I admit that I’ve been putting this one off for quite some time. It’s only natural, since it means having to read Maximum Carnage for the first time in about fifteen years. For a while, I didn’t even intend to review this story since it’s been covered to death across the internet, but then I realized that my take may have its own flavor. After all, I’m a guy who likes Spider-Man, loves Venom and tolerates Carnage. That last one already puts me on a different path from most reviewers.
Carnage falls into the category of, “It’s not the character that’s bad but the writing.” Carnage can be in a great story, I’m sure. We just haven’t seen it yet, though the Carnage miniseries (originally going to be called Astonishing Spider-Man and Iron Man until Marvel realized they could lure more readers in by naming it after the long-dead villain) has certainly had its moments. In preparation, I read through Carnage’s original story arc in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #361-363, which isn’t at all an offensive story. The Micheline/Bagley joint mostly acts as a way to both remove Venom from his status quo where he peacefully lived on an abandoned island while believing Spider-Man to be dead as well as giving Venom an excuse to fight alongside Spider-Man against a threat greater than both of them.
This idea, which I’m sure sold like gangbusters, was made fun of in the pages of the Ren and Stimpy Show #6 when Spider-Man made a guest appearance to fight a mind-controlled Powdered Toast Man.
This was written by Dan Slott, who would go on to create Anti-Venom and a bunch of gimmicky Spider-Man costumes. Pot and kettle.
So anyway, Carnage was a decent enough villain for his initial story. If they kept their cool about it, he’d probably be more accepted by your average comic fan. Instead, they went nuts over how this was the best idea Marvel’s come up with in years. The covers would literally say that Carnage was so awesome that they had to put his name on the cover twice! It was this thinking that made Marvel brass believe that a lengthy Spider-Man arc spanning all his books should be centered around this supervillain.
After reading Maximum Carnage, I felt that it had a lot of similarities to the Clone Saga. Part of it is the innocent idea of taking a character who’s been taken off the board in a previous story and bringing them back for the sake of telling a bigger, better story. Due to the hype behind the character, many issues are dedicated to telling this story. Too many issues.
If you don’t know the origin of Carnage, his host is Cletus Kasady – who is refreshing in that he’s neither overly redneck nor overly Irish – a serial killer forced to share a cell with Eddie Brock. Eddie’s symbiote comes to save its host and Venom breaks out, leaving something behind. Cletus was ready to shiv Eddie right before the interruption, but then became enamored with the living goo found in the broken window. He joined with Venom’s spawn and became Carnage, killing a lot of people until Spider-Man and Venom took him out with a sonic ray gun. The red symbiote was killed and Cletus was sent back to prison.
What’s gone in in-between that Carnage story and this? Peter Parker’s parents revealed that they weren’t dead after all and became part of his life for a little while, although it would turn out they weren’t what they seemed. Venom decided he hated Spider-Man slightly less and moved to San Francisco to fight crime… Huh. I’ve been meaning to write up an overly-long thing about that. The big thing was that the tense relationship between Peter and Harry Osborn came to a head when Harry became the Green Goblin and ultimately saved Spider-Man’s life in his final act before succumbing to his own tainted Goblin serum. That messed Spider-Man up and caused some major friction in regards to Harry’s wife and son.
Maximum Carnage goes for 14 issues, though more like 15 when you consider that the final issue is double-sized with two sets of artists. The bookends are Spider-Man Unlimited #1 and #2 with the rest of the series taking place across the pages of Web of Spider-Man #101-103, Amazing Spider-Man #378-380, Spider-Man #35-37 and Spectacular Spider-Man #201-203. Our joint writers are Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh, David Michelinie and JM DeMatteis, and our artists are Ron Lim, Alex Saviuk, Mark Bagley, Tom Lyle and Sal Buscema.
We begin our story at Ravencroft, home of the more insane supervillain types, where Cletus Kasady is strapped up like Hannibal Lecter to have some tests done on him. When his skin is broken thanks to a needle, Cletus reveals that although his symbiote was killed, Carnage lives on. Due to its mutated nature from being born on Earth, the creature has become one with his blood. He breaks loose and proceeds to slaughter everyone.
Meanwhile Peter Parker is at Harry’s funeral, moping around and—who gives a shit? Let’s get back to Carnage.
While he’s cutting people up in that classic early-90’s not-at-all-gruesome way where there isn’t even a drop of blood shown, he hears an inmate cheering him on. He’s a bit bewildered by that, but curious, especially after seeing how thick the door to this person’s cell is. He’s super-strong and all, so it’s easy for him to tear it off the hinges and see what lies behind.
Shriek is making her debut here. In all honestly, while that above exchange is pretty bad, the Carnage/Shriek scenes are the highlights of Maximum Carnage. While the heroes spend the story complaining and in-fighting, Carnage and Shriek are too busy having fun with it while successfully establishing themselves as powerful threats who each deserve a couple hundred punches to the face with a roll of quarters.
