King in Black: Planet of the Symbiotes #3 Review

Writers: Rodney Barnes & Steve Orlando
Artists: Danilo S. Beyruth & Gerardo Sandoval with Victor Nava
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg & Erick Arciniega
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

Release date April 7 2021
Review by D. Brown (WolfCypher)

The first story features Cloak & Dagger. During the Knull Invasion, the streets are running rampant with symbiotes and the skies are swarming with symbiote-dragons. But this KING IN BLACK tie-in, which its title would suggest ties into a SYMBIOTE INVASION event would have you forget that, as our ebony and ivory heroes chase down common street thugs. Yeah.

I could very cynically leave it at that, but I have a word count minimum I’d like to reach, so I’ll expound. The arrival of Knull has brought out a very bitter bleakness buried within Cloak, and our usually stoic Tyrone begins acting far more hostile towards the criminals they prey on, while creating an unspoken rift between Dagger and himself. Dagger narrates the first half of this first half of the book, expressing concern over Cloak, who refuses to communicate with her for most of their story. Cloak’s no-nonsense approach is then explained through his own narration of him believing that this darkness he’s feeling is a result of a hopelessness he feels has been present with everyone far before Knull’s arrival, and that this sudden invasion has just opened his eyes.

I’m struggling to make this sound any more substantial than it deserves. There is nothing offensive or poorly written about this book, no, but its not a very interesting story, and it definitely isn’t one I haven’t read before. I feel like I’ve read a few past 90s Cloak & Dagger stories that run this gamut of Cloak finding himself at risk of being lost in his own darkness, only for Dagger to pull him back with her light and/or optimism, for as long as they have each other, neither are lost. I swear I’ve also read this within a few DC Comics Hawk and Dove stories. I won’t be too negative (ironic given the nature of the story, the pessimism theme present), as there really isn’t any actual bad in this story. The arts fine, the dialogue is serviceable, and it’s plainly a Cloak and Dagger story, just not one that does anything new. Given this is a short story inside a two-for-one event book, it would be a little unfair to expect this story to set any worlds on fire.

But I reiterate…this is, according to it’s branding, a King in Black book. I promise you, I did not miss anything here when I say…this story has nothing to do with King in Black. It just so happens to take place during Knull’s attack on Earth. And yet, despite everything being covered in alien biomass…living alien biomass that will attach itself to anything/anyone that moves, we have criminals…NO, not “Venomized”, “Knullified”, “Symbiotized” criminals…just generic, ordinary criminals running around. In a city (nay, a planet) that is supposed to covered in so much all-consuming symbiote goo which will take you over. Yet, no one in this book seems to really be affected by this crisis. Sure, the invasion is brought up in the inner dialogue and by the police that show up, but this story could very easily just have happened altogether outside of this event. In fact, this is the second time in a week I’ve had to say this about a King in Black event; my King in Black: Ghost Rider review complained about this, and at least that book remembered to actually use the invading symbiotes in its story. Did the symbiotes antagonist feel necessary in that book? No, but they showed up…they factored into the conflict.

Well, what we have here is just a…Cloak and Dagger story. A very basic, Cloak and Dagger story. Oh well, maybe the next story, one that actually features a symbiote, will make this feel like it warrants the King in Black branding…

I was wrong! I was horribly wrong!!

We don’t get a King in Black story here either, filler or otherwise. But what we do get feels…familiar. In a good way. Might be to do that this one featured the return of Toxin…with its third host and fifth design (its had a lot of different looks for being an extremely “here today, gone tomorrow” kind of symbiote). There’s quite a bit I felt at home with here. For starters, Alchemax is back, involved with symbiotes again, doing familiar things to human test subjects. This is straight out of the Mike Costa days of Venom dealing with Alchemax, Venom discovering their whole turning-people-into-dinosaurs of it all. Now, replace dinosaurs with the Brood.

Also, with Alchemax no longer having free reign to study neither the Venom nor Sleeper symbiote, somehow the conglomerate had been housing and experimenting with the once dead Toxin symbiote. Oh yeah…and about that…

The Toxin symbiote’s death and return is alluded to, but never really dived into in this book.

Want more familiarity? We have Gerardo Sandoval on the art, another link from the Costa Venom days. He’s also credited with the art from Scream’s Absolute Carnage three-parter, so the guy has some symbiote talent on his résumé. In all honesty,I swear I’m just reading a Mike Costa written book. It has a stark similar tone and energy to it that matches Costa’s time on Venom. It’s so weird, because I’ve read plenty of Steve Orlando over at DC, and he definitely has his own recognizable writing style. But I’m okay with all this, since I’ve been missing the Mike Costa style of Venom as of late.

One thing that is very new with the Toxin symbiote is its sass. I really don’t remember the Toxin symbiote being this curt and snarky. Granted, when it had something to say, it said it (with it’s first host, Patrick Mulligan…it was quite silent during its Eddie Brock days), but it’s really grown into quite the mouth with its newest host. In fact, why is it that every symbiote is capable of having better dialogue than the Venom symbiote, which still continues to speak in a terribly stilted way?

“We’ve returned, Eddie.”
“Too wounded, Eddie. Cannot heal, Eddie.”
“Missed you, Eddie. Good to be back, Eddie.”
“It’s God, Eddie. He is Coming, Eddie.”
“Sorry, Eddie. Was afraid, Eddie.”

Its odd that this King in Black tie-in chooses to highlight Cloak & Dagger as the headlining characters in a story that would have you think it it ties-into a symbiote event, instead of using Toxin (our symbiote protag of the secondary story), and even odder when you read this and realize that throughout the entire book, nothing in this book…neither story…have anything to add or take away from the King in Black event. Hell, the only time I recall either Knull or the King in Black event being mentioned in the Toxin story is in the book’s blurb for Toxin…the blurb at the very end of the book. Where the creator credits are. On a non-story page.

Final Thoughts

We have a by-the-numbers Cloak & Dagger tale, and fun pilot to a Toxin ongoing which may not happen, but that potential is there. Steve Orlando does a good job selling the premise of a Toxin book featuring a new host. Between these three Planet of the Symbiote/King in Black anthologies, this one has the absolute least to do with King in Black. If any of the featured characters interest you, you’ll be fine reading these. For the uninitiated, you might get something at least from the Toxin story.

6.9/10

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