“It’s a boat, Jujubee. Where you gonna run?”
A tale of mystery and murder on the high seas, as we take a look at the first chapter of Carnage’s sophomore arc, “Sea Devil.”
WRITER: Gerry Conway
ARTIST: Mike Perkins
COLOR ARTIST: Andy Troy
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Sabino
COVER by Alexander Lozano
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
STORY (with commentary): Conway and Perkins pick up right where they left off last issue as Gleason shares with Carnage the secrets of the Darkhold, as well as Cletus’ role in the “Red Slayer” proph. . .wait. No, that’s not right. . . We DON’T get a resolution to last issue’s cliffhanger here. My bad. Do over:
We instead join 16-year-old Jubulile Van Scotter in the Southeast Indian Ocean (huh?), between Australia and Christmas Island, a few weeks into her lone circumnavigational voyage in her late father’s boat, the “Cinga.” Instead of being able to peaceably enjoy her mid-morning break from boat-work, Jubulile’s Elevensies are interrupted by an explosion in the distance. When she investigates the wreckage, she finds an unconscious Cletus Kasady floating in a dingy and clutching a man-purse (without legs! Thank you Mike Perkins! Finally, an artist remembers this! I mean, technically, his legs should be gone all the way up to the waist, but it’s fine). Jubulile brings Cletus aboard and lays him in the captain’s cabin. While she wonders how this strange man survived the explosion, Kasady erupts into seizures, incoherently calling out for the Darkhold, then collapses back into unconsciousness, releasing his bag and exposing the Book of Sins to the curious captain of the Cinga.
As the sun sets, Jubulile flips through the Darkhold, mystified by the strange characters and disturbing images, but stops when she is unnerved by a familiar sea chart depicting the section of the Ocean she currently sails in, with a big X drawn on it next to the words “F’tagn Chthon” (in H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, it’s presented as cthulhu fhtagn which means “Cthulhu waits”). She is interrupted by a recuperated Cletus (whose symbiote has regrown his natural looking legs, not the Voltron Carnage ones – again, thank you Perkins). They have dinner together beneath deck, and discuss “Jujubee’s” voyage, being members of mixed races (Appalachian and Afrikaner), and their polar opposite opinions of their fathers. Kasady then asks her to take them to the X on the Darkhold sea chart, while Jubulile insists that they take Cletus to Darwin, Australia to get medical attention. This goes about as well as you’d think, and Cletus morphs into his new Darkholded-out “Che-K’n Carnage” form (again, it looks like Perkins threw the Carnage symbiote on the Che-K’n Kau from Dezago and Wieringo’s Sensational Spider-Man run), knocking Jubulile unconscious as she attempts to flee.
The next morning, Jubulile hazily regains consciousness while Carnage yammers away about the Darkhold (somewhat filling in the issue gap by alluding to knowledge gained, possibly, from Gleason about it being written by Aelfric the Mad Monk, another Lovecraftian reference to “Alhazred, the Mad Arab,” author of the Necromicon, a book of ultimate evil, itself the basis of the Darkhold), struggling to explain how it changed him (the little 90s kid in me loves this: Cletus struggles to distinguish between himself and the Carnage symbiote, which he should, as his bond is so complete that he never referred to the product of their bond as “we,” only as “I” – props, by the way, to Zeb Wells for portraying this perfect symbiosis in his Carnage (2010) series, when the symbiote kept Kasady alive for months in space, putting him into a coma so it could focus on recycling his lung’s CO2 back into Oxygen, and to Kevin Shinick in Superior Carnage for remembering that completely separating Cletus and the symbiote is nearly impossible, because it’s been bonded with Cletus’ blood ever since “Maximum Carnage”). Carnage attempts to possess Jubulile and assert his will on her by combining his blood with the Darkhold (the same way he did in #4) but it doesn’t work, and simply results in Jubulile falling into unconsciousness. As Cletus struggles with the Darkhold’s language (yet another Lovecraft reference here as “Ph’nglui Mglw’nafh Chthon. . . Wgah’nagl Fhtagn” comes from a chant in the Cthulhu mythos which means, “In his house, dead Chthon waits dreaming.”), Jubulile wakes up, her eyes completely red, snaps her bondage ropes with ease, and proceeds to quickly and quietly rig the gas stove and fuel tank to create a delayed explosion. Carnage is blown up for the third time in two issues, as is the Cinga, as Jubulile makes her getaway in a life raft.
Later that night, Jubulile drifts off to sleep, lamenting the loss of her father’s ship. However, her sleep is soon interrupted by John Jameson, Manny Calderon, and Eddie Brock, who pull her out of the sea and onto their own ship. The supporting cast introduce themselves to Jubulile, and reveal that they have picked up an expert on the Book of Sins since last issue: Victoria Montesi, Child of the Darkhold, of the late Darkhold Redeemers. To be continued. . .