Plus I always believed Shriek to be criminally underused. She’s probably the most mainstream female Spider-Man villain to never go good (really, think about that. It’s nuts). If anything, she should have been brought back to deal with the Sentry. Considering he tore Carnage in half and she has the power to mess with the negative aspects of one’s mind, there could have been a really cool revenge story in there.
The two join up and become a murderous Bonnie and Clyde. As they swing across New York and get to know each other a bit more, they see what appears to be Spider-Man. They go after him, only to discover that it’s Doppelganger, an evil monster Spider-Man clone from outer-space created in Infinity War. Suprisingly, somehow, Carnage knows this!
Who the hell was telling him these rumors? This bit is part of a really strange pattern that will continue as Carnage puts together his gang over the course of the issues. The two tear at each other until Shriek stops them. She’s taken a shining to Doppelganger and wants to keep him. Carnage agrees to this and leaves off for some personal business. Doppelganger, who is unable to vocally do more than growl, takes to Shriek like a loyal dog.
Peter spends some more personal moping time with Mary Jane where it’s decided that he’ll 1) pick up their dinner and 2) go a week without being Spider-Man. Once he gets wind that Carnage is on the loose, neither of those end up happening. Only moments into swinging, he ends up attacked by Doppelganger and Shriek. He’s able to hold his own against Doppelganger, but Shriek starts blasting at him with sonic lasers from her hands and things get way more difficult. He’s able to knock her out with a flick of his finger, but that opens him up for Doppelganger to dropkick him in the chest. Spider-Man falls off the building and into an alley. Doppelganger is more concerned with Shriek’s wellbeing and carries her off. Spider-Man would love to go continue the fight, but his ribs are busted up.
You know, nothing causes a superhero story to drag like an injury subplot and they’re pulling that shit in the first issue out of fourteen? Jesus, guys.
Elsewhere, Carnage appears in J. Jonah Jameson’s office in a cool cliffhanger image. He doesn’t kill him, but threatens him into using the Bugle as a way to call out Venom. All in all, I’d say this is a pretty strong first issue.
Some thugs come across the half-dead Spider-Man and can’t wait to waste him. It’s there that he’s saved by his street-level buddies Cloak and Dagger. They take out the cannon fodder and tend to our hero.
SPIDER-MAN STILL NEEDS YOUR HELP! INSERT COIN(S)!
I should take this moment to talk about something else I’ve realized from this story. I’ve never read all that much Cloak and Dagger. I’ve always respected the concept of the two street level heroes who are drawn together despite being complete opposites. They’ve always had a dynamic look to them and Cloak’s foreboding appearance has always been great. That said… Cloak sucks.
He seriously sucks. Cloak has two abilities: teleport and suck people into his cloak, which turns out to be a portal into a dimension of pure darkness that mucks up their heads with mental trauma. Now, other superheroes have powers like that. Nightcrawler can teleport. Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare is similar to Cloak’s Darkforce Dimension portal. It’s just that Nightcrawler can also fight. Ghost Rider has a motorcycle, chain and Hellfire powers at his disposal. Cloak’s only means of offense is an automatic game-ender unless it doesn’t work. Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare is the same, but at least he has other options to back him up. Cloak has no option but to stand around like a dunce, pretend he’s in any way valuable and let his friends win the fight for him.
The following pages have a couple odd mistakes. One is that Mary Jane, shown worrying about Peter, is a blond for several panels. The other I’m not sure if I can call it a mistake… though it is awkwardly told thanks to writers switching up. In the last issue, Doppelganger leaves the fight because of his concern for Shriek. It was his call. Now he’s shown with Shriek riding his back, demanding that they’re finished with Spider-Man and no longer have to fight him, yet he throws her off and goes to fight him anyway. Just seemed weird to me.
They find the weakened Spider-Man along with Cloak and Dagger hanging out in a church and start fighting. Carnage joins the fight later on as well. It’s during this fight that we get our first glimpse at Shriek’s backstory via Cloak being worthless.
Shriek blasts Dagger head-on and causes her to explode in a big pillar of light. Dagger is dead, which makes Cloak more worthless since they established that he needs her to teleport. Cloak and Spider-Man are knocked out from the explosion and I figure Carnage thought that must have killed Spider-Man as without checking, he walks over to Shriek and slaps her because Spider-Man is his to kill. Maybe he wants to kill him later when he’s able to put up a fight. Who knows? The three villains leave while the sinister Demogoblin watches from a nearby rooftop.
FINALLY, we get a Venom appearance. In San Francisco, he kills some muggers and notices the story of Carnage’s escape from prison on the news. Off to New York!
This is great timing, since the next issue is a Bagley issue and Bagley draws the fuck out of Venom.
