Absolutely Pretty Good and Scary

You know what? Absolute Carnage #1 by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman is, actually, really pretty good. Why the qualifiers? Because I’ve never been a big fan of the character, and what little interest I did have in Spider-Man’s stable of symbiotic super-villains dropped off considerably as the ultra-violent aesthetic swallowed up the 80’s anti-hero boom and suddenly, painfully, took precedence over any kind of decent comic book storytelling or artistry. Subconsciously I think I’ve somehow equated the Punisher/Deadpool/Venom-Carnage fanbase with the same people who can’t stand seeing a Black Captain America or a Jane Foster swinging Mjolnir. I don’t have time to waste on that nonsense. So, coupled with my disinterest in the characters, I also assume any new books featuring those guys would therefore target that audience. Pass.

Despite developing an appreciation for the work of Donny Cates, if it hadn’t been for our “Fresh Start” focus group project, I probably wouldn’t have bothered reading the first issue of the new Venom series (see above). And then I would have missed out on arguably the hottest team in comics right now. Ryan Stegman’s work is a revelation, and the storyline involving new, unexpected layers to the symbiote lore has been everything you want from comic book fantasy. Primordial cosmic chaos, terrifying cultish machinations, and millennia-spanning mystery. And, again, totally unexpected (particularly given how terrible the most recent attempt at de-mystifying the symbiotes had been during Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy run).

To cut to the chase: Absolute Carnage #1 is a fantastic horror comic. Coupled with Ewing and Bennett’s Immortal Hulk, these are the kind of books that, I’d argue, we’ve never seen dressed up in cape n’ tights veneer and haven’t been worth a damn since the EC heyday.

This book doesn’t try to be a superhero comic, despite the prominence of Spider-Man and the “lethal protector” aspect of Eddie’s Venom. It’s fucking scary, and I appreciate that.

It was a slippery slope: failed understandings of Miller’s intentions around The Dark Knight Returns led to The Punisher becoming an icon (I can’t believe this) and later resulted in the glorification of violence and death within the pages of our superhero books. Gross. I have less and less patience for these stories and characters as I grow older, and it worries me that their popularity seems to be as strong as ever.

But Carnage isn’t meant to be glorified here, in either sense. It’s a scary Spider-Man comic, first and foremost, and I hope it will be regarded as such. And I’ll keep reading it, all the while pretending youth-sized Carnage, Deadpool, and Punisher t-shirts don’t really exist.

July 31 | Weekly Buzz | August 14