BY MATT TUCK
Donny Cates brings his epic Venom run to a solemn conclusion all the while setting up Venom’s answer to Batman Beyond. SPOILER ALERT
Written by Donny Cates with Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Art by Ryan Stegman, Kev Walker, Danilo S. Beyruth, Ron Lim, Guiu Vilanova, Gerardo Sandoval, and Mark Bagley
When Cates took over Venom in 2018, the writer entered with much fanfare. After successful independent runs with God Country and Redneck, Cates broke into the comic mainstream with “Thanos Wins” and a stint on Doctor Strange. Where he would truly shine as Marvel’s brightest star was when he turned his attention to a neglected character, Venom.
When I say neglected, I don’t mean that Venom hadn’t been given his share of the spotlight (and others’ shares, too). All the attention in the world didn’t make up for the lack of engaging, plot-driven stories for Spider-Man’s most popular antagonists. In fact, after being introduced in 1988, Venom quickly became the top bad guy in all of Marvel. It wasn’t until 1993 that the company experimented with his first self-titled limited series.
While Lethal Protector has its place in Venom lore, it wasn’t a good read. And that, my friends, would be the trend for 25 years. The editors at Marvel flipped-flopped the symbiote from one host to another, and Venom would have a new series every few years because none of the many volumes sold well. The editorial staff would regularly restart the title with a new #1, hoping something would work. As fans, we were left with plenty of wonderful and engaging covers, but no real substance.
Although the Spider-Man/Venom rivalry would persevere well past the symbiote’s days as a villain, the closest he came to a nemesis was the Life Foundation; Carnage would almost make that list, but he still remained more of a Spider-Man villain.
Then came 2018, and the Cates/Ryan Stegman one-two punch. They would work their magic on the title, taking the character back to his roots with Eddie Brock inside the costume and Stegman channeling his inner-Mark Bagley for a great aesthetic. What they did better than any Venom writer/artist combination since David Micheline and Todd McFarlane was to expand the character’s mythos.
Throughout the run, the symbiote gained new powers, the history of Klyntar would be given a much-needed revamp, and Cates and Stegman would pull back the veil on Eddie and the symbiote’s complicated relationship. The two most important additions would set up the future of the franchise all the way to Venom #200: the introduction of Knull and Dylan. They would lay the groundwork for the Yellow Brick Road that would lead to the final issue.
Knull is what Venom had needed for decades. A hero is only as good as his antagonists and the obstacles he must overcome. Knull would prove a worthy foe, and the addition of Dylan created a new emotional stake for Eddie that had mostly been absent up to this point.
That brings us to Venom #200. While this was not an action-packed final issue, it neatly tied a bow on Cates’ stellar run. He was born to write Venom, and he redefined the character. As the issue begins, we find Eddie as an aging hero struggling to find his place in his new role as the reigning God of the Symbiotes. Knowing he can no longer be the swashbuckling anti-hero he once was, Eddie hands over Venom to Dylan, and the two bond. By the last page, we are given an all-new Venom with Eddie serving as the mentor in what will surely be Marvel’s answer to Batman Beyond.
We also are teased with the return of Flash Thompson’s Agent Anti-Venom as the Guardsmen seek out the newly-freed symbiotes roaming the galaxy. This could be an interesting new take on Flash/Agent Anti-Venom, but it took away from the main story of Eddie giving way to Dylan as Venom.
In all, it was a fitting end to the Cates run, and that is all it needed to be. It tied up the loose ends and established a new path for the future. It appears this is where Dylan’s path always led from all the way back in Venom #7. Now we’ll see if Al Ewing can keep up the pace, and I am sure he can, considering his superb performance on Immortal Hulk.
From all the Venom fans going back to 1988, thank you, Donny. Thank you for respecting the character while ushering him to the forefront of Marvel Comics.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.