See? Anyway, Cloak is all distraught over Dagger’s death and plays the irony card by telling Spider-Man that HE didn’t just lose his best friend so he doesn’t understand what he’s feeling. Then he teleports away… which I’ve already established is something he can only do in conjunction with Dagger. Spider-Man goes home to be chewed out by his wife. On the subject of relationship trouble, Carnage gives Shriek a lot of guff for going after Spider-Man and says that he’s the one running the show. Doppelganger comes to her rescue, but Carnage smacks him away. Things blow over and they’re all closer. They decide to celebrate by killing some folks.
Spider-Man’s on the lookout for these guys, but instead gets in a fight with Demogoblin. He takes a beating and is aided by a priest distracting the monster. Spider-Man saves the priest, though he’s still at a physical disadvantage. Demogoblin chooses to leave anyway. As this is going on, Venom finds Carnage in the park in the aftermath of a major killfest. Carnage introduces Venom to his new teammates and we cut away.
Now time for another unintentionally funny bit. Peter’s at home nursing his ribs with Mary Jane in a bathrobe watching TV beside him. She hears a knock at the door, figures it’s Liz Osborn and—no, it’s Venom being a pervert.
You think?! I mean, yes, the Chameleon is out there, but you should be at least 99% sure that that’s Venom.
So the funny part is the next issue, where it’s light out. Mary Jane is fully dressed for her day with earrings and everything. She’s yelling, “Get that THING out of my house!” and we see that Eddie is still sprawled across the doorway. Like he’s just been hanging out there for hours with both Parkers ignoring him. As if he’s a bag of trash that Peter’s too lazy to move to the curb. Either way, at least bring him in and close the door! There are other people in that apartment complex, you know!
MJ has had enough of this drama and leaves the apartment. Eddie invites himself to crash on the couch and takes a lengthy nap after telling Peter that they need to team up yet again. Peter’s not keen on this idea, since Eddie’s a crazy murderer and goes to Felicia Hardy’s place to get her opinion. She takes Venom’s side (Team Edward?) and says that Carnage probably needs to die. When Venom is up from his nap with his health restored, Black Cat and Spider-Man join up with him. Spider-Man insists that nobody’s to die, but other than that, he’s cool with the team-up. Off they go.
Shriek introduces Carnage to an abandoned rock show stage prop storage facility as a hideout. That’s when Demogoblin makes himself known.
Again with the prior knowledge. So many times superheroes fight each other because of misunderstandings. They simply aren’t familiar with each other. Here, villains know villains, no matter how obscure. So strange.
Demogoblin wants to kill Carnage and Shriek for being sinners (though nearly everyone is a sinner in his eyes) while Doppelganger, who used to be Demogoblin’s sidekick, doesn’t know who to side with. Carnage puts an end to this silliness by pointing out that Demogoblin wants to kill nearly everybody while Carnage and friends want to kill everybody, so they should just add him to the troop. Demogoblin figures it would expedite his cause, so he agrees. Carnage knows that he’ll eventually turn on them, but he’ll cross that bridge later.
A pissed off, completely worthless and seemingly mentally-challenged Cloak barges in to fight the four. Luckily, he holds them off long enough for Spider-Man, Venom and Black Cat to arrive and make it four on four. Well, by holds them off, I mean he stands there and gets his ass kicked without doing a damn thing other than posing and being angry.
Venom and Carnage posture at each other and Venom shoves Carnage into Cloak’s cloak.
Carnage feels he has better things to do, so he has Demogoblin and Shriek destroy the building. They escape and everything crumbles onto the heroes. Venom is weakened by all the fire, Cloak remembers that he can teleport yet doesn’t question it, Black Cat is nearly crushed and Spider-Man is there to wonder whether he should save his allies or go after the villains. A weakened Eddie stumbles out of the building.
“Can’t wait… while that moron makes up his mind. Feel like… someone dropped a building on me… Can hardly move – but innocent people… are dying out there… and someone’s got to… pro…tect…”
Then he collapses. Spider-Man’s there with a hurt Black Cat to make sure that he’s not dead. Venom’s pissed that Spider-Man let Carnage get away with nobody ever bringing up that HE WOULD HAVE BEEN MURDERED BECAUSE THERE’S FOUR OF THEM AND ONE OF HIM! Black Cat gets on Venom’s case for being pissed at Spider-Man saving her, but then scolds Spider-Man for doing just that.
Spider-Man can’t take being on Venom’s side and decides to leave the alliance. Black Cat knows to stay with Venom and they go their separate ways in this moral fork in the road.
Carnage and friends have an incident where Carnage takes exception to Demogoblin’s insistence that they have some kind of plan. Carnage is all about mayhem and chaos and proof that there is no worth in plans. In a strange turn of events, Shriek convinces Carnage to not kill Demogoblin and instead try to show him his way through example. Shriek creates a crazed metaphor that she takes a little too literally for the rest of the story where she and Carnage are the parents and the other two are their children. It’s up to Carnage to mold them and show them his vision.
