Writer: Clay McCleod Chapman
Artist: Brian Level
Colors: Jordan Boyd
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Release Date August 14, 2019
Review by D. Brown (WolfCypher)
Absolute Carnage is going to have a fair share of tie-ins, true to any Marvel event. Separation Anxiety doesn’t immediately come off as a necessary read for those invested in all the lore around Cate’s story. While the main event itself has its central antagonist cutting a swath through New York in pursuit of more symbiote codices, this little one-shot would have us visit a quiet neighborhood in Colorado, where a little girl named Sadie sits on her porch.
Sadie is upset because her parents are getting divorced and her family is splitting up. She shares her woes to a stray dog that approaches her. This seemingly harmless and normal dog just happens to be hosting four alien symbiotes on its body. Now, if you’re keeping up with Donny Cates’ Venom and Absolute Carnage, you’ll know symbiotes are subject to the violent and crazed call of Knull. Poor little Sadie doesn’t realize the threat she’s letting into her home when she sneaks the dog inside to show to her little brother, as her mother and father continue their verbal fighting.
It’s a perfectly standard set-up to a horror story, and make no mistake, this becomes a horror story. One that sees Sadie and her brother Billy desperately try to escape from their home after their parents are assimilated by the symbiotes that erupt from the stray dog. This becomes a story where poor Sadie tries to flee from the remaining two hostless symbiotes that mean to take her and Billy for themselves. All the while, the symbiotized parents give chase while promising to keep the whole family together, just like Sadie wanted.
Symbiotes make for a good horror trope. You have shape-shifting alien parasites that invade human bodies and make them into monsters. There’s definitely material reaching levels of John Carpenter’s The Thing that can be exploited with these creatures. When you top this off with their grotesque “Knullified” appearance, you have a solid foundation for some creepy visuals. Being an Absolute Carnage tie-in, the four symbiotes in this story are under the influence of Knull, and as such are portrayed in a more nightmarish image. If you ever read the original Lethal Protector or Separation Anxiety Venom arcs from the 90s, you may remember that these four symbiotes appeared on their hosts as standard Venom-looking costumes. We’ve come really far away from that, as these creatures, once they’ve forcefully enveloped their hosts, are disturbing masses of claws and teeth and what I can only describe as protrusions that look like large earthwormy veins. We can even see the occasional expressions of the poor victimized family members through the symbiotes. These descriptions can do no justice, these are designs meant to be seen.
Brian Level and Jordan Boyd were a perfect pair for the visuals. Even before the shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose, the opening pages look great and do an amazing job easing us into this quiet before the storm. Level gives his all drawing these symbiotes in the most macabre way. One of my favorite pages consists of the dog splitting open and ejecting the symbiotes from its back, tearing itself apart. In another instance, the family gathers around the dinner table and give their thanks to their god Knull for their feast, as the dead body of their neighbor lay on the table. It’s effective when you remember that these are the symbiotes acting this out; these alien lifeforms that are taking their roles so literally as Sadie’s newly unified family, that they’re pretty much playing “House” with the poor girl.
This isn’t the first time a pure horror story was told using symbiotes, but previous attempts were never this much fun. I made mention earlier that these are the kind of creatures that perfectly carry a John Carpenter’s The Thing vibe. Ironically, one particular failure was a Venom story that pretty much ripped off The Thing down to the letter. But Chapman isn’t trying to rip off any movie or novel. He borrows well-established tropes known in the genre, sure, but delivers a grim side-story with deliciously horrific art that showcases a putrid visual take on these symbiotes. This issue holds up nicely if all you want is a fun macabre ride.
Random bit of trivia: So far, every single host of these four symbiotes have died. Their original hosts were four personnel of the Life Foundation, and the human hosts were killed off by Scream. Then, the four symbiotes merged into one Hybrid and bonded with a young man named Scott Washington, but Scott was murdered by Eddie Brock. Afterward, the military weaponized them and gave them to four soldiers, creating the Mercury Team, until Carnage (prior to Absolute Carnage, of course) killed each of the soldiers. The symbiotes all stayed bound to Mercury Team’s War Dog (the team’s hound, literally named War Dog), who we find here when it meets Sadie…and then tears itself apart unleashing the symbiotes unto Sadie’s family. What fun!
You don’t need to be invested in Absolute Carnage to read this. If you just want to read a comic book thriller with horror aesthetics in spades, look no further. You’ll have a good time.