Amazing Spider-Man #361-363
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man #361,Amazing Spider-Man #362, Amazing Spider-Man #363
David Michelinie writes in the intro to my trade that his original idea was to kill off Eddie Brock in issue #400 and have the Venom symbiote wander around joining with other characters (he suggests Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, and J. Jonah Jameson). But that idea was scratched due to Venom's popularity, so Michelinie's solution was to create a second symbiote, via asexual reproduction. The second symbiote wound up with Eddie Brock's cellmate at the time, Cletus Kassidy. And Michelinie latched on to the idea of having the symbiote bond with a total psychopath instead of Brock, who had a "deep, if twisted sense of justice". Left unsaid, i guess, is that Carnage also became very popular, so we still never got our Symbiote Traveling Pants storyline (although in a couple decades the idea of the Venom symbiote being worn by Spidey villains and supporting cast members will eventually come to fruition).
Carnage's name was originally going to be Chaos, but "a rival company came out with a character by the same name a couple of weeks later". Mark Bagley then suggested the name Ravage, but that only lasted until they found out about the plans for Marvel's 2099 character. So it was assistant editor Eric Fein that suggested Carnage. I think Carnage is a better name than Chaos, but it's worth keeping that original name in mind, since that's what Carnage is really about: true chaotic evil, who has no sensible motivations and just kills people at random.
This isn't totally unique, of course. When Erik Larsen designed Cletus Kassidy, he modeled him after the Joker, and the modern interpretation of that character (i.e. not the Adam West version) was surely the inspiration for Carnage's motives as well.
A series of killings attracts the attention of Peter Parker, who worries that Venom has returned. Mary Jane tries to convince Peter to let the Fantastic Four or the Avengers handle it, but Peter feels responsible since he left Venom uncaptured on the desert island after their last encounter. Researching Brock, Peter comes across reports about his cellmate Kassidy and learns that he's a mass murderer. So that puts him on the right track, and he eventually finds Carnage in the ruins of the orphanage where Kassidy used to live.
Carnage, appropriately, is even more chaotically innovative in the use of the symbiote than Venom.
As with Venom, Carnage does not trigger Spider-Man's spider-sense.
Carnage is about to kill Spider-Man but the arrival of a pair of police officers scare him off (even though it's not clear that they could have done anything, and one of them is critically injured).
Peter becomes obsessed with going after Carnage, which means missing signs that something is wrong with his relationship with MJ.
Peter decides that he has to go to Venom to get help with Carnage. My reaction to reading that was, "What? No! What about MJ's idea to go to the Avengers or the FF?". But Spider-Man does get some help from the Human Torch, at least. They go together to pick up Venom.
After a long fight, Spider-Man is able to tell Venom about the other symbiote, and Venom is willing to listen.
Ooh, a literal "can't... must..." scenario.
Carnage continues his random killing spree back in New York. When the heroes get back, the Human Torch is summoned away by an FF emergency signal, so it's just down to Spider-Man and Venom. Venom can sense the presence of the other symbiote (i guess only within a certain range, since he wasn't initially aware of it), and he leads Spider-Man to Carnage.
Carnage plays on Venom's feelings about protecting innocents...
...and uses the distraction to leave the fight and go after his next chosen target: J. Jonah Jameson.
This is where the "pure chaos" idea of Carnage feels like it gets diluted for standard super-villain stuff. First of all, the idea that Carnage has planned targets feels a little off. But that's explained by the fact that Cletus is annoyed by an anti-crime crusade that JJ has been on. But what's worse is that Carnage doesn't just kill JJ like he's done to everyone else so far. He takes him captive.
Carnage does kill people at random while fleeing with JJ.
Spider-Man figures out that Carnage is taking JJ to a local heavy metal concert, because "headbangers take pride in bucking the establishment". Ha ha ha! What?!
But no, we're very serious about this.
Carnage finds a receptive audience.
Carnage runs, killing more people on the way.
Venom and Spidey catch up with him in the subway.
The third rail doesn't stop Carnage, and Carnage flees back to the concert hall. Carnage had left JJ behind, but JJ wasted time trying to file a news report, so he's been captured again.
But Spider-Man gets to the sound booth and configures it to produce a noise simulating the FF's sonic canon. The sound affects both symbiotes...
...but Venom is able to hold out, and nearly kills Spider-Man. Luckily two of the Fantastic Four show up.
JJ actually tries to give Spider-Man some grief about breaking his word to Venom.
Imagine if Spidey had let Venom go.
At one point in this story, Spider-Man hears that Cletus Kassidy never exercised, and therefore wonders why Carnage seems even stronger than Venom. Venom speculates it's because his own strength was transferred to Carnage.
The final page of this arc shows what seems to be Peter's parents leaving from an airport in (formerly East) Germany.
Here's a random Donald Trump reference for you:
I think Mark Bagley does a great job being imaginative with Carnage's powers, and i like the fact that Carnage has a distinct and scary motivation. I do think that the motivation gets diluted when it comes to JJ, who as far as i can tell only survives because he's an important member of the supporting cast. But Carnage certainly wracks up a body count.
