Ever wonder what it would be like if Gerry Conway wrote Carnage? Me neither. If only because they each represent such different eras in Spider-History. (I mean how often do you consider “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” and “Maximum Carnage” in the same thought?) What if I told you it wasn’t just another mini, but an ongoing series? Ch’yeah, “No way man!” And, yet, here we are. I’d say finding out what happens when you combine this unexpected pairing is definitely worth a look. And a click. Come on, you know you’re curious. . .
WRITER: Gerry Conway
ARTIST: Mike Perkins
COLOR ARTIST: Andy Troy
COVERS by Mike Del Mundo
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
All-New All-Different Marvel Point One #1 (Carnage’s story only): Fresh out of Secret Wars, at the edge of the All-New, All-Different Marvel universe, the Collector (who has de-aged from his older-looking, classic 616 appearance to more closely resemble Benecio Del Toro) and the Maestro (evil future-Hulk from Peter David’s books) are playing people-chess on what remains of Dr. Doom’s old Battleworld. The Collector has placed Hulk-Beard in charge of picking champions for a contest in which they are presently engaged. They consider, among others, our boy Cletus Kasady to go up against the opposing team’s alternate version of Venom (from a world in which Eddie Brock successfully kills Spider-Man). Monitoring events back on Earth, they watch as Carnage
murders some guy in a parking lot and a few drunken, middle-age dude-bros, all the while musing about how he is a night person. And meanwhile, across the pond in Afghanistan, Col. John Jameson has evidently ditched NASA to fly rescue opps for the military (and who cold blame him after being left for months on an abandoned space station filled with Octo-Zombies back in ASM#681), when he is approached by the Agent Claire Dixon of the FBI to join a special task force which is being put together to finally give Kasady the ole’ Zero Dark Thirty. Conway and Perkins conclude Cletus’ 0 issue by having him stumble out of an abandoned car in the middle of the day and wander into the most unfortunate diner this side of Pulp Fiction. . .
Carnage #1: Shockingly (said “no one”), Cletus loses his temper and murders everyone in the diner after seeing a news report about the only survivor of his first massacre at St. Estes’ School for Boys, a woman named Manuela “Manny” Calderon. This turns out to be a plant on behalf of the special opps unit, as Manny, also in the U.S. military, and Col. Jameson are preparing a trap for Carnage. The government has purchased an abandoned mine from Grey Ridge Investments, and by the suggestion of the head of this company, the sleazy Barry Gleason, the team is using the land above this mine to ensnare Carnage using military grade sonic weapons (which shouldn’t technically work on Carnage anymore after Spider-Man #36 in which the Carnage symbiote overcame its weakness to sonics). Anyways, if the plan goes awry, Uncle Sam has forcibly conscripted Eddie Brock, the current host of the Toxin symbiote, into service as a back-up option. Apparently, they plucked him out of Philly (which he’s been watching over since Flash left with Bendis to go. . . uh. . . do. . . that one thing. . . no that was Kitty Pride. . . I guess. . . cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy) following Toxin’s bust of a local drug cartel. Later that night, Carnage shows up and nearly kills Manny, but she manages to parkour her way into the cannons’ firing range. But before the conniving Colonel and company’s cacophonous cannon can cripple Cletus’ Klyntar, a plot-hole opens up beneath him and the mass-murderer disappears into the abandoned mine (We also see Cletus’ legs under the symbiote – I’m nitpicking, but he shouldn’t have any lower body at all after the Sentry ripped him in two, yet here he is with legs down to his knees; maybe the symbiote’s healing him) along with a whole slew of federal agents. Jameson realizes he has no choice but to “dog” Carnage’s trail. . . and face the long dark. . . of Moria!!
(Man, I’ll bet the Colonel’s wishing his old man was mayor back during his Ravencroft days! Ragin’ JJ Jr. would have pulled the same mighty Marvel mayoral death-penalty strings on the incarcerated Carnage he did for Alistair Smythe during “Big Time” – but I guess Ashley Kafka, RIP, would have shut that down PDQ) [with love to JMD – big fan!]
Carnage #2: Wheels-within-wheels start to turn in Carnage’s sophomore issue. The supporting cast watches the mine’s camera-feed in horror as Carnage picks off the wounded agents one-by-one. And things get worse for Col. Jameson when not only does all the power in the compound go out, but he starts to feel a familiar itch on his collar bone the deeper his team descends into the mine. Manny and Brock investigate the power outage and discover signs of sabotage as it turns out Gleason, the aforementioned sleazy owner of the mine, has orchestrated all of these events. Back in the control room, Samuel L. Dixon looks around and realizes Gleason has pulled a Dennis Nedry and disappeared. (Seriously, did anyone else feel the Jurassic Park vibes in this issue? Barry Gleason’s character is like the occult offspring of John Hammond and Dennis Nedry) Barry, it turns out, has slunk off to retrieve a book with a big D on it (How do I always end up reviewing books with the Darkhold in them? Good grief, I hope this comic doesn’t “go the way of the New Warriors”) and crosses the line from corrupt suit to full-on psychopathic zealot when he kills some of the mine’s geologists with poison gas. Apparently, he has lured Carnage to Grey Ridge in the hopes that Cletus will fulfill some prophecy and “open a door” to release an ancient evil. Anyways, after getting the back-up generators going, Manny, Dixon, and Brock (who’s itching for a rematch with Carnage – I believe the last time they fought was back in 2004 during Venom and Carnage) decide to mount a rescue operation, but unfortunately Carnage has baited Jameson’s team into causing a tunnel collapse with their sonic weapons, trapping everyone inside. As Manny looks for an alternate way in, Dixon reveals that she had ulterior motives for selecting the Colonel for this mission. And it turns out her hunch was right on the money as Carnage finally corners what’s left of Jameson’s crew, causing a desperate and horrified John to mutate into the Man-Wolf!
