That should make sense to anyone who has read Maximum Carnage and seen ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’ Heh.
Happy Friday, Crawl Spacers, and welcome back to another installment of Spidey Friday Night Fights. Sorry I’ve been AWOL for two weeks with this (and I will explain the lateness towards the end of the article) but better late than never!
Today we’re taking a starting the first in a two-part special looking back at the Maximum Carnage Spider-Man event from the summer of 1993. This was an… interesting time for Spider-Man to say the least. Especially when you consider that Peter believed his parents, Richard and Mary Parker, were actually alive and that they’d returned to him (they hadn’t). The event itself started right after Harry Osborn’s death and offered Spider-Fans an eclectic stable of super-characters pouring into the Spider-Titles to kick the crap out of one another.
I am not going to lie to you folks. This is not one of my fondest memories as a Spider-Fan. To be sure it’s not the worst Spider-Man story ever told; rather it just doesn’t hold up well today and, honestly, it barely held up well back then, either. When I explain this storyline to people I often refer to it as a comic book version of a typical 1990’s ‘summer movie,’ complete with hot chicks, explosions and enough violence to choke a yak.
In fact I even made the ‘summer movie’ observation on the Crawl Space Message Boards and went even further saying that Maximum Carnage was the Spider-comics equivalent of ‘Tango & Cash.’ And that’s a very apt analogy. But Maximum Carnage and ‘Tango & Cash,’ despite being bad, still wind up being fun at different points. Sometimes for legit “Whoa, that was neat!” moments and sometimes for insane “I had to read that twice because I couldn’t believe how ridiculous it was” moments.
Making matters worse? This is one of those windows in time where we see how insane the symbiote craze was in the 90’s and the awful ramifications. Venom had ‘gone plaid’ into inane overexposure and Carnage, despite a fairly cool introduction a year earlier, was quickly being funneled into the same over-played “full throttle extreme” characterization. I’ve never really liked Venom all that much; same for Carnage, truth be told. And their representation in this event explains a lot of my dislike.
So strap in and let’s roll the ugliness.
OUR STORY: Carnage gets free and gathers a Manson-esque family of evil, leaving Spider-Man no choice but to partner up with a murderous sociopath who hates him as he works to recruit other heroes to help save the city.
Roster: Spider-Man (leader)
Black Cat, Venom,
Captain America, Iron Fist,
Cloak, Dagger, Morbius,
Firestar, Deathlok and Nightwatch
And in the right corner…
The Carnage ‘Family’
ROUND ONE – DING!
Maximum Carnage kicked off with Spider-Man Unlimited #1 (‘Carnage Rising!’) by Tom DeFalco & Ron Lim. It begins with Carnage getting free inside Ravencroft and eventually meeting his partner in crime for this event, Shriek. All this was happening about nine months after Harley Quinn debuted in Batman: The Animated Series and it always made me wonder if this was Marvel’s way of trying to have a Joker & Harley story.
There’s something quick I want to bring up here, and that’s something Michael Bailey often refers to when he’s talking about comics storytelling: subtlety. Michael often points out that the art of subtlety is forgotten these days in most cases. And earlier in the spring when I was rereading this event I thought about what he had said. Inside Ravencroft, Carnage gets free and goes on a killing rampage – and it’s a fairly high body count. The staff at Ravencroft really get pushed through a meat grinder. But it’s actually tastefully done. It’s understated; Carnage looks savage, the guards and orderlies look very dead (cause they are!) but it isn’t overdone. Level-wise the violence is set more at a James Bond movie and not ‘torture porn’ the way it’s often done today. Had Marvel released this story today I have no doubt Joe Kelly would have had Carnage and Shriek grinding away on the blood-covered halls of the asylum. But luckily for Ravencroft’s Dr. Ashley Kafka, Fred Van Lente wasn’t writing the story. Heh!
After breaking out of Ravencroft, Carnage and Shriek run across the Spider-Doppleganger left over from the Infinity War. It develops a crush on Shriek and she and Carnage sort of… adopt… it, forming a very creepy Manson Family of their own. The panels presented here are from when Spidey, having just attended Harry Osborn’s funeral that day, gets jumped while investigating Ravencroft after hearing about the killings on the radio. He manages to knock-out Shriek but can’t stop the Doppleganger from knocking him off the roof. Meanwhile, Carnage heads off after Jonah…
ROUND TWO – DING!
