Took Place In: Spider-Man Unlimited 1-2, Amazing Spider-Man 378-380, Spectacular Spider-Man 201-203, Spider-Man 35-37, Web of Spider-Man 101-103
Written By: Tom DeFalco (Spider-Man Unlimited), David Michelinie (Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man), Terry Kavanagh (Web of Spider-Man, Spider-Man), J.M. DeMatteis (Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man)
Art By: Ron Lim (Spider-Man Unlimited), Mark Bagley (Amazing Spider-Man), Sal Buscema (Spectacular Spider-Man), Tom Lyle (Spider-Man), Alex Saviuk (Web of Spider-Man)
Characters Involved: Spider-Man, Venom, Carnage, Black Cat, Cloak, Dagger, Firestar, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Captain America, Morbius, Nightwatch, Demogoblin, Doppelganger, Carrion, Shriek
A lot of people like to use this story as an example of a crappy 90’s comic (along with the likes of X-Cutioner’s Song, another personal favorite), but I maintain that it’s awesome. It’s trash, but it’s entertaining trash. I was 12 when it came out, which is like the absolute perfect age for it. It had everything I loved and then some: Spidey and Venom having to team up despite their hatred, the Black Cat, Cloak and Dagger, Captain America, Deathlok (ah, the 90’s), a goblin, a freaking Infinity War doppelganger that was still hanging around (I loved the Infinity War as a kid so I was on board), and the main man himself, Carnage (with apologies to Lobo). The story definitely meanders a bit and is very bloated with characters that really don’t need to be there, but if you are in the right mindset to read it none of that matters. The resolution is crap, but for the most part of its 14 issue length the story keeps the pedal pressed pretty close to the floor while our hero and his allies are pushed to the very edge, both physically and morally. In the summer of 1993 Maximum Carnage ran across all 4 regular Spider-Man titles and launched a fifth: the quarterly Spider-Man Unlimited.
Before: As the story begins we find that Cletus Kassady, aka Carnage, is locked up in Ravencroft Asylum and it is assumed his symbiote has been destroyed due to his battle with the combined force of Spider-Man and Venom. After their team-up, the two have come to a truce of sorts and Venom is off lethally protecting the people of San Francisco. Spider-Man is starting to enter the darkest period in his publishing history, as evidenced by the ‘return’ of his ‘parents’ to the books (which I feel like I could go on and on about for days it’s so horrible), but for the most part is having his usual adventures along his wife Mary Jane and fighting his usual bad guys, with the pretty major exception of the very recent death of Harry Osborn.
Part 1: “Carnage Rising!”- Spider-Man Unlimited #1
“You should have known better than to trust a raving lunatic! I am the ultimate insanity! I am CARNAGE!”
The issue opens with Kassady in custody in Ravencroft Institute. When the doctors attempt to draw a blood sample from him he reveals that the Carnage symbiote lives in his bloodstream and that it has not been destroyed, after all! He quickly kills everyone in the room.
We briefly check in with Peter and his friends and family at the service for Harry. Nobody is coping well, and Jonah blames Spider-Man (Peter doesn’t disagree).
Carnage is killing his way systematically through Ravencroft when he hears someone really enjoying the sounds of him killing. Her name is Shriek, and she is really into killing people. So, being the relatively easy-going mass murderer that he is, he springs her from captivity and lets her join him in his fun. While they are swinging around he gives her a history lesson on his origin until they see what appears to be Spider-Man web swinging. They go to attack him but realize it’s not Spider-Man after all; it’s the Infinity War Spidey doppelganger!
Carnage grows bored with him quickly and is about to kill him when Shriek fires a sonic blast from her hands and tells him to leave the doppelganger alone; she kinda likes him and wants to keep him around.
Peter goes to get some take-out Chinese for him and Mary Jane when he hears on the radio that there has been a break-out at Ravencroft and over 50 people are dead. He immediately swings into action as Spidey, and in one of those insane comic coincidences he is almost immediately attacked by Shriek and the Doppelganger. He learns that they have teamed up with Carnage. He is able to knock Shriek unconscious, but leaves himself open for the Doppelganger to get in a really good shot, knocking him from the rooftop they were fighting on. Spidey lands really hard in the alley below while the Doppelganger, showing concern for Shriek, grabs her and leaves. Spidey tries to give chase but loses consciousness from his injuries.
