Writer: Donny Cates
Artists: Iban Coello, Juan Gedeon
Colorist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover Artists: Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, Frank Martin
He has a score to settle with Eddie Brock. He’s got a Venom paint job, an Iron Man helmet, a Goblin glider, and his name—because apparently even fictional antiheroes aren’t safe from 2020—is Virus.
The new villain makes his first brooding appearance Venom #26, written by Donny Cates with art by Iban Coello and Juan Gedeon. Virus storms onto the scene guns-first, claiming that Brock ruined his life, yet his identity remains a secret.
But I mean, it’s totally Jack O’Lantern, right?
Pause there, because this is one of the great things about Cates’s Venom run. The series asks questions and actually answers them, usually with more questions. With all due respect to Nick Spencer, I’m a bit tired of guessing Kindred’s secret identity after two years of hints. Okay, I’m actually still really excited to figure out who Kindred is (it’s totally Green Goblin V, right?). But in just 26 issues, Cates has proven his ability to plant and pay off. I’m here for Virus, whoever he turns out to be (it’s Jack O’Lantern).
But more importantly, Venom #26 highlights the humanity of this Venom run. Before Cates came along, I had relegated Brock and his other to the realm of angsty high school nostalgia, somewhere between my screamo albums and my black hoodie. Cates’s Venom remains metal as ever, probably more so. But it works more than ever because there’s a real man under the alien mask.
We see it most profoundly in the relationship between Brock and his son, Dylan. The choice to make Brock a dad adds just the right dimensionality to his character. It forces him to deal with his own trauma as he addresses the same traumas in his son. In some ways, it’s the tried-and-true “soften up the antihero by making him a babysitter” bit. It should feel played-out by now, but it doesn’t. Venom finds the humanity in Brock without dulling his extraterrestrial, ambiguously-cannibalistic teeth. His fatherhood gives him something to be insecure about, but it also gives him something to protect. Perhaps even lethally protect?
Visually, Venom #26 feels of a piece with the rest of the series. As a rule, I’m distracted by mid-series artist swaps (I was spoiled as a child by the 111-issue Bendis/Bagley run on Ultimate Spider-Man). But Venom as a character also contains room for artist interpretation, and it’s a treat to see where different artists take him (Coello and Gedeon prefer the teeth-everywhere, tiny-mouth, tongue-as-thick-as-forearm approach).
One nerdy nitpick: when the Earth-1610 Venom symbiote appeared in the previous arc, it retained its purple hue from the Ultimate Spider-Man series—a satisfying callback, especially in the hands of its original creator, Mark Bagley. In this issue, the Earth-1610 symbiote is visually indistinguishable from Brock’s suit. But the Maker still speaks in Ultimate comics font, so that’s something.
This is another solid issue in a thoroughly entertaining series. And it looks like things will only ramp up from here, because the King in Black is coming. But for now, Venom has a Virus to defeat—and I’ll bet you $3.99 (plus tax) that he does it while wearing a mask.
Villain name timing6.5/10
The Maker's head size10.0/10
- Pays off previous plants.
- Pushes story forward.
- Virus character design.
- I'm serious about Earth-1610 Venom needing more purple.
- Also Virus is totally Jack O'Lantern, right?