Donny Cates: Where to Start?
Imagine this scenario: you've just finished the first issue of Thor by Donny Cates and Nic Klein. You close the comic and you can't stop thinking about it. You need more...but the next issue isn't out for WEEKS! Eugh. Wait a minute...this Donny Cates guy wrote a pretty interesting Thor comic...maybe, just maybe...he has some other comics out there too...?
Hello everybody! It's Fire Guy Ryan here, and I'm excited. I don't usually say that word about myself, but today I'm actually excited. I'm here to talk about Donny Cates! In honor of our first Marvel exclusive variant comic included in our Mystery Mail Call, I've taken the time to do a deep dive (well, at the very least an average-depth dive) into the works of Sir Cates, as he's known in ComicTom World, in order to bring you...FIVE IMPORTANT DONNY CATES COMICS YOU NEED TO READ.
I personally got the Donny Cates memo pretty late in the game. I have a weird completionist thing about not putting a title on my pull list partway through a run, so by the time I first heard of him (early 2018, just after I joined ComicTom101) Cates was already writing Thanos, and like a fool I initially passed on Venom! I eventually picked up the trades for both comics and was instantly hooked on the epic scale of his writing and the seemingly-contradictory personal, intimate way his comics are written. This led me to undertake the journey I'm about to transcribe below, my descent into the glorious madness that is Donny Cates.
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Garry Brown
I'm a big fan of horror movies. My favorite horror movie is Rosemary's Baby (or Halloween, depending on which day of the week you ask me). The comic Babyteeth has a lot of surface-level similarities to films like Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, which are what drew me to it in the first place, but not why I kept reading.
Babyteeth tells the story of Sadie Ritter, a sixteen-year-old who gives birth to the antichrist. Between her tough-as-nails sister and her father who was a marine before he became a grandpa, Sadie has a supportive, protective family unit who are all well aware of the demonic situation they now find themselves in. She'll need that protective family as well, to help fend off the assassins being sent to murder her new child before he can grow up and fulfill his apocalyptic birthright.
Already we can see some of the major Donny Cates themes at work, family being the most obvious (and most prevalent, as you'll soon see). Sadie's sister and father are written with equal parts loyalty and disbelief, and it's not difficult to see yourself in the shoes of this new, abnormal family unit. It's also not difficult to sympathize with the assassins coming to kill Sadie's son Clark (named after Superman!), because we can plainly see the boy is not human and will no doubt endanger/extinguish the human race at some point down the line. That conflict in the reader, of being able to empathize with both sides of a complicated situation, is another theme of Cates' writing that you will absolutely be seeing more of as we get further down this list.
Writer: Donny Cates
Artists: Lisandro Estherren and Dee Cunniffe
I started the last entry off by mentioning my love for horror movies. So it might not be a surprise to see a story about a family of vampires laying low in Texas for centuries on this list. Vampires who run a local barbecue restaurant in town and survive off of the blood of the cows they butcher for their shop, rather than drinking human blood. What IS surprising however is that this story is less of an outright horror comic and more like an organized crime story, which is lucky for me because that is my favorite (sub)genre of storytelling, ahead of horror even!
The Bowmans, our vampire family, consists of widower father JV, his three sons Greg, Seamus, and Slap, young daughter Perry, and her mysterious, rarely-seen grandfather who is wheelchair-bound and never leaves the attic. They are in the midst of a generational blood feud (sorry, couldn't resist a cheesy vampire pun) with local family the Landrys, and their back and forth centuries-long cycle of violence and vengeance fuels much of the conflict in this book and gives it that mafioso, organized crime flavor that I wasn't expecting but absolutely loved.
Also, in the conflict with the Landrys and Bowmans, just like in Babyteeth, you can identify with the antagonistic Landry family. Even though they're "the bad guys" of our story, they are fighting against a clan of monstrous vampires, so seeing the conflict from their perspective isn't impossible, even though their motives are less altruistic and more petty and greedy.
Redneck is great because it tells a vampire story through a non-traditional lens. These aren't Dracula or Nosferatu-style monstrous vampires, and they aren't Twilight or True Blood-style sexy vampires. These characters are Texans first, vampires second, and that good ol' boy characterization makes all the difference.
#3: God Country
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
God Country is something special. This standalone, six-issue miniseries covers all of the major Donny Cates themes I've mentioned so far - family, sympathetic antagonists, and Texas! - and covers them with more depth and pathos than any comic on this list. Not gonna lie: the conclusion of this story brings me to tears every time I read it.
Taking place in a remote West Texas farmhouse, we're introduced to the Quinlan family: Roy, his wife Janey, their daughter Deena, and the troublemaking member of the family, Roy's father Emmet. He suffers from Alzheimer's and is quickly forgetting everything and everyone he knows, lashing out at his family in the process. Then one day everything changes: a tornado rolls through and destroys their house, but not before leaving behind an enormous magical sword from another realm. This sword is sentient (its name is Valofax, because of course it is) and it has chosen Emmett to be its wielder. Even better, when Emmett holds the sword he regains all of his memories and is able to reconnect with his family! The only downside is, the sword isn't Emmett's: it belongs to a god from another realm, and he wants what's his.
