Venom was certainly making himself known in late 2004. Not only did he have his ongoing series and his role in Marvel Knights Spider-Man, but Marvel decided to give him top billing in yet another miniseries! This time, we got Venom/Carnage, or Venom vs. Carnage. At least, the latter is how it appeared in the solicits, but the former is how it shows up in the book. I mean, I guess the slashed one makes it easier to type, but adding “versus” makes anything sound cool. Would people be that interested in “Freddy/Jason” or “Aliens/Predator”? No. Not at all.
Venom/Carnage came out in September, 2004, only weeks before the Venomous storyline, which would seemingly kill off Eddie Brock and make Mac Gargan the new Venom. A couple months later, Carnage would be flown into space and torn in half by the Sentry in the pages of New Avengers. So why would they be making a miniseries about these two characters who are about to be changed so radically? Why, it would be for an introduction!
The series is written by Peter Milligan with the art by Clayton Crain. Crain’s style is very unique, looking like an ultra-glossy wax museum made of CGI. His human characters can look very off at times, but when someone’s face is covered and they’re in costume, they look pretty rocking. This goes double for the symbiote characters, such as Venom and Carnage on that above cover. The symbiotes get by on being made to look cool and this guy makes them look cooler, so give them a minseries, why not.
From writing up these articles and having to reread these stories, I think I’ve noticed a hiccup in the storytelling process. In the Spider-Man story The Hunger, it ends with the Venom symbiote saying that it’s pregnant. Daniel Way’s Venom series ends with Venom becoming a huge monster that’s meant to unleash some kind of world-ending output that can’t be described. My own educated guess would be that Toxin, the character this installment is about, was meant to be that offspring. Only, Peter Milligan was plotting Venom/Carnage and thought, “Eh… fuck it, we’ll make it Carnage’s kid.”
By page one, we’re already in the thick of things with a big Venom vs. Carnage fight along the rooftops. The two converse between blows, showing that this dialogue is between the symbiotes only. From the fight, we can see that Carnage is pregnant and is about to give birth asexually. It feels disgusted by it and wants nothing more than to kill the child. Venom explains that the baby is part of the thousandth generation of symbiotes and although it is natural for a symbiote father and symbiote son to hate each other, outside of that, the race has a tendency to look out for each other. This, said by the guy who committed genocide on his own people. Though Carnage has the natural instincts to hate his child like he and Venom hate each other, Venom feels the need to protect the youngin and mentor it.
There’s another continuity error brought into this situation. As you may remember, there was that story during Howard Mackie’s run where Venom visited Carnage, absorbed his symbiote and became more powerful than ever. I mean, you only remember it because you’ve been reading We Care a Lot and probably wouldn’t otherwise, but still. It happened. Cletus Kasady was without a symbiote until fighting Spider-Man in the Negative Zone. There, he by complete chance found a symbiote that looked exactly like his old one and acted like nothing happened.
In other words, this whole bloodline deal doesn’t make sense.
Carnage strangles Venom with a piece of his costume and throws him to the streets below. He scrambles around and then digs into the sewer, hoping that maybe he can resist the birth, like a pregnant woman crossing her legs.
Moments later, there’s a huge underground explosion. It’s possible that Carnage tried to kill its son in a fire, but from Venom’s inner-dialogue, it seems that by resisting the process, Carnage went off like a landmine. A group of police officers run to the scene and Carnage advances on the closest one. The birthing process has taken too much out of him, but he is able to insert the symbiote into the cop – which the officer barely even seems to register – and escapes with a warning that he’ll be back to finish the job.
Elsewhere, we see the other characters in our story. Felicia Hardy hangs out at an art exhibition, only to steal a painting after Carnage’s explosion causes the power to go out. Venom senses that there is a new symbiote on Earth and promises to do what he can to protect it. Meanwhile, Spider-Man is made aware that Venom is in town and is up to something.
We then get to know the police officer a bit better. His name is Patrick Mulligan and…
Wait. Pete Milligan creates a character named Pat Mulligan? Oookay, then.
Anyway, Pat’s wife Gina is 9 months pregnant and is ready to pop. Mulligan mulls over how hard things are as a police officer in a comic book world. His father had to deal with the usual brand of criminal, but Pat has to deal with monsters like Carnage. He and his wife argue over whether to name their baby Patrick Jr. or Eddie, only they’re interrupted by another Eddie. Venom corners Pat and finds out about his upcoming son.
