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The psychology of 'Absolute Carnage' -- could the Venom villain have turned out any different?
Marvel Comics

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The psychology of ‘Absolute Carnage’ — could the Venom villain have turned out any different?

A miserable childhood, a chance encounter, and underworld forces combine for the worst horror ever conceived.

As Absolute Carnage rolls on, the relationship between Cletus Kasady and his symbiote continues to change. But even without the dark forces afflicting him, his may have been always written in the stars. Psychiatrist Doc Issues returns for the grim rundown of Carnage’s life!

There’s always that whole thing about “nature vs nurture” with mental illness. Spoiler alert: it’s both.

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Cletus was dealt a rough hand by being the victim of nuchal cord strangulation at birth (when the umbilical cord wraps around the child’s neck). So we’ve established lack of oxygen to the brain at a formative time.

This all happened at the Ravencroft Institute, a facility for the “criminally insane,” whatever conjecture that means in this context. Kasady was saved by some sort of elder god known for darkness and chaos, the implied notion being that a spiritual fate had some role in his surviving impoverished circumstances. In our world, the translation may be that of a child who is born with a similar medical condition but survives, and lacks an immediate parental structure (the mother dies, or the child is simply unwanted and temporarily abandoned).

The psychology of 'Absolute Carnage' -- could the Venom villain have turned out any different?

Image credit: Marvel Comics

As with many children in that circumstance,  Kasady had a mix of experiences with his immediate family. He exhibited enough behaviors as a child to meet a Conduct Disorder diagnosis as per the DSM5: he pushed his grandmother down stairs, he was cruel to his mom’s dog, and had multiple altercations, eventually leading to murder, as well as arson of the orphanage he lived in for a time.

Of course, it’s not much of a surprise that Cletus witnessed significant trauma as well. His father killed his mother, and he had his own share of bullying against him. Please keep in mind that this is all before he ever gets a super-powered coexistent organism!

It’s in his blood

Once an adolescent reaches the age of majority, the diagnosis may shift from Conduct Disorder to Antisocial Personalty Disorder. There is no immediate correlation that these diagnoses will lead to trouble in the future, but the most predominant predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

There’s no need to mystify Cletus’ scenario. A child with early brain injury, a traumatic past, and violent coping mechanisms, who destroyed his own source of support, is likely going to continue in that pattern without substantial intervention. Just like he would in our world, Cletus ends up incarcerated for his heinous actions.

I’m guessing at this point Cletus develops a bit of projective identification as a coping mechanism. That’s when a person has a preconceived idea about someone else, then unconsciously acts in a way around that person that will make it more likely to come true.

Take for example his cellmate, Eddie Brock. You know, the main guy behind Venom. Cletus dislikes anyone who doesn’t serve his agenda for death and destruction. He presents this worldview to a guy that has just had a powerful creature separated from his very existence. Cletus considers this absurd and labels Brock as a jerk (I’m cleaning up language here).

Brock fights with Cletus, and Cletus now wants to kill the jerk. See how this works? There was no consideration of other opinions on the part of Kasady. Of course, Eddie is not exactly in a stable mindset himself, but that’s for another time.

The psychology of 'Absolute Carnage' -- could the Venom villain have turned out any different?

Marvel Comics

Naturally, all of this leads to Eddie getting the Venom symbiote back, with its own offspring remnants bonding with Cletus. Emotional conflict with another direct, violent, physical trauma, and a conditioned response to violence, all merged with a supernatural amorphous biomass that entered through a cut. The parallel here is the self-harm that is common in those with traumatic pasts, as an alternative to the typical spectrum of emotion.

Lather, kill, repeat

From this point forward, it’s the typical supervillain story. I say that as no insult; we all love these things! But that’s not so uncommon in reality, either. Carnage/Cletus has multiple incarcerations for violent acts, ends up near death to the point that he’s an amputee, has a … difficult time with his offspring (Toxin, a COP? Talk about breaking the mold!)

There are plenty of other stories that take on supernatural and bioweapon elements, but I honestly find those less interesting. Cletus is fascinating because he’s a lone killer who managed to find comfort in himself. Unfortunately for those around him, that comfort usually oozes red, in more ways than one.

AiPT! Science is co-presented by AiPT! Comics and the New York City Skeptics.

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