Don’t let the number on the front of the issue fool you: this is a one-shot special that explores the hidden history of Venom-like symbiotes in the Vietnam War, and writer Donny Cates is keen to dive deep into the center of the Venn diagram where monster movies, action movies and war movies meet. As such, Web of Venom: Ve’Nam #1 sits at that core nicely alongside 1987’s Predator, but that’s not the only movie Cates is taking his influences from.
Apocalypse Now, Alien, Thing, Platoon -- if you like any of those movies (or all of them), then you’ll find something to enjoy in Ve’Nam #1. Even the title is a pun worthy of the cheesiest ‘80s action movies, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a pretty great thing, and much like a lot of Cates’ creations at Marvel so far (like Old King Thanos, or a casino in Vegas run by Mephisto), it’s filled with so many good ideas, you wonder how no one has done it sooner.
Following the tropes established by any number of the movies mentioned earlier, something has gone catastrophically wrong out in the field, and the man in charge (in this case, the original Howling Commando himself, Nick Fury) turns to the lone Maverick to help set things right. As it happens, we find out that S.H.I.E.L.D has uncovered a Klyntar symbiote in the ice, and of course used it to create super soldiers to fight in Vietnam. These sym-soldiers have gone rogue (because of course they have), and Fury turns to the one man who can help him kill the unkillable monsters that he himself unleashed: Wolverine.
This feels like the most ‘90s comic to have ever been released, except it’s 25 years too late. Wolverine and Nick Fury, fighting in Vietnam against Venom symbiotes is the dumb, fun action/monster movie you never knew you needed, and Cates knows it. He pulls out all the stops to maximize on that premise and delivers everything you could possibly want from such a simple concept. There’s a self-awareness to Ve’Nam #1 that seems to revel in the ridiculousness of what’s happening like Cates has wanted to write “Predator but in the Marvel Universe” for years (and honestly, who wouldn’t?). Perhaps that self-awareness is telegraphed by the absurdity of the title, but this issue only works as well as it does because of how obvious it is that Cates is loving writing this issue.
Similarly, for Ve’Nam #1 to capitalize on the tropes of the multiple genres it’s mashing together, it needs an artist who can deliver. For what Cates' story demands, Juanan Ramirez is perfect. There are scary moments, bursts of action and real (if appropriate but overtly masculine) displays of emotion, and Ramirez handles them all deftly. There’s a keen eye on page structure and pacing too that maximizes the impact of these moments, and Felipe Sobreiro’s colors elevate the art with dramatic, blood-drenched reds, moody shadows and the deep greens of the Vietnam jungle.
Is this a perfect issue? Well, no. For one thing, while the pacing is sound, the story could have benefitted from being a miniseries. Yes, the concept is simple enough to be told in one issue, and there’s always the risk of playing out a trick like this until it’s no longer welcome, but there’s a certain universality to Ve’Nam as a premise that one feels like this could have sold really well as a standalone trade in the future. There is a tie to the ongoing Venom series that Cates is also writing (this fills in the backstory of Rex Strickland who was first introduced in that run), but that alone is not exclusionary in any way to new readers, and there are plenty of non-comics readers who are familiar enough with the movies this book pulls its tropes from to be able to dive straight in.
This one quibble aside, Web of Venom: Ve’Nam #1 is an extremely entertaining, albeit deliciously ridiculous, one-shot. It’s Predator meets Apocalypse Now in the Marvel Universe, and really, what’s not to love about that? Wolverine and original Nick Fury are the perfect leads for this testosterone-fuelled monster movie of a comic, and if you like the idea of a book that feels like Stallone and Schwarzenegger at their height teaming up to fight a platoon of Xenomorphs, then this is the issue for you.