Remembrance of Comics Past: Maximum Carnage

ASM 378Before there was Spider Island, there was Maximum Carnage, a major Spidey-centric Marvel crossover “event” from the 1990s. Split into 14-parts and featuring prominent guest appearances from the likes of Captain America, Venom, Morbius the Vampire, Iron Fist and more, Maximum Carnage may go down as one of the most bloated, overhyped Spidey storylines of all time.

And yet, MC was undoubtedly influential to me. The series debuted during a key point of my Spidey-fandom – while I was in junior high school and just starting my Amazing Spider-Man-centric collection.  I was about five or six months too late to buy MC as it was being released, but the series was still generating buzz in the circles I hung around in. MC established Carnage, a supervillain that was the combination of serial killer Cletus Kassady and the spawn of the alien symbiote that once made up Spider-Man’s black costume and later Venom, as a top-tier Spidey adversary. As a result, Carnage’s earlier appearances in Marvel comics, including his first appearance in ASM #361, had become collectible. Because of MC, Venom, a longtime supervillain had suddenly entered “tweener” status, still a bit twisted and evil, but perhaps more “good” than we initially realized. The series was also a precursor to “symbiote mania,” a period where Marvel was finding new ways to create alien spawns for Spider-Man and Venom to fight. And all of these storyline developments were front and center during a phase in my life where I evolved from a little kid who liked Spider-Man to teenager who was such a fan, I needed to “collect” all things Spider-Man.


There was even a Maximum Carnage video game, which came out around Christmas of 1993. In a unique twist, the MC game cartridge was blood red, matching Carnage’s color scheme. I spent hours mashing the buttons on my Super Nintendo controller, never quite reaching the end, not because the game was overwhelmingly difficult, but rather too damn long and repetitive. How many gangs of “thugs” wearing blue and green jackets did I need to fight? And how many times was I going to beat up on the likes of Carnage and Shriek and then inevitably watch them run away, only to show up again at the end of the next level? Playing as Venom was a pretty cool development, but choosing him actually took you on a LONGER path through the game.  I will say the theme song to that game was pretty neat – Green Jelly I believe.

And as it turned out, the problems with the video game mirrored what ultimately plagued the comic book series. At 14 full-length issues, MC was just too overwrought and challenged my suspension of disbelief too many times. The creative team, which featured long-time writer David Michelinie and renown Spidey artist, Mark Bagley tried to add some depth to the storyline by revisiting the age-old superhero dilemma – is it ethical to intentionally kill your adversary if it would ultimately save more innocent lives in the long run?


But there was very little about MC that was intellectually stimulating. It was just issue after issue of Carnage, a one-note supervillain if there ever was one, and his gang of C-List rogues cracking corny dialogue and killing random people, with chaos breaking out on the streets of New York City. If such a public and extended killing spree broke out in NYC, wouldn’t the U.S. Army be deployed and/or martial law declared? It just didn’t make sense.


But these are all discoveries and conclusions I made using 20-20 hindsight and years of perspective. Since this series essentially served as my reintroduction to Spider-Man, I was more impressed by its grandiosity. It didn’t matter if the story ultimately fell flat – any arc that gets 14 different comics dedicated to it HAS to be considered important. Doesn’t it?


I needed to own all 14 issues of MC, which stretched across ASM, and other series like Web of Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man and a newly launched title, Spider-Man Unlimited. To track these issues down, I stopped by a small comic book store one town over from where I grew up. I pegged this shop as the place to find MC since it was one of the only stores nearby that specialized solely in comic books – no baseball cards or memorabilia/toys. Since I didn’t know which exact issues were part of the MC series, so someone in the store dug through each of the boxes, pulling comic after comic. However, the final stack didn’t total 14. I was at least two issues short of owning the complete run, which, at the time, left me pretty sulky and disappointed.

The fact that despite my initial devastation I can’t, for the life of me, remember which issues I was missing from the MC series indicates how unremarkable the storyline ended up being. Nor did anything all that significant happen in these missing issues since I was able to read through what I had and still follow what was going on pretty easily. But again, as a 12-year-old, all I was thinking about was the fact that I was already a few months late to this party and even after making a valiant attempt to catch up, I still fell short of totally hopping on the MC bandwagon.


Now that we’re in the thick of Spider Island, I intend to be more on top of the number of crossovers and miniseries being shoveled out by Marvel. I guess I’m still just a sucker for a big “event” that stars my favorite Web-Slinger. Hopefully, 15-20 years from now, I won’t look back at that box of comics and stumble across my cop of Spider Island: Cloak and Dagger #1, or Venom #6 and say to myself “what the heck was I thinking getting so excited about this?” And I also hope if some company out there wants to put together a Spider Island video game, they at least make a vain attempt to elevate the experience above a kick-and-punch-fest.

Still, I wonder if Green Jelly is available for the theme song.

All images from Amazing Spider-Man #378: David Michelinie, Mark Bagley & Randy Emberlin

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