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Feb 5

King in Black: Marauders #1

Posted on Friday, February 5, 2021 by Paul in Uncategorized

“Queen in Red”
by Gerry Duggan, Luke Ross & Carlos Lopez

So this is a thing. Why is this a thing?

I will grant you, I am not the most receptive audience for a “King in Black” tie-in. To say I couldn’t care less about Knull is a considerable overstatement of my level of interest in Knull. He doesn’t even interest me as a Venom concept – Venom doesn’t cry out for a mythology involving alien space demons. But hey, Venom isn’t my concern.

What’s the thinking behind line-wide crossovers like this? There used to be a fairly obvious strategy for event comics. You had a central storyline in a core miniseries, and maybe one or two central books. And then you ran a bunch of tie-ins in assorted ongoing titles – maybe side quests, maybe just things happening in the margins of the main story. And why did you do all those tie-ins? Mainly, to sell more copies of the tie-in books.

But increasingly the format is to label the tie-in issues as not part of the regular series, and off to the side somewhere, and basically Not Proper Issues. Which is commendably honest, I suppose, but does that sell? If we’re not doing this to sell comics to enthusiastic event followers and sighing completists, why are we doing it? At all?

King in Black: Marauders #1 is by regular writer Gerry Duggan. It features the regular cast, doing Marauders-type things. It’s drawn by Luke Ross, who isn’t a regular on Marauders proper, but he’s perfectly at home here. He gets the swashbuckling vibe nicely enough, and he does a pretty decent Kitty, albeit one with particularly uncontrollable hair. This could have been published quite happily as an issue of Marauders, which makes you wonder why it wasn’t. It would just have been a profoundly inconsequential one.

Obviously, “aliens symbiote thingies invade Earth” isn’t a story that has anything much to do with Marauders. There’s a tried and tested solution to doing tie-ins with this sort of thing, which is just to do your own story and use the crossover as the generic crisis that launches the plot. That way you let another book do the heavy lifting of setting up the plot, you tick the box of making the crossover part of your story, and you can still pretty much get on with telling a story of your own.

Which is… sort of the approach taken here.

The starting premise here is that Knull has already invaded Earth, swarmed the planet with symbiotes (mostly dragon thingies, from the look of it), and surrounded the planet in a symbiote shell (so it’s night everywhere). As the story starts, the Marauders are on their way to New York to help rescue Cyclops and Storm – which sounds like we’re going to be connecting directly to the plot of King in Black itself. But that, it turns out, is a story for another day. Instead, the Marauders are going to divert to deal with a ship in distress.

So the Marauders save a passing boat from symbiote dragons, and rescue the crew. But wouldn’t you know it, it turns out to be a baddie ship, with a whole load of trafficked people down in the hold. The Marauders figure that out, rescue the prisoners, dump the baddies in a desert (where… I guess there aren’t any dragons around?), and then decide what to do with the trafficking victims.

Since the Marauders are meant to be on a rescue mission, Kate’s initial plan is to drop the victims off in New Jersey, but they want to go to Canada. Taking them to Krakoa is not an option for political reasons, and so they wind up being offered asylum on Island M. And Magneto shows up to give them a little speech about how magnanimous Krakoa is – which it sounds like we’re meant to agree with – while explaining that the refugees will still be booted off the island as soon as the crisis is over.

There are quite a few things that don’t really work here. For one thing, it’s very obviously a story being told against the backdrop of a generic crisis. You could have done literally this same story as an Empyre tie-in – and, incidentally, two generic alien invasion crossovers in such a short space of time is too many. All you do is swap out the symbiotes for wandering Cotati and give the Marauders some other random assignment that they have to get back to. In fact, it would have worked better in Empyre, because the general vibe of King in Black is much more apocalyptic. There’s a real disconnect between “alien dragons prowling the symbiote-encased world” and “shall we drop you off in New Jersey?” In fact, for the most part everyone acts as if the whole thing is just a passing inconvenience.

For another, the book seems way too ready to congratulate the mutants simply for being willing to put up a group of desperate people for a short period until a global crisis passes. It’s not like the Krkaoans offer them a permanent home or refuge or anything. It might work better if there was some sense that dropping them off in New Jersey really would have been a safe option, but it feels like we’re expected to give Magneto a medal simply because he didn’t boot them over the side and tell them to swim for it.

But also… the plot doesn’t work. Is the world meant to be overrun with Knull’s symbiotes, except for a few remote locations? If so, then there was no real choice but to take in the refugees; dropping them off in New Jersey was never an option; and dumping the slavers in the middle of a desert with no shelter or equipment was really just an elaborate way of killing them. But if that’s not the case – if the world is largely safe outside the major flashpoints – then why didn’t they just take the refugees to Canada, where they wanted to go in the first place? They took the slavers onto Krakoa en route to dumping them in the desert. What’s the problem with letting the refugees onto Krakoa en route to Vancouver?

Duggan’s a good enough writer to make it feel like this all makes sense, but the more I think about it, the more it really doesn’t. It’s okay as a fill-in issue, but it’s really not much more than that.

