Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain couldn’t leave well enough alone. Maybe you didn’t know, but in New Avengers #2 Carnage came to an end. His untimely death came at the hands of Sentry who flew him outside the earth’s atmosphere and ripped him in two (never saw Superman do that!). We all presumed that was the end of the Carnage symbiote, Cletus Kasady, and the rampant murderin’ that the two of them got down to. However, we were wrong. We’re covering two 5-part series today, so this one is going to be double the fun!
Prologue: You’ve Been Warned
Wells and Crain released Carnage, a 5-part series, with issue #1 in October 2010. It was followed up by December 2011’s Carnage USA #1, the first of another 5-part series. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge Carnage fan, so I was very excited to sit down and see what these two twisted individuals had come up with. The first thing I noticed (well, not quite first): these comics come with a warning.
You just read Carnage #1. It is a book with Carnage—a murderous, parasitic symbiote from another planet. It also stars Spider-Man and Iron Man (who you will recognize from movies) and a lot of violence (which you will also know from movies).
If you’ve already read the issue, I can assure that this is about as sane as it gets. The next 4 issues are nuts and may drive us all out of comics. So turn back now if you must. I’m sure there are much less hostile comics somewhere on the rack near this one. (May I suggest Marvel’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey?”)
The above are each excerpts from the respective first issues. You come upon them after you’ve finished the comic, and they basically tell you to buckle up. It’s good that they appear afterward, because it would be a shame for someone to get scared off before finding out just how crazy, fun these comics are going to be. With that being said, on to Act 1!
Act 1: Carnage
Issue one begins with narration from our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man while we get a first person view of some cross-city web slinging. These two elements, however, are not connected, because the view we are seeing is actually Doppelganger (ah, the old switch-a-roo) chasing a van (presumably filled with toys… no, not really). Why is it chasing a van? We don’t know. What we do know is what Tony Stark is up to; he’s at a medical supply expo being shown some pretty sophisticated looking prosthetic limbs (foreshadowing!). Meanwhile, Doppelganger, not known for his subtlety, causes a large scene, requiring both Ironman and Spider-Man to suit up and get down to business. This is the set up for Carnage, and Wells and Crain’s goal is to keep you guessing the whole way through with twists and turns. For the most part they accomplish this, but their ability to surprise diminishes as the issues wear on.
Doppelganger is a fun blast from the past for someone who hasn’t really read Spider-Man since the Maximum Carnage series. In fact, anyone who loved that particular story arc should definitely pick up this book, because Wells and Crain draw a lot of inspiration from the story and even seem to be continuing it in this Carnage series. Their knowledge and love for that particular piece of Spider-History is evident. Fade to black; queue up the score, and on to Act 2!
Act 2: Carnage USA
Carnage USA picks up where Carnage left off (albeit some time has passed) and is not a direct continuation, so we can discuss Carnage USA without spoiling Carnage. A strange thing is happening at the Doverton, Colorado meat packing plant. Kasady is there, and his symbiote is feasting on cow parts (uh… yum?). Using the energy from the food, the suit grows larger and larger until Carnage’s reach can span the city. This spells trouble for the citizens of quiet Doverton, who soon find symbiote coming through the drains.
As it turns out, the military has been watching for Carnage to pop up, and they deploy The Avengers, in this case Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hawkeye, and The Thing, to take care of business. Things quickly go awry, however, when the newly empowered Carnage possesses The Avengers (save Spider-Man). This shot got me kind of excited:
Wells and Crain again try to use twists and turns to keep you guessing, however this book doesn’t function as well in that regard as the Carnage 5-part series. It is however, somewhat more exciting visually (and we’ll talk about that in a second). In fact, the covers to these issues are absolutely stunning, playing off of classic American imagery, and really deserve a slow-clap. All in all I found this to be the more enjoyable of the two series, even if it was slightly more predictable.
Epilogue: The Books
Zeb Wells does the writing in these two series, and he has a head for interesting plot lines. As I mentioned, the Carnage 5-part series experiences several twists and turns that I didn’t expect (so hopefully you won’t either) and kept me wanting to read more. I was very glad that I was reading the issues after the run had finished instead of waiting 2 months for the next to come out.
Included at the beginning of each issue in both series is a recap, and it’s a good thing they include them. My one complaint with the series is that plot development can be somewhat convoluted. There were several occasions where I found out something I had completely missed in the previous book by means of the recap. One such example is the Carnage symbiote devouring the cow parts and the effect that has on the suit. Not only did I not realize the suit was eating the parts, but I also didn’t know that the eating had made the symbiote bigger. Since the bigger suit plays into the story, it was kind of a key point to miss.
Clayton Crain makes the art happen, and he has a specific aesthetic that he keeps throughout the entire two series. The images look digitally made, and the goal isn’t pristine images, but messy ones. You can certainly see the evolution of the art between the two series. Personally, I felt that Carnage USA’s artwork was not only better but also more visually appealing. The Carnage series uses too dark of a palette for my taste, which I feel detracts from the story as well as making some images difficult to comprehend. Conversely, Crain opts for a lighter palette in Carnage USA, and I think this serves him well. The aesthetic is still present, but the images come across crisp and vibrant instead of muddy. The visual impact plays a big part in making Carnage USA so great. Kudos to Crain for making good choices.
All in all, both series are extremely enjoyable. They posses interesting artwork and original stories and are definitely worth your attention. While Carnage USA is more the star of the two (in my opinion), you should read them together to get the fullness of the story and if you really want to get the big picture, go back and read Maximum Carnage too.
~ Tim Jenkins ~
Letter From The Editor: Tim is right to suggest reading Maximum Carnage as it was a big part of many of our comic book journeys. Maximum Carnage spans multiple titles and you can get it collected for only $17.99. If you want to read Carnage: Family Feud, you can find it collected in a hardcover edition for $14.99. Finally, Carnage: USA is easy to purchase in hardcover format for $14.99 and these are all available at Instocktrades.com. Also, keep an eye out for the upcoming “Minimum Carnage” series which was recently announced at SDCC 2012. Ifanboy.com has the coverage of it here.