Sunday, December 1, 2013

Superior Carnage #5 Review

At Long Last!
By Orion Petitclerc

Welcome, friends, to the end of this review series! If you're reading this now, congratulations! You've survived five full issues of carnal...disappointment. Or did you? I'm gonna save the answer to that for now, so let's get to it, shall we? Recap time!

Previously on Superior Carnage

Chills, thrills, and kills! Well, not quite. D-list villains the Wizard and Klaw escape from prison with the help of an extra savage Carnage. Wizard decides he want to do it like Project Rebirth 2.0 and make his own superior symbiote soldier out of Carnage, and reassemble the new Frightful Four before he dies of an aneurysm due to his brain being scrambled by a previous encounter with Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans. Soon realizing the symbiote's host, Cletus Kasady, had been lobotomized (by the Scarlet Spider at the end of the "Minimum Carnage" crossover mini event) Wizard sought the assistance of Dr. Karl Mallus, another D-List villain, to come up with a solution so he may control the symbiote's mind. The answer was quite simple, and Dr. Mallus found himself betrayed by his teammates and strapped to an operating table. Wizard and Klaw transfuse the symbiote from Kasady's bloodstream into Dr. Mallus', and after a few attempts, Wizard was finally able to control Dr. Mallus' mind, morphing him into the Superior Carnage.

After his initial success, Wizard led Klaw and Carnage in a siege at New York City's City Hall, leaving his base and brain dead Kasady behind in a fiery explosion. Their attack proved a success up until they reached Mayor J. Jonah Jameson's office, where instead they met face-to-face with the Superior Spider-Man and his goons. As is superhuman nature, a battle between evil and...good-ish ensued, proving the new Superior Carnage a little less than, compared to the original. There were some fun moments when it felt like we got good ol' Carnage back as Wizard lost control of him during one of his many mental breaks. SpOck's (Spider-Ock, as we comic geeks call the Superior Spider-Man) ultimate secret got found out when Wizard did a little bit of mental digging, and the not-quite-a-hero accidentally dropped the befuddled mastermind from atop City Hall in shock. On the ground, SpOck promised to allow Wizard to see his son before he died in exchange for reestablishing control over Superior Carnage, who reverted into his original form and was making good on his moniker. Klaw butted in on SpOck and Wizard's private moment, attacking SpOck to protect Wizard. Klaw was then betrayed by Superior Carnage, getting stabbed in the back with a vibranium blade and causing the Master of Sound to explode in a violent sonic boom. When SpOck recovered, he found Dr. Mallus naked nearby without the symbiote, but turned to find Wizard now covered in it.

Enter SpOck vs. Carnage, part two. Actually, Kevin Shinick eases us into the fight beforehand with a recap of sorts through the newly deceased Klaw's point of view. It's a plot device that works quite well for the issue, as Shinick tells a story through Klaw's experience as a disembodied entity of sound slowly dissipating in the "sound wall" of the universe, creating an out-of-body experience through which Klaw can reflect on his and the Wizard's mistakes with the symbiote and watch events play out. Stephen Segovia and Dan Mexia delivers a beautiful (gasp!) two-page spread chronicling the symbiote's history with its different hosts, including Kasady, Ben Reilly (as Spider-Carnage), the Silver Surfer (as Carnage Cosmic), and even Tanis Nieves (as "She-Carnage," as she's unofficially titled, before she became Scorn).

You lift, bro?
Klaw tells us through these images—meant to represent physically manifested memories triggered from echoing sounds of the past—the untold story of the Carnage symbiote: its frustrations with jumping from host to host and its desire to reconnect with Kasady. Shinick juxtaposes the symbiote's story with Wizard's through the five issues of Superior Carnage, noting that both share a common interest: reconnecting with family. Cut to: Wizard, fully possessed by the symbiote, lifting up a car above his head in a dramatic thunder and lightning storm, bellowing, "Where is my family?!" Aw, isn't that sweet?

Dr. Mallus lets us know he's still alive, and SpOck calls for backup with flamethrowers (who I thought Superior Carnage had already killed and taken their tongues, but okay) while deflecting the thrown car. SpOck makes a jab at all but purging the Parker luck (hah) before getting attacked head-on, telling Wizard that he broke the deal SpOck made him in the previous issue about seeing his son. SpOck tries to reason with Wizard about wearing the symbiote (a "skin," as he puts it) when it just killed his friend, Klaw. Wizard counters with the same question, alluding to Doc Ock's secret. A few more Spider-Soldiers show up with faulty flamethrowers, and SpOck tells Dr. Mallus to run. Dr. Mallus says he can't (because he's paraplegic), and Carnage helps solve that issue by killing Dr. Mallus off-panel. A Spider-Soldier runs up telling SpOck that a boy claiming to be Wizard's son had arrived on the scene, to which SpOck delivers his goon the Superior Bitch Slap for revealing information Carnage is already planning to act on.

Shinick then delivers some classic Carnage humor, having the symbiote goad SpOck about having a doctor around to help the goon he just bitch slapped. SpOck retorts with a knuckle sandwich, which—as everyone knows—is just about as effective against Carnage as punching a brick wall. Carnage grabs a hold of SpOck and begins to school him in brutality, promising to undo Doc Ock's greatest achievement if Wizard doesn't see his son soon. SpOck finally agrees to his demands, but instead switches the bait with Kasady's burnt, yet still living remains, whom SpOck had his goons fetch after the Wizard blew up his secret base. The symbiote immediately abandons Wizard for its true family. Klaw then makes the realization that the symbiote wasn't the one being abandoned all those times, but was doing the abandoning to finally mold the perfect host out of Kasady—a host it could fully control. The symbiote had been evolving the entire time it was away from Kasady, waiting for the right moment to return to its original host. Before SpOck fires his sonic rifle, the symbiote speaks through Kasady, warning SpOck to stay away from Kasady like a vicious animal, cornered and afraid.

Now, I'd like to take a moment to note the inconsistency of the art. Before the symbiote and Kasady were wholly reunited, Kasady's guards were holding a sonic weapon of a particular design. SpOck took one of the rifles from a guard when the symbiote killed him, but in the next panel after Kasady became Carnage again, SpOck is holding a weapon of a completely different design. So what happened there? Well, if you look at the page before Kasady became Carnage and the one on which he does, you'll notice the art style had changed. I figure this was a point when either Segovia or Mexia took over, but it still doesn't forgive artist miscommunication and inconsistency. Just a nitpick, though.

Wait…what the heck? Is it a Transformer?
Just like Brock looked before he became
the superior symbiote!
Anyways, before SpOck can fire the weapon, Carnage destroys it and delivers his own Superior Bitch Slap that sends SpOck flying head-over-heels. He's about to bite off Wizard's head out of revenge when Klaw manages a last-ditch effort to protect his friend by focusing a blast of intense sound against the symbiote, rendering Carnage unconscious. SpOck is finally able to have his goons contain Carnage, and Klaw delivers a final speech to carry the book to its final pages before he ultimately passes on. Shinick then takes us through cutscenes depicting the recovery effort at City Hall and the symbiote's containment alongside other imprisoned, classic Spider-Man foes.

We cut to the hospital wing of yet another undisclosed maximum security facility, where we find a doctor talking with a Spider-Soldier guard about how Wizard's exposure to the symbiote has miraculously cured him of his dementia and is repairing his brain. Wizard gives a sinister smile as he's chatting with his son online, and as the guard walks away from the doctor, he hesitates and reiterates the findings of the symbiote's effects on Wizard's brain. Oh yeah, you know where this is headed. Sure enough, we cut to Kasady's prison cell, where he turns to the reader with a blood-chilling grin after writing "Carnage Rules" on the wall in chalk.

Ladies and gentlemen, good ol' Carnage. Is. BACK! The reign of Superior terror has ended for the psychopathic symbiote—or so you think! Actually, Marvel had announced a Superior Carnage Annual book coming out in February 2014. Here's the kicker, though: it's a Kasady and classic Carnage story taking place after this issue, so Kasady's return was already announced prior to Superior Carnage #5's publication. Plus, it's written by Cullen Bunn, who's already proved his symbiote mettle in the final months of Venom. I'd say we're in pretty good hands, wouldn't you?

