Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Superior Carnage #1 Review: Not a Lot of Superior, Not a Lot of Carnage

Superior Carnage #1 Review: Not a Lot of Superior, Not a Lot of Carnage. 
By Orion Petitclerc 

Cletus Kasady, a.k.a. Carnage. This guy is one of Spider-Man’s deadliest foes, and arguably one of the most cult-popular characters in comics next to his daddy and the first Marvel symbiote, Venom. But with a gap of inactivity between his golden years of the mid 90’s and his short-lived (pun intended) reappearance in 2004’s Mighty Avengers, it felt like Marvel didn't know what to do with the poor serial killing symbiote—until he was resurrected in 2010’s limited series Carnage: Family Feud. Pop went the weasel, and suddenly a new limited series featuring the man in red and black popped up every year after as his popularity was rekindled, all leading to a rumored reinvention in Superior Carnage.

Rewind about nine months to the finale of Carnage’s previous tie-in limited series, Minimum Carnage, where Superior Carnage begins. After almost destroying the Microverse in Cullen Bunn (Venom) and Christopher Yost’s (Scarlet Spider) blast-from-the-past story, Carnage, Agent Venom (Flash Thompson), and the Scarlet Spider (Peter Parker’s reformed clone, Kaine) return to our normal-sized Huston, Texas for one last fight. Kaine finally had Cletus weakened and at his mercy, and “solved” the Carnage issue (or, rather, Cletus Kasady issue) once and for all with a swift and reader-shocking lobotomy using Kaine’s wrist stinger— completely ignoring Thompson’s newly-adopted “no killing” mantra ol’ Peter “not-yet Superior” Parker infected him with in Carnage U.S.A.  
"Kaine got the memo. Seems Spidey and Agent Venom didn't."

"Seriously, why are we following
this guy's narrative when we all know
Carnage is going to murder him?"
Fast-forward to issue one of Superior Carnage, where Kevin Shinick picks up the pieces and weaves his own, twisted web for the symbiote-powered vegetable. Shinick tells the first nine pages of the story through the brown-stained woes of…some nobody named Ted Connelly who summarily dies on the toilet nine pages later by a red noodly appendage (guess whose?).

The symbiote geek in me wonders why these weren't nine pages filled with carnal goodness, but as a writer I get what Shinick’s up to. We, the readers, are supposed to be Ted, who’s a non-super, white collar criminal unfortunate enough to earn himself a cell next to Carnage’s in an “Undisclosed Containment Facility” because of an unnamed governor’s plan to quick-fix a prison overcrowding issue. If it weren't for Ted being constantly surrounded by physically bigger super villains, I would've never guessed he was in a prison built for supers— what, with the cell guards wielding normal-looking guns that would have little effect with many of the inmates; the highly-inefficient key code-locked cell doors the guards have to seemingly punch in every now and then to keep the monsters at bay; and the waves of normal-looking inmates running from Carnage once he breaks loose.
"Someone didn't do their homework, kids."

Man, this prison needs to be shut down faster than…oh, wait, the Raft was already decommissioned and emptied as of Superior Spider-Man #13? Hmm, if this facility were located in New York, I’d think Mayor Jameson would have it next on his Gitmo hit list.

"When has this technique ever worked on Carnage?
Well...how about now?"
Ted flashes us back a month before the events of Superior Carnage when Cletus arrives at the prison escorted by none other than Agent Venom, revealing that he overheard a conversation about Cletus’ lobotomy between Agent Venom and the cloaked prison official wheeling Cletus around in a friggin’ wheel chair wearing a straight jacket. Need I mention how inefficient this method of containment was in the beginning of Maximum Carnage back in the 90’s? No? Okay. Anyways, I guess Cletus’ not-lobotomized psycho symbiote decides to keep it cool during this scene and not kill everyone while it had its chance, and we flash forward again to the present, where one of the cell guards taunts Ted’s hair-trigger bowels until he gets mind controlled into releasing Carnage from his cell. Then Ted dies. Sweet mercy.

"Oh yeah, this nerd!"
At this point, Shinick introduces the Wizard into the fray as the man behind the curtain of chaos with Game of Thrones joke. I don’t like to think of myself as one, but you can consider me a “new reader” to most things Marvel that has nothing to do with symbiotes and Moon Knight. I can guess the Wizard is not one of Marvel’s better-known super villains, and my knowledge of him extends no farther than beating him to a bloody pulp in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. So when he says he’s no stranger to mind control, that’s about as much as I know about his power set. Hopefully Shinick will amend this by the end of the five-issue limited series. Making me care about the character is a whole other story altogether.
an unfunny

"I wouldn't have expected any less from this match-up."

Rather than only incapacitating the prison control room guards and opening all the doors as some hackneyed plan of escape, however, the Wizard has Carnage in his sights, recognizing the biggest player in the fray. Like any good villain, the Wizard likes to reveal his master plan at the most inappropriate time (in this case: the beginning of the limited series). I could’ve done with some mystery in the master plan, Shinick, but—woe is me—Marvel’s spoilerific solicitations already ruined the fun in guessing. Oh well, cat’s out of the bag.

