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.
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.
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.
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.