Written by Donny Cates
Pencils by Ryan Stegman
Inks by JP Mayer
Colours by Frank Martin
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Cover price: $7.99 USD
Donny Cates’ stellar Venom run has been a treat to read, expertly weaving a tale of cosmic horror, character drama and shocking revelations. Now, the Absolute Carnage crossover promises to take things up to eleven and this first issue does just that, with Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman making Carnage a threat again while providing great character work, although the shocking revelation isn’t as shocking as it was probably intended to be.
As the Absolute Carnage event was being set up by Cates’ Venom run, the first few pages are largely devoted to exposition to catch up readers who haven’t been keeping up with Eddie Brock. They do a good job of this, with Cates having firm grasp on Eddie’s voice by this point, and laying down the groundwork so that Cates can get into the real meat of the issue, which is some good meat, without throwing off the pacing of each individual moment with exposition. Cates’ story is a thriller, featuring the Brocks being stalked by reborn serial killer Kletus Kassidy and his Cult of Carnage. Cates manages to make Kletus truly scary again, after years of him being a joke and/or dead. The dread and paranoia of the early pages is infectious, but soon gives way to roaring spectacle and testosterone, the kind you’d expect from an event comic featuring two of the most 90s characters in existence. The story throws out huge symbiote slug fests, but also, surprisingly, claustrophobic fights as well, both of which are well-executed.
But where Absolute Carnage #1 shines more than I thought it would is the interactions between characters. It would have been easy to have Absolute Carnage #1 be action schlock, but Cates uses the threat of Carnage’s return to explore Eddie Brock’s relationships with the Venom symbiote, Dylan Brock and Peter Parker, while also delivering smaller character moments with other past characters. Cates mines Spidey and Venom lore once again to deliver some great emotional moments, but the dynamic between Eddie and Peter in particular stands out as the biggest strength of the issue, bringing a teeth-clenched teamwork and brotherly banter that is just pure joy to read, while still having emotional weight due to Eddie, Peter and the symbiote’s history and multi-faceted relationship — plus, Cates writes excellent Peter Parker dialogue. Cates also quickly addresses a potentially the continuity woe regarding Peter Parker’s secret identity, in a moment that probably wasn’t intended to be, but was on of the standout moments in the issue for me, and just added to my enjoyment of the interaction between Venom and Spider-Man.
The aforementioned spectacle and testosterone is where Ryan Stegman truly shines. While his smaller character moments work and he’s clearly put a lot of effort into making sure emotions are clearly on display and resonate, his best work on Venom and Absolute Carnage #1 comes when he’s channelling the grit and testosterone of the 90s with action and grotesque creatures. The bombastic action is fully realised with JP Mayer’s inks and Frank Martin’s colours, delivering superhero spectacle that leaps off the page. The smaller action scenes utilise smaller panels per page to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, but Stegman still renders every panel with an insane amount of detail to truly give them a gritty, 90s vibe. If there’s a comic that visually channels the best part of the 90s but manages to modernise them, it’s this one.
Absolute Carnage delivers on its promise of over-the-top superhero action, bombastic art and a gritty tone. The premise of the crossover allows Cates to write some great character moments and for Stegman to draw some stunning action scenes. This is just a fun superhero crossover that never loses sight of its characters, striking that perfect balance between spectacle and emotion.
4/5 – Great