Comic Book Review – Venom: Rex

Venom: Rex
Reprints Venom v4 #1-6
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Ryan Stegman

I’ve previously delved into the world of Venom via Rick Remender’s run on the series. I always admit upfront that I am not a fan of the character. Venom came about right as Marvel was being dominated by the future Image Comics founders, most artists, where grimy & complicated design overshadowed proper character development. Venom is essentially “evil Spider-Man” and has become an anti-hero with an apparently large fanbase, comparable to The Punisher or Deadpool (two more characters I don’t really like). I had heard extremely positive buzz about Donny Cates’s current run and decided to put aside my personal biases and give this one a look.

Eddie Brock is back in control of the symbiote but experiencing what could be called an infection, where he loses control, and the creature appears to be possessed by some other entity. While trying to redeem himself as a crimefighter, Brock crosses paths with Rex Strickland, former SHIELD agent. Rex explains that he was part of a covert ops team in Vietnam who were joined with other symbiotes and that these things have been visiting Earth for much longer than initially realized. Rex’s comrades, still linked with their symbiotes, are being transferred to cold storage, and he needs Brock’s help to save them. What Eddie Brock stumbles across is the very origin of his shadow, the god of the abyss, and the father of the symbiotes.

I’m finding myself becoming a fan of Donny Cates and how he’s focused on developing out the cosmic landscape of the Marvel Universe in ways that connect it with other corners. Over in his Thor title, the God of Thunder has become a Herald of Galactus in the opening arc. Thor makes a similar deal to Silver Surfer’s so he can save Asgard. Cates’s Thanos series was brilliant, his run on Guardians of the Galaxy was pretty good, and his recent Silver Surfer: Black (which has direct connections with Venom) was excellent.

Cates’s take on Venom is one of body horror which works perfectly with the character. I think a lot of my frustration with Venom has always come from the fact that so much of his stories just lean into how he looks and surround him with dumb plots. Remender has an interesting angle to work from, with Flash Thompson being paired with the symbiote as part of a military program. Cates is emphasizing the dual identity nature of Venom, giving the symbiote a voice and personality. It’s pointed out early on by Rex that for as long as Brock and his partner have been joined, he really hasn’t learned much about the creature.

The best thing to come out of this story is Knull, the creator of the symbiotes. He’s tied to the mythological Grendel from Beowulf and given a history that goes back billions of years. Knull is shown to be able to hold his own against the Celestials and first creates the symbiotes by forging weapons from his own essence. Cates retcons some established Venom lore that was never that interesting to begin with and injects it with new, horrific twists. Cates reveals that symbiote planet Brock encountered in an earlier run Klyntar, an orb covered in writhing beings like his own, is actually their word for “cage.” Knull has come to Earth to reclaim his children and regain his power. It’s a pretty intriguing hook that has me interested to see where Cates takes this story, and it gives Venom more considerable significance in the Marvel Cosmic landscape.

The areas that need some work are the supporting cast. Venom titles have always just put their full weight on Brock or whoever is in the suit. Because Brock squats in a tenement and seemingly has no human connections, it can bog the story down. If the symbiote is developed and given more of a personality that could help, but there is still a big void to fill. The art is not bad, and Knull has a fascinating and appropriate design, just human enough but distorted and alien in all the right ways too. This was a good enough opening arc that I’m willing to check out the next one to get a sense of where Cates is going. I hope he can turn me around on Venom.

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