Extreme Carnage was a nice surprise last year, especially after the epic King in Black wrapped up — a Symbiote story weaving in all the colorful and eclectic alien hosts into a story where Carnage is the central focus. A Carnage, I might add, that is without his human host and going rogue. It’s also a great example of how a collection of one-shots can act as done in one storytelling while building on a larger story.
Collected here are Extreme Carnage Alpha #1, Extreme Carnage: Scream #1, Extreme Carnage: Phage #1, Extreme Carnage: Riot #1, Extreme Carnage: Lasher #1, Extreme Carnage: Agony #1, Extreme Carnage: Toxin #1, and Extreme Carnage Omega #1.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson writes the opening and closing chapters of this collection and is also a bit of the mastermind behind the project. In between his opening and closing issues, Alyssa Wong, Steve Orlando, and Clay McLeod Chapman focus their one-shot stories on specific Symbiotes. Those Symbiotes include Riot, Toxin, Scream, Phage, Agony, and Lasher. Each story gives readers a taste of the specific Symbiote while also progressing the story slightly. Flash Thompson’s Anti-Venom is also in the mix of stories.
There are two major elements to this series that make it work. The first is the extreme violence, which is evident in the first Alpha issue all the way to the end. Johnson blends two totally different, but equally disgusting things together to make a new kind of slasher alien Symbiote story here. The second is the evolution of Scream. The changes she goes through not only affect her Symbiote but the human underneath. She’s been given the most attention in recent years of all the ancillary Symbiotes, and it gives the overall read a meaningful purpose.
The opening chapter opens with a United States senator attempting to leverage the Friends of Humanity to win the presidency. This group wants all aliens banned from Earth. The xenophobia is strong with them and one might argue the hate inside these folks rages as strongly as it does in Carnage to eat a puppy. Blending this political angle with untethered and truly disgusting gore makes this book the horror book to beat this month.
Speaking of gore, the opening chapter will have your skin crawling. Carnage is literally held together with a chaotic viciousness, and Manuel Garcia doesn’t hold back when it comes to visuals on more than on occasion. Meanwhile, Anti-Venom’s costume has a fluid look to it that sets it apart from the usual Symbiotes. It also looks quite cool and stands apart from the usual Symbiote costume. There are some familiar faces that pop up, too, and their costuming is solid.
Scream gets the central focus in the second issue by Chapman and Chris Mooneyham. Considering Chapman has written excellent Scream comics one after the other for some time, it’s clear as day we’re getting primo storytelling here. The issue opens with Scream reminding us through her actions that she’s a good guy now. As seen in the preview, Doppelganger escapes only to find Scream waiting for him to help take him out. This opening helps remind casual or newer readers what Scream’s new modus operandi is while featuring a major Spider-Man villain in the process. Paired with Mooneyham’s dark and edgier style, it’s a gritty introduction.
Next up is Phage, carrying that story forward while supplying a solid cliffhanger for the next chapter focused on Lasher. Orlando and Gerardo Sandoval open the book with a flashback to what Phage was up to prior to Carnage coming back to haunt the Symbiotes on Earth. It’s revealed Phage is pretending to be a hunting dog for a single man who clearly enjoys simpler things in life. Unfortunately for him, Carnage speaks through Senator Krane on the television, which somehow mind controls Phage.
Art by Sandoval is big and boisterous with huge men built like brick walls and a style that’s completely his own. Sandoval’s style works great with hulking Symbiotes like Phage, who has a violent reveal with all kinds of pointy bits that look muscular in nature. Sandoval is very good at creating a 3D-looking space. The armor on Flash Thompson looks bulky and fills the space nicely.
Lasher is next up by Chapman with Mooneyham and Danilo S. Beyruth on art. The real meat of this issue focuses on Flash Thompson’s attempt to save Scream’s life. Chapman pays off the work he did in the previous issue to evolve Scream in a new and interesting way.
Riot gets the focus in the next issue with art by Fran Galán. This is the chapter that might please horror fans the most and it’s all focused on a bus scene. Carnage spends much of this issue killing every single person on a bus so as to find a new human host for a named Symbiote. Galán draws an incredible double-page layout of maiming and violence at the top of the page while Andi and Flash prepare themselves for her attempt to confront Carnage. It’s almost spiritual to see Silence prepare and then enter the void which is juxtaposed with total violence above it.
Toxin is next up by Orlando, Sandoval and Beyruth on art. Toxin’s host is a teenage boy, which offers a new spin on the type of person a Symbiote powers up. Bren Waters has a good heart, similar to Toxin, who is more a hero than a villain when it comes to the stable of Symbiotes. His father also works at Alchemax, which is the same location a lot of the Symbiote violence has taken place in this event. As Bren rushes to check on his dad, Carnage attacks Toxin in the void. The concept of Carnage’s harnessing a mind space of Symbiotes is explored here and the main conflict is between Toxin and Carnage in this strange void space. Sandoval does a great job with the art in these scenes. Toxin’s bulbous muscles distinguish him from other Symbiotes along with his orangey-red complexion.
Agony is next by Wong, Galán, and Beyruth which ties into King In Black while also developing the relationship between Carnage and Agony. This chapter serves as a setup for the finale establishing Agony’s unique relationship with Carnage compared to other Symbiotes.
Finally, the Omega issue wraps everything up by Johnson and Manuel Garcia. Johnson keeps your interest in the various characters in the story and there are many. If you’re a fan who read King in Black and keeps tabs on details, you’ll appreciate the callbacks and other elements that pop up in the narrative. It’s everything you want in a climactic finish. There’s also some glorious violence you don’t typically see in a Big Two comic.
Once the mayhem ends, much of the back end of the book is an epilogue setting up the future for these Symbiotes. There are multiple figures on the side of good and bad that could factor into future stories. We’ve yet to see many of these Symbiotes in Ram V and Al Ewing’s Venom, but Johnson has built up what could be an interesting future with a robust cast.
Extreme Carnage lives up to its name featuring plenty of Carnage, but also extreme violence. In a lot of ways, this collection keeps Symbiote fans fed with the various familiar Symbiotes popping up, getting new directions, and in general looking badass. For those reasons, if you’re a fan of Symbiotes that aren’t named Venom or Carnage, this is the book for you.
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