Bring on the comments

  1. Evilgus says:

    I think you’re being unduly harsh! For an adventure, seeing the team operate together, with several character moments, it worked quite well.

    But that this could have slotted in to almost any ‘crisis’ is a fair criticism. I actually appreciated how arms length it was, as I’m not following king in black in the slightest.

    I’m still not sure that anyone quite knows what exactly to *do* with Bishop yet. I’m liking his new look. But he needs some proper relationships. When did he last intersct with Sage? And it’s just a shame that visually, and imaginatively, his powers are quite dull.

  2. Jacob says:

    I also questioned why the refugees couldn’t use the same path the slavers did to get where they needed to be.

    The only answer I could come up with is that staying away from the mission is required for the tension with Bishop. But am I missing where that came from?

    Not a fun time.

  3. Thom H. says:

    Super weird that Marauders gets a King in Black special, but S.W.O.R.D. gets hijacked for two regular issues instead.

    I get that S.W.O.R.D. aligns better with the crossover story because it’s set in space, but it’s still a strange marketing decision. Do you want people to buy into a new series or not?

  4. Matt says:


    I think you just can’t send off the refugees, unsupervised, with the slavers, can you? At the very least I think they’d be more comfortable hanging out on Island M until it’s safe to head to Canada.

    The tension with Bishop and the rest of the team is from a datapage b-plot in Marauders. He’s been spying on Kate for X-Force.

  5. Adam Farrar says:

    It is possible to swap out Empyre for King in Black. That’s what the pandemic-delayed The Union did.

    The confused approach to crossovers is a Krakoan tradition. Empyre had issues of X-Men and Empyre: X-Men. Now, King in Black has issues of SWORD and this one-shot(?).

  6. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    It was novel to read an issue of this book with the whole cast on a boat doing adventures.

    Which considering that was the premise, is not a good thing

    Having read a few of the King in Black things (even though I’m not a big Cates fan) I believe the idea is that while the world is covered in a shell the dragons are mostly concentrated on NYC and the big population centers. They aren’t everywhere yet. Knull is going after Venom and his kid.

    I took the Magneto scene to be him being a prick.

  7. Nu-D says:

    Part of the reason comics feel like they never have anything new anymore is because they can’t seem to resist the urge to take any character and turn it into a whole family, clan, race, world or whatever. Admittedly, the Venom symbiote’s origin lends itself to being part of a whole alien race. But nonetheless, is nothing in comics allowed to be one of a kind?

    I always preferred Marvel over DC, and X-Men over the rest, because we were less likely to get our characters in sets of —man, —girl, —woman, —boy, —dog, —mite, etc. Even when Marvel did that kind of thing, each member of the set was somewhat unique in its origin.

    But now even Wolverine has a half-dozen knock-offs. It’s a miracle there’s only one Cyclops. Did we really need a whole Venom-world? And don’t get me started on Hulk’s third-cousins twice removed turning indigo with fuchsia polka-dots. Hell, even Krakoa isn’t one of a kind anymore, and a sentient mutant island was an idea that definitely deserved it’s long retirement.

    It all just feels tired to me.


  8. Peter Singer says:

    “To say I couldn’t care less about Knull is a considerable overstatement of my level of interest in Knull. He doesn’t even interest me as a Venom concept – Venom doesn’t cry out for a mythology involving alien space demons.”

    Thank you for perfectly capturing how I feel.

    Even the idea of King in Black seems pointless coming after Empyre, which at least clearly changed the status quo of two long-established alien empires.

    What, is Venom gonna become king of the symbiotes?

    Oh, dear God, please, no!

  9. Luis Dantas says:

    Venom is about as much of a draw to me at its best as Wolverine at its worst.

    Whoever might be the target demographic of this King in Black event, I ain’t no part of that.

  10. Ronnie says:

    As someone who finds themselves in the dubious situation of having collected the entirety of Venom’s solo adventures in collected edition, you would think I’d be the target audience for King in Black.

    Nope! I just want it to be over with. I say this as someone who has generally liked Cates’ Venom run.

  11. SanityOrMadness says:

    Nu-D: It’s a miracle there’s only one Cyclops.

    You may not want to read the upcoming (much-delayed) Children of the Atom series…

  12. MasterMahan says:

    If Beast had gotten his way, there might have been less than one Cyclops. Has anyone in Krakoa made sure that’s not Dark Beast again?

  13. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Beast has been on the downward slope to villainy for a good while now.

  14. Alan L says:

    Did Marvel do King in Black because DC did Metal? I haven’t read either, but both storylines have a “twisted!!!” vibe to the visuals, like some throwback to hair metal and Meatloaf videos. When I saw Cyclops and Storm in their lousy Venom redesigns that’s the first thing that flashed into my head.