I think this is the first major problem of the story. We’re 1/3 into it and we don’t have much to play with. Carnage and his allies are killing people. Spider-Man and his allies want to stop it. That’s it! Carnage outright tells us that he has no endgame in mind other than basic slaughter. There’s no promise in this story. So far all we’ve really gotten is a bunch of fight scenes that end for no reason other than stretching the story. Why did Carnage let Spider-Man live? Why did he let Venom live? Why does he want to fight them both, only to escape when he has the advantage? Why did Demogoblin leave Spider-Man instead of finishing him off? It’s a bunch of filler bullshit that will eventually find something resembling direction.
Peter gets some sage advice from Aunt May about rising above terrible acts and being a good person. Then his father confronts him and goes into a rant about how terrible things were in the Russian prison he was holed up in for decades and gives him opposite advice about how people are usually pretty terrible and you have to sink to their level to get to them. Throughout all this, it syncs up with the Carnage Family’s latest killing spree on the streets of New York.
Venom and Black Cat reconnect with Cloak, but they’re too late in finding Carnage. Venom’s distraught over all the dead bodies and they agree that with Spider-Man out of the picture, they need a replacement. Off they go to recruit.
Elsewhere, Carnage finishes killing everyone in a restaurant and walks off into the distance with Shriek and the others. That’s when we meet our final villain.
Nice purse, morlock!
That’s Carrion, a Spider-Man villain that absolutely nobody cares about. He was an acquaintance of Peter Parker’s who exposed himself to a DNA virus that made him into a deranged, mutated clone of the Jackal. His power is that he flies around and causes anyone he touches to decay and die. Considering that’s all he does, that makes him the perfect villain counterpart to Cloak. See, Carrion also knows only one attack that’s a game-ender and since he isn’t going to successfully use it on anyone important, that makes him completely useless. Get ready for a bunch of issues of him flying around and NOT touching Spider-Man!
The story starts finally going somewhere as the city’s starting to go mad. People are rioting in the streets and Spider-Man has one of his, “I’M REALLY GOING TO KILL SOMEONE (but you know I won’t)” moments. Among the literal carnage, Venom spies Morbius the Living Vampire feasting on a mugger and inducts him into his crew. This is before the two would team up in Venom: The Enemy Within, but it does remind me of how underutilized their dynamic is. We really need some Anti-Venom/Morbius adventures in this day and age.
The cute part in this is that Venom refers to the teaming of himself, Black Cat and Morbius as “Fangs ‘R’ Us”.
Actually, have those three working as agents of ARMOR and I’ll give Marvel my money forever.
Mary Jane parties at a nightclub called the Deep, which turns out to be the next target of the Carnage Family. That’ll show you how important your husband’s work is. Venom leads his team into the club and a big clusterfuck brawl encompasses the issue. Spider-Man joins in to make it a fair four-and-Cloak-on-four fight. I do enjoy that this bit…
…is later followed by this bit…
Carnage again escapes and has Demogoblin burn the place to the ground. Spider-Man tells Venom that he’s thought it through and he’ll be with him on this, even if it chafes him morally. They rescue the people in the club and then leave together. They regroup at the charred remains of Kasady’s old orphanage.
Spider-Man has no idea on how to stop Carnage until Venom reminds him that symbiotes have weaknesses that are mentioned every single time Spider-Man fights one of them. Oh yeah! Since the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are out of town, they’ll have to make due without them. Spider-Man has Cloak go track down his amazing friend Firestar and only after Cloak vanishes does he become the first person to notice that Cloak has been able to teleport without Dagger’s help. Yes, this isn’t a continuity error and Cloak hasn’t questioned this newfound power in the two days since he’s had it.
Spider-Man, Venom and Black Cat go to the Baxter Building to steal Reed Richards’ sonic cannon. Morbius, meanwhile, goes to Ravencroft to read Shriek’s file to get some answers on her identity. He prints out a copy for himself, but can’t share it with the others because the sun is coming up. This is never followed up on.
Back to Carnage, a SWAT Team goes after him. The commander is quickly taken out when Carrion makes his appearance known.
AGAIN with that! Is there some kind of supervillain Wikipedia that all prisoners have access to or something? I bet Carnage can recite all the 70’s Luke Cage villain names in alphabetical order at the drop of a hat.
Another couple panels later, Shriek even brings Carrion’s continuity into question. This is insane.
But anyway, Carrion is inducted into the team.
The undead cyborg superhero Deathlok gets wind of all the craziness happening and takes on the Carnage Family himself. Carrion touches him, but it has no effect (Carrion sucks), but otherwise, Deathlok is outclassed. He’s electrocuted and hung over a sign by some wires. Sometime later, he’s helped down by Iron Fist. Hey, all right!