At the Daily Bugle Jonah is talking about writing an editorial blaming Spider-Man for Harry Osborn’s death when Kate Cushing tells him of Carnage’s escape. Jameson goes into his office to get his passport so he can flee the country, but it’s too late. He’s got a visitor:
Thoughts: As far as part ones go, this is a little paint-by-numbers, but they do a decent job of setting up Carnage for new readers, showing how insane and brutal he is, introducing Shriek, re-introducing the Doppelganger, and establishing where Peter and his supporting cast are in their lives. The Ron Lim art is really good, as always. (I always thought he was one of the most underrated artists out there) The issue does a good job of setting up the story and teases the arrival of the only goo-based alien-covered guy more popular than Carnage: Venom.
Part 2: “Darklight”- Web of Spider-Man #101
“Your beloved Cloak literally drove me crazy, Dagger, so the very least I can do is pay him back in kind… by murdering his pathetic guardian angel right before his helpless eyes!”
Our issue opens with Spider-Man reeling, suffering from broken ribs after his fall. It’s night, so he’s apparently been out for some time, and hes’ surrounded by a bunch of generic 90’s street crooks who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart. Before they can so much as lift a finger to harm him, they are attacked by the conveniently timed arrival of Cloak and Dagger. The duo chase them off and take Spider-Man to an abandon church.
Elsewhere the Doppelganger is swinging around with a revived Shriek. When she mentions Spider-Man he freaks out and shakes her off to return to finish what he started. He disregarded his entire reason for being (to kill the original Spidey and take his place) to save Shriek, but once she was saved he’s right back to one-track mind. Shriek sees this and makes a note to “trim our little mascot’s claws personally”.
Carnage leaves the Daily Bugle, smashing the “LE” off of the logo so it reads “Daily Bug”. We see that he… didn’t harm anyone? He just demanded Jonah put out word that Carnage is looking for Spider-Man and Venom.
Cloak and Dagger are helping Spider-Man wrap his broken ribs when the Doppelganger smashes through the window of the church (how did he know where to find them?). He immediately attacks Spidey, and before Cloak and Dagger can respond Shriek comes crashing through the ceiling and joins the attack. The moment the fight starts to turn the heroes’ way things go from bad to worse with the arrival of Carnage. The battle intensifies, and Shriek learns that her attacks not only hurt Cloak, but are quite capable of killing him.
Shriek reveals that she used to be a regular old drug dealer before she was nabbed by Cloak and was pulled into the darkforce dimension that powers his… cloak. The time she spent there drove her mad, and she wants to return the favor by killing him. While Spider-Man tries to hold off Carnage (who re-injures Spidey’s ribs), Shriek presses her attack on Cloak, but Dagger gets between them to protect her partner. When her attack hits Dagger she explodes in a burst of light and is no more.
The villains take off. Unbeknownst to them, they are being watched by a shadowy figure (ah, the 90’s) who identifies them as ‘my kind of people’, but that the power he is after can only be obtained by the “complete obliteration of all other truly demonic entities”, and he senses two dormant ones inside the Doppelganger, so he flies after them.
Across the county in San Francisco, two random street toughs (ah, the 90’s) accost a woman for her purse. Suddenly Venom pops out of the sewer (at this point in his continuity Venom is living with a community of former homeless people that found a section of the city that had fallen underground during an earthquake and preserved, so it makes a little bit of sense that he was just hanging out under the street). He makes quick work of the would-be attackers (with Extreme! prejudice) and remarks that San Fran is starting to feel like home, but the window storefront he threw the criminals through has some TVs that are showing a news report on Carnage’s escape and he remarks that “New York needs us now”.
