Carnage #8 Review

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‘Carnage’. It is a series that should be near the top of comic sales charts right now due to its originality and creativity. It offers something entirely unique in a world of boring movie tie-ins and about a thousand different Spider-Man books. Strangely though, it appears that people don’t much care for originality anymore as Carnage’s sales figures continue in their downwards trajectory. So why exactly is that and did issue #8 offer some degree of course correction?

The short answer is that it did not. Issue #8 remained true to the feel of the earlier entries in this series as it retained the dark, quirky silliness that has come to define Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins’ work on this title. The problem with this is that, whilst is does make for some excellent reading for the initiated, it does not lend itself well to new readers who aren’t so knowledgeable when it comes to Marvel’s rich history. The best examples of this come in the form of The Darkhold, which has been present in the comic world since the 1970’s, and the newly introduced Demi-God Chthon, who has been around since 1975. Due to the inaccessibility of such an eclectic tale it makes it highly unlikely that sales figures will ever improve, but they will probably fall a fair way yet.

It is a crying shame that Carnage is destined to be cancelled like so many that have come before it because what Conway and Perkins have managed to achieve with this one note supervillain is quite remarkable. Never before has Carnage, who arguably reached the peak of his fame in the 1990’s, been so interesting in his presentation. Typically, he has been a one-dimensional killer with very little to offer unless surrounded by a dynamic supporting cast, such as the ever witty Spider-Man or the bullish Venom. What has been done here is a complete 180 from all of that as you will now find yourself looking forwards to the crimson catastrophe’s appearances on the page more than anyone else’s. That is especially true in this issue as he is the only one with anything interesting going on.

Perhaps that is a large part of the problem for some readers, the supporting cast are often left feeling quite irrelevant and rather underdeveloped. Case in point, just a few issues back Jubulile was introduced and looked set to become a massive part of this second arc as she took on some undefined part of Carnage’s powers and escaped his clutches. Now though, she has been reduced to a barely present entity that matters very little in the grand scheme of things. That will most probably change in the near future as she pulls some Deus Ex Machina nonsense to save the day but until then people will continue to be baffled by her lack of inclusion.

The wider supporting cast also have much the same problem in that none of them have anything interesting to say beyond telling Eddie Brock to shut up. That’s hardly sterling character development and has done a lot to downgrade this comic in the estimation of its remaining fans. They’d all still admit though that Carnage’s antics are very nearly enough to entirely make up for the weak spot in Conway’s writing.

In terms of the story set out in this instalment, there is a decent amount of goodness to sink your teeth into. The drama involving Carnage’s search for answers in relation to the Darkhold continues and it takes him into a rare situation, one that sees him put in harm’s way. The side characters being introduced from month to month are definitely getting more developed and they actually offered more to the overall story than Brock and his team have for a long while now. The stakes are being raised little by little and if everything continues as it is then this arc should conclude in epic fashion with ramifications that reach as far into the future as this comic lasts.

Perkins’ art is still as beautiful as ever but there is no reason to rewrite a description of it once more so here’s an example to do the talking instead.

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So yes, Carnage could well be finding itself on the cancelled list soon enough but for now let’s just enjoy the uniqueness on offer and hope that Marvel allow the experiment to continue for a long while yet.

Score: 7.0/10.

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Carnage #8 Review

Carnage #6 Review

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Save for a disappointing finale, the first full arc of Carnage was an enjoyable one. The story was heavy in horror clichés but it also brought enough fresh material to the table to avoid straying into rip off territory. With the second arc beginning in this issue it became clear that Gerry Conway and Co. would not be resting on the laurels as they switched up the tone to the extent that the entire genre shifted for much of the book.

Whereas the mine based story of the first five books was a deeply claustrophobic one, filled with gritty action and intense standoffs, issue six proved to me something more akin to a grand adventure piece. The story took place at sea, hence the title of ‘Sea Devil’, and centred more on the very human lead of Jabulile Van Scotter than it did on Carnage himself. The tone remained light for a large portion of the comic and the hopeful colouring provided by Andy Troy encapsulated that perfectly.

Jabulile proves to be a worthy lead, too, as she sets herself immediately apart from previous accompanying cast members. Typically, a side character in a Carnage story will do little to make their own mark on the story. They are, by and large, one dimensional people who serve primarily as cannon fodder for the far more interesting serial killer hunting them down. This was the case in the first arc as all the supporting characters not named Eddie Brock, or John Jameson were lacking in any major developments or recognisable personality traits. Jabulile, on the other hand, is instantly likable as she portrays a vulnerable side along with her tough exterior which makes her a relatable and endearing addition.

