The first issue of writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman’s new Venom and Symbiote-encompassing epic, Absolute Carnage, was a heavy metal mission statement. Equal parts funny, tense, and brutal, it was a near-unparalleled first issue of a major comics event, and a fantastic issue in its own right that set out to reestablish and renegotiate the importance of Venom in the larger Marvel universe. The second issue, although slightly looser in scope and delivery, is much the same.
What’s it about? Picking up exactly where issue one left off, Cates and Stegman get to quick work delivering on the awe-inspiring and horrific scale of Carnage’s New York City takeover in a way only these creators can.
In fact, Cates has ensured that the narrative is perfectly punctuated with moments that both increase the general sense of danger and helplessness both on a larger scale as well as a micro, character-focused one. Moments like a winged Venom carrying Spider-Man through the rainy NYC night on the cusp of a zombie-like Carnage army quite literally painting the town red are balanced perfectly against relatively smaller ones like a great reveal about Brock’s son, Dylan, or a tense scene between Miles and The Scorpion (which happens to tie perfectly into this week’s fantastic Miles Morales issue written by Saladin Ahmed). Scene after scene imparts the reader with a kind of abject defeatism that mimics the way Venom and Spidey are feeling — that this may be their biggest, and potentially last, fight.
Unfortunately, this acute tonality when focused on the heroes is somewhat undone by the silly feel of scenes featuring Norman Osborn and Carnage. There’s something to be said for watching two murderous psychopaths lounge about while their enemies have the worst night of their lives, but the general back and forth of the dialogue in comparison to the usual Knull and murder worshipping Carnage we’ve seen up to now feel misplaced against Norman Osborn’s weird and uncharacteristic aloofness. It’s not insurmountable, especially as the visuals in these scenes more than make up for the strangeness and maintain a good tonal consistency, but it’s noticeable.
Which is to say that — much like the first issue — Stegman, Mayer, and Martin’s artistic effort here is staggeringly good. A minor nitpick like Norman and Cletus looking a little too similar melts away in the larger picture. A gory, scary, and oppressive picture. From the opening page featuring a decaying Cletus Kasady transposed over a grinning Carnage, to an impacting two page spread displaying all that Carnage is capable of and has set into bloody motion, and finally a tense hectic fight between an unflinching and uncaring foe where otherwise top tier characters like Scorpion and Miles Morales drown in the wave of mutilation, this is an artistic team firing on all cylinders. Even so, in the quieter moments as mentioned above.
Ultimately, Absolute Carnage’s second issue is a near pitch-perfect continuation of the tone and intention its predecessor established and a damn good comic in its own right. Does it lose some focus and impact between mismatched scenes and a confusing array of tie-in continuity (see our Lethal Protectors review)? Sure, but that pales in comparison to the still awe-inspiring visage of Carnage who quite simply, rules.
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