Venom Beyond is the story arc that leads to King in Black, and it might be one of the most peculiar story arcs in some time. Consisting of five issues and three artists (Iban Coello, Juan Gedeon, Luke Ross), Donny Cates tells a tale that features Eddie Brock and his son Dylan rushing to another dimension where Knull has already taken over. And he’s also Dylan in this timeline. Oh, and a new supervillain named Virus is after them both from their reality.
Sold originally as a “who is Virus” story, we soon learn in another reality Dylan’s mother is still alive and in fact, she’s Venom now. The story plays out in a way to show us how bad it can be if Knull takes over, which in some respects is a good way to set up the stakes for King in Black. A few problems hinder this volume though, starting with some tricky art to make out that does a poor job of laying out the action in a clear way. Big reveals seem to hinge on some cringy elements, like a focus on Eddie Brock killing himself in this other timeline, and the fact that the identity of Virus isn’t very interesting at all. Bizarrely, this series sold incredibly well even with lackluster art during the story arc and the fact that this is all alternate dimension stuff that doesn’t matter a whole lot to the mainline book.
The biggest takeaway from this trade paperback, though, is how it ages Dylan. In a clever way, Cates brings Dylan’s age up by a year which moves him from pre-teen to teenager by King in Black. This essentially makes him a little more knowledgeable and mature for the event that’s still taking place.
Also contained here is the Free Comic Book Day comic that introduced Virus. Drawn by Ryan Stegman, the character looks incredibly cool. The suit is an amalgam of Iron Man and Venom, and while it looks thrown together and of lesser quality than what Tony Stark could pull together, the hobbled nature of the suit creates a mystique that’s quite cool. Sadly though, the reveal of who is in the suit and how throwaway the character is made all the buildup quite pointless.
The opening issue is drawn by Coello and Gedeon with color by Jesus Aburtov and it reminds us Eddie wears a monster on his body. You can see it in the opening scene as it forms an arm for Eddie, or how the teeth and tongue show off a frightening visage. These creators know what they’re doing when it comes to the fluid nature of the Symbiote. There’s a cool moment where the Symbiote saves Eddie that’s not to be missed.
The art falters in the last few pages, and the action utilizes speed-lines to avoid drawing backgrounds making it hard to track the action sequence. It’s a chaotic moment, though, so it works on some level. Generally, the issue doesn’t stand out too much and feels like it’s holding back for when the real fun begins next issue. The pacing is slower with moments devoted to opening a door, for example, further making it feel like a table setting buffer issue than a main course.
The second issue, Venom #27, has layouts that are hard to follow for much of the book because the gutters are not completely white. Instead, a white border surrounds panels, and gray gutters separate things further. The action is chaotic, likely on purpose, but it’s overly hard to follow, further making Virus pointless to the narrative since we can’t even care about the blows he’s delivering. Panels can also be overly stacked on top of each other, creating less a storyboard and more a series of pieces of art thrown together.
The book will lose you midway through, as it goes from gritty to goofy. From a chaotic and hard-to-follow action sequence midway through to the odd nature of Knull and his cartoonish facial expressions, it’s hard to take any of this seriously. The book is handling suicide in an off-putting way while also revealing a cross-eyed Mr. Fantastic on the good-guy side. The tone is off throughout the arc, and the art doesn’t really gel with the story or plot, either. It’s a cartoony look and feel that handles darker ideas well enough, but then splashes Knull’s laboratory in pinks and bright colorful tones. In many ways, this story and the art itself reads like the creators didn’t have enough time to make it work, or got off to creating it without doing any work to rejigger or redirect the conflicting atmospheric art and more serious themes.
Venom Beyond is an interesting story for its premise and purpose, but the execution is way off. In many ways, the narrative reads as if Cates was too busy working on King in Black to focus on this story, tighten up the scripts, and work out a great final product. Instead, we get a clunky and often overly goofy story that ends up factoring very little in the grand scheme of things.
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