Her good nature is a worry from the off though as she goes out of her way to help the lone survivor of a shipwreck. That survivor? Carnage of course. Once she’s trapped aboard her small boat with the titular psychopath it feels as though time is running out for the young explorer and that just cranks the tension up more than a few notches. You genuinely don’t want this girl to die, which couldn’t be said for the protagonists last time around. She affords the series some lighthearted tranquility and proves to be the perfect thing to counterbalance the overwhelming darkness that accompanies Carnage wherever he goes. Instead of dying however, something altogether more interesting happens. Without spoiling the specifics, it should suffice to say that she will be sticking around on this book for a while longer and her character just got a whole hell of a lot more interesting. You’re going to have to pick up a copy to find out why, though.

Alongside this almost slice of life styled story there is the previously visited narrative involving the Darkhold. Readers got to see some of its power towards the end of the last arc and it was once again on display here, only with a smaller emphasis for the most part. It is already proving to be a compelling piece of the puzzle that is Carnage’s mind and seems to have offered him both some clarity and more confusion all at once. He is happier in himself as he has purpose and increased abilities but he also is now consumed with discovering more about the book and fulfilling his apparent promise. These facets make Carnage a more engaging lead as he steps away from the fairly unevolved killer to be a more complex individual with an evolving psychopathy that should interest any reader.

The only negative that can be pointed out in all of this is that Carnage’s new powers are still not fully realised and it might be more effective to show them in all their glory rather than dropping hints and suggestions throughout the admittedly often overdone dialogue. That’s a small gripe though and not one that detracts from the comic in any measurable way. It’s more of a concern going forward that it is a critique of this as a standalone story.

Once more the art on display in this title is gorgeous. Mike Perkins and the previously mentioned Andy Troy are proving to be a bit of a dream team when it comes to capturing a mood and really driving home a story with unique visuals and arresting landscapes. The use of colour to make a moment pop or to allow the visuals to take a more subdued backseat in order to let the dialogue take centre stage is magnificent. They have not slipped up yet in this run and it would be shock to see them do so at any point in the future either.

As you may have expected, Carnage is on fine form once more as this new arc kicks off. It is not entirely clear where the story is headed from here but it will likely be a hell of a journey as fans find out.

Score: 9.3/10

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Carnage #6 Review

Carnage #5 Review

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For four straight issues Gerry Conway and his team have worked hard to craft a near perfect story arc to introduce this new comic. This issue served to wrap up that story, but would it prove to be a satisfying conclusion?

For the entirety of this arc the biggest thing being built towards was the tantilising showdown between Carnage and his Symbiote son/father, Toxin. The hype was very real with fans as each week they had the battle teased to them only for the narrative to be taken in another direction each time. So then, you would imagine that there would be fireworks when these two monsters finally met, right? Well there weren’t.

The fact is that what could have been a very memorable confrontation was watered down by the rest of the story surrounding it. Conway was trying to do too much in one book and it resulted in nothing being fully developed or all that well executed. In the case of this highly anticipated fight, Toxin wasn’t just taking on Carnage, as many wanted, but was rather fighting him and his new found underlings. What this led to was very little meaningful physicality between the two main behemoths with Toxin instead having to fend off a hoard of creatures that nobody had time to care about. It was woefully underwhelming in this respect and a real let down for anyone who had invested time into the series so far.

All of that may not have stung so badly though if the story had just been finished in an empathic manner. But no, they couldn’t get that right either.

The underpinning tale being told since the very beginning of issue one has been the FBI’s efforts to capture or kill Carnage and, on a more personal note, the quest of Manuela Calderon to see the beast that nearly killed her as a child be put down. So then, the smart thing to do would be to address that properly by either having him be captured and then set the next story arc around his incarceration and escape or by having him finally kill Calderon and evade the FBI. Those were the two options that seemed the most sensible but neither opportunity was taken.

Conway decided that the best way to end his first arc was to have no meaningful character deaths but instead have Carnage escape with ease in search of the Darkhold Cult’s book that promises him meaning in life. As for the heroes, they are all in pretty much the same state they were in at the start, with the exact same tensions between Manuela and Eddie Brock despite their quite key developments throughout the four issues. It’s this kind of lazy, unimpactful ending that causes people to stop reading and investing in series’.

Don’t think this review is as gloomy as Carnage’s setting though as there are some glimmers of light to be found. The most noteworthy of these is the speech given by Carnage that is very telling to his character. The psychopath speaks of his newfound obsession with the book and the cult as, for the first time in his life, he has found something that makes him feel special, something that says he is more than just some insignificant man. It’s such a good speech because the narcissism and arrogance on display is exactly what you are likely to find in an actual serial killer. They are people with a god complex for the most part and that is reflected quite perfectly in Conway’s writing.

