Evil has taken many forms, but none of them have been as pernicious and enduring in the Marvel Universe as the Darkhold, an ancient tome of unholy knowledge gathered together by the malevolent Elder God Cthon. Over thousands of years Cthon’s followers and other macabre practitioners have used it to spread fear and terror by doing foul deeds like creating the first vampire, but it’s the most recent event that could prove to be the Darkhold’s most destructive act yet.
In the introductory arc of the “Carnage” ongoing series by writer Gerry Conway and artist Mike Perkins the titular symbiote empowered serial killer came into contact with a Darkhold page and was supernaturally transformed. But what is Cletus Kasady becoming and what does that mean for the band of heroes currently hunting him?
CBR News spoke with Conway, who along with Mike Ploog introduced the concept of the Darkhold in 1972’s “Marvel Spotlight” #3-4 about his inspiration for linking Carnage to the Darkhold and what comes next. The writer also discussed the revelation that the monstrous Man-Wolf is still part of John Jameson, one of the heroes hunting Carnage and the series’ next arc, “Sea Devil,” which finds Carnage and his pursuers trapped together on the high seas.
CBR News: Now that the first arc has wrapped and the big twist has been revealed, I want to discuss what inspired you to link Carnage to the Darkhold and how it changes his powers and character. What made you want to bring this element of supernatural horror into “Carnage?”
Gerry Conway: When [Editors] Nick Lowe and Devin Lewis first talked with me about doing a “Carnage” series, Nick thought it would be great to do a series inspired somewhat by “Tomb of Dracula,” using the approach we took back when that series began, which was to focus on Carnage as the “big bad” with our protagonists the people pursuing him. They become the characters we’re actually invested in.
As soon as he brought up that approach it brought me back to the frame of mind I had when I was doing “Tomb of Dracula” and “Werewolf by Night.” “Werewolf by Night” was one of my favorite books from that period. One of the elements that made it interesting to me was The Darkhold and its mysterious back story. So I pitched the idea, “Let’s use the Darkhold as the MacGuffin, something that gives Carnage additional motivation than just wanting to kill people.”
So our protagonists have a goal and Carnage also has a goal. Carnage wants to learn how to use the Darkhold, find new powers, and develop something that makes him more than just a random serial killer.
It looks like part of the journey in “Carnage” is discovering what sort of new abilities your title character has, but by the end of the first arc it appears he’s no longer vulnerable to sonics and can mind control people by essentially infecting them with his symbiote, correct?
Pretty much. We’re upping the ante for what Carnage can do. Once you know you can get this guy by using sonics it becomes a fairly simple trap, right? Now, not so simple. Also, with his interest in The Darkhold he can potentially become a threat to the entire Marvel Universe. Whether we get to that point or not is something yet to be discovered, but it does raise the stakes for the book beyond just body horror.
So given what the Darkhold is capable of he could almost ascend to godlike power?
Could be. The Darkhold is an unravelling mystery. For a lot of new readers the Darkhold is a great unknown; the book hasn’t been an integral part of the Marvel Universe in quite a while. So as our characters discover what’s going on and as Carnage discovers what’s going on it’ll hopefully open some new doors.
Early on in this initial arc you revealed another twist about a character when we saw that Man-Wolf is still a part of John Jameson. What made you want to bring back that aspect of John? And for people who may not be familiar with Man-Wolf, what’s your sense of the character?
This is probably not a classic version of the character; it’s a slightly altered version. We are in the post-“Secret Wars” Marvel Universe now. Some things have changed and others are slightly altered.
Man-Wolf is an aspect of Jameson even he doesn’t understand now. He believed that once the jewel that created the original Man-Wolf persona was destroyed, he was free. What he’s discovering is that persona is much more integrally bound to him. In a way it’s his version of a symbiote, and unlike in previous incarnations of the Man-Wolf, where he had an intelligence that still reflected Jameson to some degree, this Man-Wolf is almost another entity that takes over. We’re going to be playing around with that.
Jameson is the flip side of Cletus Kasady, in that he too has a monster inside him. Where Cletus wants to set the monster free, Jameson is afraid to let the monster take over.
It seems like dark sides is a pretty prevalent theme in this book since Eddie Brock and his symbiote Toxin is also part of the team hunting Carnage.
Yeah, I love Eddie because we don’t really know which side he’s on. [Laughs] He’s a transactional character. Do something nice for him he might do something nice for you. Whether that actually means he’s on your side or not is hard to tell. Because he is a bit of a maniac, and a very fun character to write.
One thing I remember about Eddie, which might be especially relevant in a tale of supernatural horror is that he’s a man of faith, correct?
Yes, as we start exploring the nature of the Darkhold and its religious, spiritual, and mythological aspects I expect that’s going to be a challenge for Eddie.
Your cast of Carnage hunters also included two non-super powered characters, F.B.I. Agent Claire Dixon and Manuela Calderon. What kind of headspaces are they in after this first adventure? How important is it for them to take down Carnage now that he’s become empowered by the Darkhold?
Claire was responsible for this first attempt to take down Carnage. She feels a tremendous guilt as a result of what happened. Not to give too much away about our second arc, but there will be repercussions for her professionally and personally as a result of the failure of this mission. Those will propel her story through our second arc.
Manuela is more committed than ever to taking Carnage down, but she’s also developed a relationship with Eddie and Jameson that makes her connection to this group more personal. She feels a camaraderie with these guys. As a military person she tends to bond with her team. These men are more than just allies to her now.
What is “Sea Devil,” the next arc that kicks off in “Carnage” #6, all about?
I have a theory of what makes for a good horror story. It’s simple and I think every horror writer knows it to be true. When you have a monster and characters who are in conflict with the monster, if the characters are in a position to easily get away, the story loses credibility. “Just run! Get out of there!” [Laughs]
â€¨That’s why we set the first arc in a mine. I wanted to trap our heroes in a situation where they wouldn’t be able to get away from the monster. In the second arc we create another situation in which they can’t easily depart, let’s say. Not to give too much away, it’s a sea based story. I like the idea of characters trapped in close quarters with a relentless force of nature, but not necessarily in the way you expect. We try to ring changes on all these tropes.
Will your cast be in fairly different places when you pick up with them?
We start our second arc with a story taking place four weeks after the first arc, and then we go back in time to an immediate follow up. So you see where things are now in issue #6 and then in issue #7 it’s four weeks earlier.
I understand Mike Perkins, who drew your first arc, will be bringing to life this story as well, correct?
Mike is an integral part of this team. I don’t know if we could do this without him. His art is what makes the book work. He’s just the best. I’ve worked with many phenomenal artists in my life and I’m having a great time with Mike.
It seems like he’s really enjoying the chance to draw such a visually dynamic character like Carnage with his tendrils and the way the symbiote moves.
You have to be creative in how you use that character visually because he could easily become chaotic. So part of what we’re trying to do is what one reviewer referred to as, “slow burn storytelling.” I think less is more with Carnage. By the time you get to the big payoffs they matter because the characters mean something to the readers.
Finally, with the Darkhold now a major force in “Carnage,” it seems the door is wide open for Marvel’s supernatural and horror characters to make appearances. Is that something readers can expect?
There’s a lot of potential. One of the new characters that we’ll introduce in a very near future story is a character integral to the Darkhold storyline. We’ll see that character join with our guys and up the ante. With Carnage, all things are possible.
“Carnage” #5 is on sale now; “Carnage” #6 is scheduled for release March 23 from Marvel Comics.