Spider-Man steps in from the window, fights Venom and tells the other two to get out while they can. Once the Mulligans are gone, Venom explains himself to Spider-Man. They’re on the same side this time.
The Mulligans try to escape, only for Carnage to grab Pat and throw Gina down a stairwell. Spider-Man is able to save Gina by breaking her fall with some webs and Venom tries to stop Carnage. Once again, he’s overpowered and tossed away. With Gina going into labor on the ground floor, Carnage looms over Pat on a rooftop and gets ready to kill both Pat and his baby parasite.
The beginning of the second issue confuses me.
Hold up! Carnage just threw Gina down the stairwell! Neither of them have any idea that Spider-Man saved her. What the fuck?
Anyway, remember how Black Cat had stolen that art piece? As we find, she did it for a friend of hers, the artist himself, who mistakenly sold off the piece for a low price. They’re nearby the whole Carnage/Pat situation and Black Cat tries to help. I should also note that she’s wearing probably the sluttiest incarnation of her outfit. It’s so low-cut on the front and back that it goes down below her navel. She must be wearing layers of spirit gum under that garb.
Even though Carnage had talked about tearing Pat to pieces to get to the baby symbiote in the previous cliffhanger, he instead tosses him off the rooftop. Black Cat saves Pat, but then gets caught by Carnage. She tries to fight him off, but thankfully Venom comes back in and tackles Carnage away. Through the dialogue and narration, Black Cat admits to having no idea who Venom and Carnage are. You know, despite the time Venom roughed her up and being involved in that whole Maximum Carnage situation.
Venom and Carnage maul each other through the city, with Venom explaining his plan. He will raise his grandson – who he names Toxin – to join him as an ally against Spider-Man.
“No way. Can’t have no child of mine living, liable to come back and hurt me. Anyway, you know my feelings about single parents.”
“You don’t have feelings, Carnage. Just insane urges to destroy.”
“You gotta problem wid that?”
“Only when it comes to Toxin.”
Venom has Carnage run over by a subway train, which is justice in itself for the time Carnage did this years before.
Good times, good times.
The next day, Pat looks at his new baby son Edward in the hospital, proud, though disappointed that he couldn’t be there for the birth. Spider-Man had sent them flowers and balloons, though we see him swinging around the city, thinking about how according to Venom, Pat is now a symbiote host. He needs to keep an eye on them. Venom sits on a rooftop, ready to protect Pat at a moment’s notice, but underground, the surviving Carnage knows that Venom can’t play babysitter forever.
Several days later, Pat is back on the job. During a shootout, he’s able to hustle away from the bullets just in time, showing that he’s got a boost of speed in him all of the sudden. He’s confused, but a bit scared over what’s happening.
He and his fellow officers are told about the art theft situation. The power came on and the cameras caught one frame of the burglar. The frame was Black Cat’s rear end, which married man Pat recognizes. He finds the artist and forces him to call Black Cat over. The artist, feeling awkward, decides to leave for a bit. Black Cat attempts to talk her way out of the situation, especially with how she saved Pat’s life and he owes her, but he refuses to waver since he’s an honest cop and the law is the law. She tries to simply knock him out, but he effortlessly blocks all of her attacks and gets concerned over his newfound skill.
He admits that not all of this is about arresting her. He has no idea what’s going on with him and needs one of those super-types to explain the whole monster concept to him. Black Cat doesn’t know anything about the symbiotes, but a card-carrying member of the family walks in. Cletus Kasady throws the dead body of Black Cat’s artist friend at her feet and goes into Carnage mode.
Black Cat can’t hold her own and Pat’s bullets don’t do any damage, but that’s when the symbiote within finally makes itself known. To Black Cat’s horror, Pat transforms into a monster.
He looks like if Black Costume Spider-Man starred in a remake of Carrie.
Funny little aside: There’s this book that came out several years ago called Spider-Man’s Secrets Revealed, put together by a third party publisher. It’s filled with basic info on Spider-Man and all of his major villains. When it gets to the Carnage profile, they show that above picture of Toxin instead. Whoops!
