Venom #4 is the most metal comic of 2018
In the current Avengers arc, Jason Aaron has Earth's mightiest heroes going up against an army of angry Celestials called "The First Host." Here in Venom #4, Eddie Brock faces a rather different "first host"—and truth be told, this one is way scarier than the metal-clad, many-eyed behemoths tying up the A-listers.
It may go without saying, but I will be discussing Venom #4, and some of that discussion may spoil the events of the issue. If you haven't read it yet, you proceed through this article at your own risk.
This entire issue is essentially the origin story of the big bad who came to Earth at the end of Venom #1, and he (?) is one creepy customer. He reveals that the first symbiote began life as a blade, forged in a burning Celestial—a Celestial felled by this host, this "god of the forge." After the blade is taken from him by who we can only assume is Gorr, the God-butcher (see Aaron's run on Thor: God of Thunder), he realizes that he can use his creation to bond with life and control it. He spreads his children out across the stars, but it is Earth—under the protection of the Odinson—that thwarts his schemes. And so for centuries, he has lain dormant, imprisoned by his rebellious children; but now, he has returned.
I've enjoyed Venom quite a bit, especially because of what it has added to the symbiote mythology. The idea that Eddie was not the first human to bond with one of the Klyntar was interesting enough; the revelations in this issue are even more fascinating. Now, I'm no expert on Venom, but it seems to me that all of these additions are in harmony with whatever's come before. What I know of the larger story isn't upset by anything here, and Cates' additions actually enrich that story. Eddie's other is a complex being, often driven, it seems, by fear; this origin puts a face on that fear, helps us understand the secretive nature of the Klyntar, and even sympathize with them. And Cates doles this information out through the eerily poetic voice of the self-proclaimed "God-host," in language simultaneously beautiful and terrible.
The whole affair is drawn beautifully by Ryan Stegman, inked by JP Mayer, and colored by Frank Martin. I'm fussy when it comes to coloring, and I think that modern colorists have a tendency to go a little nuts with the rendering capabilities available to them with digital tools. Martin certainly doesn't shy away from those capabilities, but he seems to strike just the right balance, and he pretty much always avoids the candied sheen that is so pervasive in comics today. Mayer's inks suit my tastes, as well, with plenty of texture, spatter, and intricacy. And of course, the artwork has much more going for it than aesthetics. Stegman rarely uses more than five or six panels in a page, but he nevertheless economically moves through the critical visual beats of the story, with dynamic perspectives and action. There's no book on the stands that looks better or badder than Venom.
Letterer Clayton Cowles lays out Cates's copious narration expertly, but the real stars of the lettering show are his SFX. It seems to me that a number of them are hand-drawn, or at least very keenly emulate hand-drawing: many feature ragged strokes of variable width, and "dirty" color fills—imperfections that mesh beautifully with the texture of the artwork.
In sum, Venom #4 is another strong installment from this powerhouse team of creators. Cates has taken Venom off the streets and mixed him up in something much bigger, and Stegman, Mayer, and Martin have realized his vision through superb visual storytelling, adorned with gorgeous, haunting textures and colors. Cowles includes lots of narration with ease, and his rugged, ruddy SFX pair perfectly with the visual language of the book. Whether a fan of Venom or not, any fan of comics ought to check out what the team has accomplished here.