Venom Volume 2: The Abyss
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Ryan Stegman & Iban Coello
Donny Cates’s run on Venom has been all about the strange symbiosis between Eddie Brock and his companion. It’s a fascinating study of body horror, precisely the moments where Eddie loses time and learns the symbiote was moving him around and speaking for him. The title leans into its horror elements more than it’s superhero roots. There’s also a desire to build out the Venom mythos beyond just being a part of the Spider-Man niche of the Marvel Universe.
One of my long-running reasons for disliking Venom was that he felt like a character who was “edgy” for edginess’s sake. He was a character who existed more as a cool design than as a fully fleshed out star of his own title. Cates has retconned some of the shallow, annoying things about Venom and made him a layered and much more tragic figure. In just a handful of issues, Cates introduces a new villain for Eddie, explores his childhood, and drops a major twist about our protagonist. It’s still decompressed storytelling but not dragging out storylines to an insane degree like some recent writers have done.
Eddie Brock wakes up in the clutches of The Maker, Reed Richards from the dead Ultimate Universe. We don’t really get much from The Maker because the story focuses more intimately on Eddie’s relationship with his father and his newly discovered half-brother. The symbiote is cut off from its homeworld hive after the battle in the last volume. The creature has become more like a dog, clinging to Eddie out of familiarity. This change in their relationship dynamic has a harsh effect on Eddie, he’s lost his way in the world and seeks out his father for help.
What’s going on here is that volume one is all about upending what the readers knew about the symbiote, and volume two does the same for Eddie’s past. There is a moment in Eddie’s life that is profoundly influential on who he became, and here he learns it was something implanted when he bonded with his companion. This sort of twist opens the door for much of the worst elements of Venom to be shunted in favor of something more complex. I have to say this is the first time I feel invested in Eddie Brock and see him as more than just a shallow 1990s Spider-Man villain. The horror of his youth is palpable, and his father proves to be the most intimidating villain Venom has ever encountered.
I get the feeling Cates is taking some cues from Peter David’s run on The Incredible Hulk. In that multi-decade run, David turned the series into an in-depth psychological examination of Bruce Banner & the Hulk, distinguishing them as two separate personas in conflict. Here Eddie is very much distinct from his symbiote but in more of an owner to pet role in some aspects. I am interested to see where Cates is going with these developments because there is a sense of final destination for Eddie, a transformation into something new. I have to give it to the writer, he’s turned me around on a character I’d previously written off.