In this week’s main review, What If…? Dark Venom #1 brings a darker angle to the symbiote story when the Thing gets Venomized! If you’re looking to avoid SPOILERS, consider scrolling down to the Rapid Rundown a spoiler-lite blurb of Magneto #1.

What did you think of this week’s fresh Marvel Comics issues? The Beat wants to hear from you! Give us a shout-out in the comment section and let us know.

What If…? Dark Venom #1

Writer: Stephanie Phillips
Artist: Jethro Morales
Colorist: Israel Silva
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Main Cover Artists: Philip Tan, Jay Leisten, & Rachelle Rosenberg

What If…? Dark Venom #1 is another spin on the early days of the Venom symbiote – which might seem like too-well trodden ground at first. This storyline was even revisited for another recent What If…? experiment (more on that later on). However, placing the Thing in Parker’s role in the Venom storyline ends up offering another entertaining twist on the symbiote story. While Marvel Comics has gone to that well a whole lot in the past few years – hell, in the past few weeks, even – but this issue nevertheless proves to be another fun Venom tale.

The Venom Thing

Pairing Venom with the Thing offers the symbiote a “perfect host,” and it offers the story a chance to go all-in on the violence… which is always welcome when Reed Richards is on the chopping block. As with other high-profile Mr. Fantastic killings (here’s looking at you, spaghetti’d Multiverse of Madness Variant), a death scene for Richards means the chance for some weird body horror. 

This What If…? also pulls from the Spider-Man side of the story not by including Parker, but by ensnaring the Lizard in the situation instead. This gives Doctor Connors a chance to eloquently argue his cassse to the Venom Thing… which might even convince the reader, at least for a moment. But soon Connors betrays the Venom Thing and takes the symbiote suit for himself. 

The Lizard Thing is actually responsible for the death of Richards and Sue Storm. This is an effective way of offing these characters over the course of a story that is encompassed by a single issue, since that’s not enough space to convince us that the Thing would murder his best friends, even after having been Venomized. However, the Lizard Thing’s killing of Storm and Richards does offer plausible motivation for the Venom Thing to off Connors, which is likewise presented in suitably gory fashion.

While the story doesn’t punch too deep into some of the underlying narrative potential, like a possible exploration of just why the Thing is so susceptible to the symbiote’s susurrations, that’s not really possible in the span of a one-shot. In fact, it’s a testament to the superheroic talent of the creative team that this issue proved to be as engaging as it was.

Spider’s Shadow

But speaking of a longer What If…? storyline, I do have one question about the broader What If…? project: what happened to those longer storylines, anyway? The first one actually concerned this very same story. In Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow by Chip Zdarsky, Pasqual Ferry, Matt Hollingsworth, and Joe Caramagna, with main covers by Phil Noto, readers were offered a glimpse of a storyline in which Parker refused to surrender the symbiote. 

Initially announced to be four issues and subsequently expanded to five, the series provided a variation on the What If…? formula by allowing a story to last more than just one issue. In a May 2021 edition of the This Week in Marvel podcast, it was announced that there would be a follow-up to Spider’s Shadow written by Zdarsky, along with additional lengthy What If…? titles.

Unfortunately, neither of those follow-ups came to pass. This is a shame because Spider’s Shadow demonstrated how longer-form What If…? stories can prove successful. Furthermore, What If…? Dark Venom could have worked even better than it did if expanded to two or more issues.

What If…? Dark

And while it isn’t a bad idea to try out What If…? Dark, these are certainly not the first What If…? stories to skew towards darkness. Really, there’s arguably a whole subgenre of “dark” What If…? storylines already.

A similar concept was also utilized for the long-delayed-but-worth-the-wait Darkhold miniseries, in which a series of five one-shots gave a cadre of Avengers who had read “just a little bit” from the titular tome the chance to see dark alternate realities where, for example, Iron Man was goop-ified within his suit and the Wasp really got even with Hank Pym.

Hopefully, What If…? Dark will be a springboard to stranger narrative pastures. Consider the potential in a What If…? Weird miniseries. This could explore the subgenre of What If…? stories that spring from premises that make you go, “Huh?” I mean, don’t you want more storylines like the one where Aunt May is bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Parker, or the one where the Marvel Comics staff becomes the Fantastic Four? I sure do. 

And hey, Marvel Comics editorial, consider this: you could do some weird and funny Venom What If…? Weird stories, even. What more can you ask for?

Verdict: Get Venomized (again)!

Rapid Rundown!

Magneto #1

  • Magneto #1
    • In the first issue of the new Magneto miniseries, written by J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Todd Nauck and colors by Rachelle Rosenberg, Magneto steps into Professor X’s shoes as the headmaster of the Xavier Institute. As the primary teacher of the next generation of mutant heroes, Magneto is forced to reflect on his past as the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants’ leader when following a lesson on compassion for the evildoer, Rhane Sinclair (codename: Wolfsbane) asks her professor about his involvement in the “Cape Citadel Event,” the site of Magneto’s first act of terrorism in his war with humanity in X-Men #1 (1963) by Stan LeeJack KirbyPaul Reinman, and Sam Rosen. Although Magneto won’t answer his student’s questions, the reader is given their first glimpse into how this miniseries will entirely rewrite Magneto’s known history (Erik notes that history is written by the victor, Charles Xavier). It also rewrites the beloved X-Men #1, which I must marinate on for a while. Practically speaking, I also found this issue difficult to read due to poorly placed word balloons. However, from what I’ve heard about the Marvel Comics production schedule, I wonder if the messy lettering layouts by VC’s Travis Lanham were due to him rushing. The issue would have benefited from some callbacks to Rosen’s lettering style in X-Men #1, especially the blocky, red letters used at the beginning of some of the word balloons. That’s a criticism I have of the whole book: it needed more structural callbacks to Magneto’s first appearance.

Next week brings Children of the Vault #1 (part of Fall of X), Ghost Rider/Wolverine: Weapons of Vengeance #1, Spider-Man Annual #1, and probably some issues in which the number 1 isn’t involved!

Catch up on past entries in The Beat’s Marvel Rundown archive.