I'm also not so sure about Spider-Man feeling the need to get Venom involved. When you have Mr. Fantastic (with a sonic gun!) and the Human Torch waiting in the wings, do you really need the help of a monster like Venom? I guess you could argue that Venom made it possible to track Carnage down, but did Spider-Man actually know that? And that tracking ability didn't seem to help when they were chasing Carnage after he kidnapped JJ, since Spidey had to guess that he went to the concert.
Anyway, despite a few things that leave me scratching my head, i think Carnage is a good addition to Spider-Man's rogues gallery: a totally psychotic killer. He's definitely a character of his time - the violent 90s - but he brings something new to Spidey's roster of villains. And this was a decent, entertaining story. I will note that any kind of sub-plotting or character development is strictly at the margins. The only sub-plot is the set-up for the story about Peter's parents, and the scene with MJ's cigarettes is the only other thing that happens in these issues that isn't directly related to the main story.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: I've pushed this back in publication time a bit to fit it before the Hero Killer storyline in this year's Spider-Man annuals.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Spider-Man: Carnage TPB
Inbound References (7): show
"Hi, I'm Carnage. I kill people."
I can't help but laugh seeing that line.
And hoo boy...the Parker parents...
Posted by: Ataru320 | February 26, 2016 2:36 PM
The scene at the rock show is like a snapshot version of what would happen to many "normal citizens" during Maximum Carnage, although there it was mostly blamed on Shriek's powers.
As overblown as the character would eventually become, Carnage definitely has a slick design (as does Venom, for that matter) and a sick sense of humor (most likely based on The Joker's). It's not hard to see why he became so popular. Even now, he still has potential - the current Carnage series by Gerry Conway has been very enjoyable so far.
One thing I sometimes wonder about -- Mark Bagley is credited with Carnage's symbiote design, but you see enough of him in ASM #360 to make me wonder what role, if any, Chris Marrinan may have played in creating the look. It's probably just a case of Bagley having already designed the character, though.
Posted by: TCP | February 26, 2016 2:53 PM
That Carnage design rly is fantastic in the sense that it conveys eggazactly who the character is.
The Venom team-up makes no sense and just makes Peter cum off as uncharacteristically dumb. 'I'll staph one psychopathic murderer by adding another into the equation. How could it fail.' It makes even less sense when btw the Human Blorch and the sonic gun he has everything he needs to staph Kasady.
As for Venom's strength levels, i lean toward the Millar theory that it's fueled partly by the wearer's own strength level but mostly by hate. It would explain why Peter's own strength was only minorly augmented while wearing the symbiote, whereas Brock's rage for Peter fueled it enuff to outmuscle Spidey, and Carnage's total hard-on for humanity empowers him even further than that.
As for Peter's "parents", that was forced on him by Fingeroth. Who let it not be forgotten was the same guy who shoved Stern out the door as well as McFarlane and and eventually Michelinie himself, not to mention whomever else he prolly pissed off.
Posted by: JC | February 26, 2016 4:06 PM
As far as I'm concerned, the "parents return" storyline is sort of the prologue to the Clone Saga.
fnord, it wasn't an old apartment building where Spidey first fought Carnage; it was the ruined orphanage he grew up in, St. Estes (which will reappear in a few other Carnage stories).
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 26, 2016 4:47 PM
Carnage is as 90s EXTREME as they come, basically taking the Venom concept and amping it up by turning him into a straight up serial killer. Venom himself, by comparison, was just a boring regular murderer.
It was in vogue at the time to use serial killer villains thanks to films like Silence of the Lambs and the high profile real life case of Jeffrey Dahmer.
To be fair to Marvel, it made perfect sense to create Carnage to be the new villainous symbiote since they were slowing turning the mega popular Venom into more of a Wolverine type anti-hero. It worked too because this stuff came out when I was a kid and I loved it.
Incredible action scenes by Bagley like always.
Posted by: Red Comet | February 26, 2016 5:49 PM
Carnage is less a serial killer than a slasher movie villain; even the name suggests the stereotypical villains of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | February 26, 2016 7:33 PM
Also, fnord, I disagree that Carnage finds a "very receptive audience." Only that one psycho with the knife agrees. Once everyone else realizes he's for real, and not just part of the show, they disagree with him and his philosophy, like that brown-haired guy in the scan.
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 26, 2016 9:12 PM
Carnage is described as a serial killer even in his first appearance in Amazing #344. Fnord posted a scan of it in his write-up on that issue.
Posted by: Red Comet | February 26, 2016 10:27 PM
Alas, this is really the only good Carnage-centered story there is, and depending on your mileage the last good Venom one too. After this things went downhill fast for both characters, imo.
Posted by: MegaSpiderMan | February 26, 2016 11:21 PM
Maximum Carnage is indeed terrible, but I think the Carnage story in Annual #28 following it is pretty good.
Posted by: Mortificator | February 26, 2016 11:42 PM
Carnage has a fantastic design, does indeed add something new to Spidey's rogues gallery and could, if done right, be very, very creepy.