The heroes get their sonic gun as well as Firestar. Things are starting to look up. Still, the riots are getting worse and Spider-Man’s wondering if there’s something unnatural causing it all instead of basic human condition. There’s a quick scene that shows some people attacking Richard Parker and Aunt May, only to be beaten down by Flash Thompson and the Molten Man. It’s kind of weird to see Flash Thompson show up in an old Venom story.
Spider-Man’s team goes to Jameson’s office to demand that he calls out Carnage in his newspaper the same way Carnage had him call out Venom. Jameson figures that all these super-creeps can kill each other, so he goes with it. They challenge Carnage to show up at his old orphanage in a way that I guess is coded enough not to have the authorities show up. Carnage agrees to the challenge and drags his family to where he was brought up.
It’s an interesting scene, really. I know Carnage gets hated on a lot and called a one-dimensional Joker knockoff – and for good reason! But reading this story shows me that there’s enough juice in his makeup that writers have actually written him in two different ways. In Maximum Carnage, the idea is that Cletus killed his father for killing his mother for trying to kill Cletus (or it may have been his mother killing his father. He really can’t remember) and he ended up in a corrupt orphanage filled with relentless bullies and abusive adult figures. His life was pure Hell from the start and he had to become a maniac because that’s all fate would let him be. In other words, Carnage is the owner of a lonely heart while the Joker – who went insane in his adult life after losing everything – is the owner of a broken heart. So while many would insist that Joker is the superior character, the rock band Yes would insist that Carnage is much better than the Joker.
Someone’s got to high five me on that one.
Meanwhile, Larry Hama went with a different route when he explored Carnage’s backstory in Venom: Carnage Unleashed. A route that every writer since has taken. Cletus was behind the death of his parents because he was pure evil from the very beginning. Sure, it does build on some of the groundwork of Maximum Carnage, but it changes him from someone to be pitied to the Anti-Christ. In the context of the ending of this story, it negates a lot of the point. You’ll see what I mean later.
Okay, so the heroes appear and we get another rumble. Venom wields the sonic gun himself, since he doesn’t trust anyone else on the team. The sacrifice is pointed out via the symbiote glove painfully peeling away from his hand as it keeps pressure on the trigger.
Spider-Man won’t let Venom kill Carnage and the ensuing argument is enough of an opening for Shriek to slash open Cletus’ cheek. The symbiote regrows from his blood and he becomes Carnage once again. The fight continues as Black Cat chides Spider-Man and Firestar for not having the killer instinct needed to do the right thing.
Part of the fight has Cloak absorb Shriek into his Darkforce Dimension. She pops out and acts all horrified, but it’s all an act. She reveals to Cloak that she was a junkie that Cloak Darkforce’d somewhere along the line and it somehow transformed her into Shriek. Therefore, Cloak created the very thing that killed Dagger! Oh, snap! Shriek also finally gets the story moving in some kind of direction by explaining the true nature of her powers. She can affect the negative aspects of people’s minds, which is usually pretty minor, but Carnage is so intensely evil that their very union is causing the town to go nuts.
Carnage and Shriek working together causes society to crumble around them both physically and mentally. Finally, we have a threat worth reading about!
The rioters show up and things go downhill for the heroes. Venom momentarily convinces Spider-Man that Carnage REALLY NEEDS TO DIE and Spider-Man momentarily convinces Firestar that this is how it has to be. Firestar is incredibly reluctant, but fries Carnage until Spider-Man has second thoughts and tells her to stop. Venom gets angry, knocks out Firestar and tells Spider-Man how much he hates him. Just how much does Venom hate Spider-Man? This much.
The best panel.
Venom confronts Carnage and makes note how pants-wettingly afraid Carnage was of nearly dying twice in the last five minutes (another piece of his characterization that later writers altered). Venom’s unable to stop the team of Carnage and Shriek and goes down. Carnage stops Shriek from killing him as he’d rather drag Venom’s carcass away and torture him for a week or so. They leave and all that’s left is a bunch of unconscious heroes. No idea where all those rioters went.
Then Captain America steps in to help Spider-Man up. “Finally!” my junior high self said while borrowing the trade from a friend, “Someone I’ve actually heard of!”
He brings Spider-Man and Firestar to Avengers HQ where they catch Deathlok and Iron Fist trying to hack into their systems for info. This situation joins the cyborg and kung-fu master into the Alliance to End Carnagemania.
Carnage and Shriek bring Venom to the Statue of Liberty, where they proceed to burn him, expose him to sonics and stab him for their own entertainment. Their “children” are out in the streets of New York, fighting it out with Cloak, Black Cat and Morbius. Out of nowhere, the D-list hero Nightwatch (otherwise known as “No, Really, I am Not Spawn”) steps in and helps out.
Cloak draws Carrion into the Darkforce Dimension, but Carrion effortlessly flies out of the cloak with no explanation that Cloak can come up with. Cloak is worthless already, but considering Carrion is his ballpark of terrible, Cloak sucks double this round.
