After years of preparations, Knull—the creator of symbiotes—finally invades Earth in this week’s King in Black #1, the latest chapter in Donny Cates’s epic Venom run. Luckily for Eddie Brock, he’s got the entire Marvel Universe on his side, but even that may not be enough…
The basic story structure of King in Black seems to be the boilerplate standard of any crisis crossover event: an alien threat (i.e. Knull and his symbiote army) invades Earth, requiring the combined might of its biggest superheroes to save the day. It’s perhaps unfair to frame it that reductively, but the comparable Empyre only ended a few months ago, which unfortunately calls attention to their many similarities. As a matter of fact, one of King in Black’s upcoming tie-ins (The Union) was actually intended for Empyre before the pandemic struck and subsequently refitted for this one, which makes the interchangeability of these storylines a bit glaring. But that’s less on Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman and more to do with Marvel’s publication strategy; so let’s focus our attention on the details in King in Black.
Having not read most of Cates’s Venom run up to this point (my last check-in with this saga was last year’s Absolute Carnage #1), I can’t exactly speak to the events leading up to King in Black, but I understand the basic gist of things. Eddie, anticipating the incoming arrival of the dreaded Knull, is torn between his duty as Venom’s host and newfound fatherhood of his son Dylan, as being the former endangers the latter. Although the Avengers and the X-Men are on his side this time, he’s (justifiably) still concerned about the threat Knull poses, since he kinda sorta created the symbiote race (the Klyntar) and intends to do very bad things with them. And by the end of this issue, let’s just say things aren’t looking good for our old pal Eddie.
For starters, the artistry on display has largely been consistent since Cates took hold of the Venom title, and King in Black is no exception. Stegman’s linework is frenetic and hyper-stylized, while JP Mayer’s heavy inks are accented with Frank Martin’s sickly colors. The overall art team succeeds in setting a mood, which goes a long way to boost Cates’s story and script, which —as mentioned above— isn’t the most innovative or interesting. I don’t want to keep comparing King in Black to other recent Marvel events, but it also fares less favorably to X of Swords, which ended last week after taking a wildly different approach to the crisis crossover template. It’s possible this storyline will proceed more interestingly than I presume it will based on this first issue, but I can say that scheduling it so closely after a pair of similar events does the creative team a great disservice. (Speaking of the X-Men, how refreshing is it to see them so prominently participating in an event storyline that otherwise wouldn’t call for them? Feels like it’s been forever since that happened.)
That being said, I’m interested in checking out some of the upcoming tie-ins, such as the aforementioned The Union, Return of the Valkyries, and Iron Man / Doctor Doom, which apparently has the odd couple teaming up against a symbiotic Santa Claus? If that doesn’t sound like a true Christmas miracle after the hellish year that was 2020, I don’t know what does.
King in Black #1
- Writer: Donny Cates
- Artists: Ryan Stegman (penciler), JP Mayer (inker)
- Color Artist: Frank Martin
- Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
- Cover Artists: Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, Clayton Cowles
- Editor: Devin Lewis
- Publisher: Marvel Entertainment