With the release of Absolute Carnage #1 (on sale August 7th,) Marvel Comics brilliantly dives into the deep end with the introduction to its latest expansive crossover. From the first page, the creative team of Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman exceed expectations in their delivery of an opening salvo to this ambitious comic event.
Absolute Carnage #1
Writer: Donny Cates
Penciler: Ryan Stegman
Inker: JP Mayer
Color Artist: Frank Martin
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Not Your Typical Opener
Enough with the slow-burn mysteries. We’re all tired of those event stories that never take it to the next gear. But, other than War of the Realms, most recent crossovers have suffered from that flaw. Thankfully, whether you like the story itself or not, there arew few, if any, dull moments in Absolute Carnage #1. The issue is packed with plot development and, though chaos is sure to throw fans for a loop, there’s a clear narrative direction for the event by the end of the issue.
Naturally, some page space is devoted to exposition; expecting non-Venom readers to easily follow along with the character’s complex mythos would be a tall task, so writer Donny Cates succinctly summarizes some of the major plot points from Eddie Brock’s solo series. With a comic with over 60 pages of story, taking some time to provide readers with a crash course on the main protagonist benefits the overall plot because it offers us a chance to breathe.
Most crossovers wait until the third or fourth issue to hit the accelerator. Not Absolute Carnage.In this opening installment, Cates mixes together an army of symbiote-covered inmates, a substantial Spider-Man cameo, a maniacally homicidal Norman Osborn and more. Plus, the writer doesn’t pull any punches when he reveals that this story will impact the entire Marvel Universe. Brock reveals that Carnage is targeting anyone who has ever worn a symbiote. As Spidey wisely points out, “that’s a long list.” Cates recognizes the long line of Venom-based crossovers and symbiote-centric events and clearly hopes to surpass them all.
As Intricate As A Spider’s Web
Though Absolute Carnage #1 works as a general Marvel story, it’s also the culmination of over a year’s worth of storytelling. The issue organically progresses Cates’ stories in Venom and other related miniseries because it ties in a number of important characters and plot points. First, the Maker, or Ultimate Reed Richards, plays an influential role in the story. Ironically, the Venom villain has the power to help the heroes win this war but it’s unclear whether he’ll help his foe in the long run. Then, Cates brings in the Grendel, the dragon that Brock fought earlier in his solo series. Combined with a brief mention of Rex Strickland and the inclusion of Brock’s complicated relationship with his son Dylan, these elements clearly showcase Cates’ fingerprints in the story. For fans who have been reading Venom from the beginning will likely appreciate these references while other readers might feel encouraged to start catching up on the series.
Those Facial Expressions Though
Throughout Absolute Carnage #1, Ryan Stegman’s art makes the reader stop and stare. The setting of a fiery hellscape in a New York City subway station, the perspective of Carnage’s towering god-like frame over Venom or the gory horror movie-like bit where Norman Osborn rips his gooey chest open are just a few examples of Stegman’s art working wonderfully with the story. But above all else, Stegman’s facial expressions carry the issue.
Whether it’s Brock’s desperate hatred of Carnage, Cletus Kasady’s Joker-like grin or the depravity in Norman Osborn’s eyes, Stegman powerfully shows the reader what the characters are feeling. As a result, time and again, the heroes and the villains seem like real people despite the nightmarish plot elements.
In most cases, JP Mayer’s inks and Frank Martin’s colors make the facial expressions, and the overall art, even more impressive. Their usage of dark red blurs the lines between blood and Carnage’s symbiote when Norman Osborn, infected with the vile goo, appears. When Eddie Brock tries to kill Carnage early on, Meyer and Martin subtly show tears brewing in Brock’s eyes. These skillful touches make the art even more eye-opening. Letter Clayton Cowles also complements the story; using distinct blacks, grays and reds, he gives each main symbiote (and host) an individual voice. This effect is particularly notable when Brock talks to his symbiote. These small artistic choices combine to breathe the story to life.
Absolute Carnage #1 knocked it out of the park. It’s hard to think of any hypothetical substantial improvements for this issue. It’s too early to give a definitive verdict on the series but, as of today, it’s clear Marvel’s newest event is another winner.
What’d you think of Absolute Carnage #1? Where do you hope to see the story go from here?