First Impressions – CARNAGE, USA #1 (of 5)

[At the time of this writing, I’m running on zero hours sleep and spent much of the night looking at My Little Pony mods for Team Fortress 2. Now to compound my hampered mental processes via drastic tonal shift from ponies and cartoon violence to psychos and bloody alien symbiotes. Onward to glory!]

Explaining the backstory of Carnage takes some doing, because where it really begins is a few steps removed from the character himself. Being that he’s a Spiderman villain, it fits that the story begins with Spiderman himself. Back in 1984, during Marvel’s Secret Wars event, Spiderman gained a new black costume while on another planet. He swung around in it for a while during the eighties until it was revealed the costume wasn’t a costume at all. It was an alien symbiotic life form that bonded with its host and drove them to follow their baser instincts.

Spiderman drove the symbiote away, which attached itself to rival photographer Eddie Brock. The two shared animosity towards Peter Parker, and so formed Venom. Venom has occupied an interesting place on Marvel comics. Specifically as one of four anti-hero characters that garnered immense popularity with fans, but due to overexposure eventually lost credibility, before eventually normalizing into their own niche. Venom has been a villain, then tried to be a hero with less than stellar results. The mantle of Venom also changed hands, with the symbiote attaching itself to another Spiderman supporting character, and Eddie Brock becoming “Anti-Venom”. We’ll get back to Anti-Venom.

But now I’m getting really off track. Where does Carnage come into the picture?

Well, as this comic is so happy to reiterate for those unfamiliar with Spiderman lore (surprisingly I’m not among them), a serial killer named Cletus Kasady shared a cell with Eddie Brock at one point, when Eddie was separated from the symbiote. However, the symbiote came to bust Eddie out, and left a piece of itself behind. It attached itself to the madman and formed Carnage, the first Venom spawn. Since then, he’s been an even more dangerous threat to Spiderman and society at large.

So then we come to CARNAGE, USA #1. The first in a five part miniseries, Carnage USA follows on the heels of another Carnage storyline in the recent past (which I haven’t read) which ended with Carnage disappearing and everyone, including Spiderman, thinking the villain dead.

Instead, he’s taken root in a small middle American town, with the half-baked plan of using his Symbiote, which has grown considerably larger than was thought possible, to create a “Sovereign Symbiotic State”, and of course take over the world. So Spiderman and a group of Avengers go in to stop him. Except they encounter more than they bargained for. To spoil as little as possible, there are other symbiotes running around, all spawn of Venom or Carnage. And when things get hairy in this issue, the government decides to send them all in.

This issue starts off the limited series spectacularly. Unlike most plots involving villains vying for dominance, this book quickly sets up why the reader should care about the innocent people caught up in ground zero. It paints in rich detail (yet with subtle touches) the kind of crazy that’s at work with Cletus Kasady. The cast of characters get a few little scenes together that create a decent view into the interpersonal dynamics between them. And while I’m not possessed of in depth knowledge of the Spiderman mythos, knowing what little I do know makes the cliffhanger at the end carry heavy weight.

After all, my understanding of the Venom and Carnage spawns is that though conceptually they add layers to the Symbiotic character web, most of them don’t really get to do all that much. So if for nothing else, it’ll be a treat to see them in action.

On the negative side, this is a gorgeous comic. Beautifully drawn and highly distinctive, not to mention photo-realistic. Now, I say it’s a point against it, but only because the art style enhances a quality of the book that might turn off some readers: it’s not a clean book. It’s gritty, with shading and colors that give the air of being in a living world, with all its biological weight attached. And if there’s one thing that Carnage comes off as, it’s as nothing short of a cancer. A cancer that’s long since grown beyond the means of a single body to contain, and has therefore sought to absorb all living things into itself. And believe me when I say Carnage looks like a writhing mass of necrotic, poisoning red flash that just wants to wiggle into everything and make it his.

Needless to say, not a book for the weak of stomach. Certainly more sickening displays exist, by far, but to those not desensitized to such things the experience could be unsettling. So indeed, the writer and artist do their job well here.

At first I was hesitant to purchase this in the first place, basically stumbling upon it because of the unsettling cover. Kudos to the cover artist as well. It got me to read the issue in the first place. And when I did, I’ve found myself reading it a few times over to find even the smallest addition touches to the experience. Most certainly, I’m going to stick with Carnage, USA, and I recommend it to anyone with a strong love of Spider lore and a strong enough stomach.

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