By Donny Cates, Juanan Ramírez & Felipe Sobreiro
Writer Donny Cates has been igniting Marvel Comics with his passion. First with his “Thanos Wins” arc in the titular comic; now his run on Venom is redefining the character for a new generation (and old fans too, to be perfectly honest); soon he will be curating the revival of the Marvel Knights imprint. In this one-shot, Cates and his collaborators delve deeper into the backstory of a plot thread introduced in his first Venom storyline – a symbiote super-soldier platoon fighting in the Vietnam War…quite the concept!
Unfortunately, this strong concept is only given a one-shot and not able to properly give the seed of Ve’nam the time and space to grow to its full potential. Cates is able to deliver the necessary backstory and context to fulfill narrative duties to tie this in with his current Venom arc, but it moves at a fairly brisk pace and never truly delves into the lives of the symbiote-enhanced soldiers (sym-soldiers). Perhaps, this is personal expectations placed on the panel introducing the gym-soldier platoon in Venom #1, but there just seemed to be so much more story and myth surrounding this image. Instead, readers are just given a surface storyline.
The comic does deliver some sharp, poignant character and thematic moments between S.H.I.E.L.D and Nick Fury and leader of the platoon, Rex Strickland, and another familiar Marvel character that will remain a surprise for readers. The commentary on the military-industrial complex is a bit generic though. The voices feel accurate and lived-in for the most part, except for the surprise character, whose voice feels as if the just the “cool” or generic aspects of the icon were picked to wrap his dialogue around. Now, using this character was a smart move and a great foil within the context of the key themes of the narrative. It’s right up his alley, but sadly wasn’t used as effectively as he could have been.
Ramírez and Sobreiro deliver solid artwork throughout the book with some very memorable panels. They captured the claustrophobic nature of the jungle setting very well, which heightened the internal and external conflicts happening concurrently. Juanan Ramírez is able to maintain a consistent dynamic experience throughout with his page layouts and artistic interpretations of the script. The characters are constantly in a state of action or expression, while having constantly shifting panel designs. It makes for a fun read. The color work seems muted in some sequences, but when the action or intensity is dialed up, so does the palette. Intentional or not, it’s a fascinating study in mood and visual energy/chemistry.
Despite the several criticisms presented in this review, Ve’nam is a solid comic book, but it doesn’t quite live up to the expectations Cates has created for his Marvel work as of late. The artwork more than lives up to material, but it’s in service to the story, so ultimately the work still suffers. This content deserved to have a mini-series devoted to it. There was so much to explore and readers are only given a taste, but perhaps fans will be rewarded one day with the missions of the sym-soldiers…