Alright, let's get down to the nitty gritty. This issue was, by far, the best of the miniseries in terms of writing a Carnage story. It felt like Wizard's story finally took a back seat as Shinick put the spotlight on the symbiote's tale, which I feel he should've led with in issue #1. Issues #1–4 felt less like a Carnage story and more like Superior Wizard, or The Frightfully Inferior Four. Despite the flaws and foibles of the previous issues, however, I feel that issue #5 made up for the frustrations and feelings of dread. This issue really did live up to its title this time as we finally understand why Carnage is deemed "superior" from the symbiote's subtle evolution. For that, I give Superior Carnage #5 a 4 out of 5 for art (docked a half point or more for the aforementioned inconsistency) and a 5 out of 5 for the story. Overall, the book gets 4.5 stars out of 5.

Ah, but the review isn't over! Now I get to review the miniseries as a whole. Oh yeah, get ready for it. Let's start with the bad: right out the door, Shinick made a foul impression with me at least, if not most symbiote fans, by delivering nine suck-worthy introductory pages using a plot device the story as a whole could've done without. Instead of telling the story through the experiences of Joe Blow (Ted Connelly, if you'll remember), a character we were meant to forget about altogether after his debut and ultimate fate, Shinick should've told the entire story through Klaw's perspective. I thought it worked rather well in issue #5, and I think it would've made the miniseries more palatable if he used it throughout—especially since a good 80–85% of the story is Wizard's.

Then the second issue came along, and in hindsight, it's entirely forgettable. Really, what happened in that issue? A whole lotta' nothing with a disappointing cliffhanger at the end. Then Shinick finally made his facade play by introducing the not-so-Superior Carnage in issue #3, whose design received mixed reviews from Carnage fans (mostly in the red, ha!). Issue #4 rolled along with some of the stiffest, most disappointing art in the series; but to be fair, the art throughout the series had its flaws here and there. Did I fail to mention that this miniseries felt not at all like a Carnage story? I don't think it needs reiteration.

Here's the good: by issue #4, Shinick gave us back a taste of the Carnage we all wanted, and delivered in full with the final book. Additionally, Shinick's Superior Spider-Man really read like Dan Slott's SpOck in The Superior Spider-Man, which is a big plus when considering the continuity travesty of Marvel's "Age of Ultron" crossover event. Shinick's choice of making Klaw the narrator for issue #5 was really the saving grace for Wizard's story. That said, I still don't care about Klaw or Wizard as I was intended to. Shinick's manhandling of Carnage and the symbiote up until issue #5 really put a bad taste in my mouth, so there was no way in hell I was ever going to maintain interest in any member of the Frightful Four outside this miniseries. Mission failed.

So, the final score. On the art side, I give the miniseries a 7 out of 10. In all honesty, these Carnage minis were best handled by Clayton Crain and his sick style; however, Segovia and Mexia fit the bill just fine as opposed to…I don't know. As for the story, even with the redeeming fifth issue, the miniseries fell short and gets a 4 out of 10. Aside from where Shinick could've gone right, I really miss Zeb Wells on these Carnage minis. So overall, the miniseries gets a meh-tacular 5.5 stars out of 10.

Thanks for hanging with me this long, and I share your hopes for happier days with the Superior Carnage Annual. I'd like to take this moment and invite you to follow me and my works over at where I get to write about my other geek interests, including Venom and symbiote stuff not published here on Mind Bomb. You can also follow me on Twitter at @OrionSTARB0Y and on deviantART as OrionSTARB0Y, where you can read and view more symbiotic awesomeness in the form of literature, rants, and artwork. Leave a comment below, and I'll see you all next time!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Superior Carnage #4 Review

Oh, THERE’S Carnage!
By Orion Petitclerc

            Welcome back to another fun-time review about our favorite symbiote comic book of all time: Superior Carnage! (Riiiight…) Anyways, enough with me trying to perfume and beautify something that obviously doesn’t smell like roses or looks like something other than a pile of disappointment. (That’s better…albeit, harsh.) Let’s get to reviewing the penultimate issue in this speeding train wreck, shall we?
Previously in Superior Carnage

            The Wizard and Klaw broke out of prison, dragging along Cletus Kasady, a.k.a. Carnage, in the hopes of forming a new Frightful Four to secure the Wizard’s legacy before his impending death. They came to the quick realization that mind-controlling Carnage would be next to impossible since the Scarlet Spider had lobotomized Kasady prior to his imprisonment. With the unwilling help of Dr. Karl Mallus—some obscure, villainous surgeon condemned to a wheelchair—Wizard and Klaw transfused the Carnage symbiote from Kasady’s bloodstream to Mallus’s. Wizard was finally successful at gaining control of the symbiote once it was bonded to someone with a working brain, and transformed Mallus into the Superior Carnage. After gearing up and making an explosive exit from Wizard’s secret lair, the trio launched a vicious attack on New York City’s City Hall to kill Mayor Jameson, only to meet the Superior Spider-Man and a couple of his Spider Soldiers waiting in the mayor’s office.

            In issue #4, we pick up from the moment before the Terrible Trio’s entrance into the mayor’s office when Spider-Man and his soldiers usher Jameson into a safe room and prepare for battle. As is customary in Superior Spider-Man and issue #2, SpOck’s (fans’ nickname for the Superior Spider-Man combining Spider and Doc Ock, if you didn’t already know or don’t remember) inner monologue dismisses everyone’s intelligence in the room and expresses his nonchalance towards the situation. The next page features a full splash of the three villains as they walk through the hole they blasted to get into the office.

For being so superior, this is lacking...

            I may not be a professional artist, but even with my experience and skills I’m having an issue with the composition on this page that—I guess—was meant to be a sort of epic pinup. Where to start? How about the perspective and foreshortening? I don’t know who was responsible for this page’s layout—Stephen Segovia or Superior Carnage newcomer Dan Mexia—but it feels like the trio was pasted into the background. For one thing, they stand so flatly on the rubble pile below them; for another, it feels like there are two vanishing points that don’t quite line up right visually (one at the bottom and middle of the page dictating the characters’ foreshortening, and one at the left and middle of the page dictating the wall’s perspective). It’s easy to argue the conflicting perspectives of both the left and right sides of the broken wall as irregularities in the blast, but it still doesn’t fit right with the characters’ bird’s-eye perspective. (It’s as if the wall is slanted outward by less than 45 degrees.) Additionally, Klaw’s head looks too big compared to Carnage’s and Wizard’s, and Wizard’s left forearm looks a bit disconnected from his elbow even with the bulk of his bracer. Not to mention their boring, static poses. If these guys are supposed to be superiorly menacing, make them look the part!

            Anyways, SpOck starts to brag about how stupidly superior his preparation for their arrival is when Carnage gets all angsty and shuts down SpOck’s monologue by killing the Spider Soldiers in the room. Of course, this results in the start of the showdown we’ve been waiting for (as if…), and SpOck gets offended when Carnage claims he’s a superior version than any Carnage before him. Luckily, Kevin Shinick remembers that any symbiote spawn from Venom’s line historically doesn’t trigger Spider-Man’s spider sense, and SpOck tells the reader this as if it’s an afterthought. He then spouts off about what makes someone “superior” according to qualities he demonstrates by quickly and efficiently delivering blows to each enemy.

            Klaw’s sonic misfire from SpOck’s punch to the jaw misses Carnage, opening another hole in the wall through which more Spider Soldiers start to pour in. Before SpOck can react, though, Carnage tosses a grenade that explodes and kills the incoming patrol. Wizard orders Klaw to stop any remaining soldiers, and by command Klaw emits a constantly increasing sonic blast that incapacitates SpOck. Somehow, though, Carnage stands in a corner of the office unaffected by what should have been a deadly sonic blast for Venom and at least damaging to Carnage. It’s hard to look past this little canon slip-up, but I will for the sake of brevity.

