Next month sees the publication of The King In Black, the new event series by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman from Marvel Comics that follows up on their work on Venom and the previous event, Absolute Carnage. King In Black #1 is published this Wednesday. But last week, in a blip, Marvel Unlimited published the launch issue, digitally, in error. It was soon taken off, but not before I had popped by for a peek.
In King In Black: Symbiote Spider-Man we saw a former retconned symbiote known as Mister E, repeatedly planning to blot out the sun. In the most recent Venom, we saw Eddie Brock and Dylan Brock return to this Earth to find a world in darkness without the sun – or the stars. A little more of an interventionist policy.
But given the ubiquity of symbiote storylines at Marvel, and with Absolute Carnage still ringing in people's ears, as well as an invasion of Earth by Cotati and war against it from Skrulls and Kree, it is at least something that separates this event with all the others, and is reminiscent of the high concept of something like Inferno. The Earth has been covered with symbiote and dragons, coating its surface and its skies, causing terror. And able to spin off across the Marvel Universe titles.
Which is handy because Donny Cates has been seeding a lot in the books he has written for Marvel over the last few years, and his best mate Jason Aaron has been helping too. But that's still not enough for this book, as well as Avengers, Doctor Strange, The Sentry, Spider-Man we also get the X-Men, fresh from Krakoa, and we get the kind of cosmic-level threats that were teased in recent Avengers – and in Symbiote Spider-Man too.
Donny Cates is thumbing through his copies of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and flinging pages at the reader, while Ryan Stegman, JP Meyer and Frank Martin cover them in detail, in splatter and in light on the way to the cornea. As a comic book, it is basically playing with action figures, constantly adding new ones to the box and seeing what happens. But at every step, the reader is reminded that there is an emotional cost to every decision, these are not just pieces of plastic, or lines on a page but relationships we have been involved with since first picking up a comic or watching a Saturday morning kids cartoon.
And so in the first issue, we get mounting threat, we get twists and turns, surprises, revelations and all that jazz, as the situation gets worse and worse for heroes, humanity – and of course, Eddie Brock. Never has so much blame on one man and his symbiote's shoulder looked so glorious.
I also want to talk a lot about Frank Martin. We seem to be entering a new age of superhero comic book colourists. Whether that's the recent Joker War or tomorrow's Batman/Catwoman, of X Of Swords: Destruction or Once & Future, there's a very meticulous style of colouring that has got over being able to play with all the toys, but has learnt how to dazzle and excite, enhance the drama, the kineticism, the mood to a ludicrous degree. And King In Black #1 is one – a world in gloom with only electric lights to shine, for a large battle being played out across the night, with spots of light illuminating everywhere and, in contrast, hiding what needs to be hidden. It needs the detail of artists such as Ryan Stegman to ground it all, but it really gives us the best of worlds. I feel an essay on the use of contrasting reds and blues on Captain America's face alone coming on, but King In Black is a prime exhibit on just what can be done right here and right now.
But it also transforms what could be a muddy mess, a world turned into a World War One trench, symbiotes underfoot and dragons above, and fills it with fireworks. It is also redolent of the comic itself. There is no B story, just the A story, a relentless drive from point A to point B, and all the characters are dragged along with it, kicking and screaming. There is no other option, there is only Knull. and Donny Cates Is.
The King In Black #1 is published in comic stores this Wednesday. Read it while wearing sunglasses and look cool.
KING IN BLACK #1 (OF 5)
(W) Donny Cates (A/CA) Ryan Stegman
After a campaign across the galaxy, Knull's death march arrives to Earth and, worse yet, he hasn't come alone! With an army of hundreds of thousands of symbiote dragons at his command, the King in Black is a force unlike any Earth's heroes have ever faced. EDDIE BROCK, A.K.A. VENOM has seen firsthand the chaos that even one of Knull's symbiotic monsters can wreak – will he survive an encounter with the God of the Abyss himself?
From Donny Cates, Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, Frank Martin and VC's Clayton Cowles comes the definitive chapter in their two-year-long VENOM saga that changed everything you thought you knew about symbiote! Rated T+In Shops: Dec 02, 2020 SRP: $5.99