The Donny Cates Effect

Matt Tuck May 11, 2018
Venom #1

Here’s a fact for you: Donny Cates sells comics. Retailers are singing his praises because anything with Cates’ name on it is bringing in customers. Just this past Wednesday, Venom #1 debuted to high sales, making him three-for-three in terms of Marvel hits.

I can’t give all the credit for the Venom sales to Cates. After all, buzz from the latest trailer, which gave us a full view of the Venom symbiote head, has fans of the cinematic comic universe interested in the character. It doesn’t hurt that with the thirtieth anniversary of the world’s favorite symbiotic suit has Marvel’s full support.

These days, Venom has begun to overtake Deadpool when it comes to sheer market saturation. The release of Venom #1, volume four, marks the seventh Venom title published in the past year. Along with Venomized, it’s the second new Venom title of 2018. You’d think that fans would be getting their fill of the original symbiote by now with so many comics featuring the character, and that’s where Donny Cates deserves so much credit. In the first issue of this latest series, he’s added to the mythos of Venom and teases us with what could be a very new path for Eddie Brock and his living suit that retains the ferocity we saw in Venom’s original McFarlane/Micheline days.

And that, my friends, is what makes Cates the hottest writer in comics. Whether he’s writing tales of Doctor Strange, Thanos and Cosmic Ghost Rider, or now Venom, you can tell that he knows where the characters have come from while adding a new layer to their stories. As a longtime comic reader, that’s part of what I saw as a problem with Marvel Now.

The characters and stories had too much of a Manga style to them. They were clearly aimed at a much younger audience, hence the aforementioned style. The storytelling in some of the newer issues, such as X-Men Blue and Totally Awesome Hulk, seemed silly and trite. The characters didn’t ring true to the masterpieces of the past. I’d go so far to say that most of the characters were aimed to echo the movies and cartoons rather than their traditional comic versions. Whenever I picked up a Marvel comic, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth from campy dialog and rote plotlines.

I had read Cates’ Image comics, and I quickly became a fan. As I’ve written many times, I still proclaim God Country to be the best comic series I’ve read in the past five years. When I saw that he was being given the reigns on two Marvel titles in 2017, I was optimistic. However, there was trepidation as I wasn’t sure if Cates would be allowed to delve into the maturity of his Image and Aftershock titles. Then came Thanos Wins, and all my fears were put to rest. There’s a reason why these issues sold out so quickly, and it’s not just because there was a new(ish) character in Cosmic Ghost Rider. The storytelling was gripping and mature while the action was downright brutal. Geoff Shaw captured it perfectly in his art, and I was reminded of why I grew up a Marvel fan.

As Cates continues to ride his well-deserved success, my hope is that Marvel sees what sells: variety. Don’t focus all the efforts on one particular audience. Give readers a variety of titles with varying tones for different interests and ages. Not every comic has to be a gripping drama or soap opera, but not everyone likes Manga, either.