I can't believe Carnage is just chilling in the corner after that! He's in no way THAT superior!
            Klaw’s arm blaster malfunctions (due to incomplete repairs from the last issue) allowing SpOck to regain his senses and tackle Wizard through the office window and out onto the ground amongst a plethora of paparazzi. (Wow, the mayor’s office isn’t on the second story of City Hall? Poor Jameson.) The paparazzi drill Wizard with questions about his intents, to which he answers he just wants to impact his son with his legacy. He plays up the sympathy card when SpOck grabs him, and the media accuses SpOck of intending to kill a “feeble-minded old man,” to which SpOck points out the destruction of City Hall. He webs up Wizard and takes him to the flagpole on the roof of the building to tell him he’s lost. Wizard tries to prove himself by attempting to take over SpOck’s mind, but discovers Octavius’s secret in the process.
SpOck hesitates and accidently lets slip his web line attached to Wizard. The villain falls and crashes into a van below.

            Lying broken on the vehicle, Wizard dismisses the discovery as a fluke from his dying mind, noting that he’s lost all control. Cut back to the interior of City Hall, where Carnage is unleashed from Wizard’s mental control. The psychotic symbiote lunges for Klaw, who tries to use his malfunctioning arm blaster to no avail. Back outside, SpOck curses himself for letting his shock get the best of him and potentially losing an asset in Wizard (why the Wizard would be of use to him now when moments ago he was nothing to SpOck goes unexplained). He promises to let Wizard see his son if he commands Carnage to stand down, but instead gets a surprise slash to the back from the symbiote. SpOck calls in for back up from his remaining soldiers, but Carnage tells him not to expect a response. He opens his trench coat, finally realizing its usefulness. Lo and behold, a bunch of severed human tongues hang in the recesses of the coat.

Cat got your tongue? You can't even imagine what these guys
are experiencing!

            This is the most satisfying moment in the story up to this point. It feels like we just got good ol’ Carnage back. Looking at just this panel, you wouldn’t even guess that someone besides Kasady was under the suit. That’s how you tickle our fancy, Shinick; that’s how you appeal to Carnage fans: make him do something really screwed up.

            This unhinges SpOck and he goes in for a vengeful sock to the side of the symbiote’s face. Carnage challenges SpOck to a superior pissing contest, but SpOck backs off—and rightfully so—trying to make his previous appeal again to Wizard. Klaw SCHWOOOM!s in (literally) and grabs SpOck, demanding he unhands Wizard and allow him to have his victory. Klaw sonically screams into SpOck’s face, almost killing him before Carnage stabs Klaw in the back with a vibranium-laced spike (which turns out to be Klaw’s only weakness besides a poor sense of fashion). This causes Klaw to explode violently and die in a sonic boom, sending SpOck, Wizard, and Carnage in different directions.

            SpOck rises from the blast, noticing Mallus’s naked body nearby. Naturally, he’s surprised that it wasn’t Kasady bonded to the symbiote. He starts to congratulate himself for saving the city and his secret and taking three more supervillains off the street. All a bit prematurely, of course, when there’s one more book in the story to suffer. He looks over to Wizard as he notes that he has to contain the symbiote, only to find the villain covered in it (it looks like blood, though). The issue ends with Wizard feeling like something is trying to take over his mind.
“And then in the strange way things happen,
Their roles were reversed from that day…”
–“Conquest” by the White Stripes.
            What a ride! From the generally bland and disappointing (and borderline upsetting) previous issues, we get a taste of what once was. Good, ol’ fashioned Carnage came back for those brief few pages, igniting a little hope for this mini for the first time. Still, though, there was nigh sight nor word about the fate of poor, mindless Kasady from his seemingly explosive fate in the last book. There may be a small chance that he’ll show up again for the finale in some form or another, but that’s a very small chance. Now the question is: who will be the Superior Carnage? Mallus or Wizard? Did Mallus die in the explosion, or is he just unconscious (and naked)? Considering Wizard’s condition, he’s probably going to be Carnage for less than a few minutes before he drops dead…unless the theory I posed about Kasady’s return in my last review becomes reality. Maybe the symbiote will cure and save Wizard from his malady and transfer Kasady’s consciousness into Wizard’s at the same time? Ew, on second thought, that’s a terrible idea. Wizard is just so old and…ugly. He would not look good as the new Kasady. Let’s scratch that idea from my brain with a rusty fork.

            Shinick’s work was pretty much the same in quality as he demonstrated in previous issues, but somehow he found that magical place that brought Carnage back from the dead. Brownie points for that. The art suffered this time around in places where it shouldn’t have, though, and I don’t know if that was because of Mexia’s contributions or not. Maybe Segovia’s the one who’s degrading, but it’s hard to tell. Once again, though, Clayton Crain delivers epic cover art for the book. It’s important to note, however, that the cover that printed with this issue is not the same as was advertised in the last issue’s solicitation. The cover was reworked in two places: Carnage’s head was redrawn to emulate his Superior design as opposed to the neo-classic one used before, and Spider-Man’s costume design was changed to the Superior 2.0 one as seen in the interior, whereas he originally wore his neo-classic (red and blue) suit. I personally didn’t mind the change because it fits the story, but I can also understand how this would upset those who’d prefer Carnage’s (and Spidey’s, for those opposed to SpOck) original design. I like the Superior designs, thus my preference for the changes.

            BOTTOM LINE: Superior Carnage #4 gets a 4 out of 5 for the art and a 4 out of 5 for the story for bringing back classic Carnage, even if only briefly. Overall, I give the book 4 stars out of 5.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Superior Carnage #3 Review

