Overlooked Gems #5: “Carrion”

Today we will be taking a look at Carrion in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN vol. 1 #28-31 by Bill Mantlo, Frank Miller and Jim Mooney from 1979.

Due to the ever growing success and popularity of the Spider-Man character, a second title, PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (later shortened to just THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN), was released near the end of 1976 to coincide with the original flagship series, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

Unfortunately, the title meandered creatively for about the first two years of its publication. Despite having some top-tier talent on the book (Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, Jim Shooter, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney and Mike Zeck most notably), SPECTACULAR was clearly the “B” title with all of the interesting developments occurring over in the “A” title, AMAZING. Even when Bill Mantlo took over the regular writing duties with issue #9, he didn’t exactly have the strongest start (his Brother Power and Sister Sun story arc from issues 12-15 in particular was quite ridiculous).

However, a lot of that began to change with this scene in issue #25 where Mantlo first introduces a new, mysterious villain called (you guessed it) Carrion. Carrion is in the middle of a meeting with a powerful criminal organization known as The Maggia.

This entire sequence is a prime example on how to properly and effectively introduce a new villain. From his ghastly appearance to his wide range of abilities and powers, Mantlo immediately establishes that Carrion is not a foe to be taken lightly. But most intriguing of all, what exactly does Carrion mean when he claims to know Spider-Man even better than he knows himself? And why does he clearly have such a large grudge against him? Like all good mysteries, the answers don’t come immediately (but thankfully aren’t dragged out past their expiration date either like, say, Harry Osborn returning from the grave during Brand New Day. Then again, that “mystery” wasn’t all that interesting anyway).

We next see our enigmatic antagonist in this brief scene from SPECTACULAR #26:

Being in Peter Parker’s apartment raises some serious questions. Does Carrion know that Peter is Spider-Man?

SPECTACULAR #27 reveals that Carrion completely trashed Peter’s apartment, leaving him a creepy, yet cryptic message in the process.

This all but confirms that Carrion knows Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one in the same, as he clearly despises both.

Issue #28 sees Peter return home to witness the wreckage where his friends and the authorities are waiting.

Your apartment getting destroyed doesn’t seem so bad if it means you’ll have that kind of greeting from someone like Mary Jane Watson to look forward to.

Since sleeping in a demolished apartment with a threatening note scrawled on the wall by some kind of psychopath with a clear vendetta against you isn’t the most cozy scenario in the world, Peter’s friend Hector Ayala (a.k.a. The White Tiger) offers to let him stay at his place. Peter agrees and Hector tells him to meet him at the ESU campus library when all of his classes are finished. However, once Peter gets there…

Carrion is waiting for him and reveals that he is indeed aware of his secret identity. Round 1…fight!

Things are looking pretty dire for our hero, but then Hector’s girlfriend, Holly Gillis comes in and…pretty much makes everything worse.

Timing really isn’t Holly’s strong suit.

How will Spidey be able to overcome a foe who is clearly more powerful than he is? And who on Earth are these people that Carrion claims he viciously murdered? The answers await you in the following issues, dear readers…

Aside from the compelling mystery, this story is gripping because of its central villain, Carrion. From start to finish, Carrion is a true threat who remains at least two steps ahead of our hapless hero both mentally and physically. His motivations for hating the wall-crawler are also both compelling and make a surprising amount of sense once finally revealed. Said revelations even make Carrion somewhat pitiable, but never enough to make you feel too sorry for him or remove his menacing edge. As far as first appearances go, this is arguably one of the strongest for a Spidey rogue.

But much like Tombstone, Carrion has unfortunately become less threatening and less interesting with each subsequent appearance. For reasons that I can’t quite fathom, later writers apparently thought that being a ruthless, near-unstoppable menace with extensive knowledge of Spider-Man, as well as an intensely personal loathing of him, wasn’t good enough. So instead, they had some boring graduate student named Malcolm McBride accidentally turn himself into the “new” Carrion with a chemical formula.

But rather than retain any of the core characteristics that made Carrion so effective in the first place, McBride’s version is instead a “lost, lonely soul” tortured by the fact that he can no longer be with his mother.

Give me a break.

To quote JR Fettinger: “Go home home to your momma, ‘Malcolm'”.

In spite of those rather underwhelming future appearances, Carrion was truly one of the most dangerous and menacing foes Spidey had ever faced when he first arrived on the scene.

You can track down the individual issues or look for the Original Clone Saga TPB.

And if you don’t mind colorless comics, this is also a decent choice:

With so many options at your disposal, there’s no reason not to read this…wait for it…overlooked gem.

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(10) Comments

  1. xonathan

    Just to contribute a little to this debate, we've been cloning for decades now (albeit not humans [allegedly]). But our gene therapy science (re-writing someone's genetic code) is still in very early stages. It's like Warren Ellis said once; why would aliens who've mastered faster-than-light travel come all the way to Earth to probe animals and humans? They didn't learn basic biology before mastering interstellar travel? Yeah, that retcon did not make sense at all.

