VENOM (2011–Present) #13.3 REVIEW

Not content to spoil Peter Parker’s life, Mephisto brings his deals into the world of Spidey’s supporting cast. Watch out, Flash Thompson!

VENOM #13.3
“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 after significant debate and deliberation immediately and without dialogue.

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.

Night on Bald 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.

Mephisto accidentally mixed up the Hell he made for Flash with the Hell he made for our own Josh Bertone.


1.5 dream sequences out of 5 (Bad). 




(22) Comments

  1. healed1337

    I agree with everything in your review; you thought of things I didn't even consider. There are other reasons why I didn't like it though (as an X-23 fan.) X-23 just felt off in this issue. Firstly, she wouldn't delight in mindless destruction of lab equipment. Since she brought explosives to destroy her clones earlier, you'd think she'd use explosives in that lab as well. For that matter, Wolverine would have brought explosives if he was looking for a Weapon X lab to destroy. Secondly, the trigger scent doesn't work the way it did in this issue. It blacks her out mentally and causes her to enter a berzerker rage. When she "wakes up," everything is dead. She is never concious while the trigger scent is affecting her. Also why did she call it a pheromone? The trigger scent is an artificially created smell that she was conditioned for years to react violently to. It only effects her, anyone else would simply smell it. A pheromone is a chemical built naturally inside a body that is usually supposed to directly affect other creatures' brain chemicals. There is a big definitional difference between a scent and a pheromone, and considering X-23 was trained in both advanced biology (makes killing easier) and basic chemistry (to make poisons,) she would know this. The trigger scent has never been referred to as a pheromone before; only "trigger scent" and "chemical trigger." Despite all that, with tighter writing, each character's paradise could have been covered in two pages rather than three, freeing up four pages for the heroes to consider the deal before agreeing to help Mephisto later.

  2. Nightmare Freddy

    Thanks for the comment, you made me realised that I see Mephisto more in his role of a arch-villain than his new one as a plot device, since I only read him in is earlier days. Also I think that it is sad since I would have maybe liked OMD, if he at least made Ant-may die or at the very least peter remembered his pact... They really should use a another Demon who do pacts and who have the reputation of being dumb until they remember how to write him correctly.

  3. Mike 13

    I have no issues with Mephisto in a Spidey or Spidey related comic... he's been there before... ASM #274, Cloak & Dagger #15-18 (with Spidey in the book)... though I do agree with Chris' comments on how he's merely used for a plot device...

  4. CrazyChris - Post author

    Okay, thank you so much for all these comments. I want to take the time to respond to all of them. And anyone who has not commented yet, please do so! @1 Brian - The idea behind the issue might be good, but in practice I think it is tricky to pull off an issue that takes place almost entirely in "dreams." They aren't dreams per se, but they are fictional realities. I really don't like stories that take place mostly inside the imaginations of the characters. @3 Parabolee - Not having read the issue is no barrier to commenting! You can always talk about your anticipation for reading the issue, your lack of anticipation, or something totally unrelated. I really just want as many comments as possible no matter what they are. @4 Bertone - You would think that was funny! @6 Amfan - Thanks for the compliments. To be fair, though, not every Marvel character is making a deal with Mephisto--just the characters we care about on this site. @7 Two-Bit - I will read the comics you mentioned in trade. When I review a book I like to pretend it is the only book that exists, so I know I am grading the storytelling that's actually in the book, without "outside help" from other publications. So far Venom has been nicely self-contained, with the big exception of the Spider-Island arc. @8 Enigma - I didn't make anything up in my review. They all did assent to the deal. It is a parallel to OMD in that both stories involve a deal with Mephisto, but I really do not think Marvel is intentionally trying to affect people's perceptions of OMD with this story. @9 Two-Bit again - Thanks for sharing your take on the issue. I read some other reviews online and it turns out I might be in the minority on this. But while I understand that this issue does cast some light on the psychology of the characters, I just do not think this was the most compelling way to do that. The best way to show what is inside a character's head is by showing how they act on their thoughts. That way, the story reveals character and moves the plot forward at the same time. It is more economical. Fantasy sequences are wasteful because they do not move the plot forward. These sorts of sequences should be used sparingly and should never take up this much space in an issue. And while I take your point that these are somewhat flawed heroes and it makes sense that they would not always make the best choice, it is still a travesty that they did not even exchange words about it. I find it perplexing that 16 out of 20 pages were dedicated to dream sequences that have no effect on the plot at all, but literally ZERO lines of dialogue are dedicated to the characters discussing whether they should become the devil's indentured servant. Which reminds me, I just realized that all of these .1 issues are 20 pages long instead of the standard 22. Until now I did not notice because the issues were mostly rather eventful, but this blatant filler issue really makes the diminished content per $2.99 pop stand out. @10 Roxas - I don't think this is arguably worse than OMD because OMD had bad consequences that went beyond the story being dumb. And yeah, if I learned one thing for this arc it is that Alejandra is a useless character. Everything that's gone wrong in this story is at least partially her fault. @11 Sthenurus - I think you're right. Mephisto wants Blackheart taken down as much as the heroes. Making the deal with Mephisto just gives Mephisto what he would want anyway, plus at any time he could ask the four to help MEPHISTO bring Hell to Earth and they would have to do it. @12 Jack - That's what I would do if I found myself in Hell, too. @13 Enigma - Please don't discourage comments. ;) I am proud of everyone for the high quality of comments, though. @14 Nightmare - I agree that Marvel has forgotten how to write Mephisto. Mephisto's MO is to trick you into giving something up in order to save something else, but then you lose both things anyway. Johnny Blaze sells his soul to save his dad, but his dad dies anyway. I always say that this is Mephisto the plot device, no Mephisto the character. Mephisto the character would have had Aunt May get hit by a bus the day after he cured her bullet wound. Mephisto the character would have the characters in Venom would force the characters to destroy the world immediately after they saved it from Blackheart, and they would wind up in hell again, too. Mephisto doesn't give you what you bargained for. That's why he's the Prince of Lies. @15 Lament - Thank you for going through the trouble to research this stuff. I think Mephisto is one of a handful of Hell lords who runs a portion of hell. That's my understanding of what his domain is. @16 Steven - Technically Enigma is right, Peter has no recollection of dealing with Mephisto. If Peter did remember, I can only assume he'd give Mephisto a glowing recommendation considering that Peter got exactly what he bargained for, and he got it for the agreed-upon price.