Cloak and Black Cat hang back. Black Cat decides she’s done with this adventure since she’s hurt and she’s more of a borderline villain anyway. Cloak decides he’s going to go back to the church and search for answers within. Although Morbius and Nightwatch barge into Carnage’s Statue of Liberty hideout, the fight is cut short thanks to the rising sun. Nightwatch grabs the dying Morbius and flies off.
Also, Spider-Man’s been stopping a prison riot and visited Mary Jane long enough to tell her he loves her. Hey, it’s his comic. He needs stuff to do.
Shriek is hanging around the middle of NYC, causing people to go more and more psychotic. Spider-Man’s group dogpiles onto her, knocking her out for the moment with a red, white and blue, vibranium shield to the back of the skull. They split up and go around stopping people from rioting. Not through violence, mind you. They use the Mike Cosgrove method.
Spider-Man stops a woman from killing her children, giving him a real, “Eat it, MJ! I was right!” moment of vindication.
Doppelganger and Demogoblin show up to release Shriek from her web prison while the artist of the issue appears to forget that Carrion’s supposed to be with them. Don’t worry, he’ll pop back in once the next issue starts. Now that Shriek is conscious again, she pushes her powers harder and makes the calmed citizens of New York go completely bonkers yet again. Now they’re out for the blood of the heroes.
Watching this on TV, Richard Parker goes back into talking about how terrible people are inside and how this proves his point, but Mary Jane shuts him up by saying that Spider-Man and the others made a difference before and they’ll do it again. That’s her character arc for the story done with.
Venom is still being tortured, especially after Morbius and Nightwatch bailed on him. He begs Carnage for mercy, which causes Carnage to laugh in his face. He picks up the sonic gun and fires it at Venom, only instead of a sonic blast coming out, it’s Venom’s symbiote. It engulfs Venom and he becomes whole once again.
Not to be outdone by Bagley, Tom Lyle also draws the hell out of Venom. In a brief surge of strength, he’s able to escape, but is too weak to continue the fight. He needs some time to recuperate. Carnage is left with a mental breakdown, screaming again and again, “I WAS WINNING!”
Cloak is also having a bit of a mental breakdown, screaming to God in his church about how he doesn’t know what to do, but despite all the death going on, he feels drawn to his home. He begs God to help him see the light again and during his request, the shadows within his cloak light up.
The heroes really have their hands full with the crazed citizens while Shriek and her “children” watch from the rooftops. The closest anyone comes to fixing this is Iron Fist, who is able to silently glare at a bunch of people and calm them down. Unfortunately, it only works on those he’s looking at, so people are still able to attack from behind. Spider-Man saves him and reassesses the situation.
Spider-Man finally begins to succumb to the pressure, thinking back to his father’s rants. Then he thinks back to Aunt May’s kindly advice about the human heart and snaps back to reality. He makes a determined fist and says, “WAIT A MINUTE!” as if he’s just come up with the idea that will save them. I really have no idea what this is about because while three major things happen in the next few minutes, two of them come out of nowhere without an iota of Spider-Man’s involvement and the other is something that he had already been planning before showing up for this action sequence.
The first is Shriek deciding that she’s going to lead the others into battle against the heroes just as Carnage shows up. Carnage is pissed that she’d make the call to do that without his okay and threatens to kill her on the spot. Doppelganger defends his “mother”, but Carnage cuts him up and knocks him off the rooftop in response. Doppelganger’s dead (the Carnage miniseries follows up on this by saying that he’s inorganic and was never truly alive to begin with). Due to the infighting, we’re down one member of the Carnage Family and Shriek’s hold on the citizens of New York has fallen apart. The heroes have used the distraction to clear the area and make it strictly good guys vs. bad guys.
So was Spider-Man’s, “WAIT A MINUTE!” him realizing that bad guys make mistakes and you can capitalize on it? Because that’s the only thing that makes the slightest sense in this.
The remaining four villains decide to put aside their differences to finish off the heroes. Before the final fight can begin, Cloak appears with a very alive Dagger in tow. Nobody’s more surprised than Shriek and with Sal Buscema taking over art duties for an issue, Shriek is so distraught that she becomes a man in drag.
Dagger gives a long-winded explanation about ending up inside the Darkforce Dimension after being exploded and that the only thing holding her together was her emotional connection to Cloak. She fights Shriek, wins and tries to get through to her by bathing her with light and saying that she forgives her. Shriek almost gives in, but then blasts at her while screaming, “I HATE YOU!” Spider-Man saves her at the last minute and compliments her actions, saying that it proves they can win.
He looks to his peers and says, “Ladies… gentlemen… I think it’s time.” People who recall enough of this story may choose this time to let out a large sigh.
