King in Black #1 Review: Cates and Stegman Are a Match Made in Hell

Writer Donny Cates has spent a lot of time at Marvel Comic building to the eventual return of Knull, the god of the symbiotes—an event that promises to be both ghoulish and shocking. The day of Knull's reckoning has finally arrived as King in Black #1 hits the shelves, kicking off Cates' second Venom-centric event. Just like Absolute Carnage, King in Black arrives with plenty of hype surrounding it. There's been a lot of build-up to this one. Fortunately, King in Black delivers, at least in its first issue.

King of Black #1 kicks off with Knull's arrival on Earth, following Dylan and Eddie's stint in an alternate reality. Eddie, his Other, the Avengers, and the X-Men have all teamed up to plan a defensive strategy against the symbiotic god, but it's easy to see from the first few pages of the issue that they're beyond being outmatched.

Bits of King in Black are reminiscent of most run-of-the-mill event comics, especially when it comes to the whole "this entity has put the whole planet in imminent danger" thing. Readers have seen it before. But Cates does a great job of taking those little story elements and making them unique and interesting once more. Yes, Knull is attempting to take over the world, but covering the entire planet in a symbiote to block the light and operate under the constant cover of darkness? That's both a neat idea and metal as hell.

What really makes Knull standout amongst most major villains is his fundamental connection to Eddie and Dylan. The hive-mind that the symbiotes share creates a controlled sort of chaos for the central plot to operate in. It's like there's a deep-rooted element of psychological warfare that only a few characters and the audience are privy to. This has always been the case with Venom titles, but Cates brings so much more honesty and intensity to those inner conversations—making the action in Eddie's mind consistently more compelling than what's going on in the streets.

Cates' entire Venom run up to this point has made it feel as though Dylan, Eddie's son, is the story's endgame. The kid has some wild powers, he's begging to use them, and Eddie has seemed destined for a date with death at some point in this run. If the ultimate goal is to replace Eddie with Dylan in the book moving forward, this issue takes great strides toward making that happen.

Let's be honest, if this really is Eddie's last rodeo (at least for now), Cates has given him a great final arc. Eddie Brock has been torn apart throughout this series, but his humanity and relatability have never been more apparent. This is the deepest and most thoughtful version of Eddie readers have seen in years, possibly ever.

As good of a job as Cates does with kicking off this event, it's his creative partner that steals the King in Black MVP trophy starting on the very first page. Boy, has Venom really missed Ryan Stegman.

There's a bleak and beautiful tone to Stegman's style when he's been on this series that just can't be replicated or replaced. His art bleeds hopelessness. That might sound negative, but I promise you it's the opposite. The world that Cates has created for Eddie is bleak, desperate, and complex, and Stegman has been the only artist on the Venom titles to fully realize that setting.

Stegman brings out the best in Cates, and vice versa. They make a formidable duo capable of telling some of the most imaginative and death-defying stories in the modern era of superhero comics, even when the premise seems simple to start. Thanks to their creative partnership, King in Black is one hell of a banger.

Published by Marvel Comics

On December 2, 2020

Written by Donny Cates

Art by Ryan Stegman and JP Mayer

Colors by Frank Martin


Letters by Clayton Cowles

Cover by Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, and Frank Martin