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: $4.99 USD
The Absolute Carnage event has been a wild ride. After the visceral explosion of a first issue, I wasn’t sure what Donny Cates would do to maintain momentum for his now 5-issue event. With Absolute Carnage #2, Cates hits the brakes on the action to deliver a great little breather issue. While the plot certainly progresses and there are some great twists and turns thrown into the story, this issue is a slower burn of escalation and setup, avoiding the pitfall that many event comics fall into of being unrelentingly plot-focused and losing sight of characters.
While the first issue of Absolute Carnage set up the main premise of the event — that Carnage is hunting former symbiote hosts to rip out their spines — the second issue adds some complications to the mix. After escaping from Ravencroft, Eddie Brock and Peter Parker split up to protect Carnage’s next targets, with Eddie taking lead on the villainous former hosts, but not before he’s told some news that further invests him into the web of violence Carnage is weaving. While not much happens this issue — although we are at least given some nice spectacle moments here and there, as befitting an event comic — Cates does an excellent job emotionally investing the reader in what we learn and what does happen. The revelations and events are important to Eddie specifically, and by extension those who’ve been reading Venom, but don’t have a huge impact on the overall story of Absolute Carnage, yet the emotional writing by Cates makes these events feel world-shattering.
Ones of Cates’ strengths as a writer has always been his excellent narration and dialogue. He is able to seamlessly switch between epic narration, cackling villain monologues, naturalistic dialogue and more. Absolute Carnage #2 benefits from this hugely — with the exception of some opening narration from Carnage that feels a bit too wordy, leaning a bit too much into the “metal” nature of the event — in that it never feels like it awkwardly shifts between tones, always maintaining an overarching dread and momentum to it despite occasional jokes and monologues. Cates’ Carnage dialogue is perfect and balances his talkative serial killer persona and his more subdued and threatening dark messiah persona. However, there is a problem with the Carnage dialogue — namely the presence of Norman Osborn’s role as Carnage in addition to Cletus Kasady’s Carnage, as it is very easy to get the two’s dialogue mixed up at times; though their similarity is wholly intentional, lettering changes could have helped make them more distinct. However, the dialogue between Peter Parker and Eddie Brock is great, with Peter’s optimistic and still-relatively-lighthearted dialogue serving as a great balance to Eddie’s pessimism and edge, the cordial banter portraying the image of two like-minded, brotherly screw-ups fighting against the world.
Part of the reason for this is the stellar art. Ryan Stegman’s art style has always drawn on the excess of the Dark Age while including modern sensibilities and layouts to create bombastic, dark and moody comics. While the previous issue possessed a brutishness and griminess to it that fit that issue, Absolute Carnage #2 is a more somber comic. The unrelenting rain and heavy shadows work in tandem with Cates’ story — after Peter Parker and Eddie Brock have failed to capture Norman Osborn — and Frank Martin’s colours to create a dark and somber comic as our heroes have resoundingly failed in their goal and are on their back legs, with the only glimpses of light present when our heroes have won the smallest of victories before quickly receding. The claustrophobic panels in fight scenes reinforce this tide of violence the heroes are fighting, punctuated and contrasted by explosions of larger panels for big moments that soon recede. Stegman’s work is great and perfectly fits the unrelenting violence and somber mood of this issue.
In contrast to many event comics, Absolute Carnage has not lost sight of its characters. Whereas the character work in many events often feels like an afterthought, Donny Cates has not lost sight of his characters and the two dysfunctional screw-ups in the middle of this event. Focusing on character work above mindless action and spectacle, Cates has progressed his Absolute Carnage nicely and set the stage for explosive, visceral but — most importantly — emotional moments in the coming issues.
4/5 – Great