  5. The Lament Beast

    You would be surprised on what I found on the 'healing factors don't work in Hell' fiasco. Nothing. The closest thing that can relate is a New X-men arc in which Laura was in a hellish Limbo. I know Limbo isn't Hell but her powers seemed to work fine there. Though, to point out in all fairness, she was turned into a pile of bones by Belasco. 'Wolverine goes to Hell' doesn't really count since it was his soul… wait, it was his soul that was sent to Hell right? Yeah, souls don't have superpowers I think. But Mesphito in Hell? I was certain he had his own realm. Yeah, I need to find those God damn Guide to the Marvel Universe books, but the downtown library's being renovated so everythings been moved around. But don't worry, I figure out how Marvel's Hell works. ~Lament~

  6. Nightmare Freddy

    Nice comic review and this his really the weakest in the event so far. Its really a pity that Mephisto has becomed a so weak character since spiderman's one more day event, by demanding the marriage of spiderman instead of his soul like normally he would have asked!!! He was way more evil with the original Ghost rider series, at least than he knew how to really manipulate people to do deals with him and had original ways to screw them.

  7. Enigma_2099

    Mephisto's involved... AGAIN, and so far the comment count's still pretty low. I'm proud of you guys.

  8. Jack Brooks

    Every notice how everybody in the MU seem to be atheists? Hey, if I was stuck in Hell, with Mephisto looming over me, I would start yelping "Please, Help!" to God quicker than you could say "Billy Graham." It would make Mephisto mad, but it seems like common sense. But nobody prays about nuthin' in the MU.

  9. Sthenurus

    Now Flash is officialy Peter number 2. I can't believe they used Mephisto again in a Spider-Man related book. Ungh. It's like putting Salt on the wound. Beside, raen't THEY doing HIM a favor by removing Blackheart from the equation?! Why didn't they just go like "Screw you, we take care of your son and the deal is done" ?!

  10. Phantom Roxas

    *Facedesk* Really? They just had to throw in Mephisto? The fact that they don't even debate the deal is arguably worse than OMD. Based on the past reviews on here, this arc was doing really well until this issue. Couldn't Marvel just use some of their other demons? Like Satannish? Judging by how utterly moronic Alejandra has been, it's no wonder her series got canceled.

  11. Two-Bit Specialist

    Now that I've actually read the issue, I do agree that the art is awesome, but I could not disagree with you more about everything else. I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. Parker has always been great about exploring the minds of the characters, which is what this issue was pretty much about. Since we are dealing with four relatively new characters (in the case of Venom and Rulk, characters with new identities/powers), we see their current mindset, their dreams, and their emotional hell. It's all very well done and in character for each of them (Flash wanting to succeed his hero, Ross leading the rest of the Hulk family). The ending did feel kinda rushed, but their decision to make the vow to Mephisto calls for it in this instance. I mean, they are literally in hell. He makes it clear they can't escape and have no other way of getting back at Blackheart. Really, they can either waste time and wander around in hell trying to find a way out that doesn't exist while things get worse above, or they can make the deal now and worry about the consequences later. These are not the Avengers. These are not knights in shining armour. All four are dark heroes with shady pasts who think that their souls have no value, so maybe making that deal goes right along with that. Easily my favorite issue in this series.

  12. Enigma_2099

    @#5 Chris... unless you made that part up, ALL FOUR OF THEM did the deal... intentional or no, that's your parallel right there. Kick back. This is gonna get ugly.

  13. Two-Bit Specialist

    Chris, how much do you keep up with comics overall? I ask because I just bought Carnage U.S.A. #3 and Secret Avengers #23 recently, which kinda spoil the Venom book a little bit. Figure I should ask before I say anything.

  14. AmFan15

    I agree with Enigma...Are they planning to have EVERY Marvel character make a deal with Mephisto? "Mephisto will demand from them a favor and they will not be able to refuse." I pictured Marlon Brando when I read that line...although The GODfather might not be appropriate when dealing with Mephisto. "The heroes assent to the deal (after significant debate and deliberation) immediately and without dialogue." LOL! Another very good review, Chris. Very informative and funny at the same time! Keep it up!

  15. CrazyChris - Post author

    @2 Enigma - I highly doubt there was any intention to this issue related to OMD. I only brought it up because I'm hoping to incite a 500 comment thread just because Mephisto showed up in an issue. The only person with an agenda here is me.

  16. Parabolee

    Sorry dude I have yet to catch up to this issue, and when I do this will be buried. So I can't comment.... Oh wait.

  17. Enigma_2099

    Seriously... are they seriously gonna do this? Seriously? This is tactical misdirection to get us to stop complaining about how stupid it was when Peter/MJ did it, isn't it?!?!?

  18. Brian Bradley

    Nice review, I agree on the "made of awesome and win" line... kind of brought me out of the book. I thought the idea behind this issue was good, and an army of Hulks would be a pretty interesting story. Enjoyed the art as well, too. The Night on Bald Mephisto made me chuckle.

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