Venom’s six-part weekly event, an homage to Walt Simonson and Art Adams’s Fantastic Four line-up from the early 1990s, kicks off here. You’re going to want to read this review!
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“Circle of Four” Part 1
WRITER: Rick Remender
ART: Tony Moore
COLOR: Val Staples
LETTERS: VC’s Joe Caramagna
So Flash wallows in his Las Vegas hotel, sipping his booze and petting his symbiote, when suddenly the Kool-Aid Man attacks!
The new Ghost Rider, named Alejandra, and her mentor Johnny Blaze are drawn to Vegas by an aura of crying souls. X-23 also enters Vegas. A casino proprietor named Mr. Degli has procured her blood sample and has grown X-23 clones with symbiotes attached!
Meanwhile, Mr. Degli and his girlfriend, Ms. Oyle, create a hell gate in Vegas. They trick Ghost Rider into activating it by zooming her bike around a big, wheel-shaped centrifuge. If she stops driving, then the portal will reverse and pull Earth into hell.
Hell spills into Vegas, transforming it into a fiery cesspool of sin and decay. Well, more of one, anyway. Johnny Blaze places a medallion to keep Hell from spreading beyond Vegas. Johnny also sends a message to Daimon Hellstrom via payphone. Finally, Johnny takes over riding around the centrifuge so Ghost Rider can fight the villains.
Mr. Degli and Ms. Oyle reveal their true demonic forms. In fact, Degli is none other than Blackheart! Blackheart brags to his father, Mephisto, via crystal ball, and promises to claim all the souls of Earth and Hell.
The four superheroes convene in Blackheart’s tower at the hellscape’s center and team up. Blackheart has one more trick, however. Using a magic mirror, he summons four villains that represent the antitheses of the four heroes: Ichor, X-666, The Evangelist, and Encephalon.
Venom #13 is distilled insanity, occasionally verging on nightmarish psychedelia. Devils, symbiotic female Wolverine clones, a demonic cheerleader, a giant walking brain, a hellscape strewn with giant baby heads surging with maggots and Lovecraftian monsters composed of human fingers . . . if anyone predicted that this is where the new Venom series starring Flash Thompson would end up inside of its first publishing year, then congratulations. I for one love how this series continually evolves and changes course. Remender’s Venom never gets boring or repeats itself.
Certain writer and artist pairs have a “symbiotic” relationship in which their visions merge into a single expressive personality on the page. Rick Remender and Tony Moore are one of those teams. Every gruesome detail, every hilarious facial expression, and every explosion of action channels and amplifies Remender’s twisted high concepts and subtle eccentricities. No other artist but Moore can so thoroughly, so robustly, interpret Remender’s bizarre imagination.
A Bosch-esque two-page spread depicting Vegas after it has merged with Hell stands out as the artistic highlight. I find some new and horrifying imagery tucked into it every time I look at it. To convey the art’s density and striking level of detail, here is A SMALL CORNOR OF THE BACKGROUND.
The story itself provides unadulterated brain-candy. When it comes to supernatural Marvel yarns, the sillier they are, the better they are. The angst and heady themes from earlier issues take a back seat to the action and fun horror elements in Remender’s writing. One could compare Remender and Moore’s creations to a good haunted house–macabre and depraved, but you walk out the door grinning. Furthermore, even with an extended length, this issue accomplishes tremendous plot progression. Under modern storytelling conventions, assembling a team, establishing an interdimensional conflict, introducing a cataclysmic event, and bringing the heroes face to face with their enemies in one issue is rare.
Sadly, I must mention this book’s negative points. As much as I love the villains, the setting, and Flash Thompson himself, I cannot get behind Venom’s teammates. For one, Lady Ghost Rider has all the personality of a wooden plank. I guess her character trait is supposed to be “rebellious” in that she recklessly disregards Johnny Blaze’s tutelage, but there does not seem to be much else to define her other than emotionless dialogue. Moreover, X-23’s internal monologue contains some weird existential navel-gazing that comes across as pretentious. Finally, Red Hulk is a character I have never liked, though admittedly Remender and Moore humanize him somewhat–he actually appears frightened of Blackheart in one panel. On the whole, though, this team has no apparent chemistry, nor does this story spark much insight on the individual characters. That prevents this very good comic from becomming great.
3.5 demonic pom-pons out of 5 (Good).
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