Runs that completely change a character forever don’t come along in superhero comics very often. It’s the very nature of a superhero books at the big two to keep characters locked in a perpetual status quo. Venom #4 upends all of that in a very simple way. It simply asks the questions that we’ve never asked before.
It’s a simple hook that Donny Cates, Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, Frank D’Armata and Clayton Cowles take and run with here. In #1, they asked Eddie Brock if he’s ever asked the symbiote its name. In #2, they asked about other symbiotes. And in this issue, it’s a terrifying question – do the symbiotes have gods?
Knull, God of the Symbiotes, has taken Eddie and Miles Morales captive within the massive symbiote dragon. Knull takes the opportunity to tell his captive audience his history. And suddenly the symbiotes have been woven into the history of the Marvel Universe.
Knull was present in the darkness before the universe, until the Celestials came along and ruined that. Then, he forged the Godslayer, the weapon of the God Butcher last seen in Thor. He created the symbiotes from literal darkness to create an army under his control. Knull tore through the universe, until he was stopped on Earth, by none other than the mighty Thor. He retreated to the stars, where his children enveloped him, holding him captive at the core of a literal planet of symbiotes.
Cates takes the existing mythology of Venom and deepens it. Suddenly instead of just an alien race, the symbiotes have an actual mythology and a deep, deep history. That includes their natural weaknesses of sound and fire – fear and pain caused by the forge of their creation.
Even though this issue is nearly 100% exposition, it’s a deep and unsettling story. It’s a simple idea really, but he uses it as the pivot point. All of the sudden, we, the reader, realize that we’ve never asked many of these questions, but we should have.
Stegman and Mayer are doing the work of their careers. Everything to do with the symbiotes are goopy and slimy. Knull is terrifying. His history is equal parts Conan and cosmic horror. This isn’t a science fiction story, it’s a horror fantasy, and that’s sold entirely by the line art.
D’Armata totally gets the theme of the art, and bathes everything in deep reds. It doesn’t feel bloody, though. It’s ominous and haunting. There’s a lot of tension sold exclusively on the colors. Cowles’ lettering for Knull is a standout. It creates a voice for him. We know how it’s supposed sound, even if we’ve never heard his voice.
I have NEVER been a Venom fan. He’s not even among my top five Spider-Man villains. But so far, Cates has divorced Venom from his most famous foe, and it’s been the best move he could make.
He’s not obsessed with killing Spidey. He’s trying to do a good thing, but he’s deeply over his head. Suddenly Venom has a history, and so much more depth. And for once, I love his book.
Do I have any idea where this story is going? No.
Will I be reading every panel? Absolutely.
It’s that good.
Venom #4 is available now from Marvel Comics in stores and digitally.