Eisner Awards are the Academy awards for comic book creators. Over Marvel’s storied history, there have been countless award-winning writers. Just in the last decade, Brian Michael Bendis (Alias, Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man), Kurt Busiek (Avengers), Brian K. Vaughan (Runaways, Ultimate X-Men), Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Daredevil, Immortal Iron-Fist, Marvel’s Project), and Mark Waid (Daredevil) have all won Eisner Awards for Best Writer.
Even though Donny Cates isn’t yet on that list, rest assured his work on Venom, Thor, and the newest big event, King in Black, will place him on the mantel with the all-time greats. My local comic book shop owner brought Donny Cates and his Thor runs (Thor vol. 1: The Devourer King and Thor vol. 2: Prey) to my attention last summer when I asked him who’s hot in Marvel. You know something? He was right. Donny Cates is the real deal.
Donny Cates’ Venom
I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest Venom fan—so I know next to nothing about the character. Venom always came off as a product of the 90s, all muscle, action, graphic violence with no story—a sideline character with no depth. I can’t speak to Venom’s previous writers, but I can tell you Cates took a seemingly shallow character and elevated his story to new heights by bringing the character in new and bold directions.
As I’m reading Venom vol. 1, the hardcover, which comprises of Volume 1: Rex which is about the symbiote and symbiote lore, and Volume 2: The Abyss which is a reflection of that in that it looks at Eddie’s life, diving deep into who Eddie Brock is and his family. I noticed Cates isn’t afraid of a little exposition when necessary, which is all the time for me. Venom #2 begins with Eddie Brock’s backstory.
Who is Eddie Brock?
The story goes, Eddie’s very religious Catholic mom died in childbirth (a trope that needs to die a quick death). His father was well-off, but when Eddie was hit by a car as a kid, his father lost it all (to medical bills, I assume). Their relationship from there turned sour. Eddie eventually became a journalist. One day he wrote the wrong thing about the wrong guy and lost his job at the paper. With his life in the gutter, an alien symbiote infected Eddie and used his body as a host. Eddie is now Venom…well, part-time.
Eddie would eventually refer to his symbiote as “My Other”. Cates is a longtime fan of Venom, and one of the reasons is that he sees the relationship between Eddie and the symbiote as a metaphor for addiction. He also loves Venom because, like Brock, he often finds himself questioning his morality. Venom’s motives can flip-flop depending on the situation. He’s fought Spider-Man, and he’s fought alongside Spider-Man.
“He’s a guy that wakes up every day and asks himself if he is the good guy or the bad guy.”Donny Cates about Eddie Brock
Venom’s philosophy is to protect the innocent, which goes back to his relationship with his father.
What’s a symbiote?
A symbiote is an alien organism that feeds off the host’s adrenaline and grants the owner spider-like powers. When a symbiote leaves a host, it retains a piece of its identity called a codex. These symbiotes are ruled by a creature known as Knull. Knull is a primordial god that existed before the universe. In fact, one of the hooks Cates leads the reader on with is the idea that “The God is coming.” Knull became enraged when the Celestials despoiled his dark kingdom with the light. In retaliation, Knull created the symbiotes to wage war against all existence but was betrayed and imprisoned at the core of their artificial planet, Klyntar. Just before his imprisonment, Knull faced Thor, God of Thunder, and was defeated,
“Your thunder god unleashed a power I had never before felt on all the worlds I wrapped my horde around.”Knull from Venom #4
When Brock visited his father in San Francisco, he learned that his father’s “son” Dylan is actually Brock’s son. Brock now has more to live for than himself, which gives the story an entirely new perspective. Hats off to Cates for adding that bit of emotional depth to the account.