Carnage #3: As Carnage and Man-Wolf tear into each other, descending deeper and deeper into the mine (it’s a pretty nasty-looking fight), the rescue team slowly follows suit as Agent Dixon gives Manny her insight into Brock’s and the Colonel’s characters. She says that even though Brock blames the Venom symbiote for his past atrocities, when he came across Toxin, “he jumped at the chance to get reinfected.” Huh. Conway and I must have read different copies of Venom #17, because it seemed to me that Remender had Brock screaming in despair when the Crime Master forcibly poured the Toxin symbiote onto his bound body. Oh well. However, apparently Dixon and I actually read the same copies of Conway’s old Man-Wolf back issues from the 70s because she also tells Manny the story of the Man-Wolf and gets it right. (I’m being too mean: I really like Conway and enjoy this book) However, even though Spider-Man tore the Godstone from John’s throat (issue? When did this occur?), the ambient radiation in the mine can still cause the remnants of the stone in his blood to flare up and make him Lycan-out. Just as they catch up with the battlers, Carnage, being a fairly experienced fighter at this point in his career, shows a welcome spurt of cleverness and rips the Godstone shard from Jameson’s throat, de-powering him and making John fall into a crevasse in disorientation. Desperate to stop Carnage, Dixon decides to deactivate the dampener suppressing the Toxin symbiote, when Gleason, who murdered his way into the mine through another access tunnel, shows up and shoots the controls from her hands. Manny dives after it, straight into Jameson Canyon, and Brock tries to shoot Barry with the sonic rifles, which only causes another collapse. As the dust settles, Carnage finds himself alone with Gleason, who leads him to an ancient looking door, welcoming Carnage “to his destiny!” To be continued (this Wednesday!)
ANALYSIS: Phew! Thank you for bearing it through all those summaries, folks. As you can see, a lot happens in these issues, which is a good thing. Conway and Perkins keep things moving with every new comic. We haven’t had any signs of decompression or filler issues yet, and I hope the creative team will keep it that way. A spin-off title has to justify its existence with every issue, or it will fail (looking at you, Joe Keatinge’s Morbius). And while we can see signs of a long game for this book, Conway wastes no time in laying some of his cards on the table and giving us some pay-off and forward motion, even in these early issues. They’re definitely not dragging their feet before they get to the interesting stuff (looking at you, Cullen Bunn’s Venom).
However, my prevailing question throughout reading these books is, “Why the heck isn’t Spider-Man tracking Carnage?!” This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for me (yet), but you would think that having Carnage running free around Middle-America for 8 months (presumably more since he’s been free since his confrontation with Nova) would have crossed Peter’s radar. I know he may think that Cletus is still dead after AXIS (because let’s face it, we all died a little reading AXIS), but Carnage kind of leaves an impression on small town America (looking at you, Doverton, CO). This should be addressed fairly soon after this first arc. I don’t know, maybe he’s too busy being the every man’s Tony Stark to notice little things like a mass murderer with the power of an alien suit that Peter himself brought to Earth. (read: sarcasm)
Regarding the art, I’ve personally always liked the Mark Bagley/Steven Butler approach to Carnage’s design. (What happened to Butler? Let’s get him back on some Spider-Books) They always achieved that balance between Carnage’s power and wiriness in his build, as well as the symbiote’s fluid, yet sharp appearance. I’ve always been a stickler about his teeth too. Carnage should not have Venom-like enamels. His jaws should look like the same material as the rest of his suit, which Perkins does well in the interiors (and which Clayton Crane and Mike Del Mundo capture to chilling effect on the covers – those were sweet!). I know I’m being particular, but this is a visual medium, and getting Carnage’s look right is critical to symbiote fans like myself. And I could see in that Point One story that Perkins was referencing some of Bagley’s old stuff, which is only a good thing, specifically this one panel in which Carnage was attacking the drunk guys; it was the spitting image of Cletus from that poster in the 30th Anniversary books, back in ’92, that had Spider-Man caught between Venom and Carnage. Perkins has done a pretty good job capturing that sharp fluidity that gives the character such a threatening look, although Carnage does sometimes lose a bit of that lithe power in his build by looking either too bulky or too blobby in some panels.
All things considered, I do look forward to what Conway has in store for Carnage and company, particularly this Darkhold business and Brock’s reunion with Kasady. (Wow, this book is like 90s old-home week) Venom’s beef with Carnage always made for an enjoyable read back in those early Michelinie stories, so the little kid in me who grew up loving that Carnage was the one bad guy nasty enough to get Venom to team up with Spidey is getting excited at the prospect of this rematch. Here’s hoping he’s not disappointed (looking at you, Howard Mackie’s reboot-era books).
GRADES: “Night Work” C- (an average story that did little beyond setting the stage for the ongoing)
“The One That Got Away: Part One” B- (an intriguing start to a curious, if not clamored-for, little comic that was filled with good characterization, for the old and the new, if not a few minor blips on the ole’ continuity-radar)
“The One That Got Away: Part Two” B (things fall apart and hidden agendas are revealed in a very good second issue with an awesome cliff-hanger ending)