WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Absolute Carnage #1 by Donny Cates, Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, Frank Martin and Clayton Cowles, in stores now.
Building off their Venom run, writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Stegman have let Cletus Kasady/Carnage loose onto the world in Absolute Carnage, and the villain's never been scarier. Outside of The Immortal Hulk, Absolute Carnage is the most frightening comic currently being produced by Marvel. However, Spider-Man comics have never been too far away from horror. Absolute Carnage might be the scariest Spider-Man has been in recent years, but that doesn't mean Peter Parker isn't familiar with horror stories.
The Man In Red
Absolute Carnage fully reintroduces an empowered Carnage back to the Marvel Universe. Targeting the remnants of the symbiotes (now known as codexes) within the spinal columns of all people who've ever been connected to one of the aliens, Carnage has already become the biggest horror villain imaginable. There have been hidden mass graves full of his victims, their bodies ripped apart. Some people are being taken by the alien symbiotes, like Scream and Norman Osborn, making them into homicidal monsters.
Even the superpowered heroes of the story aren't safe from the terror. Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Eddie Brock/Venom both fought literal armies of magic monsters earlier this year in War of the Realms, but Absolute Carnage forces them into a corner. They have to transverse down dark eerie hallways, all the while being followed by a madman who's ripping himself apart to spread his malevolent influence. Carnage has become something of a punching bag in recent years, repeatedly dying before being restored just in time to die again.
But Cates and Stegman have recast Carnage as the genuinely terrifying force he should be. He's become connected by the power of Knull, the symbiote dark god. With his newly acquired Grendel symbiote, Carnage has brought the Spider-Man corner of the Marvel Universe kicking and screaming back into horror, one screaming monster at a time. But we shouldn't be surprised -- Peter is pretty accustomed to horror.
Scary Spider-Man Stories To Tell in the Dark
Spider-Man was co-created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962's Amazing Fantasy #15. Many of those early stories feature a touch of terror. Ditko's particular art-style contrasted with the more traditional heroes of the era. He's spindly, flexible, scattering across walls in ways people aren't supposed to. Compared to stuff like the soft fluidity of DC Comics of the era or even the bulky, but defined, Jack Kirby comics, Ditko drew those early Spider-Man comics with a neurotic sense of motion.
He's always attracted a darker sort of villain than most heroes. Even those early comics often risked his life to the utmost degree. His stories have always touched on the scary side of science fiction, with villains like Mysterio's illusions, Green Goblin's madness and Moebius's vampirism offering plenty of opportunities to play up horrific story beats. Many of his villains are portrayed as coldly murderous, all targeting a teenage boy in way over his head. There have even been full-blown body transformation storylines centering on Peter growing additional arms or even transforming into the outright monstrous Man-Spider.
That's not even considering one-off stories and characters like "The Coming Of The Thousand" or the recently introduced Spiders-Man. Even stories with established villains can become genuinely horrific, as in the case of "Kraven's Last Hunt" and "Shed." Venom and (especially) Carnage were designed to be frightening, and both are established early on as willing to do anything to win.
It's not hard to push Spider-Man into horror territory. Even in films like Spider-Man: Far From Home, Mysterio uses his illusion technology to create a zombie version of Iron Man to terrify Peter -- and audiences. The character lends himself to horror in any number of ways, easily alternating from big stakes scares to tense characters moments that make fans' skin crawl. So as we approach Halloween and still try to process that zombie Iron Man, it's nice to see a new Spider-Man story that's willing to embrace just how scary it can be to be the wall-crawler.
Absolute Carnage #2 releases August 28.