Here’s a bit of a confession for the comic book lovers out there (assuming you’re one of them since this is clearly a comic book column):
Spider-Man is my favourite character, but I’ve never been down with the symbiotes.
Venom? Carnage? Never a fan. I never bought a book with either of them toplining it, and my expertise on either character is pretty nil. I know the main points of Eddie Brock and how Peter Parker’s old black costume was actually an alien creature he picked up during the Marvel Super Heroes Secret War back in the 80s, and that a few others have been its host, including Flash Thompson. But that’s where most of my knowledge ends.
As for Carnage – I know his host was a serial killer named Cletus Kasady and that Woody Harrelson played him at the end of the Venom film. Basically, that’s it.
You’d think that might not be the best way to go into reading the new Spider-crossover, Absolute Carnage. There’s a hell of a lot that’s happened to all these characters before now, and the chances of feeling lost are pretty high.
Absolute Carnage #1 Director’s Cut
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Ryan Stegman
Luckily, you’d be wrong. Under the stewardship of Donny Cates, one of comicdom’s current golden boys, Absolute Carnage is not only easy to jump into, but it’s gripping from the word go. Cates (alongside artist Ryan Stegman) have made the first issue of this five-issue limited series (plus myriad tie-ins) accessible to newcomers, with the first few pages giving a quick run-down of the symbiote universe (it includes an evil god that, should it be raised from its slumber, will wreak havoc on the world). The story quickly shifts into high gear, with Eddie Brock on the run with his teenage son (what??) and a seemingly unkillable Cletus Kasady on a murderous rampage that forces Venom and Spider-Man to team-up.
I was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed Absolute Carnage, based on both my lack of symbiote history and a genuine disinterest in the characters (Spidey excepted, of course). But Stegman’s artwork is horrifically appealing; it feels like the closest thing Marvel has right now to a grim and gruesome story, and the creators are putting it all out there. I also think Cates’ voice is quite strong; he gives Venom and Spider-Man in their interactions the reluctant teammate vibe, and it works. The issue is also triple-sized, at about 80 pages or so of story, and that length absolutely has you engaged immediately.
The hardest thing about the single-issue format these days, in my opinion, is that, just when a story is really getting going, it cuts off and you have to wait a few weeks to a month. I like the added length of Absolute Carnage #1; if you get the digital Director’s Cut, you wind up with about 300 pages of content! That includes Stegman’s pencils and Cates’ script. If you read my take on Jonathan Hickman’s House of X #1, you know I love these digital exclusives, and this one is no exception. Cates’ script is looser than Hickman’s, which makes it neither better or worse, just different. But having the opportunity to see how another writer puts his words together is extremely compelling, especially one like Donny Cates, who has so many eyeballs on him at the moment.
Thanos by Donny Cates
Writer: Donny Cates
My first experience with Cates’ work came when I randomly picked up an issue of Cosmic Ghost Rider, a series that found the one and only Punisher, Frank Castle, given the powers of Ghost Rider in the far future. To be blunt, I didn’t like it at all. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to take the series seriously or if it was written tongue in cheek. I managed to clarify things significantly by reading the new Thanos by Donny Cates collection that was recently released.
Here, the origin of the Cosmic Ghost Rider is revealed in correlation with an excellent tale of the Mad Titan, who manages to get what’s he’s always wanted, though with a little more effort than a simple snap of the finger. There’s a lot of excellent storytelling across the nearly 300 pages of the book, especially for those of us that have always had a strange fascination with Thanos. Throw in some Galactus, an unexpected Guardians of the Galaxy line-up and some crazy space violence, and you’ve got a winning run.
Ultimately, whether you’re into symbiotes or space dramas, both the first issue of Absolute Carnage and the Thanos by Donny Cates collection are well worth a read.