Toxin throws Carnage around like a rag doll and tosses him into the distance. Venom looks on, but decides to leave, as the baby is strong enough to fight for itself. Once Carnage regroups, he decides to call it a day and leave. Black Cat and Pat talk over what just happened. Pat is horrified at what he’s become and Black Cat blackmails him so that she won’t tell anyone about his new situation if he doesn’t arrest her. Being an honest cop, Pat doesn’t know what to do, but Black Cat insists that he has to be more flexible.
The next day, Pat decides that Black Cat is right. He uses his senses to track down the apartment where Cletus Kasady is hiding out.
I am one of those believers in the idea that there isn’t so much a thing as a bad character as there is bad writers. Really, that is the crux of this entire series of articles. It’s just that some characters are harder to write well than others. Take Carnage, for instance. The guy is considered a lost cause by many, which is why nobody had a problem with his death other than a couple rambunctious 13-year-olds.
Peter Milligan actually takes a second to give Carnage a scene that makes him almost interesting. He kind of pulls it off. After all these years, they never really pushed the idea that Carnage is a two-minded individual. Kasady is so bloodthirsty that he and his symbiote have never really disagreed. There’s no conflict, like with what Venom is familiar with. So what exactly is a conversation between the two like?
Carnage senses his offspring and they fight again. This time he lets it slip that Venom deemed the symbiote “Toxin”. Toxin overpowers Carnage and prepares to kill him before he can make another attempt on his life. The problem is, he can’t do it. He can’t give in to killing in cold blood. He swings away to rethink things.
That night, he can’t sleep and instead wonders how he’s supposed to protect his wife and baby when he himself is the thing they should be afraid of. As he ponders that, Venom and Carnage reach a parlay. Venom had plans for Toxin to be his right-hand man and help him kill Spider-Man, but after seeing him spare Carnage’s life, he’s alarmed.
I should bring up that in this entire miniseries, they never mention Eddie Brock nor show Venom with the symbiote retracted. At the time of this issue, Venom is appearing in THREE different series: Venom, the Venomous story arc in Marvel Knights Spider-Man and Venom/Carnage. In Venom, Eddie Brock totally loves the fact that he’s Venom and thinks it’s the best thing ever. In Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Eddie wants nothing to do with the creature and is trying to redeem himself by selling it off for charity. Then in Venom/Carnage, he’s completely braindead and silent.
Three different depictions of the same guy in the same month. This is even worse than what DC did to Cassandra Cain Batgirl over the past couple years. Can you blame me for feeling relief when Eddie decided to slash his own wrists?
Back to Toxin, Pat decides that maybe he can control it by using its efforts for good. He burrows through the ground at a bank robbery and shrugs off every bullet fired at him.
Toxin is angry that they killed a police officer and talks about all the horrible brain-eating things he’s going to do to them. Fittingly, whenever Toxin seems to be Pat-minded, his mouth is closed like Spider-Man. Whenever the symbiote has control, the teeth and tongue are showing. Well, the tongue is wrapped around one poor sap’s neck and the teeth are ready to burrow into his skull.
But Toxin decides to simply arrest them at the last second. Spider-Man shows up, admitting that he was watching the whole thing unfold and is glad to see that Toxin has things under control.
The next day, they hold the funeral for Black Cat’s dead artist friend. Pat meets Black Cat there, as he feels responsible. Under the cover of the pouring rain, Venom and Carnage lash out at the two. Elsewhere, Spider-Man’s spider-sense goes off, even though this very miniseries made it a point that that doesn’t work on symbiotes. I get that you can gloss over Black Cat knowing who Venom and Carnage are, but at least show some coherency in your own goddamn story!
The Venom and Carnage dialogue is a blast as they take apart the newborn.
“He’s only young,” Venom says, slugging Toxin.
“A scrap. A pea-pod. A nothing.”
“So think how tough, how strong, how otherwise formidable he’ll be when he grows.”
“Which is why we cannot let him grow.”
“He can never be allowed to feel the chafe of long pants. Metaphorically speaking.”
“Whatever the hell that means.”
“Didn’t they teach you anything in school?”
“School? I didn’t go to no school.”
“Right. You’re an autodidact.”
“Get outta here! I’m self-taught, man!”
