Ever since Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman began their acclaimed run on Venom last year, the creative team has teased an upcoming event that would impact the entire Marvel Universe. Over the course of the series and its subsequent tie-ins, this crossover was revealed to be Absolute Carnage, which features the eponymous symbiote-powered serial killer back and more powerful than ever. After months of lead-up, Marvel Comics' latest crossover event is here, and it does not disappoint with one of the more horror-tinged mainstream stories from the publisher in recent memory.
Reuniting Cates and Stegman, the creative team quickly fills in readers on the existence of Knull, the creator and god of symbiotes, who's linked to every extraterrestrial symbiote that has plagued the Marvel Universe ever since Spider-Man bonded to one during Secret Wars. As the current Venom host Eddie Brock and his newfound son Dylan live a life on the run after Eddie is framed for several bloody murders by Carnage host Cletus Kasady, the duo turn for help from an unlikely source as they find themselves hunted by the empowered Carnage through the streets of New York City.
Under Cates and Stegman, Venom had leaned more into established horror sensibilities than standard superhero fare, and the creative team dials up that shift even higher in the debut issue of Absolute Carnage. While the issue certainly rewards readers that have been around since the start of Cates and Stegman's run on Venom and all the subsequent tie-ins, Cates is sure to make the launch of the crossover event new reader-friendly, not unlike how the recent crossover War of the Realms was accessible for those who hadn't kept up with Jason Aaron's run on Thor. After quickly and succinctly delivering the setup, the main story hits the ground running and never seems to lose its focus or pacing even with the issue containing an significantly increased page count.
A lot of focus that comes from grounding this first issue around Eddie Brock. Even though the unfolding tale is certain to engulf the whole Marvel Universe by its teased premise, Eddie's tortured soul remains the emotional core beating at the heart of the story. While familiar Marvel characters outside of Venom and Carnage certainly show up, Eddie Brock drives the story forward here, and the story is told from his shared perspective with the Venom symbiote as the horror begins to escalate.
And that mounting sense of terror and dread is fueled by Stegman, joined with inker JP Mayer and color artist Frank Martin. The art team is delivering career-defining work here, with moody visuals where every shadow and darkened alley feel menacing. Eddie Brock looks haunted and world-weary, visibly showing the toll of his recent adventures and just barely functioning. When evil does inevitably rear its ugly head over the course of the story, it is absolutely horrifying while not overly unsavory nor off-putting for more sensitive readers.
Ever since the start of their run on Venom, Cates and Stegman have teased a god was coming and that the consequences for the Marvel Universe would not be pretty. That promise is delivered upon in the opening issue of Absolute Carnage, serving both as a culmination of the Venom ongoing series while creating a crossover event that is guaranteed to leave no one safe on Earth. From Stegman, Mayer, and Martin's atmospheric, delightfully spooky art to Cates' spellbinding script grounded with a surprising amount of emotion for its lead, Absolute Carnage is sure to be one of Marvel's most terrifying events in years.