Carnage is Nightmare Fuel
I’m not going to lie, Venom is chock full of gore and gruesome images, and Cates’ Absolute Carnage (which is a prelude to a larger story) raises the bar even higher. Cates’s longtime collaborator, artist Ryan Stegman illustrates some pretty disturbingly demonic graphic images. I had to train my eyes to discern where the symbiote began, and the poor host ended. Which is the point, right? I don’t think I’ve seen a more grotesque image than Carnage, aka Cletus Kasady infecting Norman Osborne (Green Goblin). Gross! Oh, and FYI, Cates’ background is as an artist, so his writing is very visual.
Donny Cates’ Venom is definitely worth checking out if you can get by seeing the inside of a living person. Cates brings a couple of cool tidbits in Reed Richards (no, not the Reed Richards from the Fantastic 4); this one is an alternate dimension Richards Richards, aka The Maker. The Maker is a little mad, as in crazy, but he comes around in the end. Cates also brings in Captain America, Wolverine, Thing, and Bruce Banner for backup to help Brock and Spider-Man in Absolute Carnage.
Cates’ writing style
I appreciated how Cates sticks to only what’s necessary, which is a personal preference. I like simpler plotlines. Some writers create a world so elaborate it can become hard to follow. Not saying that’s a bad thing, just personal preference. Venom could have quickly relied on the images to tell the story like an effects-heavy movie without any substance. Adding to that, Cates had to write dialogue for three people in one body: Brock, Venom, and former host Rex. Kudos to the letterer (Clayton Cowles) for keeping all of that straight by distinguishing between dialogue boxes.
Cates gave some advice to aspiring writers looking to enter the world as comic book writers. “Breaking in is the easy part; you can write something and get it on paper and put it out there right away. It’s breaking out; that’s the difficult part.” He continued to say that challenging yourself with the stories you tell is vital: “You may find something, a trick or something, that you find works for you. A real challenge is when you write something next, force yourself to take that trick away. It will make you better.”
Donny Cates’ Thor
Cates’ Thor explores what Thor is experiencing as he ages and how he deals with the strains and stresses of being a king and a god. In the six-issue arc The Devourer King, Thor defeats Galactus and then incorporates his ancient armor into the architecture of Asgard to house refugees of worlds Galactus devoured. Through all of this, Thor notices his hammer, Mjolnir becomes heavier, while for others it becomes lighter, even for Loki. Thor struggles with trying to live up to his father’s name, not realizing he is not his father. He’s better.
Cates shows off his versatility when he shifts from Venom’s horror aspects to the galaxy-spanning lore of Asgard. I preferred the art in Thor (done by Nick Klein), but it’s all a matter of which style suits the story. Both are incredibly high quality.
Donny Cates’ King in Black
Lastly, I’ve read the first four issues of Cates’ King in Black, which focuses on Knull’s arrival on Earth. I was blown away by what I read. The entirety of every issue was so much more than what I expected. Every panel is loaded with action, emotion, trauma, ups, and downs. How Cates was able to keep everything flowing so smoothly is beyond my comprehension. Cates teams up with Stegman for this series which concludes with issue 5 in April. If you like seeing loads of characters come together to fight a villain, King in Black will make you very happy. You’ll see The Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Defenders, Blade, Silver Surfer, and more all join in the fight to save the Earth from the darkness Knull has cast upon it. So good!
Donny Cates is a great writing talent and he’s on my radar for future projects. Before being given Venom, Donny Cates also wrote Doctor Strange and Thanos which were his first long-term Marvel titles. Be sure to check out Marvel Unlimited for all of Cates’ work.
A Little About Me
My name is Eric Onkenhout, I live in Massachusetts, and Star Wars is my jam and has been since I was 6 or 7. Besides Star Wars, I also enjoy Marvel and Game of Thrones. I love to write, whether it’s fiction, reviews, or journalistic articles. I also enjoy long walks on the beach!
As far as movies, books, comic books, or tv shows, I tend to gravitate towards good writing regardless of the genre. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English-Creative Writing; I like sports like hockey, football, and soccer. And I have one cat named Zeke who is doing his best at laying on my arm as I type this right now.