After today, King in Black is past its halfway point in its main event series. There are many more tie-in stories, of course, but Ryan Stegman and Donny Cates officially progress Knull’s attack on Earth even more in King in Black #3. That’s thanks to the introduction of Thor to the narrative, but also a major hint or two at how this story might go. As we know from serial stories, though, it’s not about the destination but the journey. So how does King in Black #3 read? Like a big fight comic at the largest scale, one can go and still be standing on Earth!
The biggest turn of events in this story is the shocking truth that Venom is off the board — at least for now, since he seems to be up to something in Venom #32. That opens this issue with Dylan, Spider-Man, Mr. Fantastic, and only a few others to fight off Knull. At a more metaphysical level, this issue is about balance — balance between light and dark, good versus evil, and how Knull is the epitome of both. From that, Cates is exploring who–or maybe even what–the opposite of what can defeat Knull would be. That offers an opportune moment in this issue to introduce Thor, who has finally made his way to Earth.
Thor’s introduction is one of a few big surprise twists and it’s certainly not the most eye-opening. No, as is custom for a Cates-written comic, big turns in story and plot are frequent. This issue has some of the best of the series so far, though. Reading this issue, it’s abundantly clear Cates and Stegman are having a blast, which is a good sign you’ll have a great time — just as long as you go with the flow and enjoy what is on the page.
It seems rather common with big-two events, and it’s definitely evident here — you need to turn off your brain to fully enjoy the work. Certain things don’t add up, like why these adult superheroes would send Dylan into battle without even wearing armor, or how it glosses over the plan that was decided upon off-page. Mr. Fantastic seems oddly written too, seemingly agitated and scared all the time, especially when you compare him to how he acted in Empyre. How did he go from totally calm, even with minutes left before Earth dying, to scared and without a plan to in just a few months (and probably just a few days in Marvel time)? The tie-in stories are offering much more robust stories with character development and rounded plots, but here it’s rather straightforward and simple. The flip side is that it makes for a wonderfully easy story to follow, which can be uncommon with event series.
If you’re looking for good art, you’ve come to the right place. Stegman is backed up by JP Mayer on inks, Frank Martin on colors, and Clayton Cowles on letters. The team excels at driving the action right into your nose as well as reveling in gore and blood, which suits this series. There’s some gnarly stuff on the page and the near-constant red glow that permeates the background of every panel creates a sense of Hell on Earth. There are a lot of visual ideas on the page, like silhouettes to create contrast, smoky backgrounds to crate depth, quick cutting smaller panels to reveal the carnage on a battlefield, and panels that run the length of the page vertically to stretch and slow things down. Consider for a moment the entire issue takes place over five to ten minutes and you’ll realize the art is doing so much to slow things down and let you take it in. Marvelous stuff.
King in Black #3 is very good at registering the weight of the moment and leaning into high-octane entertainment. That’s why the big twists always feel important to the story, even if they’re totally bonkers. The event itself is intriguing–thanks in part to well-written tie-in stories–whereas the event itself is like a good series of jabs with a strong roundhouse kick to the head every eight pages. Whether or not it can land on its feet matters not, as long as you tie the bandana tighter and go in without a care in the world.
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