The next time Gerry Conway updates his resume, he can add a new skill to his repertoire: “can expertly write comic book stories for today’s ‘waiting for the trade’ audiences.”
As impressed as I was with Conway and Mike Perkins’s output through the first two issues of Carnage, I will admit I had some concerns regarding the pacing of the narrative. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been trained to accept my Carnage stories in small, mini-series-sized doses but I was definitely questioning whether or not Conway was writing himself into a bit of a corner, thereby giving his ongoing series a sense of being finite in duration. Granted, a second arc for the book has already been solicited, but since when has that meant anything in the world of comic books? Thus far, Carnage has been so good, I want to be sure it has life after issue five/arc one.
Fortunately, Carnage #3 introduces some plot points that give the current narrative a sense of trajectory rather than a more linear beginning, middle and end point. At the same time, Conway and Perkins continue to craft what might be my favorite Carnage/symbiote story ever by taking every single predictable trope from past Carnage stories and then doing completely the opposite to great effect. You think you’re going to get the inevitable Eddie Brock/Cletus Kasady showdown we’ve seen 900 times before? Well, think again — or at least, hold your horses because Conway clearly doesn’t care about tickling your 90s nostalgia itch (and I couldn’t be happier).
Still, fans of the Cletus Kasady of “Maximum Carnage” fame should not be disappointed with how their favorite serial-killing symbiote is being portrayed in this current series. The character is depicted in all of his gleeful, chaotic glory during a battle with John Jameson-turned-Man-Wolf (capped by a vintage Carnage line about the importance of things that glow). Meanwhile, Perkins does a bang-up job rendering Carnage throughout the melee – creating a kaleidoscope of red and black tendrils across every warfare-filled page.
But where Carnage draws the line from its predecessors is how it doesn’t rely on the campy one-liners and gory fights to draw the audience in. In fact, most of the sequences featuring Carnage and Man-Wolf are interspersed, with minimal dialogue, between pages of heavy exposition surrounding the actual central plot of this story — i.e. the government’s half-baked plan to capture Carnage that has gone horribly awry. Additionally, rather than using blood and guts as a crutch, Conway and Perkins have created a mood of unsettling terror through the use of more nuanced imagery – like depicting the catatonic stares of a soldier who has just witnessed the brutal murder of his colleagues.
As for the latter point, more than 40 years after creating the ultimate anti-hero in the Punisher, Conway’s distrust of those in power has never been more apparent as it is in the pages of Carnage. In a rational world, the psychotic supervillain who is the star of the book would be its central villain, and yet Conway has done such a masterful job painting the smug bureaucratic drones who besmirch the fatalist tone of “things happen” in favor of the “it was a good plan” (that failed horribly) as the actual antagonists of this series. So much so that the U.S. “good guys” are actually betraying each other in their quest to do *something* about Carnage. Plus why couldn’t any of these guys just have asked Brock how he was feeling instead of always telling him to “shut up?”
The end result is a comic book that for the third time in a row, ends on a rather engrossing cliffhanger, thereby setting up another garden of forking paths-worth of possibilities for this narrative. Despite getting his feet wet in an era of one-and-dones and two/three-part (max) arcs, Conway, version 2.0, has demonstrated an uncanny knack to keep his slow burning fire aflame through the first three installments of Carnage’s first arc.
Who needs the repetitive blood and guts of “Maximum Carnage” when Carnage #3 ignites far more legitimate tension and terror through its slow-burning narrative that depicts the titular villain as perhaps its most sympathetic character?