WRITER: Gerry Conway
ARTIST: Mike Perkins
COLOR ARTIST: Andy Troy
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Sabino
COVER by Michael Walsh
EDITOR: Darren Shan
EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Nick Lowe
STORY (with commentary): Man-Wolf rages through the jungle as the supporting cast pursues Carnage to the Chthonic altar.
During one of the quieter moments, Victoria takes time to tell Manny her backstory. Basically, she’s from a line of people who fought Chthon, but when her father was infertile he used Darkhold magic to conceive Victoria which resulted in her getting impregnated with Chthon (like ya’ do). They share a tender moment (called it) before the fighting breaks out again. The Broodlings knock Brock out before he can turn into Toxin, but Man-Wolf shows up and makes short work of the Broodlings. This time, however, when Singh tries to talk John down, Man-Wolf rabbits and, compelled by some unknown instinct, finds his way to the Chthonic temple at the heart of the island (hmm… Could there be a connection between the Moonstone fragments in John’s blood and the Darkhold? Interesting). The rest of the crew follow Jubulile, the Human Carnage-Tracer, to the temple and manage to crack the Moonstone (mistakenly called the “Star Stone”) to bring John back. But, it seems to be only a matter of time before Man-Wolf comes back as John is losing control…
Meanwhile, Carnage and Raze go deep into the temple. Carnage has apparently developed a deeper connection with the Darkhold as the book is apparently “speaking” to him, enabling Kasady to read the runes within it. They find a Broodling named “Obrien,” who identifies as the last male of his line and, therefore, the high priest of their order (Ha! I’ve been joking that these lizards are basically Gerudo, but seriously, here’s the one male Broodling we’ve seen and he turns out to be the head of their cult?! Ganondorf rip-off much?). Before he and his toadies can attempt to sacrifice Carnage again, Cletus finally gets wise to Conway’s formula and attacks the priests, intending to sacrifice them and raise Chthon.
To be continued…
ANALYSIS: I had a progression of responses to this issue, which was nice actually: I’ve been so jaded by middling-to-poor comics of late that they typically don’t get anything out of me but apathy. I went from exasperated (“Another issue focusing on one of the supporting cast: can we please move this along?”), to slightly interested (“Huh. What’s going on with John?”), to intrigued (“Oh, OK, cool! So the continued resurgence of Man-Wolf does have something to do with the story. Finally, Carnage is being proactive against this cult.”). Taking another issue to focus on one of the characters, at this point, is getting to be a pretty big gamble. And while I don’t think the creative team hit a homerun with this issue (sorry for the mixed metaphor), it certainly wasn’t another swing-and-a-miss. While I would like for this story to be brought to a climax already, I didn’t mind getting some of the character developments we got in this issue.
I’m worried, however, that after 15 issues of build-up, the battle with Chthon himself is going to be wrapped up in an issue. I haven’t seen Carnage in the solicits for February, Conway is working on Renew Your Vows (not that he isn’t capable of writing multiple books a month, e.g. 70’s Marvel comic books, but that’s beside the point: Go Buy That Book!!), and Eddie Brock and Carnage are both set to appear in the new Venom book. Carnage might be getting cancelled folks (shocker, I know). But still, that’s a lot of build-up for little pay-off if Conway doesn’t knock things out of the park with that last issue. I hope this book doesn’t fizzle out in the end.
And boy, Man-Wolf’s inner-monologue sure was eloquent for being the thoughts of a feral beast. All those thoughts of relishing the thrill of the hunt, poetically observing things like the ‘foliage whipping his shanks,’ and the use of big words like ‘insatiable’ made me think that these were Jameson’s thoughts. But then, later in the issue, Conway’s writing suggests that Man-Wolf and Jameson are two separate entities. It’s a bit of a niggling point, but one that took me out of the issue.
Another interesting turn here though is Cletus’ growing attachment to the Darkhold. It seems like Chthon’s will is becoming Cletus’ will, much like Cletus’ will became the symbiote’s will. Kasady keeps thinking that this “Red Slayer” prophecy is what makes him, not him and his symbiote, special. Just desserts. I hope we get to see more of a battle of wills between Cletus and Chthon in the finale. Who’s the more determined, the ancient evil or the madman?
CONWAY’S OCCULT CORNER: Some cases of extraordinary demonic activity are exacerbated by an attachment to a cursed object. In Carnage’s case, it’s the Darkhold:
“But the more I look, the more these scratches make sense. Like the book’s talking to me.”
In some cases, this attachment can be so severe that it replaces one’s attachment to loved ones. Isolation makes for easier pickings. However, Cletus isn’t really attached to anyone but his symbiote, so it’s interesting how Kasady’s dependence on the Darkhold is supplanting his dependence on the alien (which would have made for an interesting conflict if the creative team were aware that that’s what they’re putting in this comic: the symbiote vs. the Darkhold. Whom does Cletus love more? Oh well, I doubt they’re mindful of this. Missed opportunity). The attachment progresses as the spirit driving it weeds its way through the personality of the victim, blurring the distinction between the two, which we also see on display with Carnage – he’s losing himself to Chthon. And, what’s more, Carnage’s case could be one of “perfect possession,” which requires little to no deception on the part of the demon. The demoniac welcomes the possessing spirit with a completely open heart, relishing in the (false) power and sadistic opportunities it offers, much as Kasady did with the symbiote so long ago.
My gratitude on behalf of my symbi-bros here at the Crawlspace to Gerry Conway, Mike Perkins, and the creative team for putting this book out for us to read and discuss. See you all after Christmas for the concluding chapter of “What Dwells Beneath.”
Above average (a sacrifice [no pun intended] of plot progression for the sake of character development, which, for this reviewer, is usually [not always] a welcome thing, even if the story feels like it’s been spinning its wheels for about 9 issues)