Spider-Man Unlimited #1
Issue(s): Spider-Man Unlimited #1
After Kraven's Last Hunt and the Maddog Ward, which back in 1987 similarly crossed between all the Spider-Man titles (although there were only three of them then), Marvel apologized after getting many complaints from readers who didn't want to have to follow all the books to get the full story. But there are no apologies this time, and in fact the format of this crossover is the prototype for what will become standard operating procedure in the Spider titles.
One thing that suffers from this, certainly in this crossover, is the development of Spidey's supporting cast, which has historically been the franchise's strength. The perfect example is Liz Allan. Her husband, Harry Osborn, has just died. And we start here at Harry's funeral. That might have resulted in some time devoted to Liz (and others, for that matter) showing how she (or they) are dealing with that loss. It may not have been handled superbly, but Betty Brant got such treatment after the death of Ned Leeds, for example. But immediately after this issue, Liz snaps into a generic background character role. In fact, she spends the series worrying if Mary Jane is going to be ok since her husband is running around dealing with the events of this crossover. A bunch of supporting characters including Liz wind up getting tossed together during this crossover, and there is no mention of Harry's death the whole time. The plot is too busy racing along juggling sixty super-powered heroes and villains.
I'm not against the occasional all out action story. Eric Larsen did a similar empty calorie storyline during his Spider-Man run, for example, and i quite liked it. But it's one thing when it's a six issue story in one of four Spider-Man books. When it becomes your entire Spider-Man line for 3+ months, it's too much. Add to that the fact that there are not nearly enough twists and developments in the plot to merit this long a story. Aside from characters getting phased in and out, the exact same thing happens in just about every issue here. In fact, i'm very much tempted to save myself some time and cover the majority of these issues by just writing "Spider-Man and his allies fight Carnage and his allies" over and over again.
The story starts with Carnage's civilian identity Cletus Kasady, who has been brought to "Ravencroft, a maximum security institution devoted to the study and incarceration of the criminally insane".
He's been transferred there from the Vault, and he's clearly not being taken very seriously by either facility. He's defined as a serial killer "who used to dress up in some gaudy red costume". The Vault has sent him over with "a clean bill of health" despite an "unexplained anomaly which keeps registering in his blood tests". This is of course ridiculous. I'm perfectly content to suspend disbelief in order to sustain a "world outside your window" status quo for the Marvel universe when we're dealing with ordinary citizens. But the Vault is designed to prevent super-villains from escaping, and it's well aware of Venom. So turning over another guy that had a symbiote while he's got an anomaly in his blood seems incredibly negligent. I should note that it will be said that Carnage's actual symbiote is gone at this time, and that his retention of his powers are thanks to a mutation of his metabolism, but that's a distinction without a difference from a security standpoint (and note that i am still tagging it as "Character"). Super-powered psycho has an anomaly in his blood, you keep him in his cell until you figure out what it is.
As for Ravencroft, i believe that this is it's first appearance. It'll later turn out to have been inspired by Ashley Kafka's success with Vermin, so again it's a program designed with super-villains in mind. At a minimum they should be aware that Carnage was more than a costume. Not a promising start. And so it's no surprise to see that Kasady still has his powers, allowing him to escape.
Note that Carnage makes all the same points that i do. That's actually a common thing for DeFalco to do - have your characters act stupidly and then have someone comment on the fact that they've acted stupidly. I guess we can take is a signal that we shouldn't be looking for anything intelligent in this storyline. I also think it's interesting how enthusiastically DeFalco gets into the voicing for characters that undermine the justice system. We saw the same thing with Bloodaxe in his Thor run. Here, Carnage is saying it's an absolute waste of time to try to rehabilitate criminals. The doctor mouths some naive platitudes and is allowed no rebuttal. It's clear from the bulk of his writing that DeFalco prefers a time when super-heroes punched out bank robbers and brought them to the police station, and he purportedly hated the Punisher-ization of the Marvel universe, but there are times when i'm not so sure.
Carnage massacres his way through Ravencroft, killing inmates, doctors, and guards alike, until he comes across another prisoner that is cheering him on. Intrigued, he releases her, and we're introduced to Shriek.
My suspicion is that Shriek is a leftover intended for Terry Kavanagh's cancelled Cloak & Dagger run, but more on that later. In this issue we just learn that she was put in the asylum by a "really weird dude" who "quite literally -- blew my mind". In terms of her relationship with Carnage, she's the ultimate groupie, and otherwise just as much a cartoon psychopath as he is.
The two later wind up connecting with the Spider-Man Doppelganger, and that's how this series is going to roll. Villains just kind of get swept up into Carnage's little gang with little explanation.
Meanwhile, when Peter Parker and Mary Jane get back from Harry's funeral, Peter promises MJ that he'll give up being Spider-Man for "a week or two". But that promise lasts just long enough for Peter to go out to pick up some food, where he hears about Carnage's escape on the television and immediately goes into action. He winds up in a fight with Shriek and the Doppelganger.
From the above two scans, you can see that both Carnage and Shriek have the same voice. It's DeFalco's Stan Lee impersonation, where Lee had characters like Spider-Man or the Thing making fun of the events going on around them. It's weird when it's the villains making those sorts of comments. Like, are they are point of view characters?
Anyway, Spider-Man knocks out Shriek but gets kicked off a building by the Doppelganger.
The Doppelganger has bonded with Shriek and he takes her to safety rather then pursue Spider-Man. Spidey passes out after the fight.
Meanwhile, Carnage has gone to visit JJ at the Daily Bugle.