Add to this the fact that the atmosphere is still incredibly dark and foreboding, thanks to the top notch artwork by Mike Perkins and Andy Troy, and you have a very good looking book that is capable of drawing you into its world. It’s just a shame that the actual story is unable to keep you there.

Overall, this is a disappointing end to a fantastic arc. There should still be some excitement for where the series will go as of issue #6 but it has to be tempered after this offering. With luck Conway and Co. will learn from there failings here and work harder to craft a more complete narrative next time around.

Score: 2 out of 5.

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Carnage #5 Review

Carnage #4 Review

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Carnage continues to stalk his way in the night, unluckily for him he is not the last known survivor. This series has been going from strength to strength for a few months now but could it keep it up for a fourth straight issue?

Last month readers were left on quite the cliffhanger as Carnage was led to an ancient door that held endless possibilities in terms of a new direction for this series. It is safe to say that what came of this development did not disappoint as a whole new level of terror has been unleashed on those hapless few who are left hunting Cassidy down.

The door, as it turns out, opened into an ancient temple where a holy text foretold of the coming of the ‘Red Slayer’. Of course this means that the inhabitants of this newly discovered place want to use Carnage for their own gain. As you may expect, this does not go well and their plan backfires horribly. What transpires will definitely have ramifications on this series for many issues to come and muddies the waters when it comes to capturing or even killing Carnage.

Once again Gerry Conway has done fans a great service with his moody, atmospheric writing that captures the claustrophobic nature of the title perfectly. He conveys the desperation of the situation and at the same time shows each person as having hope. It serves to add a human face to a book that is primarily about such an inhuman monster. Each character has a distinct voice and you will have problem picking favourite but also identifying with each of them in some way. The lead cast are not just a series of one dimensional people/Symbiotes but are instead a collection of layered, interesting personalities.

A running theme for the past few issues has been the putting off of the inevitable showdown between Toxin and Carnage. Rather than being irritating, as this could easily have been, this served to heighten the tension and anticipation for fans and now you can be sure the payoff will be more than satisfying. This issue took the biggest step towards that confrontation as Toxin was finally unleashed due to the fact that he is the only weapon left to combat the Symbiote nightmare. However, that battle may go down a little different to what was initially expected due to the way that this book ended and again that is a great thing. Firstly, it stops the narrative from becoming too predictable and secondly, it means that the logical endgame for this arc is no longer as clear cut so the series can survive much longer. Everyone should be grateful for that fact.

A staple of this title’s run has been the gloomy, suffocating art style that perfectly delivered the feeling of the script. Mike Perkins and Andy Troy continue that sterling work here. There isn’t too much new stuff to comment on due to the cast and setting remaining largely the same but they have depicted Toxin in a fittingly monstrous manner, making sure his fight with Carnage will look all the more epic when it finally occurs.

It will be of no great surprise to anyone that Carnage continues to be one of the best books in Marvel’s new line-up. The writing and art are both flawless and it makes for an enjoyable read with each passing issue. Fans can be confident that this talented team will only continue to deliver as time goes on.

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

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Carnage #4 Review

Carnage #3 Review

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An American werewolf in a mine… with Carnage. This is a fight fans weren’t expecting thanks to the Toxin red-herring but it’s the one they got. Luckily it delivered all the thrills and spills people expected.

Yes, the excellent new Carnage series continues with its third issue and this time around the Crimson Killer faces off with the monstrous Man-Wolf. As stated, fans had been eagerly anticipating the eventual showdown between Carnage and fellow symbiote, Toxin. That confrontation will undoubtedly happen in the not-so-distant future but for now readers will have been more than satiated by the physical encounter presented here.

Of course the addition of a werewolf steered the tone of this comic yet again, taking it from a supernatural crime thriller that explored the mind of a murderer more so than that of a supervillain and switching it to a rather campy B-movie horror. This isn’t a knock on the book though as it is still every bit as enjoyable and deliciously dark as it has ever been and the ever evolving tone means that readers are not going to find themselves growing tired anytime soon.

Accompanying the main plot are some equally entertaining sub-stories concerning the usual comic book tropes; betrayal being chief among them. Last month the mine owner who allowed his land to be used in the attempted capture of Carnage was revealed as a traitor though his motives remained hidden. This time some light is shed on this development although not enough to quell anyone’s curiosity. What is particularly noteworthy about this character’s aiding of Carnage is that it has allowed for a complete change in the direction of the story. There were previously concerns that this very linear tale had a logical end point that was fast approaching, the ending of this book has turned that on its head and opened up a whole world of new possibilities, perhaps literally.