Thoughts: It’s a little odd that we basically ended on the same cliffhanger two issues in a row (“Venom’s coming!”), but this issue works pretty well, despite some iffy dialogue. The revelation that Shriek was driven mad by Cloak is a nice touch and establishes a rivalry immediately, which is escalated just moments later by Dagger’s death. It’s a little convenient that everyone found each other so quickly at the church but it’s a cool sequence of things getting much worse very quickly. Spider-Man can’t catch a break with his busted ribs.
Part 3: “Demons on Broadway”- Amazing Spider-Man #378
“This is what it’s all about, kiddos! Bloodshed an’ chaos! So.. what say we go find some more nice folks to share the joy with?”
Eddie Brock arrives in New York, and in typical Brock fashion loses his cool almost immediately. Dude’s not even out of the airport before he suits up and gets shot at. Much in the same way that Peter feels responsibility for any of Venom’s victims, he feels responsible for every death Carnage causes (the Carnage symbiote is the offspring of the Venom symbiote).
Spider-Man tries to console Cloak, but his grief and rage are too strong and he disappears. Having no leads and having aggravated his ribs again, Spidey heads home.
Carnage confronts Shriek about going after Spider-Man. He claims that Spidey is his, even so far as to claim “every bone and sinew, every drop of blood or bile… MINE!”
Peter comes home to a pissed off Mary Jane. He promised he would try to stop being Spidey for a while after the events with Harry Osborn, but dropped everything and left her hanging at the first sight of trouble. He argues that this is who he is and he did try but who could he not act when so many blah blah blah (how many times did we see this argument between them? 30? 40?).
Back with Carnage’s gang, the Doppelganger tries to attack Carnage when he appears to be threatening Shriek. Carnage easily swats him aside and reiterates that if they want to keep breathing they will do what he says, when he says it. HE’S in charge.
In Central Park, Carnage tears the roof off of a car and kills its passengers. Shriek blows the car up. The noise brings a cop, who is decapitated by Doppelganger’s razor-sharp webbing.
Spidey is out looking for Carnage when he runs across our shadow man from the last issue: Demogoblin! (ah, the 90’s) The goblin spies him following and attacks. A priest interferes and Demogoblin grabs him, but Spidey throws a haymaker and separates the two. The goblin throws a pumpkin bomb and Spidey grabs the priest and jumps out of the, but again aggravates his broken ribs in the process. Demogoblin takes off.
Back in the park, there are bodies everywhere. Carnage is bragging that he needs a calculator because the body count is ‘startin ta hurt my brain!’ Venom shows up to confront Carnage, but he was not aware that Kassady had teamed up with the Doppelganger and Shriek (whose power is one of the symbiote’s two weaknesses).
Peter is home with Mary Jane watching TV and trying to recuperate when there is a knock at the door. MJ goes to get the door but is shocked when a brutalized Eddie Brock collapses into their home.
Thoughts: Spidey telling Cloak to ‘take it easy’ after Dagger was murdered rings false to me. I don’t buy him saying that in that situation. This is a guy that has lost people on numerous occasions. “Take it easy” is like saying “It’s no big deal”. The ‘Mary Jane is smoking’ subplot is so tiresome. As is the constant attempts to inject drama into the marriage by just creating the same argument OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. Demogoblin is a painfully stupid character. You can read about him here. A nice cliffhanger showing that our hero (heroes if you count Eddie) is in a lot of trouble while also kind of teasing a team-up.
Part 4: “Team Venom”- Spider-Man #35
“Sometimes you have to stoke the devil to save the righteous.”
Carnage, Shriek, and Doppelganger go to a warehouse that stores props for rock shows (??) to… talk? Demogoblin’s arrival is signified by the smell of sulfur, which Shriek notices.
Back at the Parker residence, Mary Jane (suddenly fully dressed) has a big problem with Venom being in their home. She storms out angrily while Peter’s still like “wha…. but I… wha?”
Venom wakes up long enough to tell Peter he hates having to come to him. They both know Carnage is back but don’t know how. Venom then takes a nap on Peter’s couch (and MAN, does Tom Lyle give Eddie one hell of a mullet- ah, the 90’s) cause he’s sleepy from getting his ass handed to him.
