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!