hard to not compare it to the various other Marvel events that use it. That makes this first issue feel reductive.
There’s some helpful back-matter for casual fans, including a timeline of Knull’s preparation to take over Earth and some helpful guidance on what to expect from the various tie-in issues. It’s sort of like a menu to help fans understand what they should read next.
For anyone experiencing event fatigue, King in Black may feel like Marvel is going too far, but X of Swords wasn’t a line-wide event so one could argue this is the first event in months. That said, after shaking off the feeling Marvel is addicted to invasion events, this is a satisfying first strike from the King in Black team. It balances Venom with the rest of the main Marvel characters, features multiple shocking moments that’ll get you talking with your friends, and sets up a villain that seems impossible to defeat. King in Black is an event that is audacious, viscerally gripping, and hellbent on raising the stakes.
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