    I’ve given up reading the data pages, so I didn’t have a sense of, or didn’t remember, this Bishop storyline of informing on the Marauders to Beast. So it was a very weird feeling when the story announced an objective––rescue/maybe kill? Scott and Ororo––and then they literally turned the ship’s wheel out of that plot and into this decidedly less impactful one. I did appreciate seeing all the characters, instead of just one more issue of Emma and Kate and Sebastian Shaw doing their louche corporate takeover soap opera. I didn’t realize how much I missed Pyro. But the change in this story from one kind of story to another seemed really jarring to me, and not in a cool way. I liked Bishop when he was investigating Kate’s death; I don’t care for him as a double-agent too much.

    I think Marauders has reached a point where it’s moving too slow for my taste. The fact that this team isn’t having adventures is an issue of the decompressed storytelling approach. Whole issues where they just get their revenge on Sebastian Shaw are not so interesting to me. I want to see a little more happening.

  15. Col_Fury says:

    If Bishop dies, will he be resurrected? He’s from the “future” and so was “old Cable”… who was not resurrected.

    I get that “nu-Cable” was still hanging around, but still.

  16. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Alan L-

    Hmmmmm not entirely sure, but I doubt Metal had a huge influence on King in Black.

    Knull himself certainly predates Metal by a good bit, and it seemed like they were definitely building to something with him.

    Maybe the success of Metal made them confident they could do a big crossover. But it’s not a direct rip off like they sometimes do.

    At least in my vaguely informed opinion.

    PS- a lot of the symbiote hero redesigns from this are absolutely awful, and they certainly do look like the Batman Who Laughs.

  17. Kenny Norman says:

    While I agree with all of the above, especially the part where this could have been a regular issue of Marauders…I gotta say, it’s nice to have a writer who can make a tie-in filler issue still feel fun and enjoyable on some level!

    Part of me thinks that there ARE dragons in the desert and the Marauders knew that but didn’t say anything so they could punish those traffickers further.

  18. Karl_H says:

    Cates said that his initial pitch for Venom included King in Black, so that dates it back to at least early 2018.

    As a person who’s never cared much for Venom, I’m happy enough that Cates is getting the chance to roll out some of his big ideas on a property that I don’t have much investment in.

  19. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Cates Venom is fascinating.

    They stripped away almost everything that made Venom interesting, including making the symbiote not really the Venom symbiote anymore.

  20. Luke says:

    Fully echo the event fatigue of King in Black. Marvel’s recent crossovers have been bloated nonsense. War of the Realms at least built from five years of a high profile book, against a series of high profile, longtime villains. I thought Empyre was boring, but at least it felt like a story that ought to involve most other books. This is just…. I mean, like Ben said, let’s take Venom and ruin everything that made him interesting, and somehow take over the entire line.

    @Alan_L and Karl – the original DC Metal was 2017, and it knew how ridiculous it was, that was a large part of the appeal. Death Metal went a bit too over the top with the forced zany nonsense (Dinosaur Batman! Baby Batman!! Killer Batman monster truck!!!) but I’ll take stupid fun over unintentionally stupid portentous nonsense anyday.

  21. Omar Karindu says:

    Did Marvel do King in Black because DC did Metal? I haven’t read either, but both storylines have a “twisted!!!” vibe to the visuals, like some throwback to hair metal and Meatloaf videos. When I saw Cyclops and Storm in their lousy Venom redesigns that’s the first thing that flashed into my head.

    I think it may be as simple as generational nostalgia. Basically, Big Two superhero comics now have a lot of writers who came up with 1990s comics as a formative experience, so that aesthetic is coming back in.

    There are also writers who seem like they’re calling back to the 1990s “reconstructionist” writers like Busiek and Waid, too. That’s Empyre, the Maximum Security to King in Black‘s 90s anti-heropalooza/Bloodlines with symbiotes thing.

    Even the two Metal series over at DC are sort of crossing Grant Morrison’s 1990s JLA stuff with the glut of “bad future anti-hero/eXtreme characters/ultra-villain versions of anti-heroes” thing from the 1990s era.

  22. Omar Karindu says:

    I guess there’s also DC.s 1992 Eclipso: The Darkness Within, wherein an evil god of darkness turns heroes into dark versions of themselves with a shared visual “tell.”

  23. Chris V says:

    The nostalgia for the 1990s isn’t anything recent.
    Rick Remender’s big crossover, Axis, was based around the return of Onslaught, for example.
    It was close to twenty years after the original Onslaught story-line.
    Fans who were around the age of ten when the first Onslaught story was published would have been adults in 2014.

    There seems to be a nostalgia for the pop culture people grew up with around twenty years after the original date, due to many people looking back fondly on their childhood.

    Writers like Remender, Ewing, and Snyder are a bit older than the target demographic to have fond memories of the early-‘90s style of comics.
    They would have been in high school at that age.

    I felt like Ewing, with Empyre, was attempting to homage the 1970s cosmic stories by names like Steven Englehart.

    I got the feeling that DC Metal was simply Scott Snyder wanting to write a crazy, mind-expanding book like Morrison; only he realized he couldn’t write like Morrison, so he went really over-the-top with extreme characters.
    I also think he watched Stranger Things and was really influenced by the concept of the Upside Down realm.

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