Though undeniably popular, Carnage is also a divisive character. For those with a fond nostalgia of ‘90s Spider-Man comics, he holds a certain guilty charm. Others who’ve only read his -- somewhat sporadic -- adventures from the last decade or so may wonder what all the fuss is about. Luckily, Donny Cates seems to be aware of both types of reader, and manages to weave enough exposition in between the gore illustrated by Danilo S. Beyruth to catch up even the most casual of readers, before leaving Carnage in a very different place with a new lease on life and a brand new mission.
Perhaps the biggest thing to happen to Carnage for a long while was Sentry flying him up to space and ripping him in half, leaving him for dead in 2005’s New Avengers: Breakout. Since then, he’s been reborn and starred in a few limited series that kept him pretty much segregated from the rest of the Marvel Universe. He’s never quite attained the relevance he had in the ‘90s, though, and as a character, he hasn’t recovered since that deadly encounter with Sentry. If the final page of Web of Venom: Carnage Born is any indication, however, that is all poised to change.
Following on from recent issues of Venom, in which Cates is hard at work writing a new mythology for the character, an underground religious cult has sprung up worshipping Knull, the god of symbiotes. Their mission is to resurrect their dark lord after he was seemingly killed by Venom, and their first step in doing that is to resurrect Cletus Kasady to use as their vessel. His importance to their plan (and therefore, the plot of this issue) is such that a full recap of exactly what Carnage’s deal is is required. There’s an omniscient flashback to his early life before the symbiote bonding, then the leader of the cult takes over the narrative, giving us a loose interpretation of the last 10-12 years of comics history. Don’t worry, it’s not exhaustive. Or rather, it is, but it’s OK because he’s really not been in many comics over that time.
Once the inevitable happens and Carnage is reborn, he does what he does best, carving his way through the cult before settling on a new mission that will hopefully see him regain the relevance the character craves. After all, he’s been set up as the villain for a potential Venom movie sequel, so his star will undoubtedly rise no matter what happens here. Nevertheless, if Cates delivers on the promise of that final page, the future of Carnage on the comics page will be very interesting indeed.
Danilo S. Beyruth does a suitably graphic job of painting Carnage as the vicious force of nature that he is. His whole conceit is that he’s Venom but truly evil. He’s a serial killer, unredeemable in a way that really no other Marvel character is, so his depiction needs to be ugly. From his very birth in the early flashback to his brutal slaughter of the cult that brought him back to life, Beyruth delights in showing us a grim, ugly world in which Kasady inhabits. This is definitely not the same world in which Squirrel Girl lives. Adding to the mood, Cris Peter’s colors are dark and foreboding, with violent splashes of red as Carnage unleashes his true nature.
Carnage gets a redesign here, too, and seeing as he has been resurrected from a sample of Knull’s symbiote dragon (Venom readers will know what this means), his look is reminiscent of this heritage. By the end of the issue, Carnage takes on a more classic look, but when he first bursts forth across an impressive double-page spread, his look is more black than red, with a vicious blood red swirl where a face should be, much like Knull and those who served him. Earlier in the issue is where both Beyruth and Peter shine, however. There’s a full-page portrait of Cletus Kasady as he first succumbed to the Carnage symbiote, and his manic, human eyes peer over the top of an unnaturally wide, sharp and frankly terrifying smile. It’s an affecting image and reintroduces Carnage as an effectively scary villain almost as well as the rest of the issue.
The Web of Venom series has so far been successful in expanding the mythology of the symbiotes, and Carnage Born does a great job of building a character back up from relative obscurity and turning him into the threat that his concept deserves. Whether Cates (or any future writer for that matter) capitalizes on this new status quo will only be revealed in time, but it’s safe to say that this is the best thing involving Carnage in a long time.