The cover of writer Clay McLeod Chapman and artist Brian Level’s Absolute Carnage: Separation Anxiety #1 is sure to be nostalgic to fans of the similarly-named Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety SNES game, or to anyone familiar with the Lethal Protector’s eponymous story from 1993, both weighed down with a lot of needless ‘90s twists and turns. Thankfully, while the interiors of this book are evocative of that same visual language, they come with much less burden, and a hell of a story to tell.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
HELLISH HORROR IN THE MIGHTY MARVEL MANNER! Since the conclusion of DEADPOOL VS. CARNAGE, four of the five LIFE FOUNDATION SYMBIOTES – Riot, Phage, Agony and Lasher – have been bonded to a stray dog, wandering the Midwest. But as Carnage descends on New York, its siblings will find it impossible to resist the siren song of KNULL…
Simple enough! Just a bunch of alien murderers riding around in a dog, the usual (and all you need to know to buy into this story, really). Where the story goes from there, however, is something much more sinister, surprising and exquisitely structured.
McLeod Chapman writes the ensuing panic, the abject horror that is Symbiotes under the sway of a deadly god, with an urgency that is much appreciated and authentic. The reader feels powerless as we see these familiar, but savagely alien invaders take over and defile the home of a struggling, but relatively relatable family. They pursue a young girl and her brother, play family, and deliver scares and scars with a reckless abandon that intimates just how genuinely scary a run-in with one of these monsters (let alone four of them) would be. Grounded by the realistic and deflatingly horrified reactions of the children who have become their prey, the story hums along at a decent, if somewhat circuitous clip and ends on a real high note, tying perfectly into the larger story Cates and Stegman are telling. It’s bare bones, but evocative and weighty stuff that feels emulative of a haunted house, constantly twisting and turning to meet the needs of its narrative in a way that imparts genuine terror even through fits of hilarity turned on their head.
Level’s art meets the call perfectly. Across truly unique paneling detailing a child trapped between the yells of their parents, twisting like the very visage of Knull’s crest, and emulating the flicker of flames and the drips of slime and blood the book is laden in, Level makes this home feel broken and terrifying — a nightmare turned real. The depiction of the Symbiotes helps all the more as an introductory page depicting a scene of gore, terror, and insatiable hunger in the shadow of a dog in a simple midwestern home delivers a message of unrepentant rage and ferocity.
Yes, Separation Anxiety is familiar but it also feels new, like a whole and complete realization of a broader story that’s been waiting in the wings. Taking near-nostalgic characters such as Agony, Phage, Lasher, and Riot and turning them on their head into an all-new terror is compelling, urgent, and impacting in the way that these ‘90s worshipping tie-ins ought to be, and I desperately wish this was more than a one shot because of it.