Hidden Panels: ‘Venom’

The cover of volume 1 of "Venom" (2018) by Donny Cates is pictured. via Goodreads

Welcome back, gang. Living in the age of the coronavirus can be tricky and, despite it all, we at The Tufts Daily remain dedicated to bringing you content that will inform and entertain you during this turbulent time. With that in mind, I’m proud to announce the return of my first-year passion project, “Hidden Panels: The Best Comics You Aren’t Reading” as a semi-regular fixture in the arts department. Without any further pomp or circumstance, let’s dive headfirst into the book de jour: Volume 1 of Donny Cates’ 2018 ongoing series from Marvel Comics, “Venom.”

Starring the titular Spider-Man baddie turned anti-hero (and recent movie star), “Venom” is a unique bend on the character, taking him to new heights of storytelling and mythology which elevates the experience from a simple action romp to a thoughtful mystery spanning centuries and lightyears.

Writer Donny Cates is no slouch when it comes to telling sprawling cosmic epics, as was seen in his previous series, “Thanos” (2018). Cates has a knack for conjuring storytelling beats that are every bit as thoughtful as they are, well, awesome. Take, for instance, Venom’s newfound ability to sprout wings and fly, or the revelation of a secret government initiative to give the same alien suit that gives Venom his powers to soldiers during the Vietnam war. These moments could seem cheesy or tacked on in the hands of a lesser writer, but Cates doesn’t waste a single panel; his plan is clear, his plotting is consistent and his pacing is sublime 

Let’s not forget the contributions of the art team: penciler Ryan Stegman, inker JP Mayer and color artist Frank Martin. The imagery in “Venom” is nothing short of sinister, a shadow heavy book dealing primarily in a color palette focused on black and red. Since the story takes place over the course of one long, stormy night in New York City, the art team finds unique ways to light the scenes, often illuminating the settings with fire or lighting that gives the rain-soaked streets a horror-movie aesthetic that adds to the book’s dread. The black suit, or “symbiote,” that gives Venom his abilities is appropriately fluid and the illustrations give it a feeling less like water and more like animated paste, at times you can almost feel the movement and could imagine the black mass oozing right off the page.

The first volume of “Venom” is a stellar reinvention of a fan-favorite character that feels slick as can be and is so much fun to read. The book can be found as a single graphic novel or in a 12 issue collection bundled with the second volume (which I also highly recommend) as “Venom by Donny Cates Volume 1.” Until next time, stay safe, and get busy living.