It’s a Basket Case of Feels
By Orion Petitclerc

            What. The. Frack? Alright, the feels I got from this issue are getting way ahead of the actual review, so let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Last time in Superior Carnage…the Frightfully Failing Four was still hitting the proverbial wall with trying to figure out how to control a mindless Cletus Kasady and mold him into their Superior Carnage. Then a dude in a wheelchair burdened with glorious(?) purpose rolls in as the final member to the Wizard’s menagerie to toss a few stones at the problem. No, not Eugene “Flash” Thompson—I don’t think he’s ever going to show face in this series besides the flashback from issue #1. I’m talking about Dr. Karl Mallus: some bowl-cut nerdatron from Zod-knows-what-orifice-of-the-Marvel-universe, who reveals Wizard’s ticking mind bomb (eh? See what I did there?) Black Bolt had planted in him in some other book we don’t care about (some upstart called the Fantastic Four). But Dr. Mallus was no mere plot device. Just as all hope for Wizard’s evil genius plan (if that’s what you could call it) was about as lost as much of the hardcore symbiote fan base was, lightning strikes and Dr. Mallus finds himself unwillingly strapped to a table and becoming the Superior Carnage the title boasted through a blood transfusion with Kasady. Aside from the possible blood type incompatibility between Dr. Mallus and Kasady, I don’t think Wizard is a real doctor from all we’ve seen, guys.
            We open this new chapter right where we left off, this time getting a sub-par inner monologue courtesy of the “genius surgeon” Dr. Mallus. I wasn’t really feeling the “genius” part from his words; he sounds more like the average smart aleck, minus the smart. Remember from my last review how I criticized Kevin Shinick’s lack of an effective introduction to Dr. Mallus with the whole “never kiss on the first date” allusion? Well, this monologue contributes a bland taste to an otherwise unappealing character. Dr. Mallus feels even more like an average Joe, and not a passable candidate for any symbiote.
I believe it was Albert Einstein who said,
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and
over again and expecting different results."
            His monologue ends with the rather hackneyed “human guinea pig” allusion to his current situation, and then, just as the symbiote starts taking over Dr. Mallus’s body, Wizard—being the blabbering idiot he is—commands Klaw to release Dr. Mallus’s restraints so he can try to mind control him. Gosh, who didn’t see what was coming next? Dr. Mallus, now fully Carnagized, leaps from the table and proceeds to tear into Klaw and Wizard out of revenge (and, most likely, that killer symbiote instinct). I’m starting to notice a pattern in Shinick’s writing…for this story, at least.
            Klaw manages to stun Carnage for a moment with a kick, giving Wizard enough time to strap back on his helmet and—FINALLY—gain control of Carnage’s (Dr. Mallus’s, that is) mind. After a bland inner dialogue panel among Wizard’s invasion and Dr. Mallus’s struggle against the symbiote’s carnal influences (including an Amanda Bynes joke…which I don’t get because I don’t know who she is), the next page features the moment we’ve all been waiting (or dreading, depending on your stance) for: the new Superior Carnage takes form.
Nope, I'm not seeing the similarities, guys.
            Now, I don’t think it’s professional to include reader/fan reaction in my reviews outside my own reaction, but it’s noteworthy to point out that the general reaction towards the new character design was negative, according to The Venom Site’s comic book discussion page (which is a good source of assessing symbiote fan reaction, mind you). In fact, many fans have alluded the new look to a Red Lantern rendition of Carnage (drawing from the DC universe Lantern Corps), even comparing Superior Carnage to the Red Lantern leader, Atrocitus. Honestly, I’m not seeing the resemblance, especially since I know very little about the DC universe outside of movies and Batman Beyond. And seriously, how stupidly simple is it to make a connection between Superior Carnage and a Red Lantern? They’re both red and angry-looking! So if I designed a red, angry-looking character, would that make it a Red Lantern rip-off as many fans claim Superior Carnage to be? Calm down, guys.
"Get in mah chappahs!"
            Of course, that one, full-page panel wasn’t the final design for Superior Carnage. “It could get better/worse?!” you ask. Yes, yes it could. Satisfied with finally gaining control of Carnage, one of Wizard’s first commands to his lethal puppet is to “morph a coat or something,” because he was sick of seeing all the “buttocks and crotches on display in this town.” Says the dorky man in a tight jumpsuit with a robotic(?) best friend in spandex. You’d think Wizzy’d get that symbiote butts and crotches are the bread and butter of any Venom or Carnage title. So, by his command, Carnage forms a trench coat and proceeds to browse a nearby arsenal at Wizard’s behest so they can move onto conquering City Hall. Wow, Wizard’s turnover from one half-boiled, big-picture/small-time plan to the next is impressive. It’s a wonder he’s survived this long.
            Carnage starts a side dialogue with Klaw that comes up again later in the issue, explaining that Wizard’s control over him is tenuous and that as soon as it slips, the symbiote is back in control and itching for a slaughter. It’s nice to know that, deep down, the good ol’ Carnage is somewhere beneath the new makeup and host. It’s a little consolation, especially when Wizard has an episode in the middle of his City Hall raid, allowing Carnage free reign to morph back into his original form and sink his teeth into the nearest victim. Whoops, spoiler alert!
            Knowing full well their Superior Carnage wild card is a ticking time bomb, Klaw insists Wizard repairs his sonic arm gun from their last tussle with the symbiote. During the repairs, he confronts Wizard about his mental condition. Wizard reassures Klaw that whatever Black Bolt did to him, he’s convinced he’s gained much-needed clarity. And when Klaw voices his concern for Wizard’s survivability to the end of their mission, Wizard explains that he needs to show his son (the Bently clone mentioned in earlier issues) the kind of man his father is before the end. Carnage returns to the conversation, having taken all the weapons in Wizard’s arsenal out of indecision. Wizard has another Dementia slip, mistaking Mayor J. Jonah Jameson for Johnny Storm (you probably never heard of this Storm kid, right? He’s from that Fantastic Four startup). Klaw chimes in to recover the situation, claiming that Wizard’s son will see him as a ruler of the world before the end. When Carnage’s back is turned, Klaw mentions again that when they get back from City Hall, Wizard needs to seriously repair his arm gun, to which Wizard replies, “I won’t be coming back,” and blows up his secret hideout in an epic(?) full-page spread of the Frightful…er…Three leaping from the blast.
I have a flamethrower attached to my arm and
I have a trench coat. Your argument is invalid.
            The story jumps to City Hall where Mayor Jameson is in discussion with his employees about election polls and the influences the Carnage breakout and an incomplete Second Avenue Subway will have on him. Cue a hard-sound subway train crashing through the building from the outside and dispensing the Terrible Trio (like that?) to unleash chaos and death at every turn. Okay, let’s review: Carnage was riding in a sonic structure, yet he was fazed by slicing into Klaw earlier—who seems to be a sonic structure beneath the spandex. And then he exits the train flailing a flamethrower about in carnal ecstasy. He does mention that he can withstand the heat as long as he’s the one administering it; but as much more resilient as he is to the symbiote’s top two weaknesses than papa Venom, c’mon…we’re back to ignoring a symbiote’s limits for the sake of flashy scenes. (Let’s not revisit the infamous scene in which Venom was shaking in his boots to the flame of a cigarette lighter.)
            Then this Carnage—to prove he’s superior to the previous one—goes and defecates over Kasady’s legacy by claiming to be much more effective at killing when he has focus over just causing chaos and mayhem. Excuse me, sir, but you should know that you can’t spell “Carnage” without “chaos”. Focus on that. Just as I mentioned earlier, Wizard’s control of Carnage slips in the chaos when he has another episode. Klaw flies over to the distressed loon—literally flying, it seems—and reminds him of the mission. Wizard comes to and picks up from his megalomaniacal inquisition. Carnage speaks with Klaw again, basically saying “I told you so” about the symbiote gaining control when Wizard loses it. Klaw reminds Carnage that he’ll benefit from playing along with the Wizard, and Carnage assures Klaw rather darkly that he will definitely benefit in the end before responding to his master’s beckoning. Who doesn’t see Carnage killing Wizard and Klaw by the end of the mini?
Nice choice of onomatopoeia, guys. Really.
            Wizard called Carnage to him to show a couple of nobody Secret Service types his shiny new toy (Carnage, if you didn’t catch that), and commands the symbiote to show them what he can do. He slices them in half, of course. Wizard was expecting the wrong thing of a guy called CARNAGE. After a little clarification and a half-assed apology, Carnage blasts the door into the Mayor’s office where waits…THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN (and his Amazing Minions)! Wow, I seriously thought SpOck was going to sit this one out based on his reaction in the last issue. Oh well, I guess you can’t make a Superior Carnage without pitting him against the Superior Spider-Man. Silly me.
            And that’s how the issue ends. Again, we have another Wizard-centric issue, but we did get a fair amount of Carnage this time around. Plus, the new design is hit-or-miss, depending on how stuck you are in the past. Returning to the Superior Carnage design, I think this received as much of a knee-jerk reaction as the news that Ben Affleck would be playing Batman in the next Man of Steel film. Just as Newsarama reminded readers of people’s negative reactions to Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker for The Dark Knight, let me remind you of another character who was received negatively but eventually became popular: Eugene “Flash” Thompson, a.k.a. Agent Venom. At the get-go, Thompson was not exactly a fan favorite until later in Rick Remender’s run on Venom. Today, Agent Venom has risen so high in popularity with fans that it rivals Eddie Brock’s popularity as classic Venom. Many Venom fans weren’t familiar with Thompson at the start, so it was natural that they rejected him as the new Venom. Heck, even I wasn’t entirely convinced with Marvel’s move, but Agent Venom has taught me over the three years he’s been around to be open to change.
            Yeah, readers might be more familiar with Thompson than Dr. Mallus if they at least saw the first Spider-Man film, but I wouldn’t discredit this Superior Carnage based on looks alone. And yeah, so he’s using guns now. Agent Venom also uses guns, and has since his debut. Is there really anything wrong with reinventing a character for a new generation? Besides, it seems that, just like Agent Venom is predisposed to morph into a familiar-looking Venom form, Superior Carnage will often morph back into the classic Carnage form when the symbiote takes control. So don’t lose too much hope, guys. It really isn’t the end of the symbiote world.
            Now, remember how I started this review? Well, time to explain my explicative. Throughout this issue, there wasn’t one panel with Kasady in even the background. Okay, I get it: Shinick debuted the Superior Carnage and allowed Wizard and the Frightful (not) Four to begin their world-conquering quest, so they were meant to be the focus of the book. Without the symbiote, Kasady is just a brain-dead corpse with no additional value to the story. I get that too. Shove him out of sight. Yeah, I’m a little upset he was so quickly forgotten about, but this is (unfortunately) Wizard’s story. So I was okay with it a little bit…up until Wizard blows his base to Kingdom Come. Nope, there wasn’t a single panel or voice for Kasady’s concern.
Um...didn't you forget someone, guys? Guys...?
            Guys, I think Marvel just euthanized Cletus Kasady. They just killed the original Carnage.