“Why do I have the awful feeling I’m killing the wrong symbiote here?”
Black Cat makes an attempt to talk them down, which certainly doesn’t work, but it does stall them enough for Spider-Man to show up and start brawling. Spider-Man’s no match for either, but seeing his friend in danger causes Toxin to get his second wind. Almost Hulking out in a way, he proceeds to overpower both Venom and Carnage, ranting all the while about all the shit he’s had to deal with recently. Venom and Carnage run off with their tails between their legs, leaving Pat to realize that they’ll be back again and again. Which is funny, since they won’t. One’s dead and the other’s since moved into a new direction.
A pep talk from Spider-Man and Black Cat makes Pat believe that he can balance all of this insanity. He loses that belief once he’s home and he finds his baby son sucking on a dead man’s finger that fell into his clothes during the cemetery fight. It makes him realize that he’s a very danger to his family and tells his wife that he’s leaving them. He can’t say why, but pleads with her not to hate him for it.
The final page shows Pat walking down a dark alley, deciding that he needs to control this creature and use his powers to be good, much like his hero Spider-Man.
It has its flaws, but I enjoyed the hell out of the miniseries. Other than all the weird continuity problems, the main problem I had was the knowledge that Toxin was going to immediately fade into obscurity. Or so I thought.
Right after Venom/Carnage ended, Brian Michael Bendis started up a new series you may have heard about called New Avengers. As part of the first story, a big supervillain prison had a big riot that ended with many of the villains out on the run. This would make a good lead-in for the brand new Toxin miniseries, written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Darick Robertson.
As the story starts, Toxin needs to keep busy, since he’s no longer a cop and he’s run off on his wife. He makes it a mission to go after the escaped villain King Cobra. To do this, he visits Ryker’s Island to get information from Mr. Hyde, who King Cobra had betrayed. It gets to Pat, having to talk to a man who gives in to turning to his monstrous dark side. We even see him reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to better understand himself.
And that’s what makes this miniseries worth reading. It really expands on the interesting dynamic of Pat and the symbiote. Spider-Man got rid of his symbiote when he realized it was alive. Eddie Brock was crazy and corrupt. Cletus Kasady was bloodthirsty. But Pat? Pat is a good man who wants to use his symbiote to walk the straight and narrow. We didn’t get into the symbiote’s head in the previous miniseries, but here we get a better idea of what its about. The Toxin symbiote is a child, yes, but it has developed full intelligence at an early age. It has a tabula rasa mentality, in that the creature is fully aware, but at a blank slate.
Raising a child is easier because you can feed them any information and they will likely accept it because they’re underdeveloped. This isn’t the case for the symbiote, who is able to argue and debate with Pat. That’s not to say that Pat is always right either.
Toxin proceeds to track down King Cobra and defeat him in a fight that jokes about how Cobra squeezing Toxin from behind looks really gay. He ties him in a knot and leaves him for the police. That’s when Spider-Man catches up with him and asks him to help him out with apprehending Razor-Fist, an old Shang-Chi villain who once threw down with Wolverine. On the plus side, the guy is missing two of his arms. On the minus side, he’s had them replaced.
Not sure if that’s the best villain to put up against a guy who clobbered Venom and Carnage at the same time, but if it takes him six issues to get it done, who am I to second guess?
On his search, he comes across a couple robbers trying to hit a convenience store. After the situation is dealt with, Pat is angry at the costume for causing so much damage and nearly killing the two guys. The Toxin symbiote is unsure as to why Pat is so mad, since he could sense how much he hated those thugs. It only wanted to please him.
To give a little more juice to Razor-Fist’s threat as a villain, we get a better look at his loyal followers. He is tended to by a set of teenagers who are addicted to self-harm and work for him in exchange for his blades. He is so precise with his slices that although they feel the pain, there is no markings or scars. I don’t know how that works, but then again, I don’t have swords for hands. Yet.
Pat comes across one of Razor-Fist’s followers and makes his way into his inner sanctum. He falls down a trap door and finds a room containing Razor-Fist and a bunch of festering bodies. To keep the fight sequence fair to us readers, the symbiote decides not to get involved and instead lets Pat get chased and cornered by Razor-Fist. By the time it does decide to do something, it changes Pat’s form in a way he wasn’t expecting.
