“Underground temples, symbiotes in cultist robes, secret passages. . . What the hell have we stumbled into?”
The opening arc of Carnage’s very first ongoing series comes crashing to a close as Darkhold Carnage and his Cthonic slaves face off against Agent Toxin. How does this wonderfully 90’s grudge match turn out? Click on the link and find out!
WRITER: Gerry Conway
ARTIST: Mike Perkins
COLOR ARTIST: Andy Troy
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Sabino
COVERS by Mike Del Mundo
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
STORY with commentary: The issue opens with Eddie Brock and Cletus Kasady immediately tearing into each other. Darkhold Carnage (whose visual I don’t love – he has chicken legs) has a pretty great opening line as he relishes his orphan status because itmeant no family reunions, and the fact that Eddie Brock and the Toxin symbiote (representing both a father and child figure for Carnage) are standing right in front of him repulses and enrages him. Agent Toxin makes short work of most of Carnage’s occult puppets, but Cletus apparently had some super symbiote-monks in reserve who give Brock more of a run for his money (did I miss something? why are some of these occultists more powerful than others?) Anyway, Kasady breaks off the fight to go back into the temple and grab the Darkhold only to find that the book is missing.
While the symbiote-powered combatants were duking it out, Manny, Dixon, and Jameson snuck passed them into the temple and saw Gleason run off with the Book of Sins. Manny grapples with Gleason, who utters some H.P. Lovecraftian gibberish causing the ground under Manny to spontaneously combust (nice touch, Conway, referencing those classic horror books: “Chthon” himself, by the way, is actually a reference to Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu”). Gleason makes his getaway when one of Carnage’s cultist puppets attacks the group and causes the Colonel to inexplicably mutate into Man-Wolf once again. Dixon freaks out, but Manny keeps her cool and placates the werewolf enough that he changes back into Jameson (I hope we’re going to get some kind of explanation here – Carnage ripped the Godstone from John’s collarbone back in #3). The trio chase Gleason up a secret passageway that leads to an abandoned church. While Jameson and Dixon lament that he escaped, Manny reveals that she ripped a page from the Darkhold during her tussle with Gleason, so he’ll be back. The group reconnoiters with the authorities back at Grey Ridge, where a relief crew has set up shop, and debates whether or not to blow the mine with Carnage, and Brock, inside.
Back underground, Kasady throws a fit over losing the Darkhold. He confesses to Brock that he always felt like he was nothing until he started murdering people, and even after the symbiote came, the alien suit was the only thing that made him special. The “Red Slayer” prophecy however meant that Cletus was always meant for something great (if awful). Carnage leaves Agent Toxin to be killed by his puppets and the collapsing mine, while he escapes through the abandoned church. Manny is up there to meet him though and tries to incapacitate Carnage with sonics, but the noise has no effect due to the Darkhold-upgrade (even though the symbiote has already evolved past this weakness and should be vulnerable only to fire, as was revealed back in “Maximum Carnage.” Whatever). However, Manny’s delay allowed Brock to escape the mine, and rescue her in the nick of time. Manny blows up the church with Carnage inside. But when the authorities sweep the place, they find no trace of the serial killer or his alien partner. Darkhold Carnage then tracks down Gleason and asks him to share more about Cletus’ role in the Chthonic prophecy.
ANALYSIS: This was a definite improvement over last issue.
To begin, (as you can see from the length of the summary) we have absolutely no signs of decompression here. There is a lot going on in this book and it doesn’t feel overly packed. This is especially impressive considering that this was primarily a fight-issue. Conway (if not Perkins) managed to make the fight have a bit of weight, and showed some decent insight into Carnage’s character as it unfolded. I appreciate that Carnage, who views himself as a force of chaos and destruction, despises the natural creative order inherent in family life, which fuels his hatred of both Brock and the Toxin symbiote. Speaking of Brock however, Conway shows the usual lack of understanding of what makes this character tick. I know that this is Carnage’s book, but Brock’s character should reflect that rage and fanaticism that makes him so endearing to fans of his old-school Venom character. Here, he is given a few reactionary lines and gives little indication of why Carnage specifically is that one person he hates more than Spider-Man (I know that that hatred was supposedly taken away by the demands of the plot in “New Ways to Die” when Brock saw Spider-Man save a random bystander, but come on!) And I mentioned Perkins, and will say more on his art below, but suffice it to say that his fight scene renderings were not all that impressive to me. They were a bit rough and by-the-numbers. The symbiote meat-puppets were a-dime-a-dozen and amounted to nothing more than cannon-fodder for Agent Toxin. Perhaps I’m spoiled, but I grew up reading fight scenes drawn by Mark Bagley and Sal Buscema (those babies had some drama and weight to them!) But, if anything, I feel like this was closer to me getting my money’s worth of story out of a single issue (although I’m with JR in thinking that I shouldn’t have to pay more than $1.99 for a comic). The ending was a bit abrupt for my taste, but it did leave me wanting more.
