by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
First issues have a lot to do, and Venom 1 checks off many of those requirements with subtle aplomb. It establishes its hero’s goals, modus operandi, and morality in a casual, understated way, and spends plenty of time looking towards the future, expanding Venom’s world in intriguing new directions. Despite all that, though, more than anything Venom 1 is interested in creating an atmosphere, setting a mood. It’s an issue that’s bleak and relentless, and for once, I mean that as a compliment.
I mean, this is an issue that opens with a flashback/nightmare scenario that finds a whole squadron of men being slaughtered, and then cuts to a reality that’s somehow even more bleak and depressing.
It’s downright impressive how much nicer the past looks than the present here. Penciller Ryan Stegman, inker JP Mayer, and colorist Frank Martin bathe the page on the left in a hazy filter that lends the scene an air of nostalgia that shines despite the carnage being inflicted. Actually, the symbiote’s attack hits all that much harder because of the contrast, his inky blackness intruding upon the sepia-toned world both within the panels and even in the gutter.
The contrast is even more startling, though, once readers move to the next page. The first thing Stegman, Mayer, Martin, and writer Donny Cates establish is a torrential rainstorm that persists throughout the rest of the issue, lending the proceedings a tone that’s depressing at best, and terrifying at worst. The gutters turn black and stay that way for most of the issue, and Eddie Brock’s apartment is dark, dank, and dingy, bathed in perpetual shadows. It’s a visual representation of Eddie and the symbiote’s headspace, one plagued with nightmares and rage, one that’s led to Eddie to down anti-psychotics just to get a little peace.
Fascinatingly, finding peace ends up being Eddie’s primary goal throughout Venom 1. Cates is quick to establish Eddie as someone who is still interested in reporting, even if just as a way to pay the bills, and to establish Eddie and his symbiote as anti-heroes who only inflict their justice upon guilty men, but this is just background radiation in the issue. It’s the status quo Eddie wants to return to, but to do so, he needs to fix his symbiote.
That goal is what leads the story in intriguing new directions as Eddie is approached by Rex Strickland, a former symbiote-host who introduces an entirely new chapter to Venom’s backstory. Eddie goes along with Rex’s plan, not for the sake of learning alone, but because this knowledge could help him fix the symbiote and return to normal, and that’s what grounds this issue. The reveals of symbiote-soldiers in Marvel’s past and of a possible symbiote God in the present are both exciting bits of lore, but what’s truly important is that both have immediate ramifications on Venom and his mental state. The consequences of this new information are immediately apparent.
Once Venom embarks on his mission to rescue Strickland’s former teammates, the creative team adds a few touches of color to the all-encompassing black palette they’ve established.
This isn’t the first instance of red in the issue — there’s Jack-O-Lantern’s head as well as an explosion earlier on — but this is the first time it’s become a dominant color for an entire scene. It adds a new spark of life to the art, just like Venom’s mission has given him a new spark, something solid he can look to just like he looks at those trucks coming towards him on the horizon.
It’s no surprise that, starting with the very next page, the gutters become white for the first time in the issue. There’s a clarity (and even a bit of hope!) to Venom’s goals now that he didn’t have before — instead of a vague desire to fix his symbiote, Eddie now knows who he needs to rescue in order to find out how. Things are going well for the first time in the issue — the symbiote is cooperating with Eddie, and the men on the truck even end up being scumbags, meaning that Venom can brutalize them with a clear conscience.
But then things go sideways — the soldiers and their symbiotes are possessed by the same strange voice screwing with his own symbiote before being destroyed altogether, and it’s all quite possibly the fault of a symbiote God, of all things.
Earlier in the issue there’s a splash page of Venom web-slinging through the streets of New York City in the pouring rain. It’s immediately iconic, the rain driving home the fact that this is an anti-hero, not a squeaky-clean Spider-Man. Now, though, it’s become more than clear that this rain wasn’t just atmosphere, and it wasn’t just Venom’s — it was a storm on the horizon, and now that storm’s arrived in the form of a massive, horrific symbiote God of destruction.
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