Carnage checks up on Shriek, who’s a bit confused internally, but is still on his side. They turn around to see that the heroes have run away, causing Carnage to bellow in laughter. Then Spider-Man appears, alone, and challenges the four villains. He lasts for a bit, but he can’t compete against their numbers and goes down. Still, he sticks to his guns and swears that their combined power is nothing compared to that of the human heart. Shriek fires her sonic lasers at him and uses it to focus her negative mind powers on Spider-Man’s psyche. Spider-Man’s in agony, but he’s able to think about his loved ones to keep himself afloat. Then, finally, the others return with a weapon in hand.
Now, when I write a review, I try not to read any other reviews of the same subject beforehand because I don’t want it interfering with my own thoughts. That said, I recall for years that people pointed at this part of the story as the stupidest part. Not the use of shallow characters or the never-ending story. No, it’s this mess.
“…a Good Bomb.”
We waited thirteen issues for a deus ex machina. With the willpower of Dagger and Iron Fist helping him hold it all together, Deathlok fires the Good Bomb (conceived and built over the course of a couple hours) at Shriek, causing a chain reaction. Instead of causing good people to turn evil, Shriek is now forcing positive thoughts into her teammates. Carrion is purged of his evil self and becomes regular human Malcolm McBride again. Demogoblin tries to escape, only to get pulled back in by Spider-Man. Demogoblin passes out from exhaustion.
Carnage’s response is more tragic. He doesn’t recognize these feelings he’s feeling. He’s lived such a dark life devoid of all humanity that these positive emotions are all completely alien to him. He desperately rejects it all, insisting that it hurts. In her last ounce of energy, Shriek tries to grab his hand so that they can be saved together, but there’s a massive explosion of her energies and she falls unconscious. In the aftermath, the heroes find a dead body with scraps of the Carnage symbiote covering it (especially the face).
Spider-Man goes to the park to clear his head. A weakened and very angry Venom pops in. He’s probably angry over the fact that he’s barely been in this story. I know I am. This is a Venom article series and he’s nothing more than a glorified bit character. Mainly, Venom’s mad about Spider-Man killing Carnage when it should have been his doing.
That’s okay, though, since Carnage reveals that he isn’t really dead. He just put pieces of his symbiote on a random corpse. He reveals himself by jumping out of a lake, making me wondering why he was there in the first place and for how long. Was he doing some introspective scuba diving before noticing that Spider-Man and Venom were nearby?
Now it’s time for our final issue. Spider-Man vs. Venom vs. Carnage, only they’re all shells of their former selves. Spider-Man has been complaining about his ribs for the past dozen-plus issues, Venom was just extensively tortured and Carnage is mentally screwed up from the Good Bomb. Venom ends up being the most held together and manhandles Carnage. Here’s a little visual sequence that my younger self believed to be the coolest shit ever.
Eh… yeah. Still pretty cool.
Venom spends the rest of the issue chasing Carnage around from locale to locale like it’s some kind of Droopy cartoon. They go from the park to their old prison cell to the burned down orphanage to a cemetery. Spider-Man is written out of this early on when Venom punches him in the ribs. Spider-Man takes a few scenes to reconnect with Mary Jane and have a heart-to-heart with his father. With the changing artists in the middle of the issue, it’s amusing to me how Mary Jane switches up her sexy nightwear outfits for kicks over the course of the day.
There’s also a moment where Nightwatch and Morbius look over New York, which is celebrating the supposed death of Carnage. Morbius leaves, saying he doesn’t know whether they will meet again as allies or enemies, but I’m sure his laughing to himself that Nightwatch will not only fall into a black hole of obscurity, but not even the programmers behind the videogame based on this comic will remember him.
Black Cat decides to give Mary Jane a call and check up on things, only to discover that Carnage is still out there and Spider-Man’s trying to catch him alone. She has a moment of indecision. Does she remain self-serving and let Spider-Man run into certain death or does she put her tights back on and risk her life in doing what’s right?
Spider-Man gets involved in the Venom/Carnage chase and tries his hardest to talk down Venom. It becomes a big argument over whether or not Carnage should die, especially now that he’s easier to take down. The best part is when Venom says Spider-Man wouldn’t understand what it’s like to have a corrupt, murderous knockoff of yourself running around and Spider-Man’s like, “Are you kidding me?!” As this is going on, Carnage is getting mentally worse, haunted by the ghosts of those who terrorized him from his childhood. He escapes from the two and ends up at the aforementioned cemetery, where he desperately digs up his mother’s casket for reasons never explained.
Spider-Man gives Venom a big speech about how Cletus never had a chance. The world screwed him over from day one and killing him is the wrong way to go about fixing this. To appeal to Venom’s worldview, he describes Cletus as being an innocent bystander to society. Carnage gets his second wind and laughs off Spider-Man’s words. He goes for the kill on Spider-Man, only to be kicked back by Black Cat. Carnage doesn’t like the odds here, so he picks up his mother’s casket and cheeses it. Venom steps in his way and punches him back.
