King in Black #1 Review

by Harlan Ivester on December 02, 2020

Writer: Donny Cates
Penciler: Ryan Stegman
Inker: JP Mayer
Color Artist: Frank Martin
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics

                I liked Absolute Carnage when it first came out. It felt appropriately $#!* hitting the fan after so much hype and build up since the start of Cates’ run on Venom. But if AC can be considered the prelude, then King in Black has pretty big shoes to fill. Forgive me, but it’s going to be hard to avoid comparing the two.

                Well, it definitely checks the SHTF box. If there’s one thing Cates has sold, it’s that Knull is a genuine threat. I can be pretty cynical about events, but he had me genuinely believing that an A-list hero was going to bite the dust. That’s commendable. All this is to say that his script builds tension and scope excellently. There are some elements that could be improved, though. My favorite moment from all of Absolute Carnage was in the first issue, when Peter and Eddie were talking in the café. Like I said back then, it’s the mark of a great writer when something that sounds so mundane on paper is realized in such an engaging way. It feels like Cates attempts something similar in KiB, but it doesn’t get as much attention. On one hand, it’s understandable. This is the climax of Knull’s story (for now), and that stuff is usually not here. On the other, those character moments were the most memorable part of AC for me, and there’s nothing that hits quite the same here. But the night is young. The cliffhanger does promise more personal stakes, which are sure to make the story easier to get invested in.

                I am concerned with the fact that Eddie hasn’t addressed the message he got from Wraith at the end of the one shot a few months ago, regarding Knull’s “shadow”. I can assume that he was attacked by Virus and stuck in another dimension before he had a chance to look into it, but it seems weird that he just wouldn’t mention it at all outside of that issue, when it’s clearly going to play a big part in defeating Knull. He was apparently in the other universe for a whole year. Surely he could have at least learned something about this universe’s version of the entity.

                One problem I had with AC that persists here, is the tease, for lack of a better term. Cates has a habit of introducing awesome ideas and getting rid of them before anything truly interesting can be done with them. Some examples off the top of my head are the symbiote taking on Flash Thompson’s personality, Venom growing wings, and Dark Carnage vs. Venom-Hulk. That last one had me so hyped when AC was coming out, and the fight lasted all of a double page spread, if I remember correctly. It was annoyingly short. Without getting into spoilers, there’s something similar here. Actually, there are two. I’m not going to write the first off just yet, because again, this is #1. But for now, it seems like another example of a really cool idea that’s over before it’s begun.

                I’m delighted to have Stegman and Mayer back on a Venom story with Cates. His characters are always so filled with life. Knull is really something else, though. I gave credit to Cates’ script earlier for him being so menacing, but obviously Stegman and Mayer’s presentation is a big part of it as well. The way his expression can morph from very stern and stoic to more maniacal and traditionally sinister symbiote-ish is off-putting in the best kind of way. The action pieces are mostly in the form of double page spreads or splashes, and they are jaw dropping. Sometimes, I think creators can be a little overbearing when it comes to spreads, but it’s hard to be upset about it here because they’re just so cool. The characters, the layout, the dynamics, etc. They’re so well done. There is one, however, where I can’t really tell what I’m looking at. I think it might be intentionally obfuscated because it’s a very violent moment, but I’m not entirely sure it is a violent moment. Additionally, while I think 90% of Stegman’s characters are well acted, there are a few instances where the face they’re making doesn’t totally match what’s being said. Finally, there are some sound effects that can come across as trivial. They’re very small so they probably won’t be intrusive to most readers, but a tiny little “catch” can be more distracting than immersive.

                 I am, of course, equally excited to have Martin back for colors. I would say that his most valuable contribution to the book is the tone. Once again, he has been instrumental in making this story feel legitimately dreadful, somber, and serious, without being dull about it. The wide range of characters present in this story allows for him to use a more diverse palette than he normally does, as well as some stellar lighting effects.

                 It’s not without its missteps, but King in Black #1 is a promising start to the next big thing for Venom and Marvel. It’s rare that a writer can make the stakes so believable in one of the line-wide events that seems to come and go every year. The visuals are fantastic as well. There are many moments that will make readers pause so they can soak in everything there is.

Our Score:


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