Warning: contains spoilers for King in Black #4!
Knull, the God of Symbiotes and Marvel’s King in Black, has taken the Marvel Universe by storm, and the Avengers are scrambling to try and stop him. Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s King in Black event pits Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against an unimaginable threat who has left a path of destruction throughout the cosmos. Even after combining their forces with the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, however, the Avengers were overwhelmed in Knull’s initial assault, leaving the villain to cover the Earth in darkness.
As a result of the Absolute Carnage storyline, the Avengers knew that Knull had risen and that it was only a matter of time before he’d show his face. Furthermore, thanks to Venom’s connection to the evil god, they had time and insight to strategize about how they would defeat the King in Black, but unfortunately, their plans contained some glaring flaws. Knull has shown that he’s more powerful than anyone anticipated, but even then, the Avengers have made some huge tactical mistakes that didn’t need to happen.
One of the Avengers’ greatest oversights is that they simply failed to predict how large Knull’s assault would be in King in Black #1. They knew he had symbiote dragons at his command, but didn’t realize how many, so they were caught by surprise as hundreds of thousands of the winged beasts descended from the sky. In addition, the dark god brought several Knullified Celestials with him, giving his army a major upgrade.
Ultimately, the heroes’ plan for Knull’s arrival wasn’t a bad one. In preparation for the invasion, Tony Stark repurposed several Kree and Skrull warships into makeshift bombs for a protective shield in Earth’s upper atmosphere. This tactic was sound – it only took out a fraction of Knull’s forces, but it did take them out – so the issue here was underestimating the firepower needed to do the job right. Since Knull’s dragons spread symbiotes that turn other creatures to his side, taking them out early might have been all it took to prevent the Avengers from being overrun.
As a final Hail Mary against Knull’s first attack, the Avengers decided to put Robert Reynolds, aka the Sentry, on standby. The Sentry is one of Marvel’s strongest heroes, having accomplished several impressive feats, including ripping Ares, the God of War, in half. Given his immense powers, the Avengers assume that he will be enough to take out the King in Black in a one-on-one fight, but they quickly learn how wrong they are.
After being called into the fight, the Sentry makes a fairly dramatic entrance, flying directly through the head of one of Knull’s symbiote Celestials. The hero then snatches his target, and starts lifting the King in Black up into the sky. In a shocking turn of events, Knull overpowers Sentry and tears the hero in two, absorbing a dark entity that lives within Sentry, called the Void. Though Knull’s command of the Void was a surprise, Sentry has always been unpredictable, and should really have been one of multiple top-level deterrents against the coming threat.
The main reason that Knull touched down on Earth in the first place was to look for “a human named Brock.” The Avengers thought that Knull meant Eddie Brock, aka Venom, but as King in Black #1 reveals, the Void King is actually searching for Eddie’s son, Dylan Brock. Thanks to Dylan’s own symbiote-based powers, he is a much greater threat to the King in Black than most of the heroes realize. Even so, both he and his father are left fairly vulnerable, with Dylan being hidden away in an underground bunker for safety, and Venom battling for control of the invading legion at a symbiote spire.
While the Avengers couldn’t have known Dylan was Knull’s target, they did think he wanted Eddie, and it’s likely they’d have kept the two together if they’d chosen to rob Knull of his prize. Choosing to keep Venom in New York is a risky move on the Avengers’ part, especially since they have the reimgs to get him somewhere much more secure. In Seanan McGuire, Flaviano, and Rico Renzi’s King in Black: Gwenom vs. Carnage tie-in, it’s suggested that Knull doesn’t have access to other dimensions, meaning that Eddie and his son could’ve likely been hidden together using any number of gadgets or powers.
Despite not always seeing eye-to-eye with the Avengers, the X-Men are usually a fairly dependable team. Unfortunately, with the establishment of the mutant nation of Krakoa, they’ve become much more focused on their own country than on the world at large. The Quiet Council does end up sending a small force to fight off the symbiote army in New York, but after these mutants are taken over by Knull, Krakoa backs out of the conflict, refusing to send any more of their citizens into battle.
Bearing in mind that Krakoa has mutants who can alter reality itself, the X-Men’s withdrawal from this battle is a severe blow. The Avengers expected their allies to help in whatever way they could, but that’s just not how Krakoa operates. Without having any sort of incentive to send in more troops, the mutant nation is only willing to assist in a limited capacity, much to the dismay of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, who clearly didn’t see this coming. The X-Men have been exceedingly clear about taking their new nationhood seriously, so while it’s not the most heroic move to bow out, this is once again on the Avengers for not making sure of their alliances earlier.
Krakoa’s isolationism didn’t just limit the pushback – it also unexpectedly gave Knull a new advantage in his conquest. In Al Ewing, Valerio Schiti, and Marte Gracia’s S.W.O.R.D. #2, members of Krakoa’s new space-faring team travel to the mutant nation to figure out what is happening on Earth, only to discover a symbiote dragon attacking their island. After killing the monstrous being, however, the mutants turn their attention to a Krakoan gate, through which a Knullified version of Cable appears, having been part of the small team the mutants did send to New York.
