This one-shot serves essentially as a basic origin story for Rex Strickland — one of writer Donny Cates's new supporting characters in the regular Venom book – expanding on his Vietnam origin, which was only briefly touched on previously.
Basically Strickland and four other soldiers were bonded to symbiotes for an operation during the Vietnam war, which went — predictably — haywire.
That word unfortunately can sum up the story on this book: predictable. It goes wrong, of course – and the man behind the scheme has to be Nick Fury, in his new standard government agent "ends justify the means" mode. Fury sends in a specialist to clean up – and you'll never believe who that Canadian and future X-Man turns out to be!
Will Fury ultimately betray the operative and the soldiers? I won't spoil it, but if you have not guessed correctly by now, you are not really trying.
I was hoping for some Garth Ennis-like grittiness – I expected that Cates was inspired by that writer's various Vietnam-set Punisher and Nick Fury work and would use the backdrop to show how messy and futile the whole conflict was. But Vietnam is just a cool backdrop – a generic jungle setting. The book seems more inspired by the original Predator film and John Carpenter's The Thing – and while those are great stuff too, this story doesn't come near the inventive pulpiness of either.
The art, by Juanan Ramirez, is impressive though – clearly channeling Goran Parlov's work with Ennis in the beginning (Parlov contributes a variant cover to the issue so the comparison with his previous work with Ennis is invited).
Initially the figures are realistic and the mood is tight and tense – but then the symbiote and super-hero elements come in and everything becomes much wilder and looser. It's all framed well, and Ramirez has clear storytelling chops – I will definitely be keeping an eye out for his work in the future.
Cates has impressed me with his smart plots and sharp takes on old ideas in his work in the past (God Country, Thanos, etc.) – but the thinness of this story suggests to me that the brief synopsis we previously got in Venom (basically "some soldiers were bonded to symbiotes during Vietnam, it went wrong") may have been enough and this was a story better teased than shown.