Written by Donny Cates
Art by Iban Coello, Juan Gedeon and Jesus Aburtov
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Eddie Brock gets a target painted on his back in Venom #26 - but while this issue marks the debut of new villain Virus in action, this slickly polished issue still feels like table-setting for Donny Cates' next dimension-hopping arc. That's not to say this is a bad issue - artist Iban Coello's sharp rendering still makes this an eye-catching installment, but the story itself is held back by its mystery-teasing set-up.
But for readers who haven't been keeping up with the series? Venom #26 is a great place to catch up — after the giant-sized anniversary issue capping off 'Venom Island,' Cates works double-time to get readers up to speed, outlining Eddie's relationship with his son Dylan, his uneasy partnership with the Maker, and the impending threat of Knull. Cates keeps his pacing brisk, but the downside to this approach is that while he's provided with a solid jumping-on point for new fans, this issue can't help but feel like circling back to the Venom tie-ins during Absolute Carnage, particularly the Dylan/Maker-focused storylines.
And some of that dissatisfaction might come from Virus himself. If you're wondering what the deal is with his armored bad guy, you won't get much more information in this issue — Cates clearly is playing a longer game about this guy's motivations, as well as how he came into possession of his ramshackle Iron Man armor and Goblin Glider. In certain ways, it almost feels like an echo of Nick Spencer's Kindred from Amazing Spider-Man — it's someone who clearly has ties to Eddie, and rages against some past misjustice inflicted upon him — but the way that Cates teases his identity sometimes reads as almost too cute. Without much characterization beyond angry and violent, it makes the fight sequence between Virus and Venom feel a little flat, leading to a three-page epilogue that in theory will kick off this storyline in earnest.
Yet even if this feels like an off issue for Cates, he's fortunate to have an artist like Coello picking up the slack. This is a guy who's primed for a blow-up — see his upcoming Dark Ages with Tom Taylor, which I think will up Coello's Q-rating the same way Earth-2 did for Jorge Jimenez — and you can see why in these pages. Coello's style has a bit of cartooniness to it, but with a sharp edge, particularly with the Venom symbiote — it's not particularly gritty, but it's wildly kinetic and fun to watch, especially with sequences like Eddie swinging across the city, or the Maker blasting him out of his own symbiote. Coello's take on Virus, however, is already the best thing about the character — while Cates isn't necessarily forthcoming with the character's past, Coello's able to wring a lot of history out Virus's design, immediately making us wonder what this bad guy has been through to get to this stage.
While not the punchiest issue this series has had to date, it's a testament to Venom's creative team that even a lower-key installment still brings a strong level of talent to the field. While the introduction of Virus might not be as high-octane as some readers might have hoped, Venom #26 still brings the heat with some truly engaging artwork, and remains a relatively accessible jumping-on point for anyone interested in the series.