            And that’s how you alienate your long-time fans, people. That is why—unless Shinick recovers Kasady somehow in the next two issues—the Superior Carnage will never be received popularly. Not only did Marvel kill him off-panel, they had the new guy openly mock Kasady’s memory. And I thought people were overreacting to Dan Slott’s treatment of Superior Spider-Man. Mind you, we symbiote fans are no strangers to unfair, off-page deaths of our favorite characters; Remender effectively killed Patrick Mulligan (the first host of the Toxin symbiote) in a dialogue with Blackheart back in Venom: Circle of Four, and Mulligan was definitely one of the lesser popular symbiote hosts. What’s happened here is far worse than that: Marvel just killed one of Spider-Man’s oldest and greatest foes—a character who, to date, had a tenure of 22 years, was featured in many self-titled books and story arcs, had a cameo in two animated TV series, and even had his own videogame. Kasady had his own following as Carnage next to Venom, much of which, I’m sure, read this issue. And now he’s apparently dead. Sure, he’s been dead before and always came back, but that was when he was Carnage. Now he’s not Carnage anymore. I think this time he could be dead for good.
            I thought I’d be relieved the day Marvel finally put him down; heck, I even rooted for Scarlet Spider to off Kasady at the end of Minimum Carnage, just because his shtick was getting old. But I’m not happy at all with the way Marvel just killed him. I really do hope that the symbiote retained a copy of Kasady’s consciousness somehow and that it will overwrite Dr. Mallus’s consciousness so we get Kasady in a new, fully functioning (minus the legs) body. I really hope that will be the case.
            Anyways, now that I got my rant out, let’s judge the creative team. Shinick’s writing still isn’t up at the level of Zeb Wells from the previous Carnage miniseries. The characterization is still pretty bland outside Wizard’s, who plays the perfect, yet damaged buffoon. Shinick also still hasn’t sold me on Dr. Mallus as the new Carnage. Sure, the new design tickles my fancy, but Dr. Mallus is still a voiceless host pulled from an obscure, bland part of the Marvel universe. Plus, he doesn’t seem or sound the genius type. And again, this still isn’t a Carnage book as much as it is a Wizard/Frightful Four book. And the new Carnage isn’t superior as much as he’s cool looking and a little more focused in a fight.
Now, that being said, Steven Segovia’s Superior Carnage design is…well…badass to me, at least. It’s as different to the original Carnage design as the Agent Venom design is to the original Venom design, and just as cool as the new-school Venom. Yeah, maybe there was some influence from the Red Lanterns, but it wasn’t as obvious to me (the uneducated comic fan of all things Lantern Corps) as it apparently was to other readers. I like that Segovia didn’t continue to use that terrible dark-eye technique he used in the last issue with every character. That was a relief. But I had just one nit to pick with the final page: SpOck has that techno brace on both arms, not just one. Just sayin’, gotta be consistent. ALSO: is SpOck sitting in the chair with his legs up on the table, or sitting on the table and leaning against the chair? It’s a bit awkward. (Make that two nits to pick.)

            BOTTOM LINE: Superior Carnage #3 gets a 4.5 out of 5 for the art and a 3 out of 5 for the story, even though there was more Carnage in this issue than the last. Overall, I give the book 3.75 stars out of 5.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Out with a Bang

Five Possible Venom Endings

by Orion Petitclerc

The End is Nigh for One Superguy

Marvel had recently released their November 2013 comic book solicitations, revealing that both Captain Marvel and Venom had no planned releases for the month. After an entire week of fans fearing and anticipating information on the fate of both books, Marvel dropped the bomb on Venom readers that the series is officially canceled after issue #42.
The current, now-canceled Venom title, begun by Rick Remender and ending with its second ongoing writer Cullen Bunn, is the longest-running Venom book in Marvel’s history next to Daniel Way’s Venom 18-issue run (the initial Venom titles, starting with Lethal Protector, boast a near-record 60 issues but aren’t considered because they were divided into 18 separate mini-series). Bunn responds to the news, teasing readers his plans for bringing Flash Thompson’s, a.k.a. Agent Venom, chapter to a close, and editor Tom Brevoort in a Tumblr Q&A also teased “big plans” for the character over the next few months.

With Venom’s fate still concealed in the mists of cancellation and tight lips, fans now wonder if Marvel even has any plans for his future outside the upcoming Darkest Hours crossover in Superior Spider-Man. Here are five possible endings for the character.

1.      The New Hero on the Block

After Agent Venom’s deadly feud with the Savage Six in New York City, Bunn moved Flash to Philadelphia to begin anew as the City of Brotherly Love’s personal superhero. Taking on the profession of a high school gym coach, Flash met Andrea “Andi” Benton, a student and apartment neighbor. When Jack O’Lantern, former Spider-Man foe turned Venom arch nemesis, returns to make Flash’s life a living hell, Andi and her father get caught in the crossfire. Jack kills Andi’s father and almost kills her until Agent Venom intervenes and saves her by extending a part of his symbiote onto her, creating Mania, the new symbiote on the block. (This is reminiscent of how Eddie Brock used the Venom symbiote to save his ex-wife, Ann Weying, inadvertently creating She-Venom.)

Mania had proven to Flash in Venom #39 that she’s got what it takes to completely control the symbiote, even surpassing and surprising him. The symbiote spawn even refused to return to Flash when he commanded it to, suggesting a more permanent bond than the one he shares as Venom. Along with Bunn commenting that he’s utilizing these final issues to build up Mania’s origin, we could be looking at an ongoing sequel featuring the spiky-haired, she-devil symbiote adopting the Venom mantle. A sort of fresh face with potential for a longer run considering her age, perhaps? Maybe even consideration into one of the few teen-based super teams?

2.      Superior Venom or a similar Marvel NOW! 2 Reboot

Perhaps Marvel decides to keep Flash as Venom after his book finishes. Agent Venom’s popularity (and infamy amongst hardcore, old school Venom fans) is unquestionable: he got a Marvel Select action figure before Brock/Venom did and will do it again with the Marvel Legends line, and he’s even slotted for a Season 3 TV debut in Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon (again, getting the jump on Brock for this series).

Despite the perpetual decline in the book’s sales since its first issue, Marvel knows it’s created a shining star in Agent Venom, and it may not be ready to give him up just yet. Bunn teases that, in the end of the current series, Flash and the symbiote will finally have a heart-to-heart, and Flash will end up somewhere he’ll never suspect nor may even want to be. This smells like a potential Marvel NOW! 2 reboot, and may even explain the character’s vast personality differences between Agent Venom in his own book and Agent Venom in Marvel NOW!’s Thunderbolts series (which has never been alluded to in the current Venom series). Perhaps we’ll even see a Superior reinvention of the character. Even Carnage is already in the middle of getting that treatment.

3.      A Dynamic Duo for NOW!

Maybe we’ll get the best of both worlds for the price of one new book. Bunn teased Mania as a possibly permanent addition to the Marvel roster, and the student/mentor dynamic between her and Agent Venom holds much potential. Philadelphia could be Marvel’s new Gotham City, and what is Gotham without Batman and Robin (and the Joker, whose shoes Jack O’Lantern can easily fill)?

I’d like to throw in the Superior Symbiote Squad as a possible title for this Marvel NOW! 2 book (or Venom & Mania could work), with Toxin (currently hosted by Eddie Brock) as a recurring menace for the duo. Because he’s probably raving mad about Flash’s irresponsibility for tainting an innocent teenager with a symbiote. Plus, the birth of Mania could trigger the beginning of the Spawning event that was teased during Savage Six and which will never see the light of print in the current Venom run. Holy Potential, Venom!

4.      The End…For Now

Or this could really be it for our symbiotic Avenger and his companion. We may not even get a new Venom book until his eventual return to film in The Amazing Spider-Man, considering the perpetual decline in the book’s sales (we all know how Marvel tends to flood the market with new books and stories based on upcoming blockbusters).

Bunn really likes to play reader’s heartstrings when it comes to information on his upcoming plans for the book. Along with teasing a new direction for Flash and the symbiote’s life at the end of issue #42, he also suggested that Mania may not even survive her own origin story. In the worst case, we could even see another host-swap for the Venom symbiote. Which brings us to the final possibility…

5.      Full Circle, or “Every Hardcore Venom Fan’s Dream”

Eddie Brock becomes Venom again. Ever since the symbiote left Brock and bonded with Mac Gargan, a.k.a. the Scorpion, (and Angelo Fortunato, who was Venom for two issues of Marvel Knights: Spider-Man before Mac) most Venom fans have pined about wanting Brock to be Venom again. The complaints grew in volume when he became Anti-Venom—who was viewed as a cheap, overpowered knock off—and, subsequently, the new host of the Toxin symbiote (though “Broxin,” as he’s endeared, is reminiscent of Eddie/Venom in his Lethal Protector days).

