Carnage Epic Collection: Born in Blood is a seminal collection as it features some of the first comics I ever read. Featuring stories originally published between 1991 and 1994, this collection serves as a kind of introduction to Carnage. The bloodthirsty villain had a huge impact on fans way back in the ’90s with even a Maximum Carnage video game released, but how does this epic blast from the past hold up?
For the most part, the answer is just okay. Carnage has never been the most complex villain, although he certainly got a little more development over the years. At the start, he’s a cold-blooded killer who has one goal: Kill people. That’s it, that’s the character. He’s great in small doses, especially with how he brings out the best in Venom in this collection, but his motivation is so simple it can’t sustain the 14-part “Maximum Carnage” story arc.
As Epic Collections go, it packs a lot of pages with 472 and features Carnage’s origin, his first fight with Venom and Spider-Man, and the “Maximum Carnage” story arc in its entirety. There is also Amazing Spider-Man Annual #28, which featured the first time Spider-Man defeated Carnage by himself. Given the fact that Carnage’s origin and “Maximum Carnage” have been collected many times over this collection isn’t necessarily new, but it’s a thick single volume to give you everything you need as far as a Carnage primer is concerned.
The first 79 pages are comics gold and feature the first Carnage story arc. Mark Bagley draws some of the best-looking Spidey and Venom images of all time in this story. The story is fairly simple, leaning heavily on the dynamic between Venom and Spider-Man. Up until this point, Venom was a straight villain who wanted to literally eat Spidey, but after Spider-Man faked his own death Venom was at peace living on a tropical island. Unfortunately Venom’s Symbiote, unbeknownst to him, gave birth to Carnage and Spider-Man needs his help to defeat him.
Meanwhile, Carnage is a killer who wants to send a message. His general desire is to create chaos for the hell of it. It’s somewhat surprising more wasn’t done to show how Carnage needs to eat people to maintain his strength so he comes off as a killer for the hell of it more than having any real motivation. The violence certainly ramps up, especially for the time, and there are some rather gory moments that’ll stick with you.
Much of the rest of this collection is devoted to the 14-part “Maximum Carnage” crossover event. Taking place over all the Spider-Man titles, the story reveals the Symbiote wasn’t removed from Cletus Cassady, but somehow got into his blood. After killing a whole bunch of people in the hospital he was contained he teams up with Shriek, soon finds Doppelganger, and goes on a killing streak.
The event is interesting at first, and is certainly best when Mark Bagley is drawing, but loses steam very quickly. Similar to Carnage himself, there’s a lack of imagination and motivation here for the villains. They’re killing people in the streets of New York over each issue with little development. Meanwhile, seemingly random heroes join Spider-Man’s cause simply because the good heroes were being used elsewhere. Deathlok, Morbius, and Firestar are a few that end up pitching in. Some issues end up feeling more purposeful than others, but by the end, it’s very clear it didn’t need to be so long.
Rounding out this collection is Amazing Spider-Man Annual #28. One can imagine the pitch room for this story since it’s a rather basic extra-sized issue. David Micheline wanted to see how Spider-Man could defeat Carnage by himself so he didn’t look like a wimp in the previous tales. What he ends up doing is effectively rendering Carnage as a less threatening foe. It does explore the nature of evil and how white-collar crime is bad, but the message ends up watered down by the end.
This collection also has plenty of extras like variant covers, a reprint of a Morbius scene that had changed dialogue, afterwords by comic greats, a reprint of trading cards, and penciled pages.
For many, Carnage Epic Collection: Born in Blood will be hard to resist since it reprints a primo time for most of us in our mid-30s to 40s. Carnage reigned supreme in the early ’90s and you can see why after reading this collection. Not only did the character bring a heightened level of violence and maturity to the series, but he looked freaking cool. Sadly though, it doesn’t hold up well, especially with modern comics telling far more interesting psychological tales. Still, this is a good collection to remember your childhood by.
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