Venom has changed quite a bit since Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman launched their game-changing run back in 2018, and fans have eaten it up. Every morsel of it has been intriguing, enlightening, and entertaining, which culminated in King in Black. That event was collected way back in June, but if you want the full story you need to pick up Venom Vol. 6: King in Black, which is out in comic book shops today.
Running 192 pages, this extra-sized trade paperback houses the deeply meaningful journey Eddie Brock went on during King in Black and the major transformation that he goes through by its end. Collected here is Venom #31-34 drawn by Iban Coello with colors by Jesus Aburtov, as well as Venom #35 (which is also legacy #200) drawn by some of the biggest artists to draw the character. This book serves as a spiritual awakening for Eddie Brock and reads like two stories or one main story with #200 acting as an epilogue.
This book opens with Eddie Brock fighting Knull and literally dying. It’s not much of a spoiler at this point since most of this book is Eddie’s journey in Symbiote purgatory. Along the way, Eddie has Rex Strickland as a guide, and it’s clear Cates is adding more to the Venom mythology with an impressive new layer that’s put the usually violent and physical alien race into a new spiritual place. The main story has a huge idea at work here that advances Symbiotes beyond aliens with teeth and insatiable hunger.
Along the way, a classic character is revived and all the build-up of this Symbiote purgatory helps make it feel at least a little bit earned. The narrative is rather basic in its main purpose and uses the “find another gear to win” method, which will satisfy fans who are here for the big blockbuster action. If you’re not a fan of deus ex machina, you will be disappointed with how Eddie finds the strength to fight back in the final moments. For those intrigued by Cates’ use of Captain Universe (and count me one of them), this story will at least keep you satisfied with how it pans out.
Boiled down to its essentials — which would mean removing a lot of Eddie/Venom banter via captions to one another — this is a very basic story about our hero finding a magical “elixir” to use on the villain for the final act. It doesn’t add much new to the hero’s journey so to speak, but it does enough with the elements it has to make something new. The cliffhanger speaks volumes to that.
Iban Coello and Aburtov will blow you away with multiple splash pages in this book. Knull looks incredible in the opening story, with a suit that’s all liquid and a general design that’s very pointy. In a way, Knull is like the lead singer of a rock band with an awesome costume and tons of swagger. Body language is filled with confidence and it’s quite cool to see how Coello draws all the Symbiote tendrils coming off of him and how Aburtov adds volume to it all. Earth has only been invaded for a few seconds up to the start of the book but it’s already becoming a goopy mess. It’s gross-out cool stuff.
Venom #35 (Legacy #200) closes out the book with an extra-sized anthology feel. It opens with a few words written by Eddie Brock from his newspaper days, dated 1996. It then cuts to a double-page montage of all the events that lead to this issue drawn by Ryan Stegman. In three pages, Cates and Stegman reveal how far this character has come from his original iteration. It’s a smart way to hammer home all that they’ve done. It puts a definitive stamp on the issue as their last story, which adds a layer of emotionality to the narrative.
From here, Kev Walker takes over on art and reveals the incredible burden Eddie Brock is under now that he’s — spoilers — the god of Symbiotes. Brock can now connect to the hive in the basement of his home (though later, it seems he can control Symbiotes without his special room), and he’s aiding heroes across the galaxy to help clean up the mess Knull created. This part of the story is a clever new twist on the character, as he’s been reduced to an older father figure as Dylan is going to school. Eddie is also looking much older as it appears controlling Symbiotes across the galaxy is aging him.
Soon, the sci-fi cosmic elements dissipate as we see Eddie and his Symbiote give Dylan some parenting as if they’re a married couple. It’s a fun and somewhat funny idea that could easily have spanned an entire story arc. There’s even a cat and dog element that further spins Venom into a kind of domestic superhero story.
The story touches on other parts of Venom’s life, like his relationship to Spider-Man and the ongoing story of the Maker, and his plot to fight our heroes with Ultimate universe resources. As a concluding chapter, Cates does a good job bringing Venom’s relationship with Spider-Man to a new place as well as set up a future event-level attack on Earth.
Gerardo Sandoval draws the Flash Thompson chapter, which is the least connected to the main story. This is likely written by Johnson as it ties into Flash’s ongoing story that has continued on in Extreme Carnage. This chunk does a good job establishing Flash’s inability to blend back into normal life since most people think he’s dead.
Mark Bagley gets to draw a key scene with Dylan that was referenced earlier in the tale. It’s all about Dylan’s anger issues at school and how some pretty violent thoughts are on the verge of going from imagination to acted out. It’s very clear at this point Dylan isn’t going away and his anger will be a key element for the character. The final chunk of the story is drawn by Ryan Stegman and reveals the next evolution for the Venom character, which also uses Dylan. It’s an interesting concept that blends the Venom Symbiote and Dylan.
Venom by Donny Cates Vol. 6: King in Black delivers a major new direction for the character that is built on the incredible journey of Eddie Brock dying and coming back to life. Cates and Stegman get to put their final touches on the character in a story that earns its amazing conclusion. In the grand scheme of things, this Venom run will be remembered for a long time for taking big chances and transforming a once one-note character into a much larger playground to explore.