Carnage is a fascinating character, one who has typically been inextricably tied to the ’90s excess that spawned him. But now that Cletus Kasady is gone, Marvel has a unique opportunity to tell new types of stories with Venom’s most wicked child. Ram V has already taken that opportunity and sprinted with it, delivering a bold new direction for the universe’s most reviled Symbiote.
Picking up from last month’s Carnage Forever, this new series takes things in a hybrid procedural direction, introducing us in quick succession to our new cast and threat. The Artist might be the most twisted serial killer in the history of Marvel Comics, and Ram V and Francesco Manna waste no time in pushing the limits of anything you’ve seen in a Big Two book. The reveal of The Artist’s latest “installation” is a truly wild sequence, and Dijo Lima’s vibrant colors bring to life every sickening splatter of red and the flutter of tiny, beautiful wings. Without veering into spoiler territory, you’re going to need to see this scene to believe it — and it sure seems like The Artist and his muse are a match made in Hell.
Carnage is a bit more of a background figure in the first half of this lead story, indirectly pushing the events forward with his random acts of cruelty. But when he does make his big appearance, it’s one for the ages. Manna gives the creature impossible and haunting proportions, everything looking just crooked or overly long enough to make your skin crawl. Joe Sabino’s lettering likewise leans into that uncanny feeling that everything around Carnage is just horrifying, delivering dialogue balloons that look like the sound of Carnage’s voice would actually find a way of getting under your skin, not to mention sound effects that feel crunchy and visceral. Carnage is beginning to test the newest limits of his capabilities, and this issue savors every intense moment of discovery.
The new status quo for Carnage is an interesting one, but so is the introduction of homicide detective Jonathan Shayde. It’s still not clear how entangled the lives of Shayde and Carnage will become, but this driven new character is already an intriguing person to follow. His involvement with this string of murders raises an interesting question: If he can get this deep into the mind of The Artist, what will prolonged exposure to Carnage’s world do to him?
The backup story by Dave Michelinie and Ron Lim is a near-perfect dose of acidic nostalgia, presenting a version of Carnage that will be instantly familiar to fans of the character’s early years. This story is a brief yet impactful meditation on the reality of seeking revenge, leaning into the idea that Carnage appeals to the worst in all of us.
This story is a bit abrupt in its ending, but it serves as a nice revisit of the themes seen in Maximum Carnage, in which ordinary people can lose their way and give into their darkest instincts. Lim’s depiction of a more classic version of Carnage feels perfect for this story, with the acrobatic monster making quick work of a group of bullies. The acting of the characters is nicely done, as well, particularly in the uncertain final moments. Seeing this team on the character again is a delight — not to mention a fascinating reminder of how different the character is without Cletus in the driver’s seat — and I hope it’s something we get more of in future issues. It’s also worth noting that Sabino returns to letter this story as well, giving the pair of tales a nice through-line when it comes to the title character’s voice.
Capping the book off is a series of brief Peanuts-style strips by the incomparable Ty Templeton. The concept of these strips, previously seen in Carnage Forever #1, are just twisted enough to work. Combining the gentle schadenfreude of the best Charles M. Schulz scripts with the absolutely chaotic horror of Carnage results in the perfect palate cleanser to end the book. Hats off, Mr. Templeton.
Carnage #1 is full of goodies for fans of the character, but it also sets up some intriguing mysteries and atmosphere that is sure to draw in new readers. This series already feels like something terrifyingly new.
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