Written by Donny Cates
Art by Mark Bagley, Andy Owens, Frank Martin, and Erick Arciniega
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Eddie Brock’s Heart of Darkness continues in Venom #22, part 2 of “Venom Island.” Separated from the Venom symbiote, which is now infected by Carnage and the Grendel from Absolute Carnage, Eddie is on the run, using his former remote island refuge as a base. To make matters even more horrifying, the Symbiote god Knull is still hurtling toward Earth, adding a healthy orbiting tension to the mix. Add to that the highly kinetic, expressive artwork of Mark Bagley, backed by strong inks from Andy Owens and rich colors from Frank Martin and Erick Arciniega, you get a completely different flavor from this run of Venom with the fun and muscle still intact.
While separating Eddie Brock from Venom isn’t exactly groundbreaking for the character, writer Donny Cates has always found consistently novel ways to give the separation teeth. “Venom Island” is just the latest example. Left to his own devices, Eddie is facing down an entire island of wildlife, all infected by the Venom/Carnage/Grendel Symbiote team-up. Again deploying punchy, occasionally poetic narration from Brock, Cates again leans into the do-or-die drive of the character to stay alive and save his “shadow” - even if that means torching it with an ancient flamethrower to do so.
But while the symbiote-based action of the island and the looming threat of Knull is the sizzle, Cates’ expanding on Brock’s son Dylan provides a nice bit of narrative steak along with it. Haunted by pointed nightmares, eerily staged by the art team making great use of the panel’s negative spaces, Dylan can’t leave the goopy hijinks behind, revealing that he too has a piece of Carnage left over from the crossover - a slimy Chekhov's Gun that Cates will no doubt be firing later on. If anything, this speaks to how layered Cates is working to make Venom, all while still delivering consistent action.
It also doesn’t hurt that said action is being rendered by prolific Spider-artist Mark Bagley. Supported by the thick inks of Andy Owens and the stony colors of Frank Martin and Excalibur’s Erick Arciniega, Venom #22 looks like a Sgt. Fury tale by way of classic Spidey/Venom action. Using the hidden weapon caches of the former military base Eddie turned into his sanctuary, he lays a trap using an air raid horn and World War II-era flamethrower. And it look even cooler than it sounds - packed into tightly built panels that occasionally explode into dense splash pages, like the reveal of the minions Carnage/Venom have gathered around the island, Bagley and the rest of the art team lean into the jungle/paramilitary trappings of the arc with aplomb.
It all culminates toward a shocking encounter with Eddie and the infected Venom, as their negotiations prove to be a bit more grisly than you might expect. It doesn’t get talked about a lot, but it is really interesting how Bagley is able to stage actual “violence” in comic books in an interesting and visually appealing manner without making it look outwardly gross or off-putting. Venom #22 contains a scene that exemplifies that strange talent and I applaud the creative team for doing so.
God is still coming, but things aren’t exactly looking up for Eddie in the meantime in Venom #22. But I think that’s the real niche of the Donny Cates era of Venom. There has always been this drive to the stories, along with the layered characterization, and “Venom Island” seems to be continuing that streak in spades. Not only a treat script-wise, but the addition of Mark Bagley to the title gives it a real visual street cred as a major Spider-title. Too bad Knull is going to just destroy it all when he gets to Earth. Until then, fingers crossed we keep getting fun, engaging issues like Venom #22.