Celebrating Venom’s anniversary in style.
It’s been almost exactly 30 years since Venom made his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #300. The character has seen a great many highs and lows since then, becoming one of Marvel’s biggest cash cows in the ’90s, cycling through several new hosts and story directions and finally coming full circle with his most recent series. Marvel is celebrating that anniversary in the best and simplest way possible – by kicking off a new ongoing series featuring a promising status quo and a terrific creative team.
It’s tough to imagine a better team to welcome Eddie Brock and his “other” into the Fresh Start era than writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman. Stegman himself is already a proven commodity with the character, given his involvement with the recent Venom Inc. crossover. Cates, meanwhile, has quickly established a reputation as someone able to immediately and dramatically reinvigorate long-running Marvel characters. Even after one issue, this series seems poised to do for Venom what Cates’ Thanos and Doctor Strange books did for those characters.
Initially, the new series doesn’t seem like a drastic departure from the previous volume. Eddie is still wallowing in poverty and struggling to stay in control of his increasingly unstable symbiote partner. Fortunately, it’s not long before Cates and Stegman begin to shed light on their ambitious plans. The new series is vaguely reminiscent of past Marvel relaunches like Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker and David Aja’s Immortal Iron Fist or Jason Aaron and Roland Boschi’s Ghost Rider in that it seeks to establish a larger sense of scope and a legacy for this character to confront, but not in a way that feels overly beholden to those books. There’s also a whiff of the Flash Thompson Venom era in terms of the emphasis on military conspiracies. That’s a welcome addition given how much I miss Flash’s tenure as Venom.
Venom #1 does exactly what a first issue needs to do. It establishes the main character and their struggle without getting bogged down by exposition or back-story. It throws out several unexpected curve balls and provides readers with a strong narrative hook. And it does so in an exciting, visually dynamic way. One needn’t have 30 years worth of Venom nostalgia built up to be taken with this issue.
Even relative to his impressive work on Venom Inc., Stegman is working at the top of his game here. He has a real knack for blending ’90s nostalgia with modern storytelling sensibilities. Stegman’s rendition of Venom is straight out of early ’90s Spider-Man comics – all bulging muscles and veins and jagged teeth. But never does Venom himself overpower the rest of the story. Stegman focuses a lot of energy on framing his action just right and getting the most energy out of every scene, whether that involves two characters conversing or Venom taking on an armored convoy.
The decision to pair Stegman’s art with colorist Frank Martin also works heavily in this book’s favor. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from that collaboration. Martin is a great colorist, but one whose heavy-handed style complements some artists more than others. Fortunately, it’s a match that suits the tone of this series. There’s a shadowy, horror movie vibe to the series, and Martin’s eerie colors only enhance that. The high contrast lighting creates many striking panels where Eddie is illuminated by a single light source or bathed in the glow of exploding machinery.