I’ve spent so many years being unhappy with the characterization of Carnage, I haven’t really stopped to think about what I would actually want to see in the character that would make me happy. Going back to the days of the overly-long, ridiculously shallow “Maximum Carnage” crossover, I’ve thought of Cletus Kasady/Carnage as a one-note character who is visually stunning (and hearing Mark Bagley recently talk to Superior Spider-Talk about what a pain in the neck he is to draw only adds to my awe of the design), but poorly written.
In recent years, we’ve had Carnage-centric mini-series that have promised bold new takes on the character, but at the end of the day, it’s still whacky Cletus Kasady, mindless killing machine with a sense of humor straight out of a cheesy horror flick about a possessed doll. I’ve remained unimpressed.
What’s grabbed me about Superior Carnage through its first two issues is the fact that the Kevin Shinick/Stephen Segovia led-creative team has made real strides to reinvent the character by completely taking the now-lobotomized Kasady out of the picture and focusing on the chaotic, homicidal symbiote. In Superior Carnage #3, the symbiote is then bonded with