In many ways, Absolute Carnage has served as the culmination of Donny Cates' acclaimed run on the Venom ongoing comic series, as Eddie Brock battles against agents of a sinister threat first teased when the title relaunched last year. Along with Ryan Stegman, Cates has expanded that threat to endanger the entire Marvel Universe, with a resurgent Cletus Kasady rallying a cult of personalities around him in service to Knull, the dark god of symbiotes. With the crossover event's fifth issue, Absolute Carnage comes to a sudden -- and somewhat abrupt -- end, while also hinting that Cates' spin on Eddie Brock is far from over.
Picking up from the previous issue, the final battle between the heroes and Carnage's loyal army of zealots is joined as an empowered Venom battles the eponymous villain. As the various characters make their own last stand against the forces of Carnage, Eddie and Harry Osborn's sons attempt to stay alive as an especially crazed Norman Osborn targets the two boys, and Eddie and Cletus' longstanding feud leads to a grueling slugfest between the two throughout New York City.
Ever since starting at Marvel two years ago, Cates has had a firm grasp in writing most of its characters, many of whom appear across the issue. Having said that, virtually the entire focus is on Eddie Brock and Cletus Kasady, with the past and present of the two men taking center stage as they launch into one last collision course with each other. Cates' Venom has put the antihero under the emotional wringer though what follows here is largely a fight issue, as is often the case with the concluding issue of many major events; eschewing emotion for a good old-fashioned dust-up between mortal enemies.
As such, when that fight inevitably comes to an end, it's almost jarring how sudden the proceedings to come a halt. There is little resolution to follow, instead, Cates immediately sets the true stakes of his larger story into motion, with a couple of major developments that are certain to affect Eddie throughout the remainder of Cates' run on the title.
When first announced, the event had originally been slated for four issues, and this fifth one certainly feels a bit of an over-extension to accommodate the climactic action set piece, which may throw off readers after something a bit more multi-dimensional. However, the major plot threads introduced are sure as hell enticing for those looking to see where the story and characters are going next.
As with much of the miniseries, Stegman's art, elevated by inkers JP Mayer and Jay Leisten with colorist Frank Martin, have brought a sense of a foreboding intensity to the proceedings. A prologue sequence by Mark Bagley and John Dell helps establish the history between Venom and Carnage, with the change in art team blending into the main story rather seamlessly. However, Stegman has always particularly excelled when he leans into raw emotion and the sheer terror of the story and while he and the rest of the art team deliver a haunting close, it's hard not to wish there was a little more pathos to the finale.
Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman have crafted one of the bloodiest major Marvel Comics events in recent memory, living up to the brutal promise of its premise as Carnage cuts a violent path through the Marvel Universe. While the final issue may seem a little pat in its ending, it certainly sets up even bigger things to come. In a way, the story was always about an epic confrontation between Eddie Brock and Cletus Kasady and the issue definitely delivers but those seeking a wider look at the event's immediate aftermath may come away a little disappointed. But, if you want to know where Cates is taking Venom next, this issue is a vital chapter in his ongoing saga for Eddie Brock.