The first of the Web of Venom spin-off series mostly delivers.
With the likes of the tremendous God Country and his Thanos Wins run, Donny Cates made the case that he was a force in comics worth commending if not flat-out lauding. Now, with the first of his new Web of Venom one shots series, Ve’Nam #1, spinning out of the equally tremendous Venom, and to be followed up by a Carnage-based one shot, Cates makes the case that he can maintain the momentum.
Paired with an artistic effort from Juanan Ramirez, Marvel’s description reads:
“SPINNING OUT OF THE PAGES OF VENOM! As the United States of America struggled through the Vietnam War, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. needed a secret weapon – and when an ancient creature was discovered at an archaeological dig site, he was sure he’d found it. In reality, the discovery was an ancestor of the Klyntar symbiotes…and would become a waking nightmare for a platoon of American soldiers!”
If that description doesn’t make it clear enough, the conceit here is that you’re caught up on the main Venom series. If you’re not, turn back now. This isn’t merely a (kind of in poor taste named) “Venom in Vietnam” story – it’s essentially an origin one shot. With that being said, it’s a pretty damn good one.
Cates delivers on the premise in spades with gripping writing, both expected and surprise characters, and a couple of almost Metal Gear Solid level plot twists which he excels at delivering believably and coolly. Rex Strickland takes a kind of center stage here alongside Nick Fury as their roles in the Symbiote saga playing out in Venom are explained more fully, with gruesome, weighty, consequence.
However, that character work is done relatively quickly into the issue which then transitions into a jungle-based skirmish that isn’t as captivating in scripting or in art before the plot continues to lose steam on its way to a ham-fisted conclusion that feeds well into Venom but doesn’t land entirely on its own feet, really cementing the spin off conceit that makes it hard for these single issues to succeed in the kind of bubble nature they’re supposed to.
Ramirez’s effort keeps the same pace, playing with evocative shadow work and weight early in the issue, and highlighting the gory work these symbiotes are capable of, to tremendous effect. Unfortunately, some strange and floaty panel layouts and action-packed obfuscation make events hard to follow up to the same point that the plotting itself starts to peter out.
Overall, it’s a strong narrative and artistic effort that is more than the sum of its parts because of the existence of Venom and the role it plays in that story. It would be better served as some part of that main series, I think, but its also a more-than-worthy addition to Cate’s stunning repertoire that highlights all of his strengths, few of the flaws, and speaks to a real staying power.