Carnage continues to be the recipient of the “I really didn’t expect this comic book series to be about this” award. But at some point, in the midst of all of this wonderfully strange world-building and creepy mood-setting being put forward by creators Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins, something equally eye-popping and head-turning needs to actually happen in this book to move the plot forward. Unfortunately, this is a critical storytelling element that seems to be lacking a bit over the course of Carnage’s second arc, and is no more apparent than in this book’s most recent offering.
Carnage #9 meanders like a sailboat on the ocean on a breeze-free day. There are moments of whimsy (and horror) that gives the reader the impression that the narrative is going to reach port in time to setup what will presumably be the arc’s final chapter next issue (or at the very least, its penultimate chapter). A terrifyingly beautiful two page spread from Perkins depicting a handshake gone horribly wrong between two of the female leads, Jubilile and Claire Dixon invites intrigue and curiosity.
But for every one of these sequences, there’s at least two in this issue that reads as being superfluous and redundant. Remember that strange woman that forced herself upon the Anti-Carnage Task Force a few issues ago and chartered a yacht to bring the team to Indonesia to find Cletus Kasady? Well, she’s still strange and everyone is still commenting on it. Also, in case anyone chose to forget, Carnage/Kasady is an inherently evil person who cannot be allowed to exist unchecked. That’s essentially the entire premise of this series and yet the characters still feel the need to state that one way or another nine issues in. It’s time to explore some new elements of this character.
It’s not that this series has reached a point of no return — far from it. If anything, a tightly-plotted follow-up issue that’s less about recapping all of the previous events from the past few issues will go a long way towards making a book that was shockingly enjoyable, rekindle its spark.
Still, as each successive issue feels more and more aimless, Carnage #9, at the very least, does raise some red flags. Going back to the book’s very first issue, Conway drew a definitive line in the sand about the kind of Carnage story he was going to tell — this was not going to be the usual blood and gore-fest, and even some of the elements that we see in every Carnage story, such as the token Venom/Carnage throwdown, had some interesting new wrinkles thanks to Conway’s experience and mastery of a long-forgotten comic book genre: the pulp monster magazine.
However, the slow and steady pace of this series is begging for an infusion of caffeinated mania at this juncture. This arc’s opening chapter was great precisely because of the quiet setting of Jubilile’s small boat mixed with Carnage’s newfound unpredictable sociopathy. Instead, as a follow-up, we’ve received multiple chapters that predominately feature the more predictable form of Carnage’s carnage — bodies lining a boat like sides of beef hanging in a meat locker. Regardless of how effectively the sequences is rendered by Perkins — and let it be said his artwork continues to be top-notch — it feels like something the reader has seen in a Carnage story before and ultimately cheapens the issue’s cliffhanger ending.
It’s also worth noting that at some point soon, this series needs to find a bigger role for Eddie Brock, arguably one of the most important Spider-book characters introduced over the past 30 years and someone who has seemingly been inserted into Carnage as a means to work in a monthly “Shut up Brock!” joke. While likely unintentional, Brock’s “why am I here?” speech to the task force regarding the team’s reluctance to unleash the symbiote does beg the question about his characterization over the course of this second arc. It’s understandable that Conway and Perkins may be waiting to bust out the “big guns” for the final few installments of this story, but in the interim, the way Brock is being used does smack of having a fancy sports car and only using it for local driving to the supermarket.
Carnage #9 has some moments of intrigue, but the pacing has gotten progressively more plodding the past few issues and this book is in desperate need of a pick-me-up.