We head to Web of Spider-Man #101 (‘Dark Light’ by Terry Kavanagh & Alex Saviuk) for the second chapter. After having been kicked off the roof by the Spider-Doppleganger, Spider-Man gets ambushed by street toughs in the ally below. Before they can decide if Spidey is a Jet or a Shark, Cloak & Dagger show up to drive them back and get the 4-1-1 on what’s going down from their Web-covered ally.
Carnage threatens Jonah to write-up the villain’s challenge to Spider-Man and Venom in the Daily Bugle, which Robbie objects to but which Jonah goes along with under the guise of thinking he has some kind of scoop. Why? Cause deep down Jonah’s a coward, and that’s a lot of why he hates the heroic Spider-Man.
Shriek and the Doppleganger manage to ambush Spidey, Cloak and Dagger at the Holy Ghost Church that Cloak & Dagger use as a makeshift base. It’s this fight that we take our two example panels here, showcasing Alex Saviuk’s art – which I always liked back in the day.
You see folks, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s the art on any given comic was often very, very, very bad. And that’s understating it. Not every book could have an over-hyped Image-bound superstar working on it, and at the end of the day you were damn glad to have talented workhorses like Sal Buscema, John Romita Jr. and Alex Saviuk working on something you liked.
If you were reading Amazing Spider-Man back then you had great art from Mark Bagley as well. But we’re getting off track!
Anyway, Shriek and the Doppleganger actually manage to claim the first blood in this fight as they seemingly kill Dagger. But the news of Carnage’s rampage at Ravencroft is spreading. New York’s starting to get more restless and more violent, and the Demogoblin and Venom have taken notice and are about to jump into the fray.
ROUND THREE – DING!
Now it’s on to Amazing Spider-Man #378 (‘Demons on Broadway’) to see what David Michelinie and Mark Bagley are putting Spider-Man through. While Venom swears to kill Carnage (and you know, a lot of villains make a lot of promises…) we see Cloak swear to make the ‘scum’ pay.
So already lines are forming and the players are taking the field. It’s going to be a long, bumpy ride down the escalation highway.
Now it’s time for spats all around as Peter and Mary Jane have a tiff over the danger Peter’s in and Carnage and Shriek argue about how Cletus – and Cletus alone – gets to kill Spider-Man. I actually dig the way the two gang leaders are arguing with their significant others at the same time.
The ante gets upped some more as the Carnage Family (that’s creepy just saying, folks) continues its murder spree all through Central Park in wanton bloodlust. Spidey runs across Demogoblin and the two clash in the street. At one moment when Spidey is on the ropes a priest actually tries to intervene to save Spidey, and the Demogoblin departs in the night, destined to find Team Carnage.
But back in Central Park, Venom’s tracked down Carnage – and immediately finds out Carnage has special new psycho pals. So when Venom tries to ambush Carnage he winds up getting a face-full of Carnage, Doppleganger and Shriek – way more than he was ready for.
Lucky to be alive, Venom stumbles his stupid way over to Peter and Mary Jane’s apartment, desperate for a place to crash for the night, maybe some hot cocoa, and to see if the Parkers dig the new mullet he’s rockin’.
Side note: This entire event takes place back when Mary Jane was smoking. Does Marvel Photoshop that out of the trades now or what’s the deal on that? Heh.
ROUND FOUR – DING!
Round Four takes us to Spider-Man #35 (‘Team Venom’) by Dave Michelinie and Tom Lyle. Mary Jane’s definitely having issues with Peter, who allows one of his most recent hated enemies crash on their couch in what might be a pancho or some form of Mexican blanket. She bolts out of the apartment in an angry huff and heads out to Queens to hang with Aunt May and Peter’s robo-parents, recently escaped from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World.
While Venom dreams about brains, Spidey drops in on his old girlfriend, Black Cat, who agrees to join Team Spidey so they can stop Carnage’s Kill Crew – which gains a new member once Demogoblin *finally* finds them.
Actually – Demogoblin’s joining is fairly fragile. He’s been allied with the Spider-Doppleganger before but he’s got his own “I have to punish sinners” agenda now that really makes him a bit of a buzzkill for Carnage. Nevertheless, Carnage sees the need for some more muscle on the time – especially when that muscle’s demonic and seven shades of crazy.
