Written by Donny Cates
Art by Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer and Frank Martin
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
In today’s modern superhero landscape, it almost feels like one has to choose between wild, esoteric characters and a sprawling sense of mythology - in other words, either the characters themselves are crazy enough to keep readers engaged, or the world built around them feels big enough to maintain a sense of investment. But Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman are able to have their cake and eat it too with Venom #5, as this team is not only exploring new angles for the Lethal Protector, but expanding Eddie Brock’s world in a way that feels both off-the-wall and strangely organic.
And when you’ve got a story that features dragons, symbiote gods, and secrets dating back to Vietnam, that’s a fairly tall order. But five issues in, Cates has earned Venom’s shifting status quo, even as he’s only teased things with the symbiote sprouting blood red dragon wings. Is that particularly spider-based? Nope. Is that metal as hell? Definitely. But it’s also the kind of shift that helps Venom escape from being in Peter Parker’s shadow - Cates has let Eddie and his symbiote make some steps forward, now knowing that their problem has a name.
But even beyond the macro-plotting stages of this book, Cates’ sense of execution - particularly his pacing and dialogue - give Venom much of its bite. From the cold open of Eddie and Miles Morales free-falling above New York City to Eddie and his suit finally confronting their mysterious malefactor, Cates gives us plenty of action to push readers through bursts of exposition. But there’s also emotion to the mix, as well - with Eddie’s symbiote finally lucid, you can sense his loneliness, while Venom challenging another symbiote to “show us your teeth” is one of the most badass moments in a superhero book that I’ve seen in a long time.
Meanwhile, artist Ryan Stegman is the one handily selling all these moments. There’s a wild-eyed intensity to his characters (particularly the smart way he’s cracked one of Miles Morales’ mask lenses, so we can see the amped-up kid underneath) that immediately raises the tension of the book, while he and inker JP Mayer’s rendering of the Venom suit evokes the creepiness of Kelley Jones’ ‘90s-era Venom: The Madness. With Mayer’s inks giving Stegman’s linework just the right amount of fluidity, Stegman is able to really swing for the fences here, whether it’s small moments like the Venom suit comparing notes with its host, or watching Eddie throw a spiked tendril through a dude’s face. (Seriously - it is awesome.) Colorist Frank Martin completes the artist trifecta nicely here, washing the whole nighttime affair with a dark filter that shows how gritty and grungy the story is without sapping any of Stegman’s energy.
Given how many fits and starts have been taken with Venom as a character over the past decade or so, you can’t help but be impressed with the level of craziness and the level of confidence this creative team has brought in just five issues. It would be easy to just position Eddie Brock as a shadow counterpart of Spider-Man, but there’s something much more additive going on thanks to Cates and Stegman’s ingenuity - by building upon the mythology of the symbiotes in such a wild way, they’re able to build upon both Venom as a character as well as the world around him, revitalizing a new corner of the Marvel Universe.