Donny Cates’ Venom saga is nearing its crescendo with King in Black. Cates’ run with the popular antihero and former Spider-Man antagonist expands the lore of the symbiotes (otherwise known as Klyntar) and introduces a new villain in Knull – the Dark God creator of the symbiotes. Cates and various other writers have created an ecosystem around the story of Knull’s resurrection and invasion of Earth. One notable entry is Peter David’s Symbiote Spider-Man: King In Black.
Like David’s other recent Symbiote Spider-Man titles, this story takes place in the past when Peter Parker still wore the alien costume that became Venom. David’s other titles in the series featured Spider-Man battling his classic foes Mysterio and Hobgoblin. That changes with the King in Black tie-in where none other than Alistair Smythe, former Kingpin crony and current paraplegic mental patient, encounters a mysterious entity inside the Ravencroft Institute. The being calls itself Mister E and is a servant of Knull. Mister E originally appeared in Marvel Spotlight #9 and sought to transform earthlings into “Shadow Slaves” after killing half the planet by converting the sun into a black star. Unfortunately for Mister E, a wielder of the Uni-Power named Steve Coffin managed to seemingly kill the shadowy villain by sending him into the sun. But reports of Mister E’s demise were greatly exaggerated. He’s returned in the pages of Symbiote Spider-Man: King In Black, and after duping Smythe into bonding, Mister E launches a new plan to usher in Knull’s return. Enter our hero Peter Parker who, accompanied by Ned Leeds, is conveniently invited to interview Smythe. But it’s all a ploy to infect Leeds with Knull’s living abyss, thus bringing Spider-Man into the fray.
Symbiote Spider-Man: King In Black takes place during the heyday of the Alien Costume Saga – Peter is not yet aware of the symbiote’s true nature. Spider-Man is confused when Mister E refers to him as his “brother” and tries to embrace him as such. Being an extraterrestrial servant of a Dark God did nothing to smarten Mister E up, as Spider-Man is only interested in defeating the villain. After finally giving up on his idea of family reconciliation, Mister E launches an assault on Spidey, who’s saved just in time by Dane Whitman, the Black Knight. Black Knight adds a mystical element to the story, explaining that Merlin (yes, that Merlin) appeared to him in a dream, forewarning him of the great darkness that approaches. Black Knight wields the Ebony Blade, a cursed and extraordinarily powerful sword of mystical origin. Mister E manages to escape after being stabbed by Black Knight’s Ebony Blade – but not before uttering a cryptic message: “Creation moves forward. Uncreation runs backward.”
As our heroes scratch their heads the plot-thickens elsewhere. In space Kang the Conqueror appears and kidnaps Uatu the Watcher to siphon his knowledge. As a time-traveling despot, there isn’t much Kang cannot figure out, and Watchers dedicate their lives to recording all of history, only appearing to warn about events of such magnitude that the fabric of existence itself hangs in the balance. Kang is aware that a great destructive force is at work, but requires extra information from Uatu to complete the puzzle. But when the Watcher attempts to turn the tables via his psionic power, everything goes south. Kang is left stranded in space until Rocket Raccoon happens upon him.
Back on Earth, Mister E’s Shadow Minions scatter, and Spider-Man leaves to pull J. Jonah Jameson’s behind out of the fire. The Black Knight is urged to return to Avenger’s Mansion by Merlin, who reveals the coming threat of Knull. Citing the threat of Knull, Merlin asks Black Knight to trust the Ebony Blade to his care, claiming he will magnify the sword’s power to such a degree it can vanquish Knull. However, Black Knight sees through this deception and learns this “Merlin” was Mister E in disguise. Whitman is stabbed by his blade only to be rescued by Kang and Rocket just in time. The two commandeer a Quinjet and make way for space with a wounded Black Knight in tow.
Spider-Man crashes the party and assumes Kang is up to his typical world-conquering shenanigans. After a brief confrontation, Kang manages to subdue Spidey and takes it upon himself to dispose of a captured Shadow Minion in the process, revealing its host is Monica Rambeau. Rambeau is currently Spectrum in the comics but was Captain Marvel at this time. After revealing she was transformed into a Shadow Minion by the creature, Rambeau guesses Mister E intends to bring the Ebony Blade to the one person he believes can destroy it – a weapon-smith on Knowhere named Ulicia who deals with both metallurgy and magic. It seems her hunch was right, as Mister E arrives in Ulicia’s shop. Spider-Man and Rambeau begrudgingly agree to work with Kang to foil Mister E’s plans and retrieve the Ebony Blade.
Symbiote Spider-Man: King In Black is one of the strongest tie-ins to the King in Black storyline. Not only does Peter David do a masterful job balancing an early Peter Parker with a plethora of other characters, but plants several seeds that not only line-up with current continuity but expands upon the entire Knull mythos. Kang, for example, knows what the future holds for Spider-Man’s black costume. Peter is at his wits-end regarding Mister E’s strange behavior towards him, and very much in a fish-out-of-water role. Kang is a villain who wishes to rule but knows it’s pointless to rule a universe ravaged by whatever darkness Knull’s return will bring.
This brings things back to Mister E’s aforementioned message: “Creation moves forward. Uncreation runs backward.” The implications of such a message are fascinating because they offer two explanations. One possibility is these events already occurred in the past, with only Kang and the Watcher being aware of what Knull’s revival may bear on the universe. The other is more frightening – it implies that Knull’s power is so great his arrival on Earth in the present is having an effect on the time-stream and altering the past itself. If the latter is true, the very fabric of time is warped by Knull’s mere presence.
Symbiote Spider-Man: King In Black presents several fascinating theories that can be explored by fans. Will Kang interfere in the present to stop Knull? Will Black Knight arrive with the Ebony Blade, or will the heroes find some other mystical means of defeating Knull? As of this write-up Symbiote Spider-Man: King In Black is only on issue #3, so the fates of Kang, the Ebony Blade, and the rest are unknown. If you read only one King in Black tie-in, David’s story is a key offering. It not only deepens the cosmic-scale of Knull as a villain – but tells a classic Spider-Man tale along the way.