Eventually Team Spidey finds the Carnage Family beating up on Cloak, and – for the first time in the event – we get team vs. team action. We’re even treated to Venom’s old “brains!” bit when he yells out “Carnage Brains!” like it’s a battle cry. Did I say we’re treated to that? Sorry, I meant it’s all I can do not to tear my eyes out everytime I see that crap. Ugh.
The action’s actually kind of tame here and the battle ends prematurely when Demogoblin and Shriek burn the warehouse that they’ve all been fighting in. Black Cat doesn’t make out in time and Venom’s weakened by the flames.
ROUND FIVE – DING!
Our final round for this installment of the Maximum Carnage retrospective takes us to Spectacular Spider-Man #201 (‘Over The Line!’) and now it’s J.M. DeMatteis & Sal Buscema’s turn to get in on the fun. Or in other words… “shit just got real.” See, back around this time Spectacular was my favorite Spidey-title. For my money it was consistently better than Amazing month-to-month for a long time, hands down. But under the fog of Maximum Carnage even the best writers can write dud dialogue, and that happens here with Carnage and Shriek cooing at one another. After Carnage scolds Doppleganger (the ‘son’ of the family), we get the following exchange:
SHRIEK: Don’t yell at the boy, dear.
CARNAGE: Sorry, snookums! It’s just that sometimes being a father is such a thankless job!
SHRIEK: Then let’s do something to cheer you up!
CARNAGE: A hike in the country?
CARNAGE: Slaughter and mayhem?
Yeah. Thing is… this event’s packed with that. See what I mean now when I said this was the ‘Tango & Cash’ of Spider-Man comics?
Back to our story: Team Spidey splinters, with Venom and Black Cat wanting to kill Carnage to end his reign of terror on the city and Peter still not willing to make that kind of call. But it’s not all puppies & sunshine with the Carnage Family, either. Carnage and Demogoblin are fighting pretty hard about what direction the band needs to go in, leaving Shriek to play referee. As they continue their murder spree the citizens of New York start turning on one another and anything that moves as Shriek shuts off their monkey brains and switches on their lizard brains, then… oh wait. I meant to say that Shriek’s sonic powers are generating hate, anger and despair wherever the Carnage Family goes. As an added bonus, Carrion shows up to tag along quietly.
Man… in the 70’s there was a time when Carrion was in Spectacular Spider-Man so often they actually considered renaming the book ‘Spider-Man’s Pal, Carrion.’
And that ends our first installment! Next week we’ll take a look at the next five issues – whew! You know, when I’d originally planned this I’d envisioned it as a massive fourteen round fight. But yeah, I don’t hate myself enough for that yet.
Alright, time for our judge’s decision on this first five rounds of Maximum Carnage.
DECISION – CARNAGE FAMILY
Pretty much. They’re wracking up insane casualty numbers at this point in the story. Numbers that would even make the Joker raise an eyebrow in admiration. And while all this is happening, Team Spidey is largely ineffective, late and sloppy. So let’s hope they can pull it all together for next week.
And now, as we do every week, let’s check in with our Spidey Friday Night Fights analysts, Ben Grimm and Shang Chi, for commentary. What’s up with Peter’s feet of clay this time around?
Heck, he doesn’t even really start to cut loose here until he’s fightin’ off an emotion-controlled crowd of New Yorkers there in th’ fifth round. So his parents are on his mind, MJ’s on his back about the family business again… guy’s got a lot on his plate!
Still, that ain’t no excuse for sloppiness, an’ up ’til now Team Spidey ain’t communicatin’ at all ‘cept on about how much they don’t wanna work with each other on this. And they ain’t all on the same page. That freak Venom wants to kill the baddie, Spidey doesn’t, n’ Black Cat goes in between like the ball at an Olympic ping pong match.
Some of ya may be askin’… Grimm! Where was you n’ th’ Torch with all this? Why weren’t yaz in there givin’ what fer? Funny story ’bout that. Funny story. Ya see, not long before this wuz goin’ down Wolverine slashed a chunk of my face off cause he’s a sawed-off lil’ psycho-punk. The team was in bad shape back then. Reed was gone, Sue wuz playin’ Reed, my face got sliced off… it wuz just a bad time for us to do anythin’ but fall apart. If it went down right now? Sure, kids. Uncle Benji’d be on it like white on rice. But back then the Fantastic Four wuz havin’ a rough go at it.