The symbiote calls him Larry, a shared persona they could use to feel normal. This obviously isn’t the time or place, illustrated when Razor-Fist cuts up Larry’s nose Chinatown style. The symbiote finally caves in and they become Toxin again. Razor-Fist runs the hell out of there, but slices up one of his employees on the way out. Toxin itself wants to follow Razor-Fist and find out exactly how he goes to the bathroom, but Pat stops him so that he can get the victim to safety.
Still, Pat gives Toxin a hard time. When the symbiote insists that it is not a slave and that they need to find an agreement, Pat just dismisses it as being an infantile creature with no morals. Then again, when it asks Pat legit questions, he blows the creature off with, “Because I said so!” or “Enough of this!” You get the idea that it really doesn’t know any better and despite being depicted as an honest, genuine guy, Pat isn’t helping by refusing to see his parasitic partner eye-to-eye.
Their attempts to hunt down Razor-Fist again end in failure. Though they have his scent, Razor-Fist has had his followers rub him down with perfumes and lotions. In the meantime, Pat comes across a cop gunned down by common street trash. He and Toxin agree that this is a black-and-white situation and get in gear. Pat gives in to his desires and horribly mutilates the murderer.
He tracks down the Answer, another escaped villain, and asks for how he can deal with the symbiote’s urges. The Answer answers his question and ends up back in Ryker’s in response. Pat takes his advice anyway, goes into the subway and throws himself in front of an oncoming train.
He becomes Toxin at the last minute and makes his way to safety. Pat is angry at the symbiote for saving his life, but it tries to talk him down from the idea of killing them both. Pat comes to realize that the symbiote may have been in as much danger of dying.
Pat realizes that as long as the Toxin symbiote believes him to be suicidal, it will accept his orders. For one, they use his “Larry” form as a disguise that allows him to meet Gina in the park and see his son Eddie. It also gets the symbiote to agree to helping him fight Wrecking Crew members Wrecker and Piledriver in a museum. Coincidentally, the same week had Wrecker alone dominate half of the New Avengers in their comic book. Here, Toxin pretends to be a statue until Wrecker and Piledriver get too close. Then he gets his hands on the two and goes to town.
Finally, Pat and Toxin reach an agreement. The agreement is that Pat can do his Larry act and see Gina in exchange for the symbiote to be allowed two hours of “playtime” where Pat blacks out and the creature takes control. In addition, Pat keeps a computer diary to get his thoughts down and bore Toxin enough to make it go to sleep. One night, Pat wakes up to find Toxin in a restaurant filled with people who had been sliced to death. The symbiote insists that it didn’t do it, but Pat refuses to believe.
Toxin is telling the truth in this. Razor-Fist had an army of knife-toting children go to town on these victims and taped it. He gives the tape to the media and promises that that’s going to be the tip of the iceberg come this Saturday, or – as he calls it – Slasherday, unless they pay a ransom. Even in the light of this, Pat acts like a dick to his alien partner.
“Quit feeling guilty and give me an apology. Me no killer.”
“Hmm? Oh. Yeah. Sorry. We gotta go and look for him.”
The costume convinces Pat to give him one more go at being in control of the wheel before they go after Razor-Fist, else it won’t let him morph into his Larry form. Pat reluctantly agrees. Once Pat is unconscious, Toxin doesn’t leave the apartment, but instead peeks at Pat’s computer diary. It doesn’t like what it sees.
Come on, how can you not love this guy?
Toxin leaves the apartment and loots a store for another computer so Pat won’t notice. Spider-Man appears and tries to tell him how capitalism works, but Toxin isn’t interested and tries to scurry past. The two get in a brief scuffle with Spider-Man the winner.
Later, Pat wakes up, covered in webs. He treats Spider-Man to some coffee and Spider-Man acts like a total asshole about everything. I mean, yes, I guess he does have a reason to be crabby, what with this supposed superhero looting electronics stores when he should be hunting down master criminals, but give the guy a break! He beat up the Wrecking Crew! Spider-Man tells him that either he gets his act together and delivers Razor-Fist, or he’s off the Christmas card list.
