Review by Ian Keogh
With the 2018 Venom movie in the offing showing Eddie Brock as host to the vampiric alien symbiote, the comics followed suit. Flash Thompson was discarded and Brock was reunited with the symbiote, but as we start Rex there’s something wrong. While Eddie can still suppress the symbiote with doses of pills, he senses a difference.
Donny Cates begins with that and follows with the startling revelation that Flash wasn’t the first attempt by the US military to create a super soldier with symbiotes. This information comes via one Rex Strickland, former host to a symbiote who knows a hell of a lot more about the symbiotes than Eddie does. Rex was the lucky one, the one who escaped permanent bonding, and he wants to rescue his comrades who weren’t as lucky. What follows is a twisting history of what the symbiotes are, with Cates bolting on a lot of new background as he takes that history back far further than before.
Having Ryan Stegman as your artist is hitting the jackpot, and Cates makes full use of what he’s capable of. A version of the ancient symbiotes is seen on the sample art, but there are all sorts of clever visual devices on show. An early one is Eddie’s backstory being told as the symbiote heals him. Stegman also shows the medical process as it occurs within Eddie, as gruesome as it is. Stegman includes some amazing pin-up spreads, but is such an accomplished storyteller that these are bonuses, not something that forces out the story, and there’s barely a page here that you won’t want to stop and look at.
Clever touches characterise the plot as well as the art, Cates fooling readers into thinking one thing, when actually another is intended. At its simplest it refers to the volume title, but there are other examples, and biblical parallels are well used. Better still, Rex is just a warm-up, Cates setting the table and explaining how to use the cutlery as he redefines what Venom is on a grand scale. Miles Morales puts in an interesting appearance and by the end Venom’s potential has been revealed as he’s become so much more than he was. It’s a thrilling and fearful ride.
The best Venom ever? Possibly. Marvel rapidly realised they had gold here, and Rex is also available in the hardback Marvel Select format and combined with The Abyss as the first volume of Venom by Donny Cates.