Though it’s not a comic book event quite as big as Secret Empire, Marvel’s Venomverse is borrowing some core rules from major crossovers. It’s focused on telling stories of alternate reality versions of Venom from different universes. One of those Venoms is a Nigerian teenaged girl who also happens to become the Black Panther.
In Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford, and Ian Herring’s “Blessing In Disguise,” contained within the first issue of Venomverse: War Stories, we meet Ngozi, a girl living in Lagos who loves running, Bruce Lee, and the Black Panther. Though she was once a talented competitive runner, Ngozi becomes confined to a wheelchair, which keeps her somewhat cut off from the rest of the world. As the city she loves and calls home continues to buzz and live and thrive around her, Ngozi watches from a distance, still confident and hopeful about her life, while also feeling an undeniable sense of isolation.
Ngozi’s life is changed suddenly when her universe’s version of the Venom symbiote, a much more level-headed answer to the classic Venom, springs upon her one day, gives her the use of her legs once again, and transforms her into an insectoid-like superbeing based on a grasshopper.
Moments after her first transformation, Ngozi witnesses the Black Panther being chased through the streets by the Rhino who promptly snatches him up and stomps on his back, killing him instantly. Using her newfound Venom powers, Ngozi makes quick work of the Rhino on her own, much to her and her symbiote’s surprise.
Because this universe’s Black Panther sired no heirs to the Wakandan throne (and the rules of succession here are a little different), Ngozi travels to Wakanda to train with the Dora Milaje. She proves herself worthy enough to undergo the sacred ritual involving the heart-shaped herb and, by the end of her eight-page mini story, Ngozi becomes the new Black Panther. Empowered with the help of her symbiote and the heart-shaped herb, she winds up as an interesting riff on both characters.
“Blessing In Disguise” reads a lot like a fairytale of sorts. Its plot moves quickly and some of its internal logic bucks the traditional rules (see: Wakanda being being extremely isolationist and hostile towards outsiders) that we associate with the traditional Marvel ideas the story is playing with. But there’s something undeniably fun and fresh about a black, teenaged heroine who happens to use a wheelchair (sometimes)... and is also the host of an alien and the queen of a nation.
There’s a lot going on in “Blessing In Disguise,” which can, at times, make the story feel almost too busy. But that speaks more to the circumstances in which Ngozi’s being introduced as opposed to the ideas themselves.
Ngozi’s is one of three stories told in War Stories’ first issue, the other two focusing on a Venom-infected Punisher and Rocket Raccoon. Those characters’ stories, by and large, feel familiar because they lean heavily on the characterizations of Frank Castle and Rocket that we already know: they’ve always liked guns. Now they like guns that have tongues and fangs. At the end of these other two Venoms’ stories, Punisher and Rocket are sucked through a magical wormhole by Venom Doctor Strange as recruits for the battle happening in the primary Venomverse series.
One would imagine that, being a Venom, Ngozi would eventually get sucked into the main Venomverse series and become one of the many characters running around the book and capitalizing on Venom’s popularity with readers. Ngozi, though, seemingly remains in her own universe, which could be a great thing.
Ngozi’s is the sort of origin story that takes time and space to flesh out meaningfully, and that’s the sort of treatment that Marvel’s given to alternate universe characters before. Before she became a cosplay powerhouse, one of the stars of a television show, or even the lead of her own comics series, Spider-Gwen was a supporting character in 2015's Spider-Verse. Now, she’s become one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes in just a few short years, and all it took was a kick-ass design, inventive storytelling, and being given a chance to succeed.
In her own novels, Okafor’s done the sort of character work that brought Spider-Gwen to life, and it would be fantastic to see her do it with Ngozi in the future. If Ngozi the Venomous Panther Queen of her dimension doesn’t end up making it over to the Venomverse, that’s absolutely fine, but we definitely deserve to see a whole lot more of her.