With eight issues in the books and sales shrinking in a fashion one should reasonably expect from a series that stars a one-note supervillain who was at his popularity apex in the 1990s, it might be tempting for creators Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins to resort to cheap gimmicks and tired clichés in their effort to keep Carnage going. Instead, the creative duo continues to take this book — which for months has read and looked like it was sent from another time (namely, Marvel’s Bronze Age) — and double down on all of these weird elements that have defined the series.
It’s certainly the more principled approach and should be lauded as much — Conway and Perkins are getting an opportunity to tell a wholly unique kind of comic book story under the Marvel umbrella. And despite my quizzical, bordering on befuddled reactions to Carnage upon reading the latest issue, I still think it’s a mostly excellent series. But I can’t help but question which of these two scenarios will play out first: the series collapses like a Jenga tower under the weight of its absurdity, or Marvel cancels it for sales reasons. Either scenario doesn’t present a great long-term outlook for Carnage.
After carping a bit about how a liberal dosage of flashbacks was used to propel the narrative forward in Carnage #7, Carnage #8 focuses almost exclusively on the titular character’s shenanigans dealing with an ancient cult in Indonesia, while Team “Shut Up Brock” is relegated to the sidelines (and the recently introduced Jubulile is a total non-factor).
The thrust of the narrative allows Conway to explore Carnage and his human alter ego, Cletus Kasady, in ways he simply hasn’t done over the past few issues. While it may be difficult at this point to add much depth to Carnage’s character (nor is nuance really a necessity), Conway’s script does provide a few new wrinkles during his interactions with the Darkhold cult and its assumed leader, Brother Gregori. As a result, the reader learns that the 2016 iteration of Carnage/Kasady is far more resourceful than I think anyone has ever given him credit for being.
Along the way, Conway’s script continues to introduce wonderfully strange new elements, such as a Darkhold Dwarf (admittedly not “PC”), mystically-powered spears and swords, and an unexpected character flip-flop for Gregori that provided some worthwhile chuckles. Similar to his integration of the Darkhold — a comicbook macguffin first introduced in the 1970s — Conway also lays the groundwork for the reintroduction of Chthon, a mystical demigod who first debuted in 1975 (and whose name I refuse to spell more than once a review going forward).
It’s these bizarre and obscure elements (like Chthon … broke my own rule already) that function as both a blessing and a curse for Carnage. On one hand, there appears to be little effort to make the series more accessible to modern readers, especially those who started picking up the title expecting the usual Carnage/Venom/Spider-Man slugfest. But there’s something to be said about watching a comic book series unfold organically and with little to any interference from the editorial powers that be. In fact, it can be argued that during the same era in comics that Carnage often evokes, some of the most creative and memorable stories were created thanks to environment where very little regard was given to pleasing casual and/or new fans. Instead, we got comics starring curmudgeonly talking ducks and gold-faced Jesus analogues who were accompanied by foul-mouthed trolls.
Also, in those moments where the series appears to move too far off the spectrum, Perkins is able to deliver a beautiful visual spread, lending Carnage an almost symphonic elegance while slicing and dicing the opposition.
Still, there’s the troubling issue of the actual conflict that drives this series — namely the coming confrontation between Carnage and Team “Shut Up Brock.” We’re presumably more than halfway through with this second arc and the “good guys” seem no closer to an actual plan to stop the villain than they were when they just started. It’s the one element of Conway’s narrative that still requires some serious tightening. However, it’s easy to be distracted by all of the zany twists and turns this series continues to make.
As if a series about symbiotes, cults and black magic books wasn’t crazy enough, Carnage #8 lays the groundwork for a demigod named Chthon. What the book lacks in accessibility, it makes up for with creative risk-taking and fearlessness.