With Mary Jane being pissed at him and storming off he doesn’t know who to turn to. He needs to talk to someone, so he goes and pops by the Black Cat’s apartment. Somehow she doesn’t know what’s going on (you would think every single person in Central Park, not to mention Ravencroft, being slaughtered would be big news), but after getting the gist of it from Spider-Man she’s all in.
Carnage and Shriek fight Demogoblin, but the Doppelganger hesitates (it used to run with Demogoblin). Demo rants about sinners and stuff, but when he states that after he kills Carnage and Shriek he’ll find others to punish “until every sinner in this world is nothing but bone and ash!” This tickles Carnage, and he invites Demogoblin to join their freak show.
Black Cat suits up while Peter debates methodology with her, stating that they can’t cross the lines the bad guys do. Felicia simplifies it for him by telling him if he’s not part of the solution he’s part of the problem.
Demogoblin agrees to join Carnage because working with him will allow him to destroy more sinners. Carnage just thinks the demon on a glider made of fire is fun.
Black Cat and Spider-Man return to Peter’s apartment to join up with a now awake Venom. Peter lays down his ground rules if they’re going to work together: “I’m aboard to SAVE lives! If anyone, on EITHER side, tries to KILL someone, I’ll do whatever it takes to STOP them! Got it?” I get where Peter is coming from, and this is definitely a stance he would take, but when there’s a band of monsters running around killing hundreds of people at random every x amount of minutes/hours shouldn’t you be doing whatever you possibly can to stop them? And not wringing your hands about hurting the psychopathic super powered murders? Get it together, Spidey.
Carnage and his now larger gang are about to go out on another spree when they are confronted by a rage filled Cloak! Outside, Spider-Man, Venom, and the Black Cat are canvassing looking for Carnage. In the distance, one of Shriek’s blasts tears through a rooftop, signaling where the battle is. Cloak, outmatched, is in real trouble when Spidey and co arrive. Spider-Man immediately starts hand wringing, warning about not killing and thinking to himself that this is a bad idea.
Rather than continue the fight, Carnage orders Demogoblin to set the roof of the building on fire, and Shriek then blasts the burning roof, raining fiery debris down and causing the building to collapse. Carnage and gang flee, and Spider-Man and his allies try to follow. Venom, weakened by the flame, loses consciousness and can’t keep up, and plummets towards the fiery wreckage. Spidey is after them when he notices that Black Cat is covered in burning rubble and never made it out of the collapsing building. He has to choose: chase Carnage and potentially save hundreds, or leave Cat and Venom to die?
Thoughts: I think the “Spider-Man” installments are my least favorite of the group. I like Tom Lyle’s art (LOVED him on Robin a year or two prior), but the mullet on Venom is hilarious (and not uncommon at the time, sadly). His Carnage is awesome. The whole thing with Demogoblin is kinda dumb. He really doesn’t need to be in the story at all (which will be a bit of a theme for a lot of characters), and his flip from “I’ll kill you all!” to “Sure, I’ll join” is really fast and probably more than a little unearned. I like that Cloak shows up full of righteous fury and like a page later he’s in serious trouble. Bit off a bit more than he could chew, it seems. The pacing at the end of the issue is all off; Venom being weakened and fainting towards the flames is all told through dialogue, there is no hint from the art that there’s anything wrong with Venom; the last image of him in the issue is him web swinging after Carnage but he says “We… we can’t! The flames WEAKENED us! Barely hanging on! It’s up… to YOU!” and in the next panel Spidey is saying “Venom lost consciousness! He’s falling back toward the warehouse! Hasn’t got a chance if I don’–” It’s pretty bad. SHOW, don’t TELL.
Part 5: “Over the Line!”- Spectacular Spider-Man #201
“Listen to me, you refugee from a pumpkin patch… and listen good… ’cause I’m only gonna say this once– There. Is. NO. PLAN! Life is meaningless! Chaos! The universe has NO center! Its creator is a drooling idiot! So repeat after me: The only purpose is NO purpose! The only plan is NO plan!”
