Entering the Circle of Four: Rob Williams Talks Marvel's Venom Event, Ghost Rider

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February is here and in 2012 it’s host to an extra day and five weeks of Wednesday comics glory… something the fine folks of Marvel comics are taking full advantage of with a six-part Venom event dubbed the Circle of Four!

Promising big thrills, big action, and more than a little lunacy on a weekly basis, Circle of Four sees Venom scribe Rick Remender come together with Ghost Rider’s Rob Williams and Red Hulk’s Jeff Parker for a massive collaboration project.

Kickstarting the event this week within the pages of Venom #13, Rick Remender is bringing Venom, Red Hulk, Ghost Rider and X-23 together to fight the legions of hell off of the doorstep of Sin City. If that’s not enough to get you excited, Tony Moore is on hand to deliver un-freaking-believable interiors. Whoever said comic readers aren’t spoilt?

We caught up with Rob Williams to chat about Circle of Four, as well as the impending conclusion to his Ghost Rider series and his jam-packed near horizon. Read on true believers…

BROKEN FRONTIER: This month your lady Ghost Rider, Alejandra, and Johnny Blaze will be taking a road trip to Las Vegas and getting themselves in a whole mess of trouble during Circle of Four. But they aren’t the only ones! Venom, Red Hulk, X-23… what was it like playing in those character’s sandboxes?

ROB WILLIAMS: Pretty much total freedom. Rick Remender and Jeff Parker were involved throughout and [X-23 writer] Marjorie Liu was onboard at one point. Jeanine Schaefer is the editor of X-23, and Jeanine's edited this.

I was able to script the way I wanted, and those guys were there to offer advice on their characters, making sure I got the voices right etc. It was huge fun. Getting to write Red Hulk, the Venom Symbiote, X-23… great characters that I've not previously had a chance to play with.

Plus, Dr Strange guest stars! It was a blast.

BF: You are of course collaborating with Rick and Jeff.How did the three of you split writing/plotting duties?

WILLIAMS: Many conference calls and emails. This was a collaboration from the start. The three of us generated the plot, with the help of editorial. Then, when it came time to script, each of us ran our scripts past the other… it was very exciting and very open creatively.

I'd worked briefly with Rick before on the One Month To Live [2010 Marvel] mini-series, I'd not met Jeff before. But everyone was constantly open to the best idea. No egos got in the way. The project was a treat to work on.


BF: The idea of a ‘rag-tag Fantastic Four’ makes me smile. How have you found playing around with the concept? I’m guessing Alejandra doesn’t play nice with others…

WILLIAMS: They're not your perfect team, that's obvious. You've got Alejandra who has zero respect for anyone or anything, pretty much. Red Hulk's military and giving orders is in his blood, but no one's going to listen. There's a crazy alien symbiote bonded to an alcoholic in the pits of despair. And X-23's a cloned killing machine. It's about as dysfunctional a team as you can imagine.

BF: What sort of role does Johnny Blaze have in all this? Mephisto and Blackheart making a return to Earth must make this whole thing pretty personal for him?

WILLIAMS: Johnny's main drive is to protect and teach Alejandra, that's why he's drawn into this. But then it becomes clear that the stakes here are enormous and he has to get involved. And that means a terrible self-sacrifice. I'm not going to say more than that.

BF: When it comes to the ‘Ghost Rider issue’ what can readers expect? Is there going to be an emphasis on dealing vengeance, or can we expect a character centric piece?

WILLIAMS: A bit of both, I hope. That's what I've tried to do throughout the Ghost Rider run. Alejandra's going to get tempted, I will say that. It's what hell does; Offers her the thing she wants most, but there's going to be a price to pay.

Throughout Ghost Rider Alejandra's been trying to do the right thing, but events just don't seem to let her make it. Will she be a hero or a villain? Circle of Four will go a long way towards answering that.

BF: Circle of Four must be somewhat bittersweet for you. Looking back over your run on Ghost Rider, how happy are you with what you accomplished?

WILLIAMS: There's a lot I'm very happy with and a few things I'd have done differently, certainly. It was an interesting learning experience for me, in terms of how quickly you have to grab readers in order to keep them onboard.

Ideally we'd not have started with the Fear Itself tie-in, but the book wouldn't have launched without Fear Itself so that's a double edged sword. I'd have loved to have kept the book around, developed it over time, but the market's so unforgiving right now. I'm going to miss writing the book and the characters, certainly.

BF: It is interesting that you should mention the impact Fear Itself had on Ghost Rider. What would you say the pitfalls of launching in the middle of a line-wide event are?

WILLIAMS: Well, as I said, it has plusses and minuses. I'm not sure Marvel would have launched a new Ghost Rider series were it not tied into one of their big events. So we benefitted in that sense. In terms of pitfalls, it meant we were immediately coming out of the gate tying into the larger Fear Itself storyline but, because we were a 'mid-tier' book, we could only do so in a peripheral way.

If Ghost Rider could've come in and done something meaningful against or for The Serpent, for instance, fair enough. But that was never going to be possible as it would've meant us asking for rewrites of the main Fear Itself storyline. Wouldn't happen. It's the nature of working in this massive shared universe, I guess. But ideally we'd have launched Ghost Rider #1 with our own storyline and not had Alejandra go off to fight Syn.

BF: What can readers expect from your final issue on Ghost Rider in March?

WILLIAMS: Ghost Rider #9 is a huge 30-page finale. A frontal assault on Mephisto and his kingdom, and the final battle for Alejandra's soul. By the end you'll see who the Ghost Rider is going to be going forward.

There’s going to be loads of massive visuals and the biggest Ghost Rider fight you've ever seen in your life!

BF: What’s on the horizon for you next?Anything you can tease for us?

WILLIAMS: I'm finishing up Daken with issue #23 [also arriving in March] and there's a few other things on the horizon right now, including my work for 2000AD with Low Life and The Grievous Journey Of Ichabod Azreal. I've got an eight-page western called Evangelyne coming in the Outlaw Territory 3 anthology from Image that I'm very proud of. One of the best things I've written in my career, that short story, with unbelievable art. I'm looking forward to seeing that in print.

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