Gerry Conway is deserving of massive praise for his work on this title. He has consistently taken the reader in one direction and then switched at the last minute, keeping intrigue and suspense at a scintillating high. He has also balanced the classic horror elements with those of the modern crime procedural and classic crime noir and the result is a book with something for everyone that does not sacrifice the integrity of any of the characters featured within. Even with his continued teasing of a Toxin appearance without delivering one he does not lose fans but rather keeps them coming back in hope of finally seeing Eddie Brock transform.

Once more Andy Troy and Mike Perkins have blended together to create a book with superior artistry. The previously mentioned tones of horror and crime noir are represented expertly through the use of a primarily gloomy colour palette coupled with vibrant yet not overly cartoony colourings that allow the key personalities to really pop on the page. Carnage and Man-Wolf in particular get this treatment and as such they appear to be every bit the larger-than-life creatures that they should be.

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It should come as no surprise that Carnage #3 is yet another triumph as this team have proven their skill in bringing these characters to print. The concept remains highly interesting even with the complete 180 in direction and is more than enough to keep fans coming back for future issues. Let’s just hope that whatever lies beyond those gates is just as excellent as what sits before them.

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Carnage #3 Review

Carnage #2 Review

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He’ll eat your liver without even bothering to grab a nice Chianti. The deranged killer Carnage is back in the second issue of his bone chilling new series. After such a strong start could it keep the quality high? With ease.

Last month readers were treated to something of a study in the mind of a serial killer, albeit a super-powered one. That was put on the back burner this time as the focus instead switched to delivering a good old fashioned thriller full of tension and a palpable sense of fear. Taking cues from horror classics such as Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, Gerry Conway creates something that gets the heart beating that little bit faster and the skin crawling as though you were in the mine along with the soldiers. The opening sequence is particularly effective in giving a human face to Carnage’s victims as the reader sees a lone soldier fearfully begging for his life, not wanting to die alone. The believability of this reaction makes it all the more chilling when Carnage looms over him, poised to kill. You will never actually see that death though as Conway and company avoid showing such things on the page which is tremendously effective in building tension as you will be left to wonder if certain characters are dead once they come face to face with the Symbiote covered killer.

Whilst you won’t see any deaths you absolutely will get to witness the aftermath and this is where the art department shines yet again. Mike Perkins and Andy Troy prove to be a superb pairing as they blend exquisite lines with some of the best colouring work currently being seen in any comic. The mood is immediately set from the first ominous brush stroke and they do not relent through any of the subsequent frames. In one scene where the body of the aforementioned soldier is discovered the pair present it as a horrifically mangled mess, far beyond the point of identification. This gives plenty of room for the audience to draw their own conclusions as to what happened to this poor man at the hands of Carnage and is a truly refreshing approach to storytelling that sets this apart from any other comic on the stands right now.

Atmosphere is not the only place where Conway shines however as the dialogue is also at a high level. Each character is given their own idiosyncrasies and through this there are no nameless drones being led to the slaughter as there often are in other such monster stories. In fact Carnage takes something of a back seat here whilst Conway explores those pursuing him providing an excellent balance and keeping the big bad out of sight enough to build a sense of unease for when he pops up again. A commendable feat achieved here is that the previously rather unlikable Eddie Brock has already successfully been transformed into a character that elicits cheers as readers wait in anticipation for when he is finally let off the leash and once again becomes Toxin.

The script is aided in its excellence by the exceptional lettering work of Joe Sabino who depicts emotion with tremendous effectiveness simply through the way in which he writes a word. With this talent Sabino helps to create these multi-dimensional characters and gives gravity to what they say. This is not simply writing Blam! or Pow! in the old, slightly regrettable style, nor is it just bold lettering done to fill the space, everything about Sabino’s work is carefully thought out and has a reason behind it and as such he is an invaluable asset to this book.

Overall Carnage has excellent pacing, beautiful art particularly on the cover, and intelligent writing. There is only one drawback to this otherwise spectacular series and that is that it only has a very limited number of direction to go in. It seems that Conway may have painted himself into a corner which is a worry as this is not a miniseries but rather an ongoing comic and for it to feel as though an ending is already in sight is not a good sign. Still though everyone can enjoy it for now as this throwback to the monster comics of old brings delights and frights aplenty.

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Carnage #2 Review