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.

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