This story excels because it provides such clear, powerful motivations for all of its characters. Emmett, newly empowered both mentally and physically, doesn't want to give the sword up because it allows him to regain his memories. The god from the other realm wants the sword (his sword, that he made) back because he and his sons are the last of their world and the sword represents their family's legacy. That actually cuts to the core of what the story is about: family, legacy, and learning to let go.
God Country is also on people's minds lately because earlier this month Cates himself tweeted that he has finished the screenplay for a feature film adaptation of God Country for Legendary Entertainment. It doesn't have a director, cast, or release date however, so it's too early to get excited...but impossible not to think of the possibilities. Of all of Sir Cates' original comics to get adapted, I'm glad they went with this story. There's a reason it ranks highest on this list out of the original stories! And that brings us to...
#2: Thanos Wins
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Geoff Shaw
With just one arc on Thanos - issues 13 through 18 - Donny
Cates told a story called "Thanos Wins" and, well, it's pretty
self-explanatory. It's functionally an Old Man Thanos story, a look at the far, far future of the Marvel universe, so far that it could almost be considered out of continuity.
This story is off the rails, in the most delightfully violent and menacing way. Thanos from millions of years in the future sends a representative to our present day to bring Thanos back to the future to help him stop...I don't want to spoil it. What you need to know is that this representative is a new character named Cosmic Ghost Rider; first appearance in Thanos #13, with a high-grade copy of that issue selling for around $80 according to Key Collector Comics (our sponsor!)
If you're unfamiliar, the Cosmic Ghost Rider is actually Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher. He's been given both Ghost Rider powers and the Power Cosmic, granting him eternal life. After a few million years of riding around the galaxy and murdering countless beings, he starts to lose his mind. By the time we meet him, he's a jabbering lunatic, much closer to a Deadpool than a Punisher. He's one of the most off-the-wall characters to come to comic books in recent years, and a tremendous joy to read.
But this is a Thanos book. Donny Cates writes the character with such a focused, grim determination and you can tell Cates is in his element while writing for Thanos. He brings the exact right level of cold, calculating malevolence that we remember from back when Thanos wielded the Infinity Gauntlet. There's no Gauntlet in this story, but Thanos is still a terrifying force of nature, both in his present day incarnation and in the far-flung bearded King Thanos future.
This run also premiered five months before Avengers: Infinity War released in theaters and introduced Thanos to the world at large. This raised the profile on the Thanos comic and on Cates himself. Thankfully, his gift for writing murderous villains and making them layered, complex, and even sympathetic hadn't run its course. I'm of course talking about my number one Donny Cates suggested read...
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Ryan Stegman
I hate picking the obvious choice here, but it's the obvious choice. If I had to snap all but one of Donny Cates' comics out of existence with my own Infinity Gauntlet, I would keep the Venom run and nothing else. It would sting to lose all the rest of the books on this list, to say nothing of the ones that didn't make the cut, like Cosmic Ghost Rider, Death of the Inhumans and Silver Surfer: Black! But I would sacrifice all of them to ensure that this Venom run will have existed.
It's hard to quantify exactly why this is, too. It's a mixture of different things. It's partially Ryan Stegman's standout artwork. He gives the symbiote itself a kind of rubbery density that's hard to describe but fun to witness. Part of it is what Cates adds to the spider-verse, while still working within the parameters of what has been established as canon. Or, as we refer to it on our show, Goldballing. And yet another part is the villain Knull, the symbiote god, another new creation of Donny Cates' who has spiraled out of this series into Silver Surfer: Black, Absolute Carnage, and any number of potential future comics...!
Keeping it in line with themes of family, fatherhood, and legacy, this run also deals with Eddie Brock and his son Dylan in the genuine, paternal way we've come to expect if you're reading this far on this list. It's these sorts of interpersonal relationships that really make a comic like this stand out. Venom comics have had all-out symbiote action, crazy plot twists, surprising team-ups and enormous crossovers before. But it's the rare comic that combines that with the more unexpected emotional beats to really seal the deal.
Venom is my number one pick because it combines the badass/evil/heartwarming writing of Cates with the broader relevance to the wider Marvel universe at large, as evidenced by the crossover event Absolute Carnage this past summer, also written by Cates. Knull is definitely a character to keep an eye on moving forward, and it's his existence that helps push this comic to my number one spot. But you should definitely be reading any one of these five, because as I mentioned earlier there were certainly other comics that I wish I could have included here, but couldn't.
Long story short: check out Donny Cates. He's written a lot of comics in a relatively short career, and there's bound to be one of his stories that speak to you. And keep an eye out for Thor! It just started, so if you want to not be like I used to and miss out on Venom when that started, hit up your local comic shop and see if they have copies of Thor #1 still! I liked what I read and I'm excited for more...
Until next time, comic friends! You know what to do!
-Fire Guy Ryan
Fire Guy Ryan (sometimes just known as Normal Ryan) is one of the co-hosts on the ComicTom101 YouTube channel (and podcast!). When he's not reading comics or talking about them with his friends Tom, Russ, Jeff and Eryn, he's most likely working his graveyard job at the hotel in Seattle or sleeping in the daytime, and those are the two reasons he's probably not answering you right now. He's a lover of storytelling - film and television in particular - and every now and then he tries writing his own screenplay. He totally didn't write this blurb about himself either.