Venom is one of Marvel Comics' most popular characters - the former Spider-Man foe and current anti-hero has remained at the top of the charts since writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman took on the title.
Now, editor Devin Lewis is organizing the creative team - along with the creative teams of numerous other tie-ins and titles - for a new crossover titled King in Black, which is the culmination of Cates's long-seeded story of Knull, the dark god of the symbiotes.
As Knull prepares to arrive on Earth in December 2's King in Black #1, Newsarama spoke with Lewis about helping steer Venom's ship into his biggest story yet - and how King in Black will change everything for Eddie Brock.
Newsarama: Devin, King in Black is a story that's been a long time coming, building over multiple titles and series. How does it feel for it to finally be coming together? What did it take to wrangle a story of this magnitude into being?
Devin Lewis: I've mentioned this in letter columns, but so much of everything we've hit in this volume of Venom was present in Donny's initial pitch. Absolute Carnage, Venom Island, and even King in Black - the bones of these stories were all there. And we say it a lot, but in this case it's actually true – everything has been building to this, so to see it all come to fruition really is something really special.
As an aside, here – we're also really fortunate to have even gotten to this point! Every book is a gamble, so reaching King in Black or even Absolute Carnage definitely wasn't a foregone conclusion by any means. But, I'm telling you, Venom fans are the best fans in comics - the beat of the drum has always been that we want to get to Knull. And Donny, Ryan, and the readers have gone above and beyond to make it happen.
And to see it grow beyond the confines of the Venom books is really special.
After Absolute Carnage, we knew King in Black was coming. It's been in development since before the last issue of Absolute Carnage went on-sale, and coming into King in Black our big goal was to get as many of the ongoing monthly books involved as we could. So to be able to get series like Black Cat, Daredevil, and Spider-Woman involved is a testament not only to the creative and editorial teams on those series, but also to Donny, Ryan, JP, Frank and Clayton, and the whole crew of collaborators who joined them on Venom and Web of Venom along the way. It's the level of buy-in to King in Black from across the books and the whole Marvel family that really puts it over the top.
Nrama: Where does the title 'King in Black' come from? Obviously, it's a reference to Knull – was that always the title of the story?
Lewis: The title 'The King in Black' comes from Donny's very first pitch – October 31st, 2017! We've always known where we were going – and even if we've taken a couple of different avenues than we expected along the way, Knull has always been the objective we've been driving toward.
Nrama: Knull's symbiotic darkness will reach across the whole Marvel Universe. How did you determine which characters and threads to pull in for tie-ins and cameos?
Lewis: I was pretty fortunate in this case, as most of that hard work was done for me!
At the end of the day, I think these blockbuster stories are at their best when as many of the ongoing series in the line participate as possible.
The creators working on Marvel stories are second to none, and at a creative summit last year, Donny and Ryan were able to walk them through King in Black. The response was nearly immediate. Within hours we had writers reaching out with ideas about tie-ins, or how their books could be integrated into the event. Everyone came ready to really dig in, and it shows in their work.
Nrama: On that note, you've got some interesting tie-ins prepped, such as a symbiotic Santa Claus in the Iron Man/Doctor Doom tie-in. What else can you tell us about the surprises in store throughout the crossover?
Lewis: I don't even know where to begin!
Doctor Doom/Iron Man is definitely a favorite. Chris Cantwell emailed me the day of our King in Black retreat with that zany idea and it is 100% the sort of comic I love. Surface-level, sure, it's a little silly – but once you open the book and actually read the story, it's moody, intense, and scary.
Gwenom vs. Carnage is also another one that I don't think anyone is going to see coming, but will knock your socks off. Seanan McGuire has had a symbiote story waiting in the wings since she submitted her first pitch back during Spider-Geddon and we finally get to tell it. I can't say too much, but it's a cutting, personal story that takes a BIG swing in the first issue. Flaviano is killing it on the art, and Ken Lashley's covers are a sight to behold.
