Who doesn’t love apple pie, baseball and symbiotic mass-murdering psychopaths? Sounds like the good old U.S.A. to me.
Few things have pleased me more about the Marvel Universe in the past year than the return of Carnage. Clearly there was a void in my life that could only be filled by an insane, murderous sociopath.
There are some who would discount Carnage completely. They write off the charming serial killer as nothing more than Marvel cashing in on the popularity of Venom. I grew up in the 90’s, which means I think symbiotes are the coolest thing since adamantium claws.
Of course I’m a fan of the hulking, salivating, brutish anti-villain that was Venom. But Carnage really speaks to the cackling megalomaniac inside all of us. Cletus Kasady is an absolute maniac who hardly needs super-powers to be frightening or deadly. He has no sense of right or wrong and he is violence incarnate. He is Freddy Kruger with a symbiote, and that’s why he’s so much fun.
In recent years, there’s been so much switching up of the Venom host that it’s become a symbiotic shell-game. Flash Thompson may be an acceptable Venom, but Mac Gargan was borderline intolerable, completely reducing the character to the most basic of qualities.
Eddie Brock as Anti-Venom has really only worked in Spider-Man stories. To be honest his final appearance in Spider-Island has me hoping that Anti-Venom is gone for good, allowing Brock to finally return as the true Venom. Sorry Flash.
It was not only incredibly refreshing to see Cletus Kasady return as the original Carnage in Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain’s ‘Carnage’ mini-series, but exciting to see the character reappear in Carnage USA.
After escaping from Spider-Man and Iron Man in the last series, Carnage makes his way into the small town of Doverton, Colorado. For some reason, the Carnage symbiote decides to eat all of the cows in the local meatpacking plant. Symbiotes, it seems, are huge fans of steak.
The symbiote grows enormous. It makes its way into Doverton’s water supply and infects all of the residents. Welcome to Carnage USA! Three guesses on who the mayor is.
Of course, when there’s any kind of national security issue in the Marvel Universe, the Avengers are called in. Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hawkeye and The Thing are sent to Doverton to investigate. All of whom are promptly infected by Carnage, save for Spidey, who’s rescued by a group of survivors.
The U.S. government decides to fire up a few contingency plans consisting of operatives who would be immune to symbiotic indoctrination. Scorn (a character introduced in the last series), a spec-ops team who now possess the symbiotes from the Separation Anxiety mini-series, and finally Flash Thompson as Agent Venom (the latest addition to the Avengers) are all dispatched to bring Kasady down. It’s also hinted that Toxin and Anti-Venom might join the fray…but they don’t.
It’s an interesting gimmick for the suit to possess and control all of Doverton’s residents with Kasady as the puppet master, instead of Carnage just spawning a ton of new symbiotes (an angle many times explored in comics and video games).
It never feels out of touch with the nature of the character or the symbiote. However, I simply couldn’t shake how much it reminded me of the Futurama movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs.
The book also has some similarities to the horror film The Crazies. Astute readers may note a similarity between small towns whose populations begins wandering the streets and muttering insanely before becoming homicidal after a formerly controlled government substance enters their water supply.
There’s also a sheriff who leads a band of survivors against the infected on a farm outside of town. I feel like I’ve heard that one before.
We’ll just chalk these bits up as tropes on Wells’ part and nit-picking on my own. To be clear, I freaking loved this series. Wells has written the exact story I would have given access to the Marvel Universe.
Sure, you probably think that symbiote-infected Avengers are so passé at this point, but Carnage shouting out “IT’S MURDERIN’ TIME!” as an infected Thing nearly clobbers Spidey out of existence is pure awesome. Call me a sick individual, but it’s what I like.
Speaking of the king of crazy-town himself, Carnage has never been written quite as well. Most interesting is that Kasady rarely appears with the suit on. He’s usually presented as naked (except for some metal legs) as he sadistically tortures the residents into obeying him and killing one another. You really get the idea that Kasady is beyond being just a villain. He’s crazy, he’s a serial killer and he loves it.
There are also some undercurrents critical of American culture and society. The symbiote devouring massive amounts of beef, an alien indoctrinating established culture, small towns obeying whatever their leader tells them and a government’s desire to control something incredibly dangerous are subtle messages.
One could also draw parallels to American history, as a small group of rebels seek to liberate their land from a tyrant-monarch whose soldiers all wear red. I think that means Spider-Man is George Washington and Venom is the French.
Helping that idea along are Clayton Crain’s superb covers. The first-print limited-series all portray Carnage bastardizing a classic piece of American art. Issue #3 for example, has Carnage in place of George Washington in the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware painting.
While I love the covers, I’m still not sure how I feel about Crain’s hyper-detailed art. While the style does give the story a beautiful sense of contextualization, there are times when the colour-palette and art-style don’t quite jive. Night scenes can be particularly stressful on the eyes.
Make no mistake, these are great books, splattered with rip-roaring bloody-mayhem and dripping-wet with pure unadulterated insanity. I wish I wrote it and I can’t wait for more.
Put simply, CARNAGE RULES!