“You decide if you’re a man or a monster.”
As the threat of Che-K’n Carnage & the Darkhold grows, another classic Marvel team reunites to face the coming evil. More occult madness and mayhem as “Sea Devil” develops, featuring the return of the Midnight Sons! . . . (sort of) . . .
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: Darren Shan
EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Nick Lowe
STORY (with commentary): After pulling Jubulile out of the ocean, the supporting cast, now including former Darkhold Redeemer Victoria Montesi, catches her (and us) up on part the time-lapse between this book’s first and second arcs.
Thirteen days prior to last issue’s events, Claire Dixon’s superiors in the FBI reprimand her in a mission debriefing, refusing to believe her testimony of the preternatural elements from the first story arc (which seems a bit contrived for the Marvel universe – wouldn’t government authorities in such a world be more amenable to believing such things?). Dixon storms out of the meeting and is picked up by Victoria Montesi, who recruits Claire into the Children of Midnight (a.k.a the “Midnight Sons” from the 90s supernatural and Marvel Zombies books), offering to privately fund Agent Dixon’s anti-Carnage task force in lieu of the federal government’s cancellation of that project. They go on to recruit Manuela Calderon and Col. John Jameson (who, together with Brock, is shaping up to be a pretty cool foil for Kasady– whereas Carnage sees no clear distinction between himself and his inner monster, and Toxin thinks that he can use his inner monster for good, Jameson is more self-conscious about his inner monster’s destructive influence) and, with Montesi’s help, discern that Carnage’s next move will be to find another altar on which he could attempt to revive Chthon. Requiring some extra muscle, Man-Wolf and the team break Eddie Brock out of a classified FBI prison compound and then gear up to head Cletus off at the next Chthonic altar near Jakarta, Indonesia (which is a few hundred miles North of the coordinates in the Indian Ocean where last issue’s events took place).
Meanwhile, Carnage, following the recommendation of the still absent Barry Gleason, tracks down occult expert Roger Fellwood in San Francisco to help him further understand the Darkhold’s “Red Slayer” prophecy. (Conway makes yet another real life reference to the occult when Fellwood mentions Aleister Crowley and his essay Ambrosii Magi Hortus Rosarum; Crowley, otherwise known as the “wickedest man in the world” and by his favorite nickname “the Beast,” was the founder of a religion called Thelema, which masks it’s Satanist nature under the guise of Eastern/Egyptian-ish philosophy) Fellwood speculates that the Darkhold’s strange reaction to Carnage’s blood, i.e. that it “possesses” those who are nearby, which Cletus demonstrates on Fellwood’s father, is likely due both to the absence of some kind of “sacred stone” and not having the right page in the Darkhold (which Manny presumably ripped out back in #5). Cletus demands to know where another altar to Chthon might be found, then presumably kills Fellwood after learning that there is another expert on Chthon in Jakarta who might know of such an altar. To be continued. . .
ANALYSIS: While consistently creepy and filled with some good character moments, this issue is the second of two quieter stories, a trend that is causing this book to lose a bit of narrative steam.
This issue also marks the reintroduction of the Midnight So. . . er. . . Gender-Neutrals, comprised of neither Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange, Morbius, Werewolf By Night, nor Blade, the team’s more popular members. While I’m still enjoying Carnage’s unprecedented foray into Marvel’s preternatural corner, this book is becoming less-and-less about Cletus Kasady and more-and-more about the Children of Midnight/Darkhold Redeemers. I’m beginning to wonder if this is actually the book Conway wants to write. Whether or not that’s true, forming an iteration of the Midnight Sons that includes Victoria Montesi, two disposable government agents, a random African girl, Man-Wolf, and Eddie Brock in his least iconic symbiote form is a bit lackluster when compared to the former members of that association. However, Montesi does hint that the current Children of Midnight may include more than just her, so we may yet get to see some of the classic members as a part this group, although that might continue to take the focus further away from Carnage. All things considered though, I’m sure some Spidey fans, including this one, feel that it sure would be nice for Morbius in particular to get another shot at being in print after the train wreck that was his mercifully short lived, ironically Superior-era, most recent ongoing series, especially considering that Conway wrote some of those great early Morbius stories in the 70s. As always it is fun to speculate, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Mike Perkins is continually winning back points with this symbiote fan too. Carnage’s Darkhold redesign is looking less and less like a Hulk-bird and more like Kyle Hotz’s wiry, gory design from Cletus’ first two one-shots: Mindbomb and It’s a Wonderful Life. I still prefer Bagley’s classic look overall, but this is an improvement. And having taken more time with the supporting cast this issue, Perkins’ renderings of these characters continue to become more distinct and show that he is capable of penciling some finely detailed and emotionally varied people, as exemplified by Dixon’s indignance towards the FBI, Brock’s madness, and Montesi’s determination to interrupt the agenda of the Darkhold cult.
And apparently we have a new member of the creative team with this month’s issue. Evidently Nick Lowe has been promoted to “Executive Editor” of the Spider-Books and his old position is now held by Darren Shan. Meanwhile, Devin Lewis still holds the “Assistant Editor” position in this increasingly bloated department. You know, maybe if Marvel didn’t have to pay all of these editors, I wouldn’t have to pay $3.99 for my Spidey books? Funny too that, even with all of these friggin editors, we still don’t get a letters page in most of our comics, so the fans not only have to pay more, but are not given a voice in these books. Is this symptomatic of Marvel’s (as the irrepressible George Berryman puts it) “giant middle finger” to its fanbase? Not trying to be passive-aggressive here, just noting that there’s some funny business going on. I’m currently re-reading my ASM vol.1 Omnibus, and, as evidenced by the letter pages and all those little changes that the early creative teams were willing to do based on the desires of fandom, those guys appeared to like and listen to their fans a bit more than the current regime seems to. To be fair though, there are many more fans nowadays, across many countries, and the Internet does allow that burgeoning fanbase to be much “louder” than it was able to be in the old days. Still, the price of the books, size of the department, and lack of a letters page in most of these issues is still a problem.
With all of this talk about pricing, even this die-hard symbiote fan is starting to question this book’s place on the stands. As much as I am enjoying this particular comic, I wouldn’t mind it being cut for the sake of streamlining Marvel’s publishing line. Perhaps they should focus less on putting out a vast quantity of spin-off titles (looking at you, Spider-Man, Avengers, and X-Men departments) to please this “movie crowd” phantom I’m always hearing about but never seeing, and just focus on making their core titles strong (looking at you, publishing void that was once the Fantastic Four).
Until that stream-lining comes though, I am genuinely enjoying this comic. So, as always, thank you to Gerry Conway, Mike Perkins, and co. for putting this book on the stands for me and my fellow Carnage-fans. See you all later this month for the third part of “Sea Devil.”
above average (a fleshed-out supporting cast and the promise of the impending return of a fan-favorite Marvel team still somewhat stagnate the narrative pace in this latest issue of Gerry Conway’s Carnage)