ANALYSIS: I think the length of my summary is misleading, as this comic is actually a pretty quick read. However, as I researched all of these references to Lovecraft’s mythos and South African history, I found myself very impressed by the level of thought that Conway put into this story.
I thoroughly look forward to what comes next, especially with the reintroduction of Victoria Montesi. I’m sure fans of Marvel’s late 80s/early 90s supernatural comics will be particularly curious to see what the supporting cast/Conway has in mind for her character going forward, as she hasn’t been seen in quite a while (since she was revealed to be Chthon’s daughter, through black magic, and nearly “birthed” the dark god back into existence, before Doctor Strange [go watch his trailer!] shut all that down). In addition to the 90s-themed party that the creative team is throwing with this title, this comic book is also starting to feel like the old horror books from the 70s that Marvel put out after the Comics Code unclenched. I, for one, am having a good time with this.
However, I can also see how this departure from Spider-Man’s world and into Marvel’s supernatural corner could be dissatisfactory to old-school symbiote fans. Perhaps it’s a matter of preference, but as Carnage can quickly run the risk of being a bit of a one-note character, I enjoy the new direction they’re taking him in. He still remains every bit the Appalachian psycho-hick that he was back in his Michelinie years. If they changed his character to fit the preternatural themes of the book, I’d take issue with it (and did indeed do so back in my review of #4), but thus far the creative team seems to be moving forward with a (mostly) clear-headed sense of who Cletus Kasady, the one and only Carnage, is and what makes him tick.
Regarding the preternatural elements of the book, Jubulile Van Scotter’s character is in keeping with this overarching theme of the occult. As she was examining the unconscious Kasady at the beginning of the issue, she exclaims to herself, “Goddess Mamlambo. Sweet Mother Mary. What happened to this man?” Her name too, as she later tells Kasady, is a combination of Zulu, a native African tribe, and Dutch origin. When Cletus calls her a “mutt,” she corrects him, identifying as Afrikaner. The Afrikaners were Dutch Calvinists who tried to colonialize South Africa. They later came into conflict with the Zulu people and, like most colonialists, attempted to force Christianity upon the natives. Some of the Zulu people, however, in order to keep their traditional religion alive, produced a syncretistic combination of Christianity and their native religion, replacing the names of their gods and goddesses with those of saints and angels. You also sometimes see this in Voodoo religion, as well as in Santeria, which is also currently on display over in Amazing Spider-Man: Saving Grace (*gag*). Anyway, Jubulile evidently practices religious syncretism, attributing the name of the Blessed Mother to a Zulu river goddess. By the way, Mamlambo, a monstrously large, serpentine, prehistoric marine reptile, is known as the “Brain Sucker” by some of the local Zulu due to. . . well. . . you can guess what she does to her victims. . . coincidentally connecting her with Carnage’s sire, Venom, and his famous threat to Spider-Man. And while some religious syncretism can be harmless, some can be pretty sinister, as these ancient gods and goddesses, under the guises of saints and angels, can occasionally be pretty demonic in nature. So Jubulile, whose people worship a brain-sucking river goddess to whom they apply the name of the Virgin Mother of God, is now coming into contact with a possibly possessed Che-K’n Carnage, who himself is investigating his own role in the occult worship of a very satanic figure? And she proves to be pretty resilient, indeed practically compatible, with the Darkhold’s blood magic? There’s something fishy (Cthulhu-pun intended) going on with this girl. It is telling here too that Cletus Kasady, who has an incredibly horrific history of relishing in his own evil and mad deeds, is now in-relationship with a demon. “When you look into the darkness, the darkness looks also into you,” as Nietzsche puts it (ironically chilling that he too died a madman). Christmas Island too, the landmark nearest to this issue’s events, is known for being pretty religiously diverse for being such a small island. Anyhow, please excuse my theological musings if that’s not what you’re looking for in a Crawlspace review of a Carnage book, but I’ll be darned if a comic about friggin’ Carnage didn’t get me thinking about these themes and commentaries in a pretty involved way. Thank you, Gerry Conway.
Mike Perkins’ art, by the way, is earning back some points for me. If you’ve been following my reviews of this book, and as evidenced above, I am not a fan of Carnage’s Darkhold makeover. However, Perkins does pen a pretty creepy comic. That page of Kasady emerging from beneath the deck of the ship, looking for food, as well as when his jaw partially transformed into Carnage’s lower mandible, was delightfully chilling. Props too, as mentioned in the summary, for remembering that Cletus is an amputee.
Well guys, I apologize for the length of this post, as well as the delay in posting it. Getting a Commercial Driver’s License in the State of Oklahoma is a pretty involved process, and one that I am thankfully now finished with. Not to mention the fact that I found, as I have been drafting this review, that I keep having more and more to say about this book. Thank you for reading. Please comment. And, as always, thank you to Gerry Conway, Mike Perkins, and co. for putting this book on the stands for us. See you all in a couple of weeks for the second part of “Sea Devil.”
pretty good (an impressively well thought-out chapter in this increasingly complex ongoing series)