It's okay to be hesitant about the new "Absolute Carnage" event from Marvel Comics. It makes sense to worry just a little bit about an entire sub-franchise centered around characters like Eddie Brock and Cletus Kasady who have been so utterly overused and misinterpreted over the last two decades that they seem more like punchlines than sustainable leads. Those concerns are completely valid given the history of Marvel's events. All that is to say, crumble those worries, concerns, and hesitations up into a ball and dunk them as hard as you can into the nearest wastebasket. Absolute Carnage rules, absolutely.
Absolute Carnage #1 builds on the groundwork that was laid down with the ongoing Venom series from Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman, with a few big bits of information revealed in various one-shots over the past couple of months. Don't worry if you missed something along the way though, the prologue and opening pages do a great job of catching you up. All you really need to know is this: A cult resurrected Carnage and he is now on a mission to build an army and access the power of the Symbiotic god Knull by stealing remnants left in other Symbiote hosts throughout history.
If you're a new reader, it's pretty easy to get invested in Absolute Carnage and understand exactly what's going on. If you've been reading along since the start of Cates and Stegman's Venom, you'll be completely enthralled with where Eddie's story is taken here, and where it's set to go next. There's something for everyone within these pages.
Perhaps the biggest reason why a book this absurd and metal is accessible to so many different readers is Stegman's impeccable art. Seriously, it's worth it to buy this issue just to look through the pages, even if you didn't read a single word of what was going on. It's that wonderful to look at. There's a spread in the back half of the issue where Carnage holds Spider-Man by the throat and, in all seriousness, it's one of the most stunning pages of the entire year.
Stegman is at his absolute best in this book, mainly because Cates doesn't offer any opportunity for his partner to be locked down. Some of the ideas for these panels are so bold that Stegman has no choice but to swing for the fences and access every corner of his imagination. The result is a gritty, but surprisingly smooth ride from page to page. It's not often that flipping through a book feels this good.
Donny Cates is the mad engineer to Ryan Stegman's hallucinatory conductor and one couldn't work without the other. Yes, it's Stegman's defiant style and free-flowing lines that catch your eye, but it's the vision of Cates that transforms Absolute Carnage into a home run. It would be so easy to bring in these characters and sell books without having much to say. As he has done many times in recent years, Cates is able to find the delicate balance between a story that's just off-the-rails mental, and one that earnestly and wholeheartedly connects to its readers. It's as jaw-dropping as it is thoughtful and compelling. You don't find that often.
Slice it however you want, there's no going wrong with this book. Absolute Carnage is a marvelous hellscape of brilliant insanity that should be cherished by any and all comic fans. This is the future of Symbiotic storytelling for Marvel Comics. The era of Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman has officially begun.
Published by Marvel Comics
On August 7, 2019
Written by Donny Cates
Pencils by Ryan Stegman
Inks by JP Mayer
Colors by Frank Martin
Letters by Clayton Cowles