“Circle of Four” Part 4
SCRIPT: Jeff Parker
ART: Julian Tedesco
COLOR: Dommo Sanchez Amara
LETTERS: VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
COVER: Stefano Caselli & Frank Martin
Flash Thompson, Red Hulk, X-23, and Ghost Rider Alejandra have all died within the boundaries of Hell, so despite their noble deeds their souls forever belong to Mephisto. Marvel’s resident devil psychologically tortures them by making each live out a personal fantasy life that begins blissfully but ends in nightmarish tragedy. After round one, Mephisto threatens to torture the heroes with repeating and progressively worse perfect-life-gone-horrific experiences for eternity unless they agree to a covenant. Mephisto will resurrect the heroes so they can defeat Blackheart, but at some later date Mephisto will demand from them a favor and they will not be able to refuse. The heroes assent to the deal
Deals with the Devil, specifically Mephisto, are a sore subject among many Spider-Man fans. When we last saw Mephisto in a Spider-Book, he sent a pigeon back in time to erase a cherished and longstanding marriage from continuity. Of course, the Faustian pact remains a major element of literature and one of our culture’s most potent symbols, so naturally it’ll appear in comics. The problem with Venom #13.3, though, is that it took a wrongheaded and unconvincing approach toward justifying the characters’ choice to enter the bargain.
Let us take a moment to appreciate the heavy burden this issue took upon itself. This comic sought to, in only one issue, explain why four characters hitherto understood as heroes would offer a blank check of their services to the most evil being in existence. One such character, Alejandra, was mentored by Johnny Blaze and even mentioned hearing about Mephisto from him, so she would have to know how Mephisto operates. She should know that deals with Mephisto invariably produce detrimental consequences no matter how tempting they seem, and she should explain that to her teammates. Then again, she just made a deal with Blackheart last issue that unleashed Hell upon the entire Earth, so perhaps I give history’s dumbest Ghost Rider too much credit. I also struggle to believe that Flash Thompson, a near-masochist regarding self-sacrifice, would so cavalierly deal with the Devil to escape Hell, especially after he just learned his lesson dealing with Crime-Master. I have no expertise on X-23 or Red Hulk, but I sense that they should know better, too.
Granted, with different presentation I might have bought this. Blackheart threatens the whole world, and if these heroes were the only ones positioned to stop him then that might make serving Mephisto in exchange for a second chance the lesser of two evils. Also, if the heroes’ individual responsibilities, like Flash wanting to protect Betty, were emphasized, then I could fathom the characters grudgingly accepting Mephisto’s terms out of personal obligations.
But these motivations either go unacknowledged or are deemphasized in comparison to the issue’s bulk, which focuses on how badly the heroes would suffer if they remained in Hell. Self-interest propels the heroes to serve Mephisto, not responsibility to others. Nothing in the story signals that Flash signed on to rescue the real Betty. But Flash having to live through watching the dream Betty die repeatedly in his Mephisto-constructed fantasy life? That’s too much! And the characters do not even discuss the deal before agreeing to it. They literally do not say a word between hearing Mephisto’s terms and huddling with Mephisto and placing their hands on top of one another’s in the “go team!” pose. Guys, you are agreeing to do anything evil incarnate asks of you at any point in the future. Don’t you want to, y’know, talk about this first?
Maybe the heroes were just too awed by artist Julian Tedesco’s rendition of Mephisto to think it through. Tedesco is yet another good artist whom I like but do not love in comparison to Tony Moore, but he does draw a cool-looking Mephisto.
Back on point, Mephisto’s brand of torture does not impress nearly as much as writer Jeff Parker hoped it would. Sure, gaining your heart’s desire only to have it corrupted and stripped away, and reliving that cycle forever, would be awful in theory, but here I just laughed at it. Flash becomes a new Spider-Man and Betty gets turned on every time he saves her from Doctor Octopus. Red Hulk leads an army of Hulks for the military. X-23 kills Blackheart and destroys the Weapon X program, which in her fantasy Blackheart had engineered the whole time because for some reason the Devil’s son wanted to get into “evil science.” These heroes’ fantasy lives come across as so outlandish as to not feel tangible in the first place, so when they go sour it’s like nothing real was lost. Mephisto narrating with one-liners and pop culture references sure didn’t make the raw emotional agony more palpable, either. I realize that Mephisto occasionally has a jokey personality, but when he refers to his torture method as “made of awesome and win,” it deflates the drama.
Almost nothing “real” happens in this issue. Other than the deal struck on the last page, the whole comic is filler with nominal plot progression. I can kind of see how these fantasies get us into the characters’ heads where we can learn more about them, and seeing their dreams balances out seeing their insecurities through the Antitheses, but I prefer that stories reveal the characters through their actions, not their inconsequential hallucinations.
1.5 dream sequences out of 5 (Bad).
IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED, THERE ARE STILL TWO WEEKLY ISSUES OF VENOM LEFT! I NEED YOU TO COMMENT TO BOOST MY MORALE TO WRITE THIS MANY REVIEWS! TELL ME WHETHER YOU LIKED MY REVIEW! TELL ME WHETHER YOU LIKED THE ISSUE! TELL ME WHETHER THE DEVIL PIGEON WAS THE MOST GENIUS MARVEL IDEA EVER! TELL ME ANYTHING AND I WILL LOVE YOU!