This week, new weekly comic books from Marvel Comics returns after a long hiatus due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – and one of the titles leading the charge is Venom #25 from writer Donny Cates and artist Mark Bagley.
Following one of the longest pauses in mainstream weekly comics since the industry started is no mean feat – but Cates, who Newsarama spoke to at length ahead of Venom’s return – feels he and his charge Eddie Brock are up to the task. And what’s more, he feels Venom #25 carries the perfect message of hope and unity for our current times – despite Venom’s often being “ a bit of a bummer”, in Cates’ words.
But Eddie Brock, as Cates describes him a man trying to do the right thing even when he’s not sure what it is, might be exactly the right messenger for a story of togetherness. To that end, Newsarama spoke with Cates about Venom at length, digging into what’s coming up in this special anniversary issue of the series, and how he plans to bring the threads he’s laid so far into future of the title
Newsarama: Donny, thanks for talking with us. It’s been a little while since Marvel has put out new monthly comic books thanks to coronavirus, but new books are coming again starting May 27 – including Venom #25. How does it feel to be one of the first titles to return when Marvel starts shipping again, with a milestone issue no less?
Donny Cates: It’s amazing. It’s really an honor to be part of the first wave of what feels like a seminal moment for Marvel Comics coming back. When I wrote Venom #25, it’s an anniversary issue, so I wrote it as a celebration of where we’re been in the run so far.
It opens on this framing sequence of Eddie talking to someone unseen off-panel – essentially talking to the reader – saying “What a year it’s been!”, thanking everyone for sticking with us. Re-reading it now, in light of when it’s coming out, it’s gonna be a special issue. It’s essentially Eddie Brock thanking the audience directly for staying with us through all of this. Thank you for trusting us, for believing in us.
Venom #25 is a very important issue. It ends on a note – I won’t spoil the ending – it ends on something that’s a throughline that’s been going through the entire book. There’s a phrase that’s run though the entire series, kind of the thesis statement of my and artists Ryan Stegman and Iban Coello and editor Devin Lewis’ book, which is “We’re better when we’re together.” We as a species.
The book ends on that kind of note, so for it to be coming out at a time like this feels important. My Venom run has steered towards being a bit of a bummer [laughs], but Venom #25 is a little different. It’s hopeful. I think it’s gonna be exactly what we all need. I’m really proud to be part of the Marvel family and to be one of the creators leading the charge in saying “We’re back” and letting people know they’re not alone.
Nrama: That is a surprisingly hopeful message for a title and character like Venom, who is no stranger to biting off peoples’ heads. What makes him a character that people find so much strength in, beyond even the ‘Lethal Protector’ idea? What makes him the right character for a message of hope?
Cates: I think Eddie Brock has grown a lot over the last few years. He’s become a father. He’s not like Peter, he’s not like Captain America – he’s a guy who makes mistakes, sometimes really big ones. He’s stumbled and fallen in the past.
I think all of us can relate to that. We’ve all had moments where we messed up. A big part of this issue is Eddie asking to himself, and those people off-panel who I won’t name, this question of whether Venom is a good guy or a bad guy.
Eddie says, “I know you guys ask that. I can hear you. I know what’s said about me. The truth of it is, I don’t think that I know either.”
Eddie’s done good things and bad things, he wakes up every day trying to do the right thing, but sometimes he messes up. What’s cool about him is, he’s not an anti-hero like the Punisher – a guy who’s doing the wrong things for reasons he thinks is right. He’s making grand mistakes. He’s f—ing up.
He says it himself, “When I started out, I genuinely thought it was a good idea to kill Spider-Man. So if you ask me if you think I’m a good guy, how should I know? I thought I was a good guy then.”
He so desperately wants to be a better version of himself. The version of Eddie we’ve created, the father, he’s a guy who wakes up every day wanting to be the good guy but not thinking he is. But if you look at his actions, he’s saving the world like everyday – but he doesn’t see he it in himself.
He’s always trying. I think people really identify with that.
Nrama: You mentioned Eddie being a father. Where’s Dylan going into Venom #25, the wrap-up of “Venom Island”?
Cates: Dylan’s the key to a lot of things. I don’t introduce characters like Dylan lightly or for no reason. Right now, he’s slowly learning, going through his Peter Parker moment, his lesson about who he is and how he fits in.
He has the same questions about himself you all do – who is he? How does he fit into all this? He’s very interesting, he’s a great character for a kind of viewer stand-in to give a voice to those questions and ideas.
In Venom #25 you’ll start to get a clearer understanding of what he’s capable of and who he is as a boy on the verge of manhood.
Nrama: There was a Free Comic Book Day Venom story that was scheduled to release ahead of Venom #25’s planned release, and it was teased to set up a lot about Venom’s future. How important would that story have been for setting up Venom #25? Any idea when we might get to read it?
Cates: Well, as for when it’s coming out, that’s something way above my pay grade. Soon, I hope! But no, it wasn’t a set up for Venom #25 – the only thing readers will have needed to read before that is Venom #24 and the series we’ve been building so far.
Nrama: On that note, you’ve been teasing a new character named Virus that’s coming up in Venom. What can you tell us about Virus and when they’ll debut? How do you feel about the concept and the name Virus with what’s going on in the world?
Cates: Obviously it wasn’t an intentional choice, we didn’t know what would happen. To be honest, we thought of changing the name. We had discussions internally at Marvel.
Ultimately we decided he’s a bad guy. And I think people might like the idea of a guy named virus getting defeated.
Nrama: One of the other longrunning stories in your Venom so far has been the mystery of the Maker and why he’s so fascinated with the symbiotes. When will we get some answers on that?
Cates: You’re gonna catch back up with that in a very, very, very big way in Venom #26, which is the beginning of the next arc “Beyond.” You’ll get a very clear sense of just what the hell that maniac’s been up to.
Nrama: That title, “Beyond”, brings to mind the Web of Venom: Wraith one-shot that’s coming up later this summer. How do Wraith and the Web of Venom one-shot factor into what’s coming?
Cates: The Web of Venom one-shots have always been these fun asides I view as kinda like – when Doctor Octopus shows up in Amazing Spider-Man or something and he’s got this whole elaborate scheme that Peter never knew about and we never saw – these one-shots sort of fill in that side story and they provide the reader information that the characters don’t know.
For example, when we did the Cult of Carnage, we knew that was coming but Eddie didn’t so it created this real sense of dread, which I think is really fun.
This Wraith one in particular is the most important Web of Venom issue we’ve done yet. It’s a cannot-miss piece of the puzzle in the story and the mythology we’re building in the main Venom title.
Nrama: You’ve got 25 issues of Venom under your belt, not counting the tie-ins and one-shots. That marks your longest series at Marvel yet. How does the run you’ve had square with what you planned when you set out, and what’s next for Venom?
Cates: I’m way ahead of where the readers are – well into issues in the 30s – so as of now, I think I’ve officially written the most issues of Venom of anyone. Venom #25 caps off the middle point of the run, we’re moving into the second half now. That’s gonna be a reflection of all that’s happened – so what’s next is a look toward the future as we set up the “Next Big Thing” for Venom, so to speak.