Superhero crossover events often feature at least somewhat high-profile character deaths, particularly in their early issues, but there are usually pretty specific parameters that guide those particular losses. Very often, if a superhero dies in the opening couple of issues of an event comic, it's because the creative team wants to establish the stakes of their story, creating at least the appearance that everyone in the fight could be in jeopardy. Usually, though, these characters are relatively low profile in the context of the event, at least compared to the characters who are meant to be taking the lead in the story.
We always knew this event would be ambitious. It's the culmination of a lot of things writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman have been building in the pages of Venom, and it's the book that promises to bring the struggle against Knull the Godking of Symbiotes, right to the front door of planet Earth. The event's first issue definitely didn't disappoint in that regard, delivering a massive opening volley that featured Knull wrapping the entire planet in symbiote material to blot out the sun, and if not killing various Avengers and X-Men, then at least converting their bodies to his cause for the time being.
King in Black #2 is the story of the remaining conscious heroes trying to pick up the pieces from that attack, and it ends with a game-changer that was very hard to see coming.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers for King in Black #2 below!**
King in Black #1 ended with Knull, having conquered New York City, ripping Eddie Brock's symbiote from his body and dropping him from a skyscraper. King in Black #2 begins just as Eddie lands, nearly naked and powerless, after that fall. Spider-Man whisks him away to the Fantastic Four's lab, where Reed Richards and Valkyrie try to save his life even as Black Panther, Iron Man, and Blade try to formulate a fresh plan. With a little help from Namor, who's decided to lend Atlantis to the fight thanks to the intervention of Sue Storm, the crew begins marshalling whatever forces they can still find on Earth, while Iron Man heads out to try and capture one of Knull's dragon symbiotes, the idea being that if he can override its programming and attach it to Eddie he can resurrect Venom.
This plan, unfortunately, backfires dramatically. The symbiote does try to bond with Eddie, but it begins to kill him in the process. Eddie's son Dylan is able to vaporize it — revealing his own massive and still-mysterious powers in the process — but the damage is apparently done, and Eddie flatlines. In the letters page immediately following the issue, editor Devin Lewis confirms that we are indeed meant to take this as a death, and not just a temporary setback for Eddie Brock.
"Eddie's death has ALWAYS been such a turning point of this story that during those planning sessions, the first two issues of King in Black and its assorted tie-ins were the EASY part," Lewis wrote as he discussed the years of story planning that have gone into the event.
He added, "And after getting Eddie here? Well, that was when the work began — and just wait until you see where it ends!"
Does this mean Eddie Brock is dead forever? Of course not. Comic book death has always been a mutable, flexible thing, so much so that sometimes death doesn't even actually take a hero out of the game for more than an issue or two. It's certainly possible that Eddie will be back up on his feet sometime soon, but that's not the important thing right now. The important thing right now is the emotional impact of losing Eddie, who Iron Man positioned as their last best hope in the fight against Knull, and the added impact of what Dylan Brock might be able to do here.
Moments before Eddie's death, Reed Richards seemed to realize that Dylan, not Eddie, might be the key to saving everyone, setting the generational story that Cates and Stegman's Venom has become, to reach an emotional climax throughout this event. Will Dylan be the next Venom? Will he be something else entirely? Can the symbiote god be not just defeated, but dethroned? We know by now that it's OK to be suspicious of comic book death, but as Lewis said in the letters page, this really does feel like just the beginning of what King in Black will throw at us, and that's the key to understanding this moment.
King in Black continues with its third issue on Jan. 20.