-Carnage, to Demogoblin
While Spider-Man frets about what decision to make, Venom just staggers out of the wreckage before it completely collapses. Spider-Man hops down with Black Cat in tow, seemingly fine. When Spidey admits he came back for them rather than chase Carnage, Venom tries to attack him. Cat gives Eddie a bunch of crap for being a hypocrite since he’s wasting just as much time trying to attack Spidey. Cat then tells Spidey that Venom was right; she would have been fine without his help and he made the wrong call.
Spidey declines to continue to pursue Carnage with them. He’ll do everything in his power to stop Carnage, but he will no longer do it Venom’s way (not that he ever did. At all). Venom takes off, followed by Black Cat. Spider-Man watches them go before sagging with exhaustion, arm over his injured ribs.
Carnage and his growing band of maniacs swing and fly around arguing. Demogoblin wants a plan of action, Carnage is infuriated at the very notion of planning. They start to fight but are broken up by Shriek who points out that the more of them there are, the more pain, suffering and death they can cause, which is awesome. Both of them stand down. Shriek calms Carnage by telling him he can mold Demo and Dopple in his own image like they were his children. This would make him the daddy and her the mommy, which Carnage is weirdly into. She then asks for milk and girl scout cookies, but, “of course we’ll have to go kill a few dozen girl scouts first!”
Peter visits Aunt May to get some advice. He can’t tell her what’s wrong, but admits he wishes Uncle Ben were there since he always seemed to know what to do. He feels like he knows what is right and wrong, but it doesn’t feel so cut and dried as it used to. Aunt May tells him to listen to his heart and that she knows he will do the right thing. Peter’s ‘dad’ was listening, and when Aunt May leaves the room he tells Peter that deep down everyone has a devil in them. And those of us that are evil or sadistic will do anything they can to ‘break a man down. Destroy his soul.’ (this is juxtaposed to images of Carnage and his gang killing dozens of people in the streets of New York in broad daylight) He tells Peter May and Ben were wrong to fill his head with fairy tales of the goodness and decency in people, and that good people like Ben end up getting trampled by the bad, and that you’ve got to fight fire with fire.
Venom and Black Cat arrive at the scene of the massacre, moments too late. They are joined by Cloak, who is also chasing the group.
Carnage and the gang finish killing everyone in a restaurant and joke around while strolling down the street, unaware that there is a mysterious figure following them in the sewers (there seems to be a lot of mystery figures following them). Carrion, the villain that can kill with a touch, floats out of the sewers and after Carnage and co.
Spidey struggles with what his ‘dad’ told him, wondering if he needs to stoop to the level of those he is arguing with. While he’s debating, he sees a mob of people going nuts and attacking each other and destroying everything in sight. He tries to save some civilians before being overrun by people.
He bursts out of the group of people, screaming that if people want to act like devils he will treat them as such. He’s tired of holding back all the time and trying to draw a line in the sand that ‘no one even SEES anymore’, and that from now on “you’ll get NO MERCY FROM SPIDER-MAN!”
Thoughts: I’ve always been a sucker for Sal Buscema’s art so I dig the issue off of that alone. I don’t love the way they do the patterns on Carnage (not sure if that’s the inker or Buscema); the black lines are too thick and look like big splotches. The scene with Peter’s ‘dad’ feels unnecessary. I know they’re trying to play it up like Spidey has had enough and maybe will take this further than he ever has before, but it rings a little hollow. If seeing the hundreds of bodies Carnage and co have left in their wake doesn’t have him boiling with murderous rage I don’t think a pep talk from a man you barely know who seems a little unstable is going to do it. The mob scene at the end is a nice pre-cursor to the reveal coming about Shriek’s powers, but without the context it just seems like a random mob formed.
Spidey’s having a rough time and needs a break from things. So we’ll take a brief break as well before diving back into the madness coming up. You can read part 2 here and part 3 here. Can Spidey and his allies stop Carnage and his from killing everyone? Will they stop worrying about methodology while the streets are re-paved with gore? Will I ever let this thing go about Peter’s ‘parents’? Tune in to find out! (Yes, no, and never in life)