(w) Donny Cates (A) Ryan Stegman & JP Mayer (C) Frank Martin
One of the biggest problems that comic publishers – especially ones that feature superhero universes – is that inevitably all characters end up linked together. Look at how many Batman-related or Superman-related characters are running around DC’s books. Valiant has the immortal Anni-Padda brothers. And then there’s Marvel with their 800 bajillion X-Men, constantly rotating cast of Avengers, the crazily expanded cast of Spider-characters. They’re all connected, which means no matter what their is a key connection to a major character. For Venom to work, you need Spider-Man (sorry Sony). That is, unless you change the game. That’s exactly what Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman are doing to Eddie Brock in Venom.
Though Marvel and the Mouse would never admit it, it appears that the Spidey-sharing agreement with Sony has influenced this series by attempting to build a strong enough mythology for Venom to stand alone and apart from Spider-man. Sure, we have a completely meaningless cameo from Miles Morales, but that’s more because no one knows what to do with him since Bendis joined the Distinguished Competition. But no matter the reason for this change in direction, Donny Cates has proven to be up to the task.
The amount of world-building that Cates has crafted over the first four issues and into this fifth one is staggering – especially for a modern superhero comic. The reason for its effectiveness is largely to do with the approach of these reveals. Often, attempts to add to a long-running character’s mythology comes across as cheap; lazily tacked on for the purpose of being shocking (I’m looking at you Sins Past). With Venom #5, nothing is added to the mythology in such a manner.
Cates uses previously established concepts as a means to introduce new elements. He also adds in other components that are seemingly unrelated, but keeps them in the foreground for readers to get acclimated to them. Finally, he ties them all together in a manner that feels as organic as it does authentic. It’s an approach executed time and again in some of the best prose storytelling, as well as by some of the best writers or cartoonists in the industry. To see it occur in a mainstream superhero book is a pleasant surprise.
Of course, Cates is not a one-man team. The art from Ryan Stegman and JP Mayer continues to be among the most visually striking in comics. When it comes to a classic, superhero “house” style, this duo is seemingly at a level above their contemporaries. Each character is full of detail, and the attention to expressiveness and body language makes the readers buy into this world. As great as their line-work is, praise should also go to colorist Frank Martin, who gives the book a wonderfully dark and atmospheric aesthetic.
Venom #5 continues the series trend of being a true gem not just among the Big Two, but the industry as a whole. This is solely due to the immensely talented creative team, because if we’re being honest, Venom as a character is clearly a product of 1980s and 1990s comics. As long as the team keeps up the good work, Eddie Brock may have finally found his place in the 21s century.