If you are a comic book fan who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’re probably familiar with the ongoing Marvel comics crossover event King in Black, which begins with the much-awaited arrival of Knull, the God of all symbiotes. This is the biggest crossover of the year and is the brain child of writer Donny Cates, who has officially made Venom an A-List character in the world of Marvel comics.
Everything Cates has worked on for the last several years is finally culminating in this epic crossover, but the seeds of this culmination go back much further than you think. In fact, they go back to a relatively obscure back issue drawn by Steve Ditko 40 years ago.
A 40-year-old comic book finds new meaning.
That issue is Marvel Spotlight #9, and until recently, you could pick it up in a discount bin at any comic book store. The issue also contains a villain that was, back then, considered inconsequential at best.
In the issue, a shadowy villain named Mr. E takes a host in the form of a scientist for NASA. He then infects an entire hospital, turning staff and patients into shadow-like slaves to his own will. Mr. E comes up with an elaborate scheme to kill all life on Earth by turning the sun into a black star, but is ultimately defeated by Captain Universe, who seemingly causes Mr. E to fly directly into the sun and perish. The story utilizes the average comic book “villain of the month” formula that was common for the series in 1980. Nobody ever expected to see Mr. E again.
Symbiote Spider-Man: King in Black links to the past.
Of course, that was before Symbiote Spider-Man: King in Black #1 was released last month. Written by Peter David and drawn by Greg Land, the first issue of this series takes place sometime after Peter Parker originally obtained the infamous black symbiote suit. Alistair Smythe is locked up in Ravencroft Institute, when he’s visited by a figure who looks just like his deceased father. The figure reveals that it needs a host to survive, and gives Alistair instructions to create a formula that will make him walk again.
Meanwhile, Uatu the Watcher is taken captive by Kang the Conqueror, who attempts to extract knowledge from Uatu’s brain in order to “save the universe.” This backfires after Uatu uses his own power to obtain all of Kang’s knowledge, causing the computer to short circuit and destroy Kang’s ship.
Alistair injects himself with the formula he was instructed to make, and becomes the new host for the mysterious entity that visited him. He releases the formula into the ventilation, causing the Ravencroft staff to turn into the same shadow slaves from Marvel Spotlight #9. Spider-Man then comes face to face with Smythe, who reveals himself to be Mr. E, the very same villain last seen 40 years ago.
Recognizing the black suit as a symbiote, Mr. E believes him to be an ally. Peter Parker doesn’t yet know anything about the symbiotes, and declares Mr. E as his enemy. A skirmish takes place and eventually the Black Knight gets involved. Before retreating, Mr. E states “Creation moves forward. Uncreation moves backwards” and disappears.
In the final pages, Kang is floating in space before being taken in by a wandering ship, which is captained by the Guardians of the Galaxy’s own Rocket Racoon.
What does all this mean?
So, what does all this mean? Well for starters, Marvel Spotlight #9 just went way up in value. A comic that you could once find in most discount bins has collectors scrambling through their own collections, and comic shop owners searching through their inventory. Ebay sellers are now listing the issue anywhere from $60 to $150 online.
Secondly, it means the King in Black comic event may be full of twists and throwbacks that put even the Secret Invasion to shame.
Lastly, it means that comic book writers still have plenty of lore to dive into when it comes to obscure characters that have long since been forgotten. Who knows? Maybe one of the subjects of our very own blog series of the same name could become a major player in a future comic book series. Stay tuned!