Pat and the symbiote decide that they need to get serious here. No more of this playtime or Larry shit. They need to get Razor-Fist ASAP. But first, Pat becomes Larry one more time so he can say goodbye to Gina. Yeah… Pat probably should have listened to his own advice.
You see, Pat is still pretty tight with one of his old police buddies and has told him about his Toxin identity and where he lives. This cop ended up telling Pat’s father where he is so he could get to Pat and convince him to go back to Gina. Meanwhile, a crooked cop in Razor-Fist’s thrall figures out that this cop friend of Pat’s knows where Toxin lives, so he has him kidnapped and tortured by Razor-Fist until he squeals. Got all that?
What this leads to is Pat’s dad showing up in Pat’s empty apartment at around the same time as Razor-Fist. Razor-Fist says that he was hoping to find Toxin, but the old man will do. That… that doesn’t really work too well in terms of storytelling. I get that the scene is an excuse to have Razor-Fist murder Pat’s father and add more drama to the situation, but the lead-in makes no sense. Razor-Fist is scared shitless of Toxin. Why would he go out of his way to fight him?
So yeah, Toxin runs in to see Razor-Fist killing his dad and is able to chase the villain off, but it’s too late. At the funeral, Pat runs into Gina, who spits in his face and breaks down crying over what Pat’s done to her.
Pat visits his tortured cop friend in the hospital. Even though the guy wanted Razor-Fist to kill him, the villain refused so that the man’s betrayal would torture him moreso. It’s a bad move by Razor-Fist, as the guy is able to tell Pat exactly where Razor-Fist’s current hideout is.
At first, Pat wants to rush into Razor-Fist’s lair and tear him to pieces, but he stops himself. As Toxin, he keeps wanting to do horrible, gory things to Razor-Fist for what he’s done. If he can’t keep himself in check, he’ll need someone who can. He finds Spider-Man and asks for some backup.
“I want you there, Spider-Man. If I cross that line… if it looks like I’m going to kill him… that I’ve finally lost all control of Toxin… take us both down. Put me in Ryker’s along with the other bad guys. And throw away the key.”
Razor-Fist is ready to let Slasherday commence, especially once seeing that the public has pooled a total of $35.10 in response to his threats. He’s about to strike against one of his assistants, when Toxin arrives for the final showdown.
Not only does Toxin outfight Razor-Fist, but he spends the next few pages deconstructing him. Razor-Fist used to have realistic, prosthetic hands, but threw them aside for his sword hands because he’s a child who loves to be tended to. Toxin doesn’t so much knock him out, but he simply pulls off the blades, leaving Razor-Fist with worthless bare nubs. Razor-Fist falls to his knees and begs to be killed instead of going back to prison. Toxin refuses. Razor-Fist jokes about how Pat’s father begged for mercy in an attempt to rile him up. Toxin grabs him by the throat while Spider-Man readies himself in the shadows.
Toxin vs. Razor-Fist was never a question. It was always about Toxin vs. himself. The good guy won.
In the epilogue, Pat and Spider-Man go over how Razor-Fist has to tend to himself at Ryker’s and has no choice but to wear prosthetic hands to get by. His followers have been taken in by the authorities and are in therapy. Spider-Man gives Toxin his approval and says that Pat really has shown some guts. That last part makes Pat uneasy. He knows what he has to do.
The final scene has Pat meeting Gina at a restaurant. He’s finally ready to admit why he walked out on her.
That was the last real appearance Toxin’s made. Like his thematic brother (more specifically, uncles) Hybrid, he’s dropped off into obscurity, like I always feared he would. The only thing he’s had going for him is an appearance on the massive group shot cover of Avengers: The Initiative #1. Iron Man looks at a headshot of him when considering his Avengers roster in Mighty Avengers #1, but of course nothing comes of it.
It’s a shame, since as far as I’ve seen, people who have heard of him don’t mind the guy. He has his own following and I consider him to be a fairly interesting character in his own right. At the very least, I consider his ten issues of appearances to be underrated. Accepting that he was sent off into the world of forgotten characters, at least I could get the same flavor in DC’s current incarnation of Blue Beetle.
I’d feel this article would be incomplete if I didn’t feature this clip from Rifftrax’s take on The Happening. Check out the 16 second mark.
That’s fun and all, but I think it’s about time we visited Eddie Brock at the hospital. We’ll do that next time.