Written by Peter David
Pencils by Francesco Mobili
Colours by Java Tartaglia and Rain Beredo
Letters by VC’s Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Cover price: $4.99 USD
The tie-ins for Absolute Carnage have been a mixed bag, with the usual indicator of quality being how tied to symbiotes the characters actually are. Scream, Separation Anxiety and Venom have been great reads, while Absolute Carnage vs. Deadpool, Lethal Protectors and Miles Morales have been very weak. With that in mind, Absolute Carnage: Symbiote Spider-Man is a weird case, because while Peter Parker is obviously very much tied to the Venom symbiote, the issue itself does not feature him. It instead tells the story of happened to an unnamed extra from back in the day… a surprisingly good story, but one that seems to in no way matter to Absolute Carnage.
Symbiote Spider-Man expands on the life of Len Elkhart, a passing civilian who the Venom symbiote briefly bonded with way back in the day after Peter Parker abandoned it. After some pages from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #99 and #100 to catch up unfamiliar readers with who he is, we follow his life and how he ended up in prison, as he explains his story to a parole board. We meet his family as he recounts the tragedy of his life and his run-ins with the superhero life.
Peter David’s story is one that is very engaging, despite not feeling especially important to Absolute Carnage. Any connection it has to Absolute Carnage is fairly obvious given the premise of both, but beyond that nothing is connected to Donny Cates’ story. Symbiote Spider-Man, while well-written and tragic, has very little bearing on Absolute Carnage, with only one moment that ties into the event that serves as a good way to punctuate the comic, and even that clashes with Absolute Carnage. This comic, despite feeling more connected to Absolute Carnage and more interesting in how it is, still somehow feels like it didn’t need to be tied to Absolute Carnage.
The story itself is well-written, if a bit lacking in cohesion. David relies a lot on coincidence to wring some drama out of Len Elkhart’s life, but it feels appropriate given the limitations of a one-shot comic, and almost self-aware in how bad Len’s life becomes. However, this never undermines the tragic character drama throughout the issue, which shines a nice spotlight on one of Spider-Man’s lesser known villains. Unfortunately, once the story ends it leaves the question of what the point of it was — there is no unifying theme or lesson, or really any real closure except for one tiny area, which the comic seems to gleefully acknowledge in a strange way. All told, this is a well put together story that feels like it may be a bit too self-aware about being a one-shot tie-in that didn’t necessarily need cohesion.
David does a good job imbuing this comic with a lot of character. While the story is short and seemingly not especially important to Absolute Carnage, David’s worldbuilding is interesting as he establishes the life of a civilian moving to New York in the Marvel Universe. His characters all have little traits that make them feel like real people, like a character having a big preference for fast food or a character alluding to other relationships. The aforementioned Spidey villain gets a good showing as a fun but likeable villain, with their own traits that make them more than a plot device in David’s short story. It fleshes things out nicely and while it could be unsubtle in other comics, David does it well and it works for the one-shot format.
Francesco Mobili’s pencils and inks are a good fit for David’s script. The present day scenes in prison feature heavy shadows and a more muddy colour pallete from Java Tartaglia and Rain Beredo, creating a strong sense of depression as Len tells his story. The flashback scenes are fittingly brighter, with slightly brighter hues and very little shadows, even when the story would permit it.
Mobili’s characters strike a good balance between human and twisted. They demonstrate a range that allows them to carry David’s naturalistic dialogue well and feel relatable. However, when the need arises, Mobili’s characters are presented as twisted, their expressions unpleasant in how raw Mobili depicts human expression. This balancing act fits perfectly with David’s story and does a lot of the emotional heavy lifting. However, there are points where the twisted expressions seem to be unintentional, or at least clash with the characters, which is unfortunate given the strength of Mobili’s art overall.
Absolute Carnage: Symbiote Spider-Man is a good comic. Despite the lack of cohesion and its apparent apathy towards Absolute Carnage itself, Peter David’s story is engaging, heartbreaking and tragic. It is bolstered by some great art that, although stumbling at times, escalates this comic. When it comes to Absolute Carnage tie-ins, Symbiote Spider-Man is one of the better ones, but not for the reasons you would expect.
3.5/5 – Good