The idea for the first Web of Venom one-shot, aptly titled "Ve'Nam," seems like it could either be an absolute blast to read, or it could be a completely absurd and useless entry to a title that has had more than its fair share of absurd and useless stories. Fortunately for us, "Ve'Nam" falls into the former category, with Donny Cates and Juanan Ramirez delivering a thrilling blend of genres that succeeds in creating one of Venom's most compelling tales to date.
Web of Venom: Ve'Nam #1 is a single issue story that takes readers back to the horrors of the Vietnam War, following the story of a soldier named Rex Strickland. Rex was introduced in Cates' current Venom run as a sort-of-mentor for Eddie Brock, who revealed that he and four other men were fused with Symbiotes and sent into Vietnam at the order of Nick Fury. We learn in Venom #5 that Rex never actually lost the bond with his Symbiote, and has been operating against the hive for nearly five decades. "Ve'Nam" explores what went wrong with the Symbiotes in Vietnam, and how Rex remained the only member of his team to stay somewhat human.
First and foremost, this book does a phenomenal job of capturing the essence of war without ever feeling cheesy, cartoonish, or toned-down, and all credit there goes to Juanan Ramirez. The textures of the jungle are mysterious, the faces of the characters convey genuine fear and emotion, and the style he employs in the Symbiotes reminds you that they are a force to be reckoned with, not some comic book character that's been driven into the ground in recent years. The rugged line-work and muted colors combine for a serious, action-packed tone that feels like it belongs in an old pulp magazine, and it sets an absolutely breathtaking, tragic tone for this book.
Ryan Stegman has set a new standard for drawing Venom in the ongoing series, and following up his work is no easy task. But Ramirez does all that and then some, putting out what will easily be recognized as his best Marvel work to this point, and commanding the utmost respect for his craft.
As far as the writing and story of the issue go, Donny Cates does what Donny Cates has become known to do, and that's flip the script on Marvel readers.
Understand that I don't say this like it's a bad thing — I think it's one of Cates' strongest qualities as a writer. It's 2018. Comics have been around for a while. And a lot comics, especially from Marvel and DC, follow a lot of the same rules and guidelines, causing us as readers to often know what we're going to be getting from a book or series as soon as we start reading. In "Ve'Nam," just as in many of his other works, Cates breaks out of that mold.
One of the ways Cates does this is in his choice to shift the focus of this book to Rex Strickland, who has quickly become one of Marvel's most intriguing new characters, in my opinion. With a supporting cast of Nick Fury and Wolverine, it would be easy for any writer to focus on the two of them, rather than the task at hand. At first, it seems like this book is going to do just that, but Cates quickly shifts the tale back to Strickland, while still allowing the other two to play an important role. We often expect these books to follow the tried and true path of money-making characters, but Cates is bold in his approach, trusting that his new and original creation can carry the weight of the book; and he's absolutely right.
(While we're on the subject, can I just say how great it is to see Bad Guy Nick Fury again? This is an excellent take on the old-school version of the character that we could use A LOT more of.)
Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it knows exactly what it needs to be and never strays from that objective. This gives Rex Strickland a backstory that provides us with the answers we've been asking for, but also introduces a few more questions to keep our interest going forward. We know everything we need to know, but a couple of small teases give us a craving to know more at some point. It's the kind of balance that most one-shots are looking for, but few ever actually find.
To put it plainly, Web of Venom: Ve'Nam #1 is a must-read, plain and simple. It's a sci-fi thriller, an action-packed exploration of war, and a twisted slasher all rolled into one. If you haven't read Venom lately, you'll still dig what's going on in this book. If you have been keeping up with Venom (which I highly recommend you do), then "Ve'Nam" will only enhance your love of the series.
If for some reason you need any more convincing, I'll leave you with just three words: Frozen Symbiote dragon. You're welcome.
Published by Marvel Comics
On August 29, 2018
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Juanan Ramirez0comments
Colors by Felipe Sobreiro
Letters by VC's Clayton Cowles