Unfortunately, things already go off the rails halfway through this story. Venom shouldn't be in this, or at the very least should've come of his own accord after he sensed the new symbiote. The kidnapping JJJ and the rock concert bits are just stupid.
Off course, this does highlight the problem with having an indiscriminate killer in an ongoing book. JJJ has plot armor, so you can't really kill him. To really stick to Carnaga's shtick you have to either keep him away from the established supporting cast, or find a character you're willing to sacrifice. Never really works out in ongoing comics in my opinion.
I do like the moment with Spidey and JJJ talking about Cap.
As for the Parkers returning... honestly, that plot is far stupider than the Clone Saga in my opinion. At least that had an interesting idea at the basis of it. Pete's parenst should've just been forgotten about.
Posted by: Berend | February 27, 2016 3:45 AM
I bought the first issue of this and liked the creepiness of the tone, and the "extra powers" this symbiote had (as shown in the scans of the first fight above) seemed a smart idea. But I only flicked through the second issue in the shops, decided the rest of the story seemed bland, so I didn't buy it and never found Carnage particularly interesting again. (That said, I'd only found Venom interesting in his first 2 stories in the McFarlane era.)
I laughed at the scan of Spider-Man deducing that Carnage must be at a metal concert because that's where enemies of society go, and was relieved to see the later scan where Venom sets up that Carnage was a fan of metal music. I don't know why they didn't just have Spidey saying "you said he was a big fan of metal music, maybe he's at that concert" instead, it would have been less ridiculous.
The bringing back the parents seemed a terrible idea so I never picked up those comics either. Michelinie says editor Danny Fingeroth forced him to bring back the parents: "I felt a little like I was writing his stories and not mine. The whole parent thing was difficult because he couldn't or wouldn't tell me where it was going: he wouldn't even tell me if they were really his parents or not. I didn't know if they were robots, aliens or clones! Neither did Danny. He just hadn't figured it out." He goes on to say that after Salicrup left it became less fun, that he wasn't enjoying himself or writing the stories he wanted to write, and in retrospect wishes he'd left earlier, as "the last year or so was not my best work". Without being harsh, I do think my overall image of his run would be more positive if he'd left at this point. I did enjoy his run at the start, but I was increasingly uninterested, I don't think I picked up any of the rest of his run past this point.
Posted by: Jonathan | February 27, 2016 5:24 AM
I agree with Mortificator about the story in Amazing Annual 28 was pretty good, since it actually adds a little more depth to Cletus Kasady than this story and Maximum Carnage led us to believe there was.
I won't go into detail too much right now; I'll wait till fnord gets to it (1994, which isn't extremely far off).
Posted by: mikrolik | February 27, 2016 11:01 AM
Let me say that: I absolutely detest Carnage. He's absurdly violent and just disgusting. Also, he's overpowered while lacking any interesting motivation, which means that all he could do in a story is run around and murder random people. Not really interesting... He could work as a one-time menace, but not as a recurring villain. I think that "Maximum Carnage" proves that.
Also, I absolutely detest the idea of making Venom in an anti-hero. In his first appearances, he was clearly a disturbed murderer - how many cops had he killed, for once? Redeeming him in any way is just tasteless. Not to mention, it also makes him less interesting...
Posted by: Piotr W | February 27, 2016 4:45 PM
Carnage is described as a serial killer even in his first appearance in Amazing #344. Fnord posted a scan of it in his write-up on that issue.
That is indeed what the script calls him. But in temperament and behavior, he's much closer to a slasher movie villain. And for that matter, Freddy Krueger and Michael Meyers are both serial killers per their backstories; the two ideas aren't incompatible, despite my earlier suggestion to the contrary.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | February 27, 2016 5:15 PM
I remember this arc well and as a 7 year old, I loved these issues to pieces, literally. My initial copy of 361 fell apart. Looking back at it and re-reading this story, this Carnage character isn't so much a character than a murdering plot device. Sure he talks to his teddy bear like it's a real honest to God person, and his design is so iconic and mesmerizing in it's horrific crimson blood red details, but there was nothing to make him interesting beyond the serial killer ripoff, which becomes bland in the second issue.
Posted by: Darren | February 28, 2016 10:23 AM
These issues are special to me in that they mark the point in which I began to disconnect from Spider-Man. With the coronation of Venom as an antihero, it was clear that I was no longer the demo Marvel was aiming for.
But more importantly, the characterization of Peter in these issues felt...off to me. Not seeking help from the Avengers or FF; Cutting off MJ as she attempts to share what's bothering her (This is the guy who fights off an attack by the Vulturions while going after Aunt May's hat?); Going to Venom of all people for help. "Put'er there, partner!" Remind me again just how many people this guy has murdered?
I held on until the Clo...well, I won't go there. We'll get there soon enough. But suffice to say, these issues are a sad point for me.
Posted by: Haywerth | February 28, 2016 10:56 AM
fnord, this story was also reprinted as part of the "Vengeance Of Venom" TPB.
Posted by: Thanos6 | March 17, 2016 6:49 AM
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