In Marvel Legacy, everything old is new again. And if there’s one thing the industry learned from the early days of Marvel, it’s that if something works once, keep doing it until it doesn’t! If you can also call on one of the most popular, gritty characters of the ’90s? Now you’ve got yourself a full-fledged event, my friend!
As a pseudo-followup to Dan Slott’s massively popular “Spider-Verse” story from Amazing Spider-Man, Venomverse — the almost exact same concept, but with totally rad, “Venomized” heroes from around the multiverse — had a lot going against it. And Edge of Venomverse, the five-issue prequel that introduces us to some of the individual players? Its analog unexpectedly introduced the world to Spider-Gwen. Good luck with that one, various creative teams!
But you know what? Sometimes, even from the most fetid pools, a flower grows. Edge of Venomverse is pretty darn good.
It all has to do with the creators. If this were the ’40s (or the ’90s), the publisher would have thrown anyone who can produce quickly on the cynical, half-baked project just to push it out and line the shelves for a few months. That clearly didn’t happen in Edge of Venomverse, where we get a mixture of rising stars and, uh, whatever the level below that is? Accumulating gas clouds? Either way, it’s hungry artists wanting to impress and use the kitschy trappings of the theme to tell entertaining, and sometimes even inspiring stories.
Things get kicked off right with the soon-to-be-superstar behind this year’s Kingpin series, Matthew Rosenenberg, writing a symbiote-clad X-23. Tongues and blades; now that’s what I call ’90s! Yet somehow the story is more contemplative, with callbacks to the character’s main universe origin. Artist Roland Boschi is obviously no newcomer, and evokes some of those old Heaven’s on Fire vibes, while colorist Dan Brown makes the rundown buildings suitably grimy.
Edge of Venomverse #2 tasks the creator of Dr. McNinja, Christopher Hastings, with an equally ridiculous character, the Unbelievable Gwenpool. Hastings handles the real-life outcast with the humorous approach you’d expect, and the art by penciller Irene Strychalski and colorist Java Tartaglia is bright and bubbly, with yes, all the teeth they can fit in. It’s the perfect meeting of cute and gruesome.
But if there’s any justice in the multiverse, Edge of Venomverse #3 will be the breakout introduction of the HOST RIDER to our waiting mindholes. Yes, okay, terrible name, but writer Simon Spurrier WILL make you believe that the flame-fearing symbiote and a fire-demon from the pits can co-exist — much to the detriment of Robbie Reyes. Spurrier’s been a fan-favorite for a while, but here settles his more bonkers tendencies to tell a concise story with just the right about of “what the HUH?” With chain-webbing and a villain named Octosquatchpool, you can’t go wrong.
Artist Tigh Walker is starting to make his name, and this will help. His unique style sings in such a strange story, but it’s colorist Felipe Sobreiro that really defines the issue, with striking, monochromatic backgrounds demarcated sharply with the characters’ costumes.
Issue #4 might have actually willed itself into being — OF COURSE Old Man Logan should take the symbiote off that Tyrannosaurus. But writer Ryan Key adds some guidance to the self-propelled adventure, and artist Andre Lima Araujo and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg bring their own unique style, one which, in this case, may not align with the story’s tone in everyone’s estimation.
Writer Clay McLeod Chapman doesn’t quite nail Deadpool’s voice in Edge of Venomverse #5, but this issue belongs to artist James Stokoe, who colors himself and creates some of the best Alien homages and hideous worm monsters that you’ll ever see. It’s a trippy fright-fest that would almost do better without the words.
The volume is rounded out by Venomverse: War Stories #1, an even more eclectic mix of characters and styles. The standout here is easily “Blessing in Disguise,” by writer Nnedi Okorafor, who introduces a track star turned paraplegic who bonds with the symbiote and rises to greatness after the Black Panther is killed in combat. Artist Tana Ford is an equal storyteller, as the panels unfold in a brisk sprint themselves, and the colors of Ian Herring are just muddled enough to make one think of a hot, African day.
Not following far behind, though, is the surprising “Deal with the Devil,” by artist-turned-writer Declan Shalvey. In it you’ll understand why the Punisher would agree to host the Venom symbiote, and see that he’s still able to keep his own, twisted moral code intact. Shalvey treats us to his own art, too, thought it’s not quite as weirdly detailed as usual, but the colors of Chris O’Halloran accentuate the noir mood nicely.
Venomverse architect Cullen Bunn pens a nice introduction, with artist Annapaola Martello and colorist Java Tartaglia (back again), but the Rocket Raccoon story by Magdalene Visaggio, Alex Arizmendi and Lee Loughridge, and the Dr. Doom story by Aaron Covington, the inimitable Khary Randolph and Emilio Lopez, are more or less entertaining blips that don’t leave much of an impression.
But there’s nothing actively bad in Edge of Venomverse, and there’s a whole lot of good. What could have just been pulp to move paper is truly an artist showcase with varied yet equally satisfying approaches. It might not tell you anything about the human condition (but then again, like in “Blessing in Disguise,” it might!), but the book really shows off ways to creatively do horror without treading the same old ground. It’s a worthy successor to Edge of Spider-Verse, so much so that it shouldn’t actually be compared, but judged on its own considerable merits.