Venom tears into Carnage yet again, but it seems Spider-Man’s speech has gotten through to him. He feels that Carnage may be worth his pity rather than his anger. While punching Carnage, he finds himself unable to decipher whether Carnage needs death or protection. He doesn’t get much of a chance to continue pondering this pickle as Carnage’s mental frying has finally worn off, making him an unstoppable killing machine yet again. Venom recognizes this and without second thought tackles Carnage into a set of generators. A massive explosion leaves only a naked and unconscious Cletus Kasady and no sign of Venom.
Spider-Man and Black Cat recognize that Venom went out the heroic way, but since there’s no sign of him, he’s probably still out there. Either way, they don’t feel like searching for him. A hurt Venom is revealed to have hitched the ride on the back of a truck, not certain if keeping Carnage alive is the best idea, but it’s Spider-Man’s responsibility now.
I actually thought under its sloppy exterior, there’s a decent final chapter in this issue. Through Spider-Man’s heroic actions, he’s able to inspire his critics. Mary Jane realizes the importance of Spider-Man as more than just another brick in the superhero wall, Black Cat put her life on the line when she could have easily had an Uncle Ben moment and even Venom, the poster boy for murdering the bad guy, decided to give in to Spider-Man’s ideals for once.
Touching on that would have been a great way to end the issue. Instead, we get a really odd final page to wrap everything up. The Avengers finally appear to take Carnage into custody, which almost negates the need to have Spider-Man and the rest take him down in the first place. Thanks for almost dying with your heroic sacrifice, Venom, but the Avengers would have handled Carnage thirty seconds later anyway.
Black Cat points out that Carnage’s mother’s casket is empty, making her wonder what that whole episode was about. Spider-Man mulls it over for a second with no real answer and decides that with a crazy guy like Cletus Kasady, you never know. I’m really not sure if the writers are trying to shove some kind of profound moment to make us think in Maximum goddamn Carnage or if they wrote themselves in a corner and had no idea where they were going with it. Either way, it’s never touched upon ever again.
Yes, that is most certainly an ending.
The ending is even worse in the videogame. Now, we all know the game for SNES and Genesis, right? Red cartridge? Green Jelly soundtrack? One of the few remotely playable games by LJN? By the end of the game, you have to fight Carnage three times in a row. First on the streets of New York City, then in the park, then at the orphanage. When you beat him, you get a crappy 16-bit recreation of the panel where Vision talks to Spider-Man and Black Cat about how Carnage is being taken away. What’s funny about it is how one character’s legs are obscured by a word bubble in the comic’s panel, so in the game they make up for that with some shoddy MS Paint skills. There’s no explanation of what happened to Venom and he isn’t even namedropped.
They cut out the casket talk and go directly to Black Cat being disturbed that they’ll never be safe from Carnage. Then it cuts to a recreation of Spider-Man walking away from those two headstones while delivering his final line. The two headstones are blackened out, meaning that the point of his speech is basically removed. Then you consider that he just fought Carnage in the ruins of an orphanage, so why are there headstones there anyway?! The little box in the corner then says, “The End of Maximum Carnage… OR IS IT?!”
Yes. Yes, it is the end. Why wouldn’t it be?
I said earlier that Maximum Carnage reminded me of the Clone Saga. It had some good moments and it had some bad moments. It even had an actual point buried deep, underneath all the sloppy too-many-cooks-spoil-the-broth storytelling. The problem was that they stretched it out far too long. It really didn’t need to be 14 issues, but like with Clone Saga, they decided that it doesn’t matter how long you make the story as long as it focuses on a character that’s making Marvel money at the moment. No way does that have drawbacks. At least the art remained fantastic throughout, barring Shriek’s man-face via Buscema.
So what became of the Carnage Family? Carrion and Shriek teamed up once, then promptly fell into obscurity. Demogoblin ended up dying when sacrificing himself to save a child. Carnage remained as stagnant as you’d expect, showing up for the occasional Spider-Man or Venom slugfest. He got two one-shot comics that are so decisively 90’s in their grittiness that even reading them in the 21st century will cause time cops to break down your door. Most famously, he mixed it up with the Sentry in the early pages of New Avengers and got torn in half after being dragged to space.
Carnage, Shriek and Doppelganger have all come back in the pages of Carnage, a miniseries by Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain that’s not finished as of this writing. It acts as almost a sequel to Maximum Carnage, but is far better written so far.
Look at that. When I started writing We Care a Lot, Venom was a shallow cash cow meant to get Thunderbolts some extra readers, Eddie Brock was on death’s door and Carnage was flat out dead. Now fast forward a couple years. We have two hero Venom characters where one has his own ongoing series and the other is making high-profile appearances in Spider-Man stories and videogames. Carnage is back with his own mini and isn’t overly awful. Even Toxin is supposedly going to make a comeback in the pages of Venom somewhere down the line!
Things are looking up… for me. Screw the rest of you guys, I’m going to enjoy this.
With that said, all that’s left is the We Care a Lot wrap-up.