“Bunch of guys in robes ‘round an altar – of course there’s a prophecy. . .”
Tensions rise in the penultimate chapter of this book’s opening arc. To paraphrase Eddie Murphy, “You’ve seen a Maximum Carnage, maybe even a Voltron Carnage, but I bet you ain’t ever seen. . . a Darkhold Carnage!”
WRITER: Gerry Conway
ARTIST: Mike Perkins
COLOR ARTIST: Andy Troy
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Sabino
COVER by Mike Del Mundo
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
STORY with commentary: Manny wakes up at the bottom of last issue’s collapse next to an unconscious John Jameson. Eddie Brock, who is within earshot, talks her into unleashing the Toxin symbiote (did he plan to set off the sonic weapon?), then rescues her and John. Agent Toxin, with Manny, Jameson, and Agent Dixon in tow, hightails after Carnage (Pat Mulligan’s old look is thrown out in favor of a dollar store repaint of Flash’s old Venom suit, complete with army boots and waist pouches. . . as if killing Mulligan off-panel wasn’t bad enough, c’mon man).
Speak of the devil, Gleason leads Carnage into a hidden chamber deep beneath Grey Ridge where they are greeted by a bunch of hooded occultists. Their leader tells Carnage that he is the “Red Slayer,” prophesied in the Darkhold to bring about the rebirth of Chthon, author of the Book of Sins and one of Marvel’s elder gods (last seen in *gag* Yost’s New Warriors run. . . it seems Chthon has had a bit of a follower-upgrade from good ole’ Jake Waffles and Mr. Whiskers). As Cletus’ ego is being stroked by the thought of becoming a whole other level of murderer, he lets his guard down and the cult reveals that it is his blood that must be shed. They then mob Carnage, stabbing him to death (no, you read correctly: a bunch of normal humans. STAB. CARNAGE. TO DEATH. Apparently the Carnage symbiote, supposedly stronger than Spider-Man and Venom combined, can stop bullets, survive exposure to the vacuum of space at faster than light speed, as well as reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, grow back a human head after it’s blown off, but can’t withstand these freaking knives. Convenient. I’m choosing to think that these goons have some kind of preternatural power they’re channeling through these weapons, but still).
However, as Cletus bleeds out onto the pages of the Darkhold, his symbiote and the book’s dark magic mix and cause him to morph into final boss mode. He possesses all the members of the cult, just in time to break out of the temple and confront Agent Toxin and his Lethal Friends. . .
ANALYSIS: You could probably sense my dissatisfaction in the summary.
The “turn” of this opening arc came at the cost of Kasady’s character. I’m not saying that this is OMD-level betrayal, but it is yet another disheartening instance of plot overriding a character-driven story. Conway is better than this. I was upset enough to be taken out of the story (not as much as Mark D-M Waid standing up at the end of Man of Steel and shouting an expletive at the screen, but still) It’s not unsalvageable, and could be easily remedied with a comment on the occultists’ preternatural strength and speed, but that should have happened in the issue.
The story wasn’t a complete failure by any stretch though. Despite the absurdity of the scenario, I did find myself kind of rooting for Cletus Kasady against those Cythonic monks. And, no, it wasn’t exactly all that difficult to earn, because, come one, the only people who suck more than psychotic killers are satanic psychotic killers, but a book about freaking Carnage got me to root for him a bit. Well done there. And it did leave me still looking forward to next issue’s grudge match between Brock and Kasady.
But then there’s Toxin’s new look. Am I the only one who didn’t care for this? Classic Toxin wasn’t exactly an iconic character, but his visual was pretty cool. And I miss Toxin’s blue speech boxes! (even though there has never been any blue in his look) And while I can appreciate that the creative team seems to be making a connection to Agent Venom with Eddie Brock’s direction here, it just doesn’t grab me. For one, Brock is written as an incessant junkie looking for his next fix, not the desperate to erase his past fanatic he was portrayed as in his last appearances, while Flash was written (at least by Remender) as a recovering alcoholic in punishingly-layered fashion. And visually, maybe we’ll see “monster Toxin” return next issue as the symbiote-suppressor enzyme in Brock’s system dwindles, but I’m not exactly looking forward to that as much as I am the reunion between Eddie and Cletus. Although, I’m not sure I trust this team to deliver on that premise to full effect after this issue. I hope I am pleasantly surprised.
(And, if you’ll allow me one last vent: bring back Pat Mulligan, give Eddie Brock the freaking Venom symbiote back, and put him and Carnage back in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery where they belong! The last time Carnage was in an issue of ASM was back in the 90’s during the Silver Surfer two-parter. The original Venom, during the reboot. And while I’m at it, Gargan and Flash shouldn’t even be calling themselves “Venom” anyway as that title was supposed to be reserved for the specific combination of Brock and the symbiote, not the name of the symbiote itself! Ditto for Toxin!)
*huffhuff* OK I’m good. See you guys in a few weeks.
Below average(a plot-contrived story turn and the dissatisfactory redesign of a fan-favorite character combine for a disappointing 4th issue)