Comic Review: Doctor Strange by Donny Cates

Published: April 17th, 2019
Written by: Donny Cates, Nick Spencer
Art by: Niko Henrichon, Frazer Irving, Szymon Kudranski, Rod Reis, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Mike Del Mundo (cover)

Marvel Comics, 341 Pages


This collection of Donny Cates’ Doctor Strange run started off with a bang but then it did what most Donny Cates comics do, it went too big, too fast and became a bloated, over-the-top spectacle. But he’s even admitted that everything he writes needs to be big and epic. He’s also pointed out that he’s always trying to top the last thing he wrote.

The problem with that is that he can tell pretty good human stories with a lot of emotion that gets the reader invested. But then he Michael Bay the fucks out of everything and then has to wedge in a large amount of characters because if it’s a Cates’ story, he’s gotta blow up the universe.

Big, over-the-top spectacles aren’t necessarily a bad thing but when it’s done as much as Cates does it, he becomes a one trick pony that negatively impacts the better sides of his creative work. The spectacle ends up overshadowing the real story and you sort of get lost in it all. And after a while, it becomes ineffective, as you expect everything to reach ludicrous spreed.

When I first started reading Cates’ work, I enjoyed the grandiose-ness. However, it didn’t take long to realize that larger-than-life Armageddon scenarios were his modus operandi. And with that, he has to keep trying to top what he did before. Everything just gets bigger, faster, crazier and the next thing you know, you’re reading the Marvel Comics version of Fast & Furious 14 where it’s just stunts, speed, CGI, action, yelling and then the end credits after characters refer to each other as “family” 97 times between explosions.

I think that this formula has worked so well for Cates that he’s kind of stuck doing it now. While this Doctor Strange stuff came out before his more recent work, I might have had a very different take on it had I read it when it was current.

The problem though, is this kind of shows me where that formula started. Well, at least with his more prominent Marvel work.

As I stated in the beginning, this started out really strong and I was invested. But then everything went ape shit crazy and then it was over. It may have read better if Cates stuck around and actually wrote about the fallout from this story. But I guess he had to move on to the next thing and give us more mega-event level chaos.

This initially created a foundation for something truly great. After the first story arc, however, it immediately went to a Hell-on-Earth scenario with two dozen characters involved. Whatever emotional investment I had, disappeared, as I kept reading and it never quite circled back around to the great character work and found a way to use that within the chaotic spectacle that followed.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Donny Cates comics by Marvel.

Vids I Dig 379: Comic Tropes: Donny Cates: Writing About Addiction

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: Donny Cates is an up and coming young writer at Marvel Comics, writing Venom, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and more. This video takes a look at his history interning at Marvel, studying at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and getting his work published at Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics as he broke in. Specifically, this video analyzes the themes Donny Cates writes about which include father issues and addiction issues.

Comic Review: IDW Deviations

Published: 2017
Written by: various
Art by: various
Based on: Judge Dredd by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, The X-Files by Chris Carter, Ghostbusters by Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, G.I. Joe by Hasbro, Transformers by Hasbro, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, My Little Pony by Bonnie Zacherle, Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry

IDW Publishing, 356 Pages


So IDW decided to do their own version of Marvel’s What If?… series and DC’s Elseworlds tales. Except, IDW doesn’t have really any creations of their own, at least none that anyone really seems to care about. Instead, they are most known for printing comics of intellectual properties that they pay for publishing rights to have.

This series of one-shots gave us “what if” tales for Judge Dredd, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, X-Files, Ghostbusters and My Little Pony.

At their best, there were a few issues that were simply, okay. But most of these were terrible. And they weren’t terrible for one reason, they had just about everything going wrong for them.

In fact, the only two of these that I would give a passing grade to are Donny Cates’ take on Star Trek, which is still a poor effort considering Cates’ caliber, as well as the Transformers one, which gave us an alternate take on the events of the original animated motion picture.

The worse one of the lot was the one I was most excited for: G.I. Joe. It was a big, lame, unfunny joke that poked at some of the franchise’s tropes but did so without the writer having a single funny bone in their entire body. I’ve never not laughed so hard.

This was something that had potential, could have given us some really cool results and honestly, shouldn’t have been that hard to write at even a passable level. IDW has lost their fucking way, man. I guess it’s no surprise that the company is up shit’s creek, now getting bailouts from Marvel on their D-list comic books.

Frankly, I’m pissed I paid for these issues.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: the IDW 20/20, Infestation and Revolution events, as well as some of the IDW crossovers.

Comic Review: Marvel Knights 20th

Published: November 7th, 2018 – January 30th, 2019
Written by: Donny Cates, Tini Howard, Vita Ayala, Matt Rosenberg
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 161 Pages


When the Marvel Knights line of comics were going strong, I wasn’t paying much attention. I was aware of them but it was the late ’90s and I wasn’t reading comic books as regularly, as I was entering my twenties and didn’t do much other than party hard and sleep little.

