If there’s been one hard and fast rule about Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins’s Carnage series, it’s take everything you read/learned/absorbed from the previous issue and toss it out the window, because your predictions will likely be futile and wrong.
Despite the back-handedness of it, that’s actually a compliment of the highest order, as Carnage #4 demonstrates — yet again — how Conway has managed to create a cohesive, logical narrative out of an assortment of seemingly mismatched parts while Perkins finds new way to render hauntingly stunning artwork that evokes the very best the horror genre has to offer.
It’s truly mesmerizing to think about what’s being unveiled here in this series. In many ways, Carnage #4 gives us the most familiar and recognizable version of the titular character to date: you have Cletus Kasady/Carnage grinning like a sociopathic Cheshire cat, threatening to slice up his adversaries like bologna, and yet as a new subplot involving a cult praying to the altar of a “red monster” is introduced, even Carnage finds it difficult to believe the story he’s currently trapped inside.
The aforementioned “cult” sequence was among the most joyous “superhero” (if you can call Carnage a superhero series) comic book scenes I’ve read in a long time, filled with knowing nods from Conway and Perkins and meta-commentary galore. At one point I half expected Carnage to peel back a layer of symbiote covering to reveal Jim Halpert — mugging for the mockumentary cameras after stuffing Dwight Schrute’s stapler into a gelatin mold.
Carnage is no stranger to camp, but this book features some of the most sophisticated (and funny) camp I’ve ever seen associated with the character. In the past, those elements of camp were born from the overuse of silly catchphrases or blood and guts in an effort to liken Kasady to a Freddy Krueger or some other over-the-top B-movie horror villain. However, in Carnage #4, Conway and Perkins, once again, play around with the reader’s expectations by portraying a cult of monster worshippers as the over-the-top, absurd characters, while Carnage becomes shockingly relateable and human in comparison.
Additionally, after months of teases and build-up, Carnage #4 gives us Eddie Brock — “shut up Brock!” — in all of his Toxin glory. It’s a wonderfully crafted moment from Conway and Perkins, and a textbook example of how pacing and restraint can often lead to positive results in stories like these. While there always seems to be a certain scent of inevitably that a Carnage story will at some point feature a showdown between Kasady and either Brock or Venom (or both), last month’s bait and switch from Conway/Perkins made Toxin’s debut feel far more triumphant and exciting. Conway and Perkins delivered this character not because they had to, but because the story called for it. And the creators still left ample room for Brock’s character to go in a number of different directions — will he be the cool, calm and collected symbiote he professes to be, or the sociopathic killer we know from past stories?
All of these elements add up to a creative team that has just mastered the art of slow burn pacing for a comic book series. Typically, by issue four of a Carnage-centric series — even the ones I’ve enjoyed more than others in recent years — the you-know-what has hit the fan in a major way and the book just becomes a silly display of symbiote-on-symbiote action capped off with copious amounts of blood and body parts. Conway and Perkins may still deliver such a story when it’s all said and done, but perhaps because this volume of Carnage is an ongoing rather than a miniseries, the creators are building this story with so much measured precision, I find myself anticipating the imminent bloodbath.
In Carnage #4, Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins put on a clinic on how to build a monster comic book story, introducing some elements that long-time Carnage fans will love, but doing it with such restraint and attention to pacing that the camp and gore feels warranted rather than forced.