Carnage #11 is a breath of fresh air. With a Marvel-wide soft-reboot expected at the end of Civil War II, no sight of Carnage in the list of titles to fly under the new Marvel Now banner, and scribe Gerry Conway slated to write Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows in the fall, it seems that the title is moving toward the end of its run, and yet the narrative has no end in sight. After a few issues of running in circles (as well as a misguided use of non-linear story telling), Carnage finally has a narrative drive that seems to be inching toward conclusion.
I don’t mean to dig too hard on this book or its previous issues, but each arc has lasted one or two more issues than it needed to; leading to some issues that felt like they were going nowhere. While Carnage #11 appears to be the start of a new arc, it isn’t marketed as such with All-New All-Different Marvel’s inclusion of “New Story Starts Here.” And you could argue that it isn’t the start of a new arc, the way new arcs are presented in modern comics. There is no clean break from the previous story – elements such as the new symbiote Raze are still in play – and yet Carnage #11 performs a narrative pivot, moving away from dark catacombs and chiaroscuro-esque coloring, placing its characters in a ironically more claustrophobic and dense jungle. Artist Mike Perkins uses the three-dimensional space of the jungle nicely, incorporating the distant background in several panels to establish lingering threat to maintain the tension and unease the series established with its dank caverns in the first few issues.
Likewise, this issue is perhaps one of the more action-oriented ones to come out of Carnage, including a full page spread of Eddie Brock as Toxin going all-out on a collection of Chthon broodlings. The paneling for the jungle scenes are sometimes unevenly boxed, lending to the feeling of unease. Perhaps the most creative element in Perkins’s paneling is his style of laying several panels on top of a full page spread. This creates, as I alluded to earlier, a sense of cramped claustrophobia and frantic action – in a good way. The broodlings that Perkins pencilled and inked are reptilian in appearance and appropriately creepy. Colorist Andy Troy gives them a similar shade of green that he uses to to fill the backgrounds of the tree canopy of the jungle, giving them a more natural rather than unearthly look. This lends synergistic energy to Conway’s exposition explaining them as very ancient and pre-human.
Meanwhile, Raze stalks the Anti-Carnage task force in a few panels that seem reminiscent of “Predator,” especially considering the similarities between Raze and the Predator mask – large, smooth, round forehead, narrow slit like eyes and tendril-like dreadlocks for hair. I do not think it is a coincidence that Raze looks like she does and our heroes(?) find themselves in a jungle. We already have the set up for a massacre of a small (demon occupied) village, all we need now is an exaggeratedly masculine handshake to seal the deal and we can call this a straight “Predator” homage.
Narratively, the pieces Conway has been setting up since Carnage’s escape to sea have finally started to go in motion. This painstakingly crafted Rube Goldberg machine has given us a lot of pieces and it’s an absolute joy to see them finally go somewhere: Jubulile’s infection from Carnage has intensified, Brock seemingly now has full discretion over when to use Toxin, Jameson is having more difficulty returning to his Man-Wolf form while also implying that Brock might also be having similar difficulties, all while Carnage has been captured by the Chthon broodlings, and the assault party is being stalked by both Raze and more Chthon brood. There are a lot of directions this story could go, which is fantastic for a series who’s main pratfall has been its aimlessness outside of its basic premise. Of course, the series started off thrilling and jam-packed with possibility, so as the plot threads morph into their completed forms we’ll have to wait and see if the series returns to its main detraction. I think that with a conclusion presumably in sight, the series’ issue with narrative focus won’t be exacerbated by the feeling of unendedness.
The issue ends with the Anti-Carnage task force stuck between a difficult decision; helping Caranage in order to save the spiritally-bonded Jubulile from sharing Carnage’s torment, or leaving him to his fate at the expense of Jubulile. This is exactly the kind of tough no-good-choice predicament you want to see anti-heroes like Eddie Brock wrestle with. And because there is no good choice to be had, the cliffhanger actually adds tensions rather than an obvious plot hook for the next issue to follow.
Again, it gives the reader incentive to pick up the next issue. It may be a little late for that since Carnage is one of the lowest selling titles that we cover, but it’s good news for those of us who have stuck by this title through the months. Conway’s handling of the character has been unique and honestly the most interesting I’ve seen him. If my reading of Carnage #11 as the start of a “Predator” homage is on the money, then I think we’re in for a wild, action-packed ride to the finish as the role of hunter and hunted flip flop back and forth. For the first time in a while, I’m excited to pick up this title next month and that’s a great thing.
Exciting and suspenseful, Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins inject some much needed focus into Carnage #11. While nothing is definite, the series seems to be picking up speed as it builds to an explosive conclusion.