The first back-up consists of 22 pages of Spider-Man having a dream about Uncle Ben while knocked out during a fight with the Scorpion. The second features 8 pages of Cardiac fighting Code Blue.
Back-ups aside, at this point i had moderate hopes for the crossover. DeFalco-isms aside, the story so far isn't anything terrible. A lot of it follows a formula inherited from Venom's numerous breakouts, so it definitely wasn't going to be anything original, but it could have been just a big dump action story, which as i said isn't always bad. And Ron Lim is looking maybe a little overworked here but he's still welcome. Things will fall apart almost immediately, though, starting with Carnage's visit to JJ. But that's for part two. The bigger problem is the crossover never seems to end, or even progress.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: This is part one of Maximum Carnage. Part two is in Web of Spider-Man #101. We can assume the Spider-Man back-up takes place before the main story.
Crossover: Maximum Carnage
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
Alright! Let's get the heads rolling!
Posted by: davidbanes | October 26, 2016 11:42 AM
My first experience with Maximum Carnage was the video game for Super Nintendo & Genesis, a decent brawler with a 16-bit metal soundtrack. It's repetitive, but fun.
Eventually, I read the comic arc, which is repetitive and so not fun. Fourteen issues of inconclusive fights with a dumb excuse for a plot.
Anyway, the game's events follow the comics pretty closely, using pages from them for story scenes. A deviation from this first issue is that Spider-Man instead knocks-out the Doppleganger but gets blasted off a building by Shriek.
Posted by: Mortificator | October 26, 2016 12:59 PM
In Italy they have proposed this crossover in a very appropriate solution, extrapolating from fortnightly regular Spider-Man and publishing it in the first four numbers of the new monthly "deluxe". So reading it alongside regular stories was a pleasant all-action interlude. Even at the level of continuity there was virtually nothing really matters anticipated by the later stories.
Posted by: Midnighter | October 26, 2016 1:07 PM
I used to have the Maximum Carnage game for SNES. It had a great soundtrack by Green Jelly and used actual art from the comics for the cutscenes between levels.
As for Maximum Carnage itself, I really enjoyed it as a kid because it ended up being a hero/villain throw-down. It also felt like a much more major storyline because all these heroes like Deathlok and Firestar that Spider-man had teamed up with a lot in the early 90s were coming together to help him fight Carnage, who had been positioned as even more dangerous than Venom.
Posted by: Red Comet | October 26, 2016 2:22 PM
Here in Poland, Maximum Carnage was published in its entirety in the "Spider-Man" monthly book that was a selection of stuff from all of the original American books. As I said, the Polish series was monthly and it featured two standard American issues each month... still, even with that, it took them six months to get through this crossover. Waiting for it to end was dreadful - half a year of Carnage!!!
Anyway, Fnord - are you sure that Ravencroft was introduced in this story? I thought that the earlier New Warriors story with Darkling featured Ravencroft, too?
Anyway, I've never liked Ravencroft... it was an obvious rip-off of Arkham Asylum from Batman books.
Posted by: Piotr W | October 26, 2016 2:36 PM
Darkling was kept at the Smythers Drug Rehabilitation Clinic. As i say, i only "believe" that this is Ravencroft's first appearance, but i haven't noted it anywhere else yet. Dr. Ashley Kafka's appearances would be the obvious place to look but she seemed to work out of a hospital in Manhattan and then a clinic at ESU.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 26, 2016 3:06 PM
Ah, I see. I got the places confused somehow, then...
Posted by: Piotr W | October 26, 2016 4:00 PM
Since we are sharing translation stories here... :D
I think that in the Netherlands Maximum Carnage was published the same way it was in America. After the start of the Clone Saga though, the publisher had gotten so many complaints about the perpetual crossovers, that they decided to put each in a single comic. So 4 issues of the Dutch version of Web of Spiderman might contain what was in America 1 issue of Web, 1 issue of Spectacular, 1 issue of adjectiveless and 1 issue of Amazing. That way you at least had that particular story complete in a single series.
Of course, they still got complaints, because the Clone Saga was an endless stream of crossovers, so you still ended up having to read all 4 series for the full story. So about halfway through the Saga they gave up and started publishing a single monthly Spider-Man comic containing the 4 American series combined.
I'm still surprised it took Marvel till 2008 to follow suit and just collapse all of the Spidey titles in one comic published (almost) weekly.
Posted by: Berend | October 26, 2016 4:04 PM
Maximum Carnage was a 2-part miniseries here in Brazil. Much more convenient that way.
Posted by: Enchlore | October 26, 2016 8:41 PM
Like other commenters here, I always had a fondness for this storyline thanks to the video game. As I got older, I discovered that neither the comics nor the game were as good as I'd thought. I do think that placing Spider-Man in opposition to 90s grittiness has a lot of potential, and we get occasional glimpses of that and other good ideas throughout, but the plot is too unfocused and the writing too inconsistent to really flesh out the idea. This story ultimately makes Spider-Man and his methods look extremely ineffectual.
Posted by: TCP | October 27, 2016 4:28 PM
In regards to DeFalco continually having characters mock what's going on, I found that very enjoyable in the Silver Age comics because generally speaking, the villains continued to speak in pretentious comic book talk, while Spidey did quips ("YOU INSIGNIFICANT GNAT, I SHALL SWAT YOU FROM THE SKY!" "Were you ever vaccinated with a phonograph needle?")--you didn't see this in a lot of other comics, certainly not in the fairly serious style of DC Comics, where heroes were either stone serious or punny. By the time we get to the 1990s, this is the norm in every comic, and we've had deconstructionist takes on all sorts of comics.
Posted by: Michael Cheyne | February 4, 2018 12:29 PM
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