When Donny Cates said his and Ryan Stegman’s Venom run was going to get crazy, he wasn’t lying. This Venom saga, spanning three years now, has evolved the character of Eddie Brock into a man finally ready to conquer his demons, and a father with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Of course, there’s the villain Knull, a demonic creation from Cates that serves as a hive ruler over all Symbiotes, a king of the darkness. The entire saga comes to a head in the “King in Black” event, which comes to an end in the pages of King in Black #5 this week.
Crossover events are rarely my thing, I’ll be honest about that. They often bring in too many different characters and introduce too many nonsensical subplots. All of the “cool comics stuff” gets in the way of what could be a good story. I feared that happening in King of Black, knowing how many characters would inevitably be involved. Much to my surprise, however, King in Black delivers on its premise and promises across its five issue run, and it remains a sharp story through its very last pages.
The ideas at play in King in Black are ridiculous, and they do sometimes lean on the core Venom title to deliver a lot of the exposition. But aside from that, the tie-ins aren’t really necessary to understanding the story, and what a story it is. Eddie Brock’s journey with Knull, Dylan, and his other comes full circle in the final issue, giving the entire book a satisfying conclusion.
Eddie’s tale of redemption is a relatable one when you take away all of the dark magic and heavy metal imagery in King of Black, but the balance of those aspects are what make this comic so great. We all understand Eddie, some of us for the first time in decades. His soul is the backbone of this series and it’s what keeps everything flowing. That said, it doesn’t work without the pure insanity of Ryan Stegman’s pen.
There are some strange ideas at play throughout King in Black, especially in this final issue, but they never feel silly or ridiculous. Merging ancient weapons with the power of light? The earth covered in a moving black ooze? That same black ooze forming terrifying dragons?
You can imagine Cates pitching some of this stuff. You can probably picture an executive with a puzzled look on their face, wondering, “There’s no way this can actually work, right?” Then, with the mind-reading ability that he almost certainly possesses, Stegman looks across the table at said executive and says, “You’re damn right it’s going to work. Sign the check.”
Okay, so this probably isn’t how things went down (Cates has talked at length about how supportive Marvel Comics has been of his ideas), but the concept still stands. It’s the imagination of Cates and the unparalleled confidence of Stegman that combine to make King in Black a powerhouse event. Like Eddie and his Symbiote, Cates and Stegman bring out the best in one another.
King in Black is bananas. It’s big, explosive, and bordering upon absurd, when you really think about it. It’s also excellent, an exercise in how much fun a comic can be when everyone involved fully buys into its vision. There’s no holding back on the part of anyone involved with this series, and I thank Knull for that.
Published by Marvel Comics
On April 7, 2021
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, and Ryan Stegman
Colors by Frank Martin and Jason Keith
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, and Frank Martin