Krakoan gates are a major tool for mutants that allow them to teleport around the world, and seeing a symbiote-controlled Cable use one is a huge problem. Not only did this give Knull access to Krakoa – where the majority of the mutant race were sheltering from his attack – but since the gates will only work for mutants, it gave him a massive advantage in mobility. It would have been better for Krakoa to send none of the X-Men rather than just enough to give Knull this huge new tool for world domination.
Evacuating New York City was one of the Avengers’ main concerns when they discovered that Knull was coming. Unfortunately, Mayor Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, wasn’t too keen on this idea. In Daredevil #27, by Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto, Mike Hawthorne, Adriano Di Benedetto, and Marcio Menyz, Kingpin’s regret kicks in as he admits he should’ve heeded Iron Man’s warning. While the fault is definitely Fisk’s, the Avengers also should have been more insistent that Kingpin evacuate the city.
Failing to do so immediately gave Knull a plethora of hosts to spread terror and defeat the first line of heroes. Even a group of superpowered prisoners at the Ravencroft Institute are Knullified in Matthew Rosenberg and Juan Ferreyra’s King in Black: Thunderbolts #2. Had the Avengers simply briefed Kingpin on the gravity of the situation – or gone over his head to the president or public – they might have saved countless civilians and prevented several A-list heroes from falling to the vast horde that Knull was immediately able to control.
Given their past experiences with symbiotes, the Avengers should know what kinds of attacks are effective against them. They do take advantage of some of the symbiotes’ weaknesses, sending in Storm to blast them with lightning and having Doctor Strange work his magic. The problem is, many of the heroes sent in to stop Knull’s invasion are hand-to-hand combatants.
Heroes like Captain America, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and the Thing may be great at pummeling enemies with their fists, but that isn’t helpful against symbiotes, who are resistant to most physical attacks. Plus, just touching a symbiote is an exceedingly bad idea, as they are capable of binding with whomever they come into contact with. Honestly, it’s not too surprising that Knull took control of so many heroes right off the bat, giving him heavy-hitters who were effective against their former allies.
Speaking of hand-to-hand fighters, Peter Parker definitely falls into that category. Although his spider-sense and his quick reflexes make him more difficult to capture than most heroes, he still isn’t very effective against symbiotes. Sure, Venom and Carnage are part of his rogue’s gallery, so he definitely has more experience with symbiotes than most, but that doesn’t mean that his power-set is the best for fighting them. There is, however, another Spider-Man that is better suited for the job.
Miles Morales has many of the same abilities as Peter Parker, but his unique ability to create venom blasts gives him a leg up when facing symbiotes. He’s proven this before during Absolute Carnage, when he used these bio-electric powers to free himself from a symbiote, and he proves it again by freeing Ms. Marvel and one of Knull’s dragons in Saladin Ahmed, Carmen Carnero, and David Curiel’s Miles Morales: Spider-Man #23. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like the Avengers realized his usefulness, as Knull’s invasion caught the young hero by surprise.
Peter David, Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Frank D’Armata’s Symbiote Spider-Man: King in Black tie-ins take place just after Marvel’s first Secret Wars event in the 1980s. The story features one of Spider-Man’s earliest encounters with Knull’s forces and sees the web-slinger teaming up with a strange selection of heroes which includes the Black Knight. It turns out the former Avenger’s Ebony Blade is one of the only weapons capable of killing Knull, but even after this potential weakness is revealed, the sword doesn’t make it into the Avengers’ contingency plan in the main storyline.
The Black Knight is called in along with several other “Avengers-adjacent” heroes as a last resort to combat Knull in King in Black: Black Knight #1 by Simon Spurrier and Jesús Saiz. While it makes sense that some of the Avengers wouldn’t think to include the hero, Spider-Man should’ve realized how helpful he could be. Knull’s disciples went to ridiculous lengths to destroy the blade, and while some time has passed, harnessing the Black Knight’s potential should have been at the top of the Avengers’ list of priorities.
Simply put, the Avengers do not prepare enough heroes to face Knull and his horde of symbiotes. In the event’s many tie-ins, a variety of heroes are completely caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of the King in Black, showing both that the Avengers could have had more reinforcements to stop Knull’s takeover and that they didn’t prep their allies for the worst. Even the heroes that are present in the first battle don’t all seem to be up to speed on the situation. In Fantastic Four #29 by Dan Slott, Zé Carlos, and Jesus Aburtov, Human Torch is surprised when he finds out that, unlike Venom, these symbiotes aren’t vulnerable to his fire powers.
Knull’s primary onslaught overwhelmed everyone and the heroes that remained after that first showdown were left scrambling to come up with a new strategy as the world falls apart. If they’d briefed other heroes properly rather than relying solely on their usual brain trust, the Avengers could have bounced back far more quickly. Instead they assumed that their first line of defense would hold strong; a very costly decision. While the Avengers have definitely had some major blunders in the fight against the King in Black, it seems like they are finally starting to recover from their early losses and give themselves a fighting chance. Hopefully, after learning from their mistakes, they’re ready to hit the King in Black with everything they’ve got.