I’m not sure about anyone else out there, but I’ve always found myself drawn to certain characters in comics and repelled by others based on nothing more than their designs. I’ve read very few Creeper comics, but can say that he’s absolutely one of my favorite characters based solely on design and aesthetics. As a kid coming up in comics fandom in the 90s, I saw a lot of darker themed characters that I did not want anything to do with. One of those characters was Venom. Back then, the large-tongued symbiote muscle man was the king of of the edgy miniseries and I was admittedly a bit nervous about his whole deal (which, as a die-hard DC fan, I only really knew about from looking at covers and reading Wizard). The great thing about being a human, though, is that we can grow past our early thoughts and evolve into new people who are ready, willing and able to read Venom comics (that’s what evolution’s all about, right?).
So the real genesis of this recent deep dive into fairly recent symbiotic stories came about because a friend whose opinion I highly value told me I should check out the first volume of Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s Venom run, which starts with a book simply titled Rex (#1-6). I should note that I’ve read a fair amount of the more recent Venom comics (Agent, Space Knight, First Host, etc.) and a few of the older books for work, so I did have a fair amount of knowledge going in, but don’t consider myself an expert in the slightest. I still really enjoyed these comics. As the story kicks off, the original Venom, Eddie Brock, is in rough shape, living in squalor and dealing with his symbiote’s rage. However, things can always get worse…and they do when the dynamic duo seem to get overtaken by another symbiote force from beyond the stars!
Eddie soon learns of a god named Knull who created the symbiotes as well as All-Black, the Necro-Sword which plays a huge part in Jason Aaron’s Thor run (one of the best in comics, if you ask me). Knull wants out of his prison — which is actually the supposed symbiote (or Klyntar) homeworld — and is sending out messages to his children to help free him. This leads to a major battle for Eddie with some help from Miles Morales’ Spider-Man! Having read and enjoyed this trade so much, I made the transition from analog to digital and read everything else I’m about to talk about on Marvel Unlimited.
Venom may have succeed in winning that battle, but there’s a war brewing! However, before we get there, we move on to the second volume, The Abyss (#7-12) where we find our what happened to Eddie after his big battle in volume one (which felt like an abrupt transition to me). He also meets The Maker (evil Ultimate Universe Reed Richards) and we discover Brock’s heartbreaking past with an ingeniously-presented twist by Cates and Stegman. In this book, we and he also meet Dylan, Brock’s son with a woman who was also a symbiote carrier for a while. The kid’s been living with Eddie’s abusive father for most of his life because his mom passed. Eddie and the kid team up with the elder Brock not telling the boy of their true relationship. This not only gives our hero a huge secret to keep, but also a whole new level of motivation when it comes to protecting the innocent. He now has one in tow that he cares about more than anything in the world and will do just about anything to keep him safe.
At that point in the Venom series, Cullen Bunn and Iban Coello took over writing for the War Of The Realms tie-ins (#13-15). As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of all things Jason Aaron Thor and Bunn is another rad writer, so these are fun issues that show the extent that Brock will go to to try and be a hero while also wrecking shop on some mythical monsters. Around this time there are also a number of Web Of Venom one-shots that fill in some of the series blanks and also set up the big Absolute Carnage event that’s brewing. I definitely recommend giving these a read either on MU or in the Venom Unleashed Vol 1 trade, which collects them all!
And then, BOOM, we’re into Absolute Carnage! Cates and Stegman worked together on the main series while Cates continued writing the main series tie-ins (#16-19) with Coello and Juan Gedeon. There are a lot of tie-ins for this one that explain where some of the assistance comes from towards the end of the main series. It’s obviously super easy (and cost effective) to check these out on MU, but if you’re looking at buying trades or issues, just check out the stars and creators of these books. If you like them already, I think you’ll dig the issues.
Okay, into the story! Basically, everyone who’s ever bonded with a symbiote has a thing called a Codex stored in their spines. If Knull gets enough Codex pieces on his side, he can free himself! To help make that happen, he facilitates the resurrection of the Marvel U’s most dangerous villain, Carnage! But Cletus Kasady’s not on his own here as he recruits deadly criminals, both of the garden variety and the super (including Norman Osborn who THINKS he’s Carnage after the events of Dan Slott’s incredible Amazing Spider-Man finale). Venom teams up with Spider-Man and a number of other heroes to not only save their own lives, but protect the innocents and also stop an ancient, evil god from getting unleashed on an unsuspecting cosmos.
The whole crossover works nicely as A) an excellent super hero horror story, B) a cool showcase for all things symbiote and C) a demonstration of how and why Eddie Brock/Venom might be one of the best heroes in the Marvel U. It’s one thing to overcome great personal loss like Spidey did, but it’s another to build yourself into a force for good after living with an abusive father and facilitating a heinous accident that could have ruined anyone’s life. This is a guy who took the wrongs of his past (those perpetrated on him and by him) and used them as fuel to become something good. That’s the kind of hero we need to see more of out in the world. And he gets to show all that off while becoming a crazy symbiote monster fighting and even crazier symbiote monster.
So, obviously, I’ve talked about the story a whole lot and how it made me feel. Cates gets a lot of the credit for his amazing script, but reading these issues also made me an enormous Ryan Stegman fan! I found myself as enraptured by the goopier scenes as I was during the highly emotional ones. And this run certainly covers a huge spectrum of moments ranging from giant murder gods to poignant moments between father and son. Combined, you get not just a run of comics, but also a major event that kept making me think of Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond and other films. They expertly capture the gross gloppy horror stuff while also nailing the emotional beats. What more could you want than that?
Well, I want more, that’s what! However, at this point, the next storyarc — Venom Island — isn’t up on Marvel Unlimited yet. That’s okay, I’ve got plenty more books by Cates and Stegman to check out including Death Of The Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy, Scarlet Spider, Silver Surfer Black, Redneck, Buzz Kill and the like!