The whole 4 Elements article concept is David’s baby. The four ties into the four in 4thletter and 4thletter comes from David’s name because he’s an egomaniac, an Eggo maniac and possibly a Lego maniac. You can also say that the four comes from there literally being four elements, but I’m pretty sure there are like a hundred of those things, so that’s definitely wrong.
This is David’s site and all, but Carnage USA is my comic. It’s a comic specifically made for ME. Me. Gavin Jasper. And since I’m Gavin, which starts with the seventh letter of the alphabet, that means I need to talk about the 7 Elements.
Carnage USA is the sequel to last year’s Carnage, both by Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain. Carnage was the story that returned Carnage from his grizzly death of being torn in half in space by the Sentry back in 2005. It acts as a loose sequel to the character’s most mainstream adventure Maximum Carnage while introducing yet another symbiote anti-hero in Scorn. By the end of the story, not only is Cletus Kasady alive and reunited with his blood-red costume, but he’s also on the loose and nobody knows where he’ll end up next. All we know is that he has something bad on the horizon.
The plot of Carnage USA has Cletus venture to Doverton, Colorado, where he goes to a slaughterhouse and kills the entire stock of cows. The symbiote grows off the meat and expands to the point that he’s able to infect and assimilate the entire town through plumbing. A handful of the Avengers (Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Hawkeye and Thing) are sent to go deal with it and find a town of frightened human puppets before Carnage takes them too. Spider-Man gets away and the government goes to plan B… while trying real hard not to move to the dire plan C, which is to blow the county to kingdom come.
This miniseries helps support the idea that in comics, there are no bad characters, but bad writers. For such a mainstream villain who got his own popular videogame back in the day, Carnage’s death was met with little backlash. For years he’s been seen as nothing more than 50% shallow Venom mixed with 50% shallow Joker. Nobody’s ever really tried to write something decent with him and whenever he got the spotlight with his own one-shot, it was usually a bunch of gory dreck that didn’t do anything for me.
Wells’ portrayal of Cletus is a definite improvement, making him more than just an aimless killing machine. In fact, he isn’t shown doing all that much killing at all, really. By holding that back, Wells is able to make him out to be something scarier, since the way he plays with his victims is more disturbing than simply chopping them up with his axe hands. He goes from jokey asshole friend to disturbed bully in-between sentences and it’s really off-putting.
His appearance helps too. The robot legs are creepy and it’s even worse when he doesn’t have them, showing him to get around without a bottom half and not caring. If anything, this comic works by focusing on Cletus instead of the symbiote or even the sum of their parts and reminds us what a sinister freak he really is.
Clayton Crain brings it with his art style that’s a perfect fit. Crain can be completely hit or miss on a panel-by-panel basis, especially with some of his human faces, but ever since Venom/Carnage years ago, it’s been pretty apparent that he draws some goddamn amazing symbiote characters. His Carnage has always looked great, mainly due to all the red gunk flying all over the place, but only now do I notice some of the more subtle bits. Namely, how great his Venom looks.
The Venom symbiote has always been depicted as oil with teeth, but Crain is the first time I’ve ever looked at somebody wearing the costume and saw it come off as an actual living organism. This is more apparent with Flash Thompson’s version of the costume, where it’s supposed to look like sleek armor.
But if you look at it, you can see weird veiny shit going on underneath. That’s neat.
As a fan of everything Venom, the obscure symbiote callback made me very happy. The first issue ended with a cool suggestion that the government would create some kind of action team out of Venom, Anti-Venom, Toxin, Hybrid and Scorn. Toxin hadn’t been brought up in years and Hybrid hasn’t been seen since the mid-90’s, so this blew me away. Much like the first cliffhanger in X-Men’s Endangered Species, it was a bit of a cockblock, as Anti-Venom and Toxin are nowhere to be seen, but therein lies some of the fun. Carnage USA has ties to the current goings on of Venom, where we actually do get to see what’s going on with those who are excluded. We even get a little explanation as to why Scott Washington is no longer Hybrid. That leads me to the next point:
Wells does a great job at actually using the symbiotes for outrageous purposes. Even though the whole symbiote thing was popular enough in the 90’s, I don’t think they ever really did anything with what’s essentially a versatile concept. The most they could come up with was that ridiculous plot where Venom and Carnage use their costumes to fight inside the internet. That’s overthinking it. Fact is, they never really looked into the possibilities other than have dudes become superhumans with jagged eyes. There were some exceptions. It worked that Scott Washington was paralyzed until bonding with the Hybrid symbiotes. As much as I shit on Daniel Way’s work on the older Venom ongoing, it was pretty inspired when the symbiote temporarily lived off a nest of cockroaches all at once. Nowadays, the writers are starting to figure it out, such as the current Venom’s armor design and ability to fire a dozen guns at once.