Citing his unnamed insiders, the Wizard reveals to his captive audience (wah-wah) that he heard about how the government took the Venom symbiote and made a super soldier out of some lucky bastard (Flash, if you weren’t aware). Not only does the Wizard want to get the gang back together in a new Frightful Four team (who now?), but he wants to take the Agent Venom formula and perfect it by making…drum roll…the Superior Carnage! Where he thinks the government went wrong with Agent Venom (because they ended up “failing,” as he puts it) is explained in two of the best sentences in the book: “Because you don’t harness evil and make it good. You harness evil and make it wicked!” Poetry, pure and simple. I like Shinick already.

The Wizard gets interrupted by one of the guards, mentions he has a son, yadda yadda, and then kills his captives and heads down into the action “to tame the beast.” Uh huh, good luck with that, dweeb. He meets up with Carnage, gets all confident, and right as Carnage charges for him and the Wizard tries to mind control Cletus—uh oh! Looks like Oz forgot to give Mr. Kasady a brain. Silly wizards and their pranks. What really gets me, though, is that the Wizard didn't know about Cletus’ condition beforehand…say, when Ted’s loud thoughts were interfering with his mind control. But then again, mind control and mind reading are two separate things…oh, psychic stuff has always been a jumbled mess to me.

"And I thought Klaw couldn't look any dumber..."
Anyways, the Wizard realizes his mistake too late as Carnage jumps onto him. Right as Carnage is about to bite his head off, the symbiote explodes into a painful fury as Cletus gets blasted in the back on a sweet double-page spread. The Wizard reveals again that Carnage was supposed to be the Frightful Four’s secret weapon, but out of the dust walks Klaw, one of, if not the Wizard’s first recruit. Again, I know next to nothing about Klaw outside of his appearances in the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon, but thankfully Shinick lets us know Klaw’s pulpy title of the “Master of Sound”. Looks like the Wizard did his homework on symbiote weaknesses. Good for him.

And thus the first issue ends with a (silent, onomatopoeia-less) bang as the third member of the new, superior Frightful Four lineup is revealed. After the adrenaline-fueled symbiote geek excitement wears off, I find myself disappointed that there wasn't more Carnage in the first issue of his own book (‘Nam flashbacks of Daniel Way’s Venom run and the first two issues of Carnage: Family Feud ensue). The first half of the book was just Ted complaining about his prison-world problems, and the last half was the Wizard going over his evil master plan. It felt like Carnage was pushed into the background and was used as a device to move Ted and the Wizard’s stories forward. Remind me whose name is on the cover, again?

Then again…“Dave’s not here, man.” Cletus is brain-dead. The Carnage symbiote, as history tends to prove, barely has a voice of its own. Could a Carnage book really carry with a lobotomized savage as the main character? It could, but not easily, and probably not profitably if it weren't for Carnage’s inherent popularity. So I understand Shinick’s use of alternate narrators and making the Wizard the main character. I think a better title for the book would've been Superior Frightful Four, but I have a hope that things will turn around at some point and Carnage will take the center stage once more.

As for the Superior part of the title, nothing in this first issue links the story to the Superior Spider-Man title in any way. Is the Wizard’s motivation for resurrecting the Frightful Four to menace Spidey in some way for some reason? I've been following Superior Spider-Man since Amazing Spider-Man #699.1, and nowhere is the Wizard or Klaw even mentioned. Were they involved in Spidey’s immediate past, pre-Superior? I don’t know. I’m a new reader (so to say). Will Spidey even show up in this series? The solicits promise this is a tie-in to Superior Spider-Man, so I guess that’s a “yes,” even if there’s nothing Superior in this first issue so far.
"That book features Spider-Man.
That book does, too.
That book guest stars Spidey.
And Scarlet Spider...well, he's a Spider-Man.
So where's Spidey in this one?"

"Seriously, did no one else catch this?"
I like what I’ve read so far, even though I have my own little symbiote geek issues with the book, and I’m putting my trust in Shinick as I've done before with Bunn, Yost, and Zeb Wells. I am very pleased to see Clayton Crain—a Carnage alumnus—back illustrating the cover, and as much as I miss his organic interiors (that wasn't meant to be creepy, I swear), Stephen Segovia (art) and Jay David Ramos (colors) pick up the bill just as well. The colors could have been a bit darker and grittier for my tastes (this is a book with “carnage” in the title, after all), but Segovia’s style happily reminded me of the dominating comic art styles of Marvel in the 90’s while fusing some more modern techniques to keep it fresh. I did find it funny, however, that Segovia’s classic Venom on the beautiful page 12 spread resembled very closely Kotobukiya’s Venom Unbound fine art statue. How striking, the resemblance…. Also, I’m very happy Segovia and Ramos fixed Cletus’ look from his last appearance in Minimum Carnage. That was not Cletus Kasady.

 "That's not Cletus Kasady! It's Emil Blonsky, a.k.a. the Abomination as played by Tim Roth!

BOTTOM LINE: Superior Carnage #1 gets 4.5 stars out of 5 for Segovia and Ramos’ title-appropriate interiors, and 4 stars out of 5 for Shinick’s flowing bait-and-switch, alternate narrator story. Overall, I give the book 4 stars out of 5.