As well as being the latest chapter in Marvel’s ongoing campaign to rob issue numbers of all inherent meaning, Venom #13.1 is the second chapter in the “Circle of Four” event, which teams the titular symbiote up with Ghost Rider, Red Hulk and X-23. Why those four? It’s based on something from the very early 90s. Don’t worry about it too much.
With Las Vegas having been turned quite literally into sin city, as Blackheart’s evil infects our world, the four allied heroes (such that they can be called that) are forced to try and contain the situation while Blackheart attempts to dissuade them with some bespoke demonic foes. As plots go, it’s not exactly multi-layered, but there’s an undeniable charm to seeing these “next generation” characters team up without a more senior presence to help them out.
That said, Hellstrom and Doctor Strange are hanging around outside the mystical barrier, looking like they probably have a better idea what’s going on than everyone else. Interestingly, the appearance of several magical and demonic characters, combined with the general anti-hero vibe, gives this book a unique feel in the Marvel Universe. It’s likely you’d have to go back to the likes of the long-defunct Midnight Sons family of titles to get anything similar. It’s a refreshing change of pace, although one suspects it’s not overly likely to yield much interest. Still, at least they’re trying.
Writer Rob Williams certainly knows what he’s doing with the characters, as each faces demons designed to prey on their weaknesses and insecurities. The resolution to this situation seems obvious to anyone who has read superhero comics for more than fifteen minutes, but as ever, the interest is in the execution. Between them, Williams and Garbett have come up with well-defined personalities and looks for these characters, such that you believe that they might be more than cannon fodder.
Most interesting, perhaps, is the way the insecurities of some of the characters play off the genuine doubts of readers. There are those who do think that X-23 is just a generic Wolverine clone. Others that wonder why the Red Hulk doesn’t bear much relation to General Ross. Presumably, the next chapter in the story will subvert such received wisdom, but it’s an unusually brave proposition to have a story confront the characters’ criticisms so directly.
Still, for a story that has no natural connection to any of these characters beyond Ghost Rider, it’s working out remarkably well. The pace is just right for a weekly crossover, and if you’re bored of endless combinations of Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man, this is essentially a team book that carries no danger of them turning up at all. Give it a chance, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.