Perhaps Marvel is finally answering the vocal majority’s prayers, and we’ll get good ol’ Venom back to his former glory. Even if this would be the final nail in the coffin for Brock’s devolution as character, considering some considered Anti-Venom to be Brock’s next best step in a life of redemption—something he had been working towards since he gave up the Venom symbiote. But hey, who am I to complain? I’d pay top dollar to see Brock/Venom again!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Superior Carnage #2 Review

Still Not a Lot of Carnage
By Orion Petitclerc

Well, here we are again. Another Superior Carnage review. Let’s recap, shall we? We found our favorite psychopath in red brain-dead from his run-in with Kaine, the new Scarlet Spider, and under the highly inefficient care of some unnamed super prison. D-lister supervillain the Wizard stages a breakout using mind control, during which he recruits the instant top-dog of the riot—our friendly neighborhood Cletus Kasady. Wizard’s third-rate plan of controlling Carnage’s mind and repurposing him as his own Agent Venom for the new Frightful Four goes, of course, awry when he realizes Kasady had been lobotomized and, in turn, is mind control-proof. Before Carnage gets his chance to tear out Wizard’s throat, the first recruit of the new Four saves the day with his mastery of sound: Klaw.
Hey, wait a second...
In this issue, we find our motley musketeers holed up in some undisclosed location in New York City (I’m sensing a theme) outside of prison, where Klaw and Wizard have their ravaging recruit chained up and neutralized via…some sort of glowing tech. Probably sonic emitters or thermal radiators. Or friendship rays. Yeah, probably that.

Wizard reassures Klaw that he knows what he’s doing in the most unreassuringly fashion by substituting a photo of Agent Venom with a photo of Black Tarantula and then throwing an insecurity tantrum when Klaw points this out. Look how far you’ve fallen from the first issue, Wizard: first you concoct a half-assed, hackneyed prison break against the most insecure containment facility, then you try to mind control someone who even an average joe prisoner knew was lobotomized, and now you’re showing off your scrapbook diary of “intel” collected on a secret government operation, and throwing a hissy fit at whoever you show it to.
Looking real mature there, Wizzy.
Just as Wizard is about to descend into the juvenile (jeez, I swear that’s not an innuendo!), in walks—I mean, in rolls another nobody and the final member of the new Frightful Four, Dr. Karl Mallus. Again, here I am—a relatively new reader to everything Marvel outside symbiotes and Moon Knight—wondering who the heck this guy with the nerdiest bowl cut is, and how in Kevin Shinick’s evil mastermind of a plot Mallus is going to fit in a Carnage title. Supposedly he’s in a wheel chair for some run-in with “the wrong crowd”? With Wizard’s whole karma speech and Stephen Segovia’s layout, I’m assuming Carnage put Mallus in the chair at some point. That’s what I’m reading into, of course.
Dr. Who Now?
Whoever Mallus is, he’s going to be one of the two big brains of the Frightful Four. Okay, I can get behind the evil genius angle. No problem. He even looks the part next to dorky Wizard. Who’s dorky. Did I not cover this in my first review? Anyways, after introductions, Wizard moves on with his silly plan to create the Superior Carnage and releases Carnage from his bonds to try and mind control the symbiote instead. Déjà vu kicks in as Carnage returns to tearing at Wizard to within an inch of his life. Crazy old Wizard constantly fights his comrades with letting him handle Carnage by himself to earn the beast’s control. Methinks Wizard likes himself a bit of abuse.
I feel like I've seen this before...
Klaw swoops in again and saves Wizard from looking like a complete nincompoop (which is Wizard’s true power from what I can tell) causing the purple idiot to totally break down in a delusional, pathetic haze. Again, at this point Wizard mentions his son, Bently, whom he’s seemingly obsessed with. Just when we’re left guessing what’s gotten into Wizard, Mallus pipes in with a warning to Klaw about what they got themselves into, revealing how Black Bolt messed up Wizard’s mind and gave him Dementia. Wizard regains his sanity once more and persists on trying to mind control the symbiote again.
Spider-Man, Spider-Man!
                 Irresponsible Spider-Man!
Then we cut to…FINALLY…the Superior Spider-Man, web swinging over the rooftops of New York City towards stopping the Jackal and his newest evil plan (alluding to events in Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #2). We catch our not-so-friendly neighborhood wall crawler berating some unknown caller on an unseen Bluetooth headset (or the Marvel Universe equivalent) for bothering him with details on the Wizard/Carnage breakout he was already aware of. Most likely this is Mayor J. Jonah Jameson on the other end of the line, considering Spidey says the entire police force is the caller’s. Spidey-Ock (or SpOck, as the internet has dubbed him) hangs up and reminisces on Wizard and the events that lead to his downfall, revealing that not only did Black Bolt mess with his mind, but Wizard only has a few weeks left to live. SpOck ponders whether Wizard’s newest caper is a last attempt to make a name for himself or a suicide mission, and then…pretty much says, “oh well, maybe I should look into it, but guy’s probably gonna bite it anyways, so meh.” And what about Carnage, SpOck? You’re just going to let a mindless murder machine loose in the wild jungle city? How irresponsible.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the only cameo the Superior Spider-Man gets in this miniseries. He pretty much said it himself: he really doesn’t care about the situation as much as Parker would’ve. But I would like to see a fight amongst the new Superior Carnage, SpOck, and Agent Venom by the end of this. That’s a lot of wishful thinking and a plane ticket back from Philidelphia for Flash.
Returning to the Fallible—er, I mean Frightful Four, Wizard has already tried four times to control Carnage with no tangible results. His frustration with failure breaks his fragile mind here and there as his Dementia slips a little. Then, as he’s trying to think of why he’s failing at his plan, Mallus touches upon a tidbit of information that sparks Wizard’s imagination: the government was able to make Agent Venom because the symbiote wasn’t bonded to the host DNA like Carnage is, and that since Kasady’s mind is gone, it will never be controllable.
Finally, someone who's making sense!
Wizard has his light bulb moment and volunteers Mallus for a blood transfusion with Kasady, essentially transferring the symbiote from its brain-dead host to a fully-functional one—relatively speaking, of course. So Mallus is now Flash Thompson (because of his disability), and about to become Agent Carnage. That’s why he’s in the book. Joy. Mallus appeals to Klaw’s reason, proving that Wizard’s own disability is getting to his sanity, but after Klaw gives Mallus a history lesson about himself and Wizard, he sides with Wizard, shakes Mallus down, and straps him to a table. The book ends with Mallus sprouting the signature Venom tongue as his eyes go red and black during the transfusion.
Dr. Mallus is...
This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with an obscure, crippled evil genius inheriting the Carnage symbiote. Ay Dios mio. Here I was, ten months ago, wishing Marvel would finally euthanize Carnage in Minimum Carnage for pity’s sake, and now I fear Mallus adopting the mantle only meant for Cletus Kasady. Sorry if this sounds old school, but Shinick should know to never kiss on a first date. We only just met Mallus, and now we’re supposed to accept him as the new Carnage, even though we know so little about him? At least Andi got a strong 8-issue head start before she became Mania, the new symbiote on the block, in Venom #38, and she was a brand-new, original character. And I liked Andi a lot more than Mallus on our first date…I mean at first glance. So besides the Carnage Purist in me throwing a fit over someone else taking the name and symbiote, the lack of character development makes me want the symbiote to reject Mallus as a host, hop back onto Cletus, cure his lobotomy, and kill everyone in the room.
It was nice to finally have Spidey show up in the book as opposed to the last one (a point which I criticized), but it seems he still has no purpose in the plot other than to lend the “Superior” title to an otherwise seemingly inferior Carnage. If he’s going to bow out of the story and we get stuck with Mallus as the new Carnage, then what’s the point of calling this book Superior Carnage? So far, this has still only been Wizard’s story, if not a Frightful Four one. And if Mallus is the new Carnage, then Kasady has no place in Wizard’s Frightful Four, and the name of the group becomes null. This story is really starting to fall apart unless Shinick’s got his ducks in a row for the next three issues. He better or Marvel will have a lot of angry fans to deal with.
Also, as much, or as little, of Carnage there actually was in the first issue, there’s a lot less in the second. There are a grand total of three pages in which he, in all his symbiote glory, makes an appearance. Three pages. I think I need to be reminded again of whose name is in the title of this book, people.
Segovia and Jay David Ramos are still knocking it out of the park in the art department. Although, I’m not a huge fan of the dark eyes they gave the characters in the last three pages. I get that it’s supposed to show the symbiote taking over Kasady and Mallus, but even Wizard had them black eyes on the double-page spread. That’s pretty much my only complaint for the art besides what was already said in my first review.

