Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Ryan Stegman
Colors: Frank Martin
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Release Date August 7 2019
Review by D. Brown (WolfCypher)
Eddie Brock and his unknowing son Dylan are targets of Dark Carnage, and even with the Venom symbiote back in Brock’s possession, he’s woefully no match for this new Carnage. Seeking out the help of Spider-Man, Eddie and Peter visit the Maker, who has been building an extractor to study the Venom symbiote with, but whose best use now is to extract symbiote codex/codices from people safely. The thinking is without any more codices, Dark Carnage cannot grow in power. Now, Venom and Spidey only need a test subject, so they head to Ravencroft to free Norman Osborn (who wore the Carnage symbiote himself recently). But Carnage is already on his way, transforming the inmates of Ravencroft into symbiote-slaves. Venom and Spider-Man struggle to fight back, are overwhelmed, and Carnage gets his hands on Osborn, transforming Norman back into a symbiote-wearing host.
And where do I begin?
For one, this book returns Venom to the same tone and atmosphere I remember as far back as the first issue and the first arc. The feeling of darkness and foreboding dread opens the issue and that feeling lasts the entire book. I expect this to be the tone for the whole event. Another feeling that runs through this first issue is the feeling that our heroes are on an incredibly one-sided losing battle. Dark Carnage feels like an Avengers-level threat, one that has a substantial advantage over anyone who would try standing to stop him. You get a sense of just how powerful Cletus is, how he has no concern of losing control of the situation. He beats Venom with little effort and even gives a laugh to being electrocuted in their first fight. Its Carnage that makes light work of our heroes and a game out of their desperation. This is a Carnage that is sure he cannot lose.
Stegman and Cates do a good job selling me on how morbid and terrifying Cletus has become. Visually, my favorite moment in this book was a scene where Cletus arrives at Ravencroft, dressed in gothic black, and transforms the inmates into his symbiotic slaves, but its how he goes about doing it, what he does to himself in the act that made this my favorite page. What other new tricks are we going to see from Carnage, I wonder? The familiarity between Eddie and Peter was new to me. Granted, I liked it, but it felt sudden. The last couple of times these two guys were in the same stories they weren’t enemies, sure, but they also weren’t exactly friends, not the likes of which Eddie endearingly refers to Spider-Man as “Pete”. At best, you’d have Eddie bluntly calling Spider-Man “Parker”, but now we have a Spider-Man and a Venom acting almost as if there’s an underlying friendship here, and not just because they have to work together. I can get behind this. Cates just knows how to write dialogue. It’s fun in places, the voices always match the characters, I loved the banter between everyone; Spider-Man & Venom, Carnage, the Maker…
I’m always happy to get to see Stegman draw Spider-Man, and we are treated to the rare experience of seeing his Spider-Man and Venom along with his gruesome new Carnage. The art is at its best during the third act of this issue. Stegman draws an eerie Cletus causally walking through the cells in Ravencroft, and it says so much about Cletus at that moment. It then transitions to a visual of symbiote ooze and maggots bleeding out of Cletus. His Spider-Man is fantastic, and he’s always been one of my favorite Spidey artists. I just love getting to see his take on the web-slinger. I’ve always been a fan of whenever artists show Spidey’s expressiveness on his mask; the way the lens on his mask widen with surprise or narrow with skepticism (which I understand makes no worldly sense, but personal preferences, and its comics…). His Eddie/Venom isn’t my go-to personally (Stegman just doesn’t draw him big enough…he’s a bloody weight lifter, make him bigger!) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken a liking to his version of the character. Another nice touch during this final act in issue one is the lighting and coloring. The minute Cletus arrives, everything is draped in a shade of red, and this lasts until the end of the book. It’s not a detail that’ll make or break the comic, but it goes so well with the shift in the situation.
My cons are very few, such as the fact that the Maker has been using Rex Strickland’s warehouse to build his extractor. This confused me since Eddie and Dylan have been using that warehouse for a while as a safe house, so how has the Maker been there all this time without Eddie knowing?
Hmmm…I guess if that’s the worst I could pull out of this, I can say all-in-all I was very happy with this issue. I came away from this a very positive reader, and it left me with the same great impression I felt when I read the very first issue of Cates’ Venom run, all the way back to the Rex/Grendal arc where this all started. I think we may finally have a good Venom event!
This is a good start to what promises to be an unforgiving massacre of an event. Stegman and Cates’ opening act to Absolute Carnage feels like both a natural continuation of the Venom book and a proper Marvel event.