Wells comes up with some interesting concepts. Hybrid splits back into four symbiotes: Lasher, Riot, Agony and Phage. They’re used in conjunction with a secret commando team with different talents based on their alien enhancements. One has a leashed symbiote controlling what appears to be a catatonic attack dog, one is enhanced to the point of being the world’s greatest sniper and so on. Even the new girl Scorn is shown to be able to assimilate technology into her metal arm, which is itself a merger of state-of-the-art prosthetics and symbiote biology.
The whole deal with the Carnage symbiote expanding over the town is pretty novel and it’s nice to see a Carnage baby tossed in there, but the best piece of craziness is using them on some escaped zoo animals.
Somewhere in the multiverse, Spider-Ham just shivered.
Really, though. This is a comic book where an angry man made of orange rocks is fighting a rabid giraffe that’s controlled by a bloodthirsty liquid organism. Comic books rule.
That reminds me, there’s also the inclusion of the Avengers. Spider-Man acts as the main protagonist and Wolverine is there to be Wolverine, but the Wells makes the best of these throwaway victims by introducing the idea that Hawkeye cannot stand Ben Grimm.
Before everything goes nuts towards the end of the first issue, we get an idea that Hawkeye is sick and tired of Thing’s shtick that he’s been using since the 60’s. Spider-Man tries to defend him, but even he begins to notice how Thing won’t shut up about Yancy Street and Aunt Petunia. We need more of this side of Hawkeye.
Meanwhile, Captain America remains badass rather than allow himself to simply be a victim. He gets two moments to shine in the miniseries and both of them involve him talking over the radio. One of which has him bitch out a jerky commander in such a way that Cap renders him into a blubbering mess. The other instance has him fight through the symbiote’s mind control out of pure willpower, punch down Carnage and call for backup before it’s too late.
That backup turns out to be the newest member of the Secret Avengers (to the point that he wasn’t even a member of the team yet in either Remender-written series), Venom. It’s great, as we’re given a new spin on an old yarn. Venom vs. Carnage. Again for the first time.
Sure, we get the two symbiotes fighting it out regular-style, but the cliffhanger of #4 leads right into the absolute best idea from the miniseries: Cletus Kasady and Flash Thompson in a legless fight!
The letters page makes reference to how Tom Brevoort claimed the series “made sense”. I can’t help but think he was talking about this scenario. It really writes itself. The symbiote characters aren’t inexperienced with handicaps. As I mentioned earlier, Hybrid used to be in a wheelchair and Scorn is missing an arm. Venom and Carnage currently share the handicap of having no legs. Cletus had his torn away with the rest of his lower half while Flash lost his in Iraq. So here they are, a trained soldier and one of the world’s most dangerous serial killers, duking it out in a slaughterhouse. Beats internet brawling any day.
I think if anything, my biggest complaint would be how Spider-Man seems really indifferent to the whole Venom situation. Secret Avengers points out that someone’s going to have to one day tell Spider-Man that Venom’s on the team and it’s suggested that it’ll be an understandably tense reaction. Other than a crack about how Venom looks like Frank Castle dressed as Spider-Man, the webbed one doesn’t really seem to give a damn. Maybe that will be picked up later.
It’s crazy how a few years ago, Zeb Wells wrote one of the worst Venom comics in Venom: Dark Origin and then completely redeemed himself with Carnage: Family Feud and Carnage, U.S.A.. Check out the issues or trade, because the mini is fuuuuun shit. The next installment, Minimum Carnage, just can’t come fast enough.