BOTTOM LINE: Superior Carnage #2 gets a 4 out of 5 for the art and a 3 out of 5 for the story, since it feels like this is less of a Carnage book than before. Overall, I give the book 3.5 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Truth in Journalism: A Review

C'est arrivé dans votre voisinage amical
By Orion Petitclerc

San Diego Comic Con International is a wondrous place where geek magic can foster widespread fandom or a smaller cult following. Last year at SDCC 2012, Adi Shankar and Phil Joanou revitalized indie fan films with Dirty Laundry, which starred Thomas Jane as he reprised his role as Marvel Knight Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, in a huge surprise ending. The short was an instant cult classic. So at this year’s SDCC, Shankar returned to deliver a new short fan film at the Machinima panel, called Truth in Journalism. Produced by Shankar and written and directed by Joe Lynch, Truth in Journalism starred Ryan Kwanten of True Blood fame as down-on-his-luck journalist Eddie Brock, known better as Spider-Man’s iconic archnemesis in black, Venom.
Before I begin, I must warn you that this review contains major spoilers for those who’ve yet to watch this film. This is also a very long, in-depth review, so buckle in.
"Venom Bites Dog"...or maybe "Man Bites Venom"?
A Portrait in Black

On behalf of all Venom fans (whom I dub “Venomaniacs”) and as a service to all the new comic book readers and those generally outside “the know,” let me start off with a brief recount. According to whichever source you may be more comfortable with, Spider-Man at one point wore a black-and-white suit that was secretly an organic life form called a symbiote. He attained the suit from either a machine on a distant planet called Battleworld during Marvel’s cross-comic event, The Secret Wars, or from a space rock that either fell to Earth (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3) or was brought back from the moon by astronauts (the 90’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series). When Spidey found out about his new costume’s true nature, he cast it off the only way he knew how: tolling bells in a bell tower at Our Lady of Saints Church. (This church is seen and alluded to during a scene in Truth in Journalism.)
Eddie Brock, who had previously ruined his reputation as a journalist and was fired from the Daily Globe (Daily Bugle, if we’re talking about Spider-Man 3 or Spider-Man: The Animated Series) for false reporting, inherited the scorned suit, bonding with it to become the malicious Venom. Fueled by the suit’s passionate hatred for Spidey and Brock’s inability to accept responsibility for his actions and instead blame Spidey for his issues, Venom had been a constant thorn in the wall crawler’s side, most painfully because right off the bat Venom knew Spidey’s secret identity as Peter Parker.
Since his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #300, Venom has been a fan-favorite nemesis, and has lead his own solo adventures in comics during Brock’s tenure before the symbiote began host jumping in 2005. Fans were then graced in 2007 with Venom’s film debut in Spider-Man 3. Unfortunately, Raimi and producer Avi Arad’s Eddie Brock Jr. (played by Topher Grace from That 70’s Show) and his villainous alter ego were met with mixed reviews, most leaning towards the negative feelings the whole of the film had mustered in moviegoers and comic fans. Many of the complaints against Grace’s character stemmed from his lack of bulk (which Venom was well known for) and unfaithful portrayal of the character’s personality, plus his rushed development in an already crammed roster of villains.
Ever since his train wreck of a debut, Venom fans have been promised a solo spin-off film by Sony Pictures, and to this day a project has yet to lift off the ground. Even with the Spider-Man movie franchise’s reboot in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man and Venom’s growing popularity in comics with the symbiote’s bond to Parker’s once high school bully, Flash Thompson, Sony has little to bring to the table outside barely-digestible tidbits of plans and pre-production talks.
And then Truth in Journalism came along, seemingly out of nowhere. Not to get ahead of myself, but as a rabid (and, hopefully, one day officially recognized as a) Venomaniac and a devout Eddie Brock fan, I feel I’m qualified to say that Truth in Journalism was the Venom film we’ve all been waiting for—and, more importantly, the one we deserve.

Let’s Talk Geek

Lynch and Shankar’s possibly greatest contribution to the film and fans is their faithfulness to the main source material: Venom’s first appearance in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. Now, this isn’t to say this is a Venom film, per se; instead, this is Brock’s film, as Venom only makes a brief appearance towards the end. However, this is a neo-classic Brock: Kwanten is not a ripped body builder as Todd McFarlane drew Brock, but he’s still toned, and Truth in Journalism features a scene in which Brock is pumping iron in his apartment. Brock’s personality is also a bit more outgoing and spunky than the comics suggested, embodying a passionate, stereotypic journalist and paying homage to the character of Benoît from the 1992 cult classic, found footage, indie French film, Man Bites Dog—which Lynch calls Truth in Journalism’s “spiritual ancestor,” and which plays a huge role in the style and story of the short film (I’ll explain this further on).
Who else remembers KB Toys at the mall? Nice detail.
But, most importantly of all, Kwanten’s Brock is faithful to his comic counterpart in being absolutely creepy. There are many points in the film where I felt like Brock was on the verge of snapping into outright insanity, and his general disconnectedness from the horrors which he makes his living from reporting on shadows in comparison to Grace’s sleazy, dorky adaptation.
Truth in Journalism is, in part, a period piece; the plot, characters, and aesthetics are set in New York in 1988—the year in which Amazing Spider-Man #300 was published (though the production was filmed in modern downtown Los Angeles). Even working on a very small budget, the film’s crew did a phenomenal job with giving the setting and film that older feel, especially with the added aesthetic of shooting in 16 mm black and white film (again, another homage to Man Bites Dog). Unlike its spiritual ancestor, Truth in Journalism features a soundtrack of popular songs from the late 80’s which helped ground the setting along with the clothing and hairstyles, including Europe’s “The Final Countdown” during the aforementioned weight lifting scene.
Not too scrawny, but keep lifting, bro.
The best parts of the film, in my fanatic opinion, were the many references to the comics. One of the more recent sources of reference included Brock calling himself an “administrator of truth,” and claims to “put the ‘caution’ in cautionary tales,” which hearkens back to Venom: Dark Origin, a four-issue comic run retelling Brock’s origin story. In Dark Origin, Brock’s character was retconned for his film debut, and highlighted his twisted journalism practices and belief of creating truth from the reporter’s perspective. This wasn’t an attribute Brock was given in his debut comic, but it serves the plot of Truth in Journalism well.
Another reference in the film is the symbiote’s morphing ability, as seen when Brock is caught talking to himself in his apartment bathroom and quickly changing from wearing only workout shorts to a suit and tie as quickly as shutting and opening the door. When Brock turns into Venom, he pukes out the symbiote onto the floor and it crawls up his body, referencing the modern inclination of artists and the Spider-Man 3 movie’s sickly symbiote dispersion and transformation.
Another sweet reference is one Brock makes during the bar scene when he takes his leave, saying, “I gotta go see a lady-friend,” specifically referring to the scene in the comics in which Venom makes his first appearance at Parker’s apartment and terrorizes Mary Jane.
But the most obscure and juicy of all references is Brock’s fateful Sin Eater debacle, which before Truth in Journalism was used only in the comics. In both Spider-Man: The Animated Series and Spider-Man 3, Brock’s origin was retconned so that he ruined his career from falsely reporting Spider-Man’s supposed “criminal” activities and publishing the articles with the Daily Bugle; in the comics, however, Brock had run an exclusive set of articles with the Daily Globe (a sister company to the Bugle) in which he interviewed who he believed was the serial killing criminal, the Sin Eater. Under pressure from the police, Brock revealed his source as Emil Gregg, who was a compulsive confessor claiming himself to be the Sin Eater, before Spider-Man revealed the true identity of the criminal. In the film, Brock’s failure with what the camera crew following him calls the “Bugle Incident” and “Emil Gregg case” lurks in the background of the plot, and Brock does his best to avoid addressing the elephant in the room. He even acknowledges the necessity of his new situation as a ruined reporter for paying the bills, even at one point asking, “Am I happy spewing bile and venom in a rag like the Examiner? Of course not.”
Issues? Yeah, he has issues. Which one're ya looking to read?
Though not a direct quote from the comics, Amazing Spider-Man #300 featured a similar quote from Brock during a monologue: “I was forced to write venomous celebrity exposés and ‘I was kidnapped by aliens’ drivel for scandal rags, just to eke out a living.” Then, nearing the scene when Brock became Venom, Brock escorted his camera crew into his bedroom, where on all the walls were news clippings, the most prominent being front pages from the Daily Bugle with pictures of Spider-Man and headlines reading “Sin Eater Body Count Now 10” and “Globe Falsely Accuses Wrong Suspect”.

