It feels like almost no time has passed between the conclusion of Marvel Comics’ most recent superhero event, War of the Realms, and the introduction of its newest superhero event: Absolute Carnage. That’s because no time has passed. July will be the only month between the ending of one series and the start of another, but it will still feature plenty of overlap in the form of various epilogues and prologues. There isn’t even a notable difference in scale. Absolute Carnage will only feature one fewer issue in its core series, and there will be plenty of tie-ins and miniseries associated with its own story. However, no matter how many complaints of event fatigued have been registered in the past, Absolute Carnage is still shaping up to be a fantastic superhero event for the late summer and fall.
The best question to be posed when looking at this schedule and the palpable excitement surrounding both Absolute Carnage and its build in the pages of Venom is: How did Marvel Comics frame this event for success? In addition to following close on the heels of War of the Realms, Absolute Carnage will also feature a character (Venom) and creators (Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman) who possess a smaller, albeit still notable, profile compared to what immediately precedes them (i.e. Thor, Jason Aaron, and Russell Dauterman). In spite of these seeming deficiencies, Absolute Carnage appears every bit as capable of reaching the same highs as War of the Realms. That is a testament to the planning, branding, and faith in creators displayed in this event.
Fixing the Event Model
We have already explored the scheduling and model of War of the Realms in some detail, but it’s worth repeating how effectively Absolute Carnage appears to be replicating the successes of that event. The biggest element is timing. The key events of Absolute Carnage is set to be contained within only five over-sized issues of the event series (one less than War of the Realms). Each of those issues is set to be created by the same essential team of writer Cates and artist Stegman, promising a consistent approach and quality. They also appear to be aiming for a similar three month time frame with the first two issues premiering in July and the third having been solicited for September. All of this means that, even though there is already a new superhero event on its way, this event will also be contained to a relatively short period of time and guaranteed to deliver a meaningful issue (in both quantity and quality) with each new installment.
A similar approach can be seen in the solicited tie-ins, miniseries, and one-shots. While there are a large number of issues related to the overall event (it’s too bad the name Maximum Carnage was already taken), they are similarly confined to a short period of time. There don’t appear to be any connected stories running any longer than the actual event. All of the connected material also appears to reflect consistent creators and meaningful hooks (either in terms of story or talent) in their own rights. If Absolute Carnage manages to replicate the model put forward by War of the Realms, then there are a lot of reasons to believe that it will be just as much of a critical and commercial success, as it buys into the best event publication model in recent memory.
Rebuilding a Character’s Brand
Venom is no longer the guaranteed hit of a character that it once represented in the late 80s and 90s. While Tom Hardy’s oddball performance and the surprising box office success of Sony’s Venom last year has certainly helped to restore the character’s mainstream profile, Marvel Comics has done far more to ensure that Venom means something for readers in the direct market over the past year. It was at the start of May 2018 that Cates and Stegman helmed the relaunched of Venom with a new #1 issue. That issue was an impactful thesis statement, one that offered heightened action, a new history, and the sense that the series could (and would) go just about anywhere. It was also a debut that received a great deal of Marvel’s marketing attention for the month. A mix of old school Venom fans and new readers attracted by the creative talent or story promises quickly gravitated to the title, making it one of Marvel’s best-selling series. The hype has not faded in the intervening months. Each new issue received a positive reception from critics and general audiences alike, only pausing for some fill-in work during War of the Realms (and undoubtedly to allow Stegman time to draw all of Absolute Carnage).
The rebuilding of the Venom brand hasn’t been contained purely to a high-quality central series. All of the new mythos has been built out over a variety of one-shots and miniseries. Stories set in the past, including links to Nick Fury and the Vietnam War, have packed the same sort of energy that makes Venom a hit, while telling stories that don’t rely on readers knowledge of outside events. There have even been natural elements tied into the War of the Realms event, with Venom’s new origin myth linking him to All-Black the Necrosword and Malekith’s final form in battle. Each of these stories have managed to both enhance the overarching tale that has built to the Absolute Carnage event and standalone as their own stories. The execution of this rebranding has been near perfect and purely positive.
Supporting Rising Stars
None of that rebuilding and rebranding effort would mean anything without the creative talents and promotion of Cates and Stegman. This pair should not be considered newcomers or discoveries. Cates has built a strong following across his past decade of work, including strong creator-owned titles like God Country, The Ghost Fleet, and The Paybacks. His work consistently displays a raw energy and strong appreciation of the medium’s visual strengths in all of his collaborations. Stegman has delivered that same sort of energy across an even longer career, signing an exclusive agreement with Marvel in 2010. His style has developed across series like The Superior Spider-Man and Wolverine to become one of the most engaging and dynamic in mainstream superhero comics. Both of these creators have earned dedicated fandoms and accolades, but Absolute Carnage will certainly be their biggest platform in comics to date.
What Marvel Comics has done right is to support, not discover, this powerful pairing of collaborators. It is clear from the past several years that Cates has been developing a solid working relationship with Marvel editors, one that allowed for Venom #1 (and various other miniseries) to serve as a reliable launchpad for something bigger, something by the name of Absolute Carnage. With faith in both the concepts and creators, Marvel Comics has generated another excellent superhero event concept from start to finish, one that is prepared to follow an excellent three-month model for delivery. Given all of these elements, the model, the ideas, and the talent, there’s little doubt that Absolute Carnage is staged to be one of the biggest hits of 2019.