Regarding the occult overtones in this book, this is something I’m hearing more and more about from All-New, All-Different Marvel these days. For real, go read Mohammed’s Invincible Iron Man #5 review and you’ll see that Madame Masque is possessed by a demon and Tony has to bring in Dr. Doom to perform an exorcism (kind of ironic to see MJ smacking a demoniac with such prejudice though, as she technically IS one, being that she, and Peter, are in-relationship with Mephisto since OMD). But, really: an exorcism. In an IRON MAN book. OK. . . Meanwhile, over in Dr. Strange and Scarlet Witch, I hear that the laws of magic in the Prime MU have changed to reflect the idea that “all magic comes with a price.” I know that those characters have traditionally dealt with magical threats, but the changing of the rules is of note. And here, in Carnage, whose stronger stories have usually dealt with issues of his chaotic insanity versus Spider-Man’s morality (is it morally licit for Spider-Man/Venom to kill Carnage since he represents such a threat to society, has proven uncontainable by conventional means of incarceration, and has given no signs of genuine repentance and openness to rehabilitation?), as scary as those stories can be, this is a whole new angle of horror on this character than we’ve seen in stories like “Carnage: Mindbomb” or “Web of Carnage” (incidentally, this is why I love Carnage, because he represents such a challenge to Spider-Man’s “all human life is precious”/“everyone is someone’s Uncle Ben” code, more so even, IMHO, than Norman Osborn). I’m not saying that this is a good or bad take, rather that it is a different angle on this character, and that such an angle is what makes this book unique among other takes on Carnage. I also confess to be intrigued by the kind of “art imitating life” aspect of the Chthonic cult, seeing as how Lovecraft constructed his Cthulhu-mythos as a purely fictitious story, however, in using the actual names of some Phoenician gods in his writings, it led to the formation of actual cults of Cthulhu in real life. But being that I am especially repulsed by the occult, I appreciate that they are the Big Bad of this book, although I don’t think that the inevitable “Carnage kills them all” approach is the way to deal with such a threat. Nor do I think the solution is something so saccharin like Man-Wolf and crew digging out Stark Industries’ old “Love ray” that tritely undid the Carnage Family back in “Maximum Carnage” (I can feel JR rolling his eyes at the possibility of another issue of “Gerry Conway: Social Justice Warrior”). Hopefully Conway and Perkins have something a bit more interesting, original, and realistic in mind going forward.
But, how ‘bout those symbiote redesigns? Perkins is really striking out with me in his visual reinterpretations of these characters. I stand by my distaste for Toxin’s new look, as explained in my previous review. And here, Darkhold Carnage’s ‘three-mandibled bird-Hulk’ look isn’t awful so much as it is kind of goofy. It looks like Perkins threw the Carnage symbiote on the Che-K’n Kau (RIP Mike Wieringo). Granted, if I saw that thing in a dark alley we’d probably have a Code Brown on our hands, but the look just doesn’t mesh with the story at hand. Shouldn’t an alien symbiote/Darkhold mixture look more demon-ish? It’s not egregious, but it’s kind of like Ramos’ ‘Superior Venom’ design back in “Darkest Hours”: a wasted opportunity (a spider/octopus/symbiote shouldn’t look like that). The 0-issue had me hoping that Perkins was going to take his visual cues from those classic Bagley issues. I have been sequentially disappointed with his failure to do so in the last two issues.
Thank you guys for reading and, as always, I welcome comments and discussion below. Thank you also to Gerry Conway, Mike Perkins, and company for putting this book together for symbiote-nuts like myself. I’ll see you all in March for my discussion of the first part of “Sea Devil”!
above average (a fun finale to the opening arc, and a definite improvement over last issue, if a bit bogged down by the usual continuity snafus and unimpressive visual reinterpretations of the symbiote characters)