I have since gone back and read some of the stories from that alternate Marvel universe and I’ve liked a lot of them. So when I saw that this was coming out to commemorate the 20th anniversary, I had to check it out. Plus, one of the writers is Donny Cates, whose recent work I’ve loved and it heavily features Daredevil.

The premise was kind of cool and I did enjoy this overall. Although, it was problematic in regards to its pacing. This is due to there being too many writers chiming in over the six issues. Cates looked to be credited as the top writer for each chapter but he had different collaborators with each new installment of this miniseries.

The narrative flow was a bit off, as it took too long to get the action going. Once we get to where this needed to wrap up, it felt rushed and the twist finale seemed strange, out of place and too convenient.

There’s a MacGuffin device and all they have to do in the end is hit a button and fix everything. I love Cates but that’s just lazy, outdated 1960s comic book writing. It’s like a random wizard showing up at the end and casting a “fix it” spell, making everything that happened pretty pointless.

I was still glad that I read through this miniseries, as it featured a lot of characters I love. I can’t call it underwhelming but I did have expectations that I don’t feel were met.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: old school Marvel Knights stuff and other recent works by Donny Cates.

Comic Review: Web of Venom: Carnage Born – One-Shot

Published: November 21st, 2018
Written by: Donny Cates
Art by: Danilo Beyruth, Kyle Hotz (cover)

Marvel Comics, 32 Pages


Donny Cates has been straight fire, lately, His Venom stuff has been top notch and has given that character and his mythos new life. Cates has a way with the character that most writers in recent memory haven’t come close to. And if I’m being honest, Venom is one of my favorite characters of all-time but I was growing bored with what they’ve been doing with him for years.

Now this one-shot is the second one-shot since Cates took over Venom. This is a side story that gives a lot of context to the big return of Venom’s greatest rival, Carnage. And after everything Cates has done with Venom, so far, it’s great seeing him take on Carnage.

I really missed Carnage.

What this one issue story does is it makes me realize how much the Marvel universe has needed Carnage’s presence again. He is legitimately, one of the scariest villains that Venom or Spider-Man has ever faced. He is everything Venom is but even more powerful and with the mind of a psychotic serial killer that just wants to hurt everyone and everything.

This comic serves to fill in the blanks from the last sighting of Carnage up until now, where he is given something to make him more powerful. For Carnage fans, the end of this is glorious.

As a one-shot, this does its job exceptionally well. It gives us the context we need and it gets you pumped up for the next chapter in the Venom/Carnage rivalry.

Carnage is horror and this is really a horror story more than it is a tale about superheroes and their world.

Kudos to Cates for once again bringing something truly exciting to the table.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the recent Donny Cates Venom series and its Web of Venom spinoffs.

Comic Review: Cosmic Ghost Rider: Baby Thanos Must Die

Published: July 4th, 2018 – November 14th, 2018
Written by: Donny Cates
Art by: Dylan Burnett

Marvel Comics, 112 Pages


As of late, Donny Cates has been on a level that most writers in the comic book industry aren’t even close to. Everything the guy writes is stellar and man, I hope his level of creativity maintains going into the future because I’m really excited about his Guardians of the Galaxy run starting in early 2019. And that Guardians team will also feature Cosmic Ghost Rider.

Out of all of Cates’ recent stuff, this series is my favorite overall, even though it was really just a five issue miniseries to help lead into the relaunch of Guardians of the Galaxy. But it also served as a bridge from Cates’ run on Thanos.

For those who don’t know, Cosmic Ghost Rider is Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher. So how did he become this bizarre mashup of a character? Well, the Punisher became a Ghost Rider and after that, was given cosmic powers by Galactus. So everyone’s favorite murderous vigilante from Marvel is basically the Punisher with Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer powers. He’s also a lot older and pretty insane.

The premise of this sees Castle try something no one else has. He goes back in time to murder Thanos as a baby. Thus, freeing the cosmos of all the death and suffering that Thanos, the Mad Titan, can unleash on the universe in the future. However, once Frank Castle confronts the baby, he can’t pull the trigger and instead, takes baby Thanos with him in an effort to raise him better. Of course, all that baby Thanos experiences while gallivanting around with Castle is lots of violence and death.

So did Cosmic Ghost Rider actually create Thanos? This explores that and throws a lot of other curveballs at you.

Plus, you get lots of cameos and crazy situations in this strange pocket of the Marvel universe. And yes, somewhere, the Punsiher still exists in his normal form because this Frank is Frank from a future timeline.

This miniseries was hands down one of the most fun comic books that I’ve read in quite awhile. It’s also badass and feels like a real throwback to ’90s “extreme” culture. It reads more like a balls to the wall indie comic I would’ve read in my teen years than anything Marvel would typically put out.

Dylan Burnett’s artwork is also enchanting and I spent a lot of time really soaking in the art of this series. Plus, I didn’t just buy a copy of each of the five issues, I also picked up a lot of the variants, as this series had great covers throughout its entire run.

I loved Cosmic Ghost Rider. It delivered in a time when so few comics from the two major companies are worth reading.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other recent Donny Cates stuff like Death of the InhumansVenom and his Thanos stories before this.