  2. hornacek

    @Joshua - Agreed. The 90s Clone Saga would still have been complicated, but it would have been less complicated if it didn't have to undo all of Conway's retcons (Anthony Serba, Joyce Delaney, High Evolutionary, etc).

  3. Joshua Nelson - Post author

    @hornacek -- It's all the more tedious when you consider the fact that all those changes were completely thrown out the window by the time the 1990s "Clone Saga" rolled around.

  4. AndrewC

    @hornacek, I really don’t understand why Conway thought human cloning was outlandish enough to retcon in a comic starring a dude whose genetic code was completely rewritten by a radioactive spider bite and regularly deals with Gods, sorcerers, aliens and even ghosts.

  5. hornacek

    @JoshuaConway was thinking "You know, that story I wrote years ago where the Jackal cloned Spider-Man, it's too unbelievable that Peter's college professor would be able to clone a human being. I think I'll retcon it so that he didn't actually clone anyone ... and to make it more believable, I'll retcon that the same college professor was also working with the High Evolutionary."

  6. Joshua Nelson - Post author

    @hornacek -- Ah yes, Razorback. What a...character he was.I never understood why Gerry Conway wanted to retcon his original clone concept either. Apparently a college professor creating clones is too far fetched, but concocting a genetic virus that completely alters your DNA and memories is far more plausible. Conway is probably my favorite Spider-Man writer after Stan Lee, but even good writers turn in the occasional dud.@Jack -- Miles Warren's original backstory was just fine for his character: a college professor who is secretly in love with one of his students and goes crazy after she is murdered. All this nonsense with The High Evolutionary and the Miles cult later on only served to weaken the character.@Andre L. Santana -- I'm glad you're enjoying the series, Andre. I also look forward to your next Weblines article.

  7. Andre L. Santana

    Such texts are really enjoyable because they invite newcomers and long-time fans alike to know revisit such stories and characters.Spider-man's history is filled with hidden and overlooked gems. It is a very fun comic to read.Thanks for the text, Joshua.

  8. hornacek

    @jackUp until the 90s Clone Saga, Warren was dead - he was the Jackal that died during ASM #149. Conway's Spec run retconned that Warren had never cloned anyone, just infected people with genetic viruses to turn them into other people and say they were clones of those people.In the 90s Clone Saga, when the Jackal reappeared, he said he was the original Warren, and that the Warren that died in ASM #149 was his clone. He had spent all that time in some science pod where had genetically transformed himself into the current Jackal (i.e. no costume).The Jackal has died a few times since then, but each time he reappears he says he's the real Warren and the previous Jackal that died was just a clone. So as far as we know, the current Jackal is the real Warren and all the previous ones that died were clones.(I'm sure Zach can chime in and correct anything I've gotten wrong or left out)

  9. Jack

    This article motivated me to look up the Wiki article on Carrion. I had no idea that the history of Miles Warren was so confused. It sounds like the original Miles Warren has been dead a long time. Q: Does anyone really know who the current Jackal is? Is it supposed to be the original Dr. Warren? A crazy dupe of Dr. Warren?It seems like current Marvel writers should just pick a few core elements out of Warren's story, and sweep the rest into the trash-bin. Warren was a brilliant geneticist and biologist who developed a sick crush on Gwen Stacy, and blamed Peter for her death. He experimented on himself (turning himself into the Jackal), and he also created the self-replicating Carrion virus.Chalk up the High Evolutionary stuff to a super-villain behaving like a jealous university colleague.

  10. hornacek

    Hard to discuss this without giving away spoilers, but I'll try."his Brother Power and Sister Sun story arc from issues 12-15 in particular was quite ridiculous" Someone is obviously forgetting the awesomeness of Razorback!I like that the Maggia has board meetings with assigned seating where they listen to proposals from anyone coming in off the street.Carrying that pouch, how did anyone at the time not realize that Carrion was a variation of Normal Osborn, as he originally intended? (citation required)In that panel where McBride was infected by the Carrion virus, he should have said "Doctor, my eyes!"In conclusion, Carrion was a great character and this was a great story, but his origin and impact of this story was great affected (and diminished) by the reveal in the 80s that the Jackal had never cloned anyone. Carrion's identity in this story made it personal and meaningful, but that retcon meant that Carrion was just some guy infected by a virus by accident. I never understood why Conway felt the need to explain that the Jackal hadn't cloned anyone (not sure if it was hid idea or a directive from Marvel, but why would Marvel care?). The Marvel universe had monsters, aliens, ghosts, demons, the afterlife, etc - did Conway/Marvel think that readers were still complaining that back in the 70s a supervillain was able to clone someone?

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