The Spiritual Ancestor

Yet as chock-full of geekgasmic comic insider references as Lynch and Shankar squeezed into Truth in Journalism, this was only the tip of the iceberg. As mentioned earlier, Lynch mentioned Man Bites Dog as Truth in Journalism’s spiritual ancestor. This is, perhaps, an understatement. Truth in Journalism not only pays homage to Man Bites Dog, but embodies the genre and mimics certain plot points. Lynch and Shankar essentially set Man Bites Dog in the Marvel comics universe and had their French-Belgian camera crew follow around a detached, delusional journalist instead of a practical, friendly serial killer. Both Brock and Benoît share their hair-trigger, outgoing personalities, and both films follow a similar plotline to a point: the camera crew follows their subject with a focus in exploring the nature of a person in a particular line of work; the camera crew runs into issues with funding part of the way through the film, and their subject offers to help them with money; the group eventually runs into another competing camera crew; and the main camera crew dies at the end of the film.
However, Truth in Journalism deviates from the plot of its spiritual ancestor at several points: when Eddie offers his crew financial assistance in the spirit of cinema (both films also share the catchphrase “cineMA!” during their respective bar scenes), the crew ends up declining his offer for the sake of integrity and, secretly, to avoid becoming accessories to his possible criminal activities because they don’t trust Eddie. In Man Bites Dog, the crew became so caught up in Benoît’s crimes, they were forced to accept his offer not only for their fear of him, but also because of their Stockholm syndrome-like interest in his nature. When the crew and Eddie run into another competing camera crew, instead of killing the competitors like Benoît did, Eddie’s crew is almost killed by the competitors’ own subject, the infamous Bullseye (played by Derek Mears) of Daredevil origins (who, funny enough, is called “Ben” by his director in the scene…seeing the connection yet?). And, finally, where Benoît and his crew are killed at the end of their film by unseen gunmen, Eddie kills his crew as Venom when they decline his funding—most probably out of paranoia.
This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

It’s all in the Names

But wait! The insider jokes, geek references, and Easter eggs don’t end there! On top of the healthy dose of faithfulness to the source materials, the fake credits in the beginning of the film hold a few layers of meaning on their own. Three names were given in the beginning credits: Rémy Plissken, Pierre Balcomb, and Benoît Shankkar. Obviously, Rémy and Benoît refer to Rémy Belbaux and Benoît Poelvoorde, both the cast and crew of Man Bites Dog (as well as Lynch’s son, Rémy, who’s named after the film maker); but probably lesser known is whom Pierre Balcomb’s first name references: Pierre Vanbraekel, who played the father of the child Benoît smothered in Man Bites Dog.
Another obvious reference is Benoît Shankkar’s last name, referring to the last name of Truth in Journalism’s producer. Both the Plissken and Balcomb last names, however, may be references to the film or crew’s less obvious inspirations: Plissken referring to Snake Plissken, Kurt Russell’s character in the Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. films (the impact on Truth in Journalism and its characters is lost on me as I’ve yet to see either film); and Balcomb possibly referring to Florence Balcombe, wife of Dracula author Bram Stroker, who is remembered for leading the destruction of most of the prints of 1922’s Nosferatu, which unofficially adapted her husband’s gothic vampire tale to the silver screen. This last reference plays a particular part in the film, as Eddie’s character was restored to his horrific personality as originally written in the comics, as well as the similarities to the themes of Balcombe’s inquisition against fraudulent profiteering and Eddie’s failure as a journalist for reporting fraudulent evidence in the spirit of “making it big” as a reporter.

And Now for a Little Rant

After watching Truth in Journalism a second…and maybe third, fourth, and—oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be watching this on replay for a long time—well, you get the point, but after rewatching Truth in Journalism to catch all the Easter eggs and nods to fans Lynch and Shankar injected into each scene, I was still a bit unsatisfied. What? I’m very picky when it comes to Venom, don’t judge me! Anyways, Truth in Journalism showcases, by far, the best interpretation of Eddie Brock in a medium outside print. By far. This isn’t to say Truth in Journalism doesn’t need a few improvements to make it the best Eddie Brock and Venom film of all time. (OF ALL TIME!)
For one, I, as many other Venom fans who watched this can probably agree, believe Truth in Journalism deserved a bigger budget for a better Venom design. A practical Venom costume is completely possible, as Lynch and Shankar proved, but I believe in a costume that could mix the practical with CGI. For instance, the Venom head Kwanten sported when he became the murderous alter ego was very minimalist and had a weird tight-lipped mouth seam across it the entire time until his close-up when CGI kicked in to sport the classic mouth, complete with razor sharp teeth and a wagging tongue. With a bigger budget, they could’ve given Venom the classic open-mouth via CGI for more than a few seconds rather than having that (no offense) goofy seam.
Also, I got their intention for making Venom more alien by doing away with the big white spider logo wrapping around his chest, but I felt that choice was also as much of an injustice to the character and fans as Venom’s costume design was in Spider-Man 3 (which basically cheated and gave the black suited Spider-Man a mouth). It was almost like Lynch and Shankar were attempting to distance the character’s design from his origin with Spider-Man. I understand that the only way a Venom movie would work is if it stood alone from the PG-13 rated wall crawler, but who is the Joker without Batman?
Another little geek issue I had with the film was Brock’s New York accent (crucify me now). I know that at the time Amazing Spider-Man #300 was written and when Brock was developing in the mind of David Michelinie, Brock most likely—most probably—was meant to have a New York/Brooklyn accent. He was, at the time, assumed to be an NYC native. That is, until we learned more about him after his departure from New York in the pages of Venom: Lethal Protector. Michelinie revealed Brock to be a San Francisco native instead—a detail just about no one would know outside the fandom. So yes, I get that Lynch and Shankar were sticking close to the early days of Brock in comics, but I would have preferred Kwanten to imitate a San Franciscan accent, just to differentiate Brock more from the few New York natives he talked to.
And as much as I liked Truth in Journalism framed in the style and story of Man Bites Dog, I would have also liked the film to have its own feel. If Truth in Journalism did, in fact, get the ball rolling at Sony for a Venom solo film, not only should Venom keep his R rating, but the story should be unique. Again, not so unique it distances itself from the source and Spider-Man’s influence.
I know I set the bar high, but I did honestly, truly enjoy the heck out of Truth in Journalism. Lynch and Shankar really delivered to the fans an outstanding Venom film, even if it’s not canon to either film franchises, and Kwanten surprisingly broadened the scope of potential Brock actors. Seriously, I’ve been waging my own little war against the piping masses with my pick of American Gladiator Lee Reherman as Grace’s replacement over the fan-favorite wrestling all-star, Brock Lesnar (I know he shares Eddie’s name, but he’s too buff for a journalist! At least Reherman’s brawn is explainable, and can be easily toned down with CGI, Captain America style). I thought I had given up on finding Grace lookalikes to fill Brock’s gooey shoes, but Kwanten proved me wrong and beyond. My hat’s off to the entire cast and crew of Truth in Journalism, and with my official Venomaniac stamp of approval (as official as my reputation in the fandom makes it, I suppose), I give this new cult classic a 5 out of 5 and a kiss on the lips. No tongue, though.

Here’s looking forward to how Sony can meet this monster!