Comic Review: Death of the Inhumans

Published: July 4th, 2018 – November 7th, 2018
Written by: Donny Cates
Art by: Ariel Olivetti, Kaare Kyle Andrews (covers)

Marvel Comics, 121 Pages


I have never been a fan of the Inhumans and really haven’t read much with them in it other than where they crossover with other Marvel heroes or groups. However, I always thought Black Bolt was kind of cool but the other characters felt dated and hokey to me, even by the time I picked up comics in the 1980s.

I do like Donny Cates, however, as everything he touches lately turns to gold. So I figured that I’d give the Inhumans a shot with Cates writing the story.

I’m glad that I did because Death of the Inhumans is pretty solid and now that I have watched the Inhumans TV show and understand the mythos better, despite that show not being very good, I was able to grasp these characters and their personalities better.

This is a very dark story and the title isn’t misleading but the story does suffer from Marvel being unable to commit to the bit, as these “deaths” aren’t true deaths and the doom and gloom is undone by the end.

I guess I didn’t know these characters enough for their deaths to effect me as heavily as they should have but the sentiment was still there and it still fueled Black Bolt as he went into the big finale with no fucks given. I liked seeing this but I thought the finale ended up being a bit of a cop out and it seemed too easily resolved. But I don’t really think that’s Cates’ writing as much as it is Marvel having control and probably having other plans for these characters in the short term.

The new villain Vox was cool as hell but there is a twist to the villain that I won’t ruin here. But I loved his look, his style and just how utterly evil he came across on the page.

Additionally, the art was great and a fan favorite character that hasn’t been seen in a long time makes a glorious comeback about midway through this miniseries.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent Donny Cates works: Cosmic Ghost RiderVenom and his Thanos run.

Comic Review: Venom: Rex

Published: May 9th, 2018 – September 19th, 2018
Written by: Donny Cates
Art by: Ryan Stegman

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages


Let’s be real, Donny Cates is the hottest writer in comics, right now. And I’m sure he knows it too, as fans have been loving every damn thing he puts his name on, especially in 2018. Between this series, Cosmic Ghost RiderDeath of the Inhumans, his Thanos stuff and his upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy run, people can’t get enough of Mr. Cates.

While Venom isn’t my favorite of his current runs it’s in second place behind Cosmic Ghost Rider. Cates has just found a way to take a beloved character that had grown a bit stale and make him great again.

Cates expanded on the Venom backstory in a new and interesting way that reinvents the character, the symbiote species and gives it such a rich mythos to explore in the future. Venom is very much the same but he’s so much more interesting now. And I guess the timing is good, as the Venom movie comes out in a few weeks.

We also meet the symbiote “god”, who is an intense and powerful force of nature that Venom has to survive in this six issue arc. He even gets some help from the Miles Morales Spider-Man, at one point, but he eventually leaves the kid behind because the danger of this new “god” is too much for Morales and Venom needs to handle it in his own way.

This is a story with strong old school fantasy elements and I love how those aspects were worked into the symbiote species, now officially called the Klyntar. These new revelations also give Venom abilities that he didn’t know he had. And there is even a part of his backstory that goes back to the Vietnam War. That part of the Venom mythos was covered in extra depth with the recent one-shot Web of Venom: Ve’Nam.

This story was really damn enjoyable. It was stretched over issues one through six of the current Venom comic. Fans of the character and dark fantasy should love this.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Web of Venom: Ve’Nam one-shot, as well as Donny Cates’ other books right now: Cosmic Ghost Rider and Death of the Inhumans.

Comic Review: Web of Venom: Ve’nam – One-Shot

Published: August 29th, 2018
Written by: Donny Cates
Art by: Juanan Ramirez, Ryan Stegman (cover)

Marvel Comics, 33 Pages


I have been ecstatically reading everything by Donny Cates, right now. His ongoing Venom series is one of the best things in comics in 2018, his Cosmic Ghost Rider series is f’n nuts and Death of the Inhumans actually makes me care about the Inhumans, who I’ve never really been a fan of, except for Black Bolt.

This one-shot is tied directly into Cates’ Venom series, which at current standing, just had its fifth glorious issue.

After reading this, I had to tweet about it. On Twitter, in limited characters, I summed this up with, “Web of Venom: Ve’nam #1: A Venom army, Wolverine, Nick Fury and the Vietnam War. As I read this on the toilet, I heard a loud clang. My balls had turned to brass, dropped and cracked the porcelain.”

I stand by that statement. This comic book one-shot, right here, can cure low-fucking-T. I’m serious. I had so much testosterone flowing through me after reading this that I could’ve gotten a gargoyle pregnant.

The premise is simple. Nick Fury made an elite squad of symbiote soldiers back during the Vietnam War. They got out of control. Fury enlists Wolverine to go into ‘Nam with him to bring back the rogue symbiotes. Of course, there are twists and turns and some badass MFing action!

If you are a fan of any of these characters, this isn’t something that you should miss. You owe it to yourself to buy a copy or twelve.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Anything Donny Cates is writing in 2018 but this should definitely be read alongside his Venom series.