Planet of the Symbiotes has been a treat to put together, as well. We've got Marc Bernardin and Kyle Hotz crafting an American Kaiju story that's insane. Kaiju is one of my favorite characters, so to get him some play in a story with a bunch of symbiote dragons seemed like a no-brainer. We've got a ton of great creators lined up for other stories on that one, too – Geoffrey Thorne, Jan Bazaldua, Frank Tieri, Danilo Beyruth, Rodney Barnes. The list goes on and on.
Nrama: Back to the main King in Black story, Venom has been at the top of the charts since Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman began their run. As the series editor, what do you see as the secret sauce that's made Venom, Absolute Carnage, and now King in Black such fan favorites?
Lewis: I think at its core, the relationship Donny and Ryan have is where everything flows from. They're two creators at the top of their game, and their philosophies about how cool comics can be and what that looks like are so in sync that they elevate each other every issue.
I'd also be remiss not to put the spotlight on JP Mayer. JP has inked Ryan since Venom #1 and took such a special approach that it really opened up Ryan's work and allowed readers to see it in a new light, and the genius in Ryan's storytelling (but don't tell Ryan I said that). Frank Martin makes every page sing, too. Every issue is a labor of love for that guy and it shows in every panel.
And! Clayton Cowles is one of the best letterers in the business, and is the glue that keeps the whole thing running.
So I don't know that there is a secret sauce – much as I may wish there was. It's just a lot of hard work put in by a great team.
Nrama: On that note, how long will this partnership continue? Will Donny and Ryan be continuing on the Venom saga together?
Lewis: Yeah, Donny and Ryan have some crazy plans for Venom in the future. But you've seen in their run already that they're not afraid to pull any punches. What Venom is after King in Black – the symbiote, Eddie, or both, well…
Let's just say King in Black redefines that.
Nrama: Donny and Ryan are now on their second Marvel event series together – a rarity for a creative team. What's it like working on a story like this with a team that are now veterans at the format?
Lewis: I mean, it's the big show, the main stage. So, of course, it's terrific. And intimidating. And humbling.
Absolute Carnage is a tremendously special book, but, like you say, that was also this team's first at-bat for an event. And they stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park.
But everyone involved also learned a lot, and knowing the easy pitfalls and things to avoid has allowed King in Black to be bigger and more ambitious than Absolute Carnage was.
But, by the same token, the narrative core of King in Black is so strong that it's allowed all the stories to be more emotionally focused. Every single tie-in moves its core character's story further, while also contributing to the larger picture of King in Black.
Nrama: You've brought in numerous rising Marvel creators for King in Black, including Christopher Cantwell, Jed MacKay, and more. Will any of those creators or their titles (such as Black Cat) stay connected to the Venom line once King in Black concludes?
Lewis: Man, I hope so! We're cooking up some really exciting things in the symbiotic corner of the Marvel U, and some creators who've worked on King in Black tie-ins are involved, but beyond that I can't say too much.
Nrama: Venom is a complex character in Marvel lore – not only is he one of Spider-Man's worst foes, he's been one of his greatest allies. He's a murderer who's also been the "lethal protector." And he's got a diehard fanbase. What makes Venom and moreso Eddie Brock the kind of character that so many readers identify with so strongly?
Lewis: I think it's how human he is, genuinely.
As angry and psychotic as he's always been, Eddie's time as Venom was really born out of humiliation. That's a vulnerable position for such a bloodthirsty character to be in.
And! He's tough as nails.
When Peter Parker has a problem, he goes home and does experiments. Eddie Brock lifts weights.
But by the same token he's not a meathead – he's a journalist. He went to college. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He just chooses not to use it. That willfulness is compelling.
Nrama: With King in Black so hotly anticipated, what can you tell us about the story that no one knows yet?
Lewis: Without the risk of spoilers, it's not an exaggeration to say that everything in Donny and Ryan's run has been building to this. Characters from across their story and Venom's history will appear and reappear, characters I don't think anyone is expecting but will be really excited to see.
From Rex to Absolute Carnage to 'Venom Island' and 'Venom Beyond' … the players are all in the game.