Kinda got off an a tangent there, huh? Anyways, Team Spidey was a team of pros playin’ like first year wet-nosed rookies, goin’ off half-cocked and not focusin’ on anythin’ resemblin’ strategy at all. Which is a shame cause if they had they mighta put this whole thing ta bed by that first warehouse fight. But I have a feelin’ all that’ll turn around for ’em, especially with th’ Carnage Family already fallin’ in ta in-fightin’.
Shang, what about that? Can ya always count on yer enemies to turn one another and fall apart, makin’ stupid mistakes?”
“It depends on the enemy, my friend. Shang Chi’s greatest enemy for many years was his own father, Fu Manchu. And let Shang Chi tell you! Fu Manchu never did anything half-assed! Discipline permeated the temple fortress that was Shang Chi’s only home when he was young. And Shang doesn’t mean the fun kind of discipline with whips! We’re talking cut-your-head-off-if-the-tea-isn’t-the-right-temperature discipline. My father was a man who definitely believed in setting examples, usually with death or being fed to dragons.
So whether or not your enemy, or enemies, crumble before the might of your patient (or amateurish) waiting depends on how much discipline and training they have. Dirty hippies, for example, will run in terror from Shang Chi. They are too soft with their free love, their narcotics and their casual mating habits.
And so when they come after Shang Chi in the park when Shang Chi is trying to sleep he can beat them off pretty quick just by taking out the Alpha Hippie. I don’t kill them – they’re hippies and know not what they do. I merely paralyze them so they will learn patience while thinking over their life choices each and every day.
This is why, in the end, Team Spidey will prevail. Sure, they’re fighting amongst themselves the same way the Carnage Family is at the moment but… well Shang Chi knows the story already and he knows that Captain America shows up eventually and gets Team Spidey into shape. Not only that but let’s face it – Captain America could show up and probably take down all of Carnage’s group on his own.
It is only too bad that the Punisher wasn’t invited to this party. Shang Chi wonders sometimes if Frank Castle is a lonely man. Or if he is lonely but cannot realize he is lonely. Or if he doesn’t care about being lonely. Maybe Frank Castle likes the quiet! Either way, were I Spider-Man I would have called Frank Castle early on in this fight. I think I will call him the next time I must face the hippies. And then we could listen to records or go looking for cute girls to talk to.”
I’m guessing that’s Shang’s way of saying “Thanks!” for the Punisher filling in for him a few weeks back. And with that – we’re all wrapped up here until next Friday, when we’ll begin the second installment of our Maximum Carnage retrospective.
A quick announcement: As some of you may or may not know, Marvel Fight Club is expanding on the Crawl Space Forums. In fact it’s expanding into DC Fight Club and DC&M Fight Club as well. You can find more information, as well as scheduling information, at this link. The new forum will also host the tournaments that Funnykay runs and if you haven’t voted for Doctor Strange yet on the Spider-Allies tournament then feel free to do so at this link. But since Marvel Fight Club’s expanding and growing up all on its own we won’t be finishing the Spidey Friday Night Fights with it anymore. We hope to see you all in the Fight Club Forum real soon!
I want to finish up this week by explaining why we didn’t have a Spidey Friday Night Fight the last two weeks. The week before last I wound up dog-sitting for friends of mine who were out of town almost a week. It was on very short notice and required me to be away from home so I wasn’t able to get the SFNF up that week.
Unfortunately, last Tuesday I found out that my aunt had died. Family commitments kept me away from home a lot of last Friday and Saturday. She was someone I’d spent a lot of time around when I was a little kid and I’ll miss seeing her at Christmas very much. Many of you had heard that already but I know there may be some of you who follow the SFNF just via the main page alone without ever looking at the forums. I just wanted you folks to know why I’d been absent for two weeks.
Alright, teaser line… hit us with your best shot!
NEXT WEEK: How many times have you already told them tonight that next week would continue the Maximum Carnage look-back?
For Ben Grimm, Shang Chi and me, George Berryman, have a great week, Crawl Spacers!