The true history of Venom is beginning to be revealed.
To date, we’ve only seen a handful of the new series that will comprise Marvel’s Fresh Start relaunch, but the results have been promising so far. Venom in particular is a showcase for what’s possible with the clean slate this relaunch allows. What was once a struggling series with some promise has suddenly morphed into one of Marvel’s most engaging monthly books. What a difference a few weeks can make.
Venom works because it combines certain classic hallmarks of the franchise (the Eddie Brock/symbiote relationship and the art style, mainly) with a clear desire to push this character in new and unexpected directions. As much as artist Ryan Stegman excels in recapturing the sleek, powerful look of classic artists like Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen, this new series isn’t nearly as beholden to that era as its predecessor was. Stegman and writer Donny Cates are ambitious in their attempt to overhaul the mythology of the Klyntar symbiotes and their connection to Earth. After only two issues, they’ve significantly changed Eddie Brock’s world and his entire outlook. Where in the past there’s been so much focus on making this character the dark inverse of Peter Parker, he now feels more like his own man than ever before.
Stegman’s art is truly impressive, even by the already high standards he set in recent Marvel projects. It’s more than just the sheer level of detail in his figures, though that certainly has its appeal. There’s a bold quality to the way he frames his shots here, one that frequently recalls Joe Quesada’s use of dynamic perspective. For instance, the opening pages showcase Brock’s ruined body from the inside, as the symbiote stitches together a gaping wound in his chest and makes him whole again. Stegman’s work also impresses in the way it manages to bring fantastical imagery into an otherwise dark and brutal superhero comic. Again, as much as this series replicates the imagery of classic ’90s Venom, it also manages to shake up the formula in a huge way.
Colorist Frank Martin is equally crucial in helping this new storyline find its distinctive voice. Martin’s harsh colors and heavy shadows give the book an unsettled, desperate quality. The colors work especially well in the flashback scenes in this issue, bringing an added level of intensity to the page.
The only problem with the flashback-heavy nature of this issue is that it doesn’t do enough to advance the ongoing narrative. It’s great that Cates’ script is so efficient in establishing the respective backgrounds and personal histories of both Eddie and Strickland, but the general state of this conflict is left almost exactly where it was at the end of issue #1. As annoying as it was initially to see Marvel going all-in with spinoffs and tie-ins to this series, it’s quickly becoming clear that Venom needs those tie-ins if Cates is going to be able to be able to maintain narrative momentum while still fleshing out the complex new mythology he’s building.