Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Ryan Stegman
Colors: Frank Martin
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Release date August 28 2019
Review by D. Brown (WolfCypher)
Just to start things off, this review will offer a synopsis of some of the events in the book in detail. While I won’t recap the entire issue, I do cover enough of the actual story to warrant a Spoiler warning. As always, images used in my review are the preview pages Marvel has shared in advance, and only those pages.
Where we last left off, Venom and Spider-Man were cornered in an insane asylum with a horde of psychotic inmates hosting symbiotes, a Carnagified-Norman Osborn, and Dark Carnage himself enclosing our heroes. Does this issue open with the deaths of our web-slinging frenemies? No, that would be disappointing…and much too early, to see there demise. Let’s let this ride last longer, because its one hell of a thrill ride.
Venom breaks down the wall of the institute and escapes with Spider-Man. Dark Carnage doesn’t give chase. He’s not perturbed in the slightest. In a later scene, we see him in his lair, an underground tower-like spire made of symbiote biomass, and he’s written and drawn like a criminal mastermind, more “Lex Luthor” than “The Joker”. In fact, I want to say this is a new take on Carnage here. No, not just the all-new, all-different visual of his design, or his new, boosted, “God-given” powerset. I’ve been a fan of Carnage since the mid 90s, and let me say that this is a Carnage that sounds more subdued and contemplative. I know there are some Carnage fans out there that will be put-off by this, but I actually like this change. Carnage is usually a loud, chaotic storm who doesn’t turn himself off. Those who read the first issue will remember the sight of Cletus arriving to the cells of Ravencroft, non-chalantly passing by each cell, calmly and confidently in control, as he turned each inmate into a symbiote minion. That scene was in contrast to how Carnage usually presents himself. Issue two continues that as Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman write and draw him in a more Machiavellian style I’m not accustomed to seeing him. He can be chaos when he wants to, and then switch it off long enough to move the pieces on the gameboard around. A near-Godlike Carnage who actually makes moves to preempt his enemies is a new, far scarier Carnage. I’ll take it!
Back to the synopsis, the now safe Venom and Spider-Man recoup their plans and decide they need help. Spidey will gather whichever heroes he can find, leaving Venom to round up any willing villains. I really liked how Spidey insisted he should be the one, not Venom, to go asking heroes for help. No matter what Eddie does, he’s always viewed, at best in a gray area. So with a new plan in motion, Venom seeks out new allies, only to find, yet again, Carnage is one step ahead of the game.
I won’t lie, this is still an impressive story, and its shaping up to be my favorite arc in Cates’ Venom run. I wasn’t as blown away as I was with the first issue; maybe I became spoiled by part one’s double length that I felt like I needed more from this issue. That’s not to say I didn’t like this issue, nor that we don’t get progress in this issue. The first half of the book delivers the same feeling of anxiousness as its previous installment, while the second half veered into a territory of bringing some of the other stories into the picture. Halfway through this comic, we get a fantastic series of scenes in the underground Spire lair where both Norman/Carnage and Cletus/Dark Carnage have their exchanges. Its at this point the book starts to thread together some of the events from the other Absolute Carnage books. The story still advances and there’s more action towards the end, but most of the later pages are used to check-up on, or mention the other tie-ins.
I stated earlier how different this Cletus Kasady seems, and the exchanges between the twin Carnages shows this pretty well (with Norman behaving and speaking exactly as Carnage pre-Grendal used to). Stegman’s visuals of the underground lair immediately triggered a likeness to the hive chamber from the James Cameron movie Aliens. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this issue had that one amazing set piece scene like the first issue did. The first issue had several break out scenes and pages I gushed over, from (spoilers if you’ve still haven’t read the first issue…but c’mon, what are you doing?!) the Venom symbiote partially derailing a subway train, to Dark Carnage appearing atop the trains wreckage, Venom and Dark Carnage getting electrocuted and their symbiotes splattering in every direction, and my favorite, the Cletus-strolls-past-the-Ravencroft-inmates scene (which I keep bringing up for a reason :-p), just to name a “few”. This issue doesn’t have anything comparable to the grandiose of those examples. Make no mistake, I am NOT knocking the art overall, as Stegman simply serves his best pencils in normal sized portions. Like I said earlier, issue one may have spoiled me, but everything here looks amazing.
One thing that cannot be contested is Cates just owns with his writing and dialogue. Barring my nitpicks, I enjoyed this issue’s momentum all throughout. When Eddie and Peter have to catch there breaths and reassess a new plan, you can tell he’s enjoying writing these characters together, as I am reading their scenes. This may be my favorite team-up between the two out of all the Spider-Man/Venom stories they’ve had to work together. Cates’ never lets you forget how threatening Cletus is. Cletus isn’t one I’d ever expect to give a good villainous monologue, but dammit if some of his lines here aren’t amazing (“I’m trying to wrap my hands around a planet’s throat … do us a favor and shut the@#$% up”). There is nothing hammy about Cletus’ “performance”.
So, all-in-all, this event’s main book has not come close to disappointing me. This chapter does not kill the momentum, and now that not only are the heroes getting ready to get more allies together, but also Cletus’s side is finally bringing the carnage to the streets and out into the public, the scale feels even bigger than before. This is an easy recommend; now the wait for issue three begins…
Absolute Carnage #2 continues it’s campaign with the same quality combination of Cates’ writing and dialogue along side Stegman and Frank Martin’s darkly imagery. The bleaker this book gets, the more invested I get. Misery is my new drug, and Carnage is the supplier.