King in Black #2 Review

Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Ryan Stegman
Colors: Frank Martin
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Release date December 23 2020
Review by D. Brown (WolfCypher)

Absolute Spoilers Ahead

If issue one was the all-out action introduction to the event, issue two chooses to calibrate itself into a chapter more focused on plot and less reliant on dynamism.

Eddie Brock, sans the Venom symbiote, has fallen a skyscrapper’s drop down onto the streets of Manhattan. Spider-Man finds him barely alive, and with the help of the Human Torch staying behind to fight various heroes who have been taken over by Knull, Spider-Man is able to escape with the dying Eddie. This story continues the whole “besties” shtick Donny Cates began between Peter and Eddie in has last epic event story, Absolute Carnage. These two have been at worst extreme archenemies and at best reluctant allies who can barely stand to be around each other. We’ve gone from a Batman-Bane relationship to a Daredevil-Punisher relationship to (per Absolute Carnage) a Luke Cage and Iron Fist broship. Its not even a status quo I dislike, I just don’t remember at what point did their animosity transform into a sincere caring and concern for each other’s well being. I get Peter doesn’t want to see anyone, even a frenemy, die, but Cates is really trying to upsell this almost brothers-like affinity between the two. I like it, but it just kinda happened…

At a secret base where Iron Man leads a fraction of remaining superheroes, Eddie is in critical condition. This is the part of the book where the few remaining heroes al talk in circles about their options and how dire the situation has to be to even bring in these big guns. I like that Cates writes these characters actually playing with the idea of having to discuss and consider bringing in the Infinity GEMS and the like. I’ve always wondered during these twice-annual end of world crises why no one considers stopping said event’s apocalyptic threat with the Gems or Cosmic Cube or their (when available) Jean Grey/Phoenix or Franklin Richards. I know it wouldn’t make for an exciting story if Wanda just “No Mores” the threat away. I’m just saying these options never get discussed during these events, and Cates actually have these characters bring this discussion out. It always adds to the weight of the crisis, so that’s great for the story’s tone.

Spider-Man brings Dylan to the base so he can be near his dad, while Iron Man sums up a plan. Blade is to strike a deal with Dracula, Namor to ally themselves with the Black Tide (not familiar myself with these characters, so this one’s very new to me), and even Wilson Fisk is reached out to for his assistance. Tony himself is going to fetch a sample of one of Knull’s dragons…not so much a sample as much as an actual whole symbiote dragon, which he is able to sever its connection to Knull and take control of using the Extremis virus. Hey, that’s actually a pretty cool idea. I don’t have the time to take us back all the way to the days of 2005 (even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was first established), so trust me when I say this was a cool addition to the plot that makes sense. Cates reminds us that during the events of Absolute Carnage, Cletus Kasady wore a symbiote that was actually one of Knull’s dragons instead of his own (or maybe it was a mixture of both the dragon symbiote and remains of the Carnage symbiote…Cates never made it clear). These dragbiotes are highly resistant to both fire and sonics and could be the only thing that can keep Eddie alive and get him back into the fight.

The plan seems to work, until the symdragon starts to kill Eddie. Dylan uses his powers to obliterate the symbiote, and Eddie flatlines. And he’s dead.

I was expecting a major internet-breaking cliffhanger towards the end, of course with this being both an event comic and a Cates story, but I have to say, I think I got this final page of the main story (there is a preview of the next issue of Venom afterwards) and I just thought to myself…sure. I mean, what else can Cates do to this guy? He’s had him burned nearly to death, he’s had him discover the symbiote had been lying and manipulating him for years, allegedly making him sick to keep him under control (a can of worms I can’t really get into now) among keeping secrets, he’s broken him emotionally, he’s had him electrocuted, he’s had him maim himself, I mean, where else do you go? I actually didn’t guess this outcome, but when I got there, I just…didn’t care as much as I should? And yeah could be I’ve read comics for 30 years now, so I know hoe the game works, but even if I only take in these tropes in a bubble, in this Venom run alone I’m left thinking “oh, Eddie’s the worse way…what else is new”? This didn’t have the impact on me it was supposed to. But we do have a comment section on this page, so feel free to argue with me down below.

This issue plays on the strengths of Cates writing more than the previous issue did. There isn’t a single fight to be had or a punch to be thrown. Instead, the heroes are losing, the world is drowning, and what remains of any hope have all retreated to their holes to converge on a Hail Mary play. This entire Venom run in retrospect could be argued to be a Knull book that just happens around Eddie Brock who sometimes gets to be Venom. Cates’s leading character Knull (yes, I typed that write) is in this book for only one panel, the Venom symbiote is just gone, and Eddie is out of commission. The whole book is carried on the shoulders of what’s left of the Avengers, half of the Fantastic Four, and a sprinkling of solo heroes. It actually reads very well as a follow-up to the overly action heavy issue it follows, and it makes you wonder where this story can possibly go. You have to consider that not only is Eddie be teased as if he’s just completely out of this event, but we also still have the Venom comic tie-ins. So yeah, I’m not convinced at all he’ll stay dead (dying is like having a bad cold in comics…he’ll get better. He’ll get better from dying…) but you have me wondering what creative ways it’ll get undone. What plot twist will outdo this plot twist? And Knull…what will be his end? You’ve sold us, Mr. Cates, on the extreme threat that he is, so how will any of our heroes ultimately win? All right, I’m invested still…

Final Thoughts

Ryan Stegman’s visuals are at their peak in this second chapter of the newest Cates event. Cates himself writes a story that works surprisingly well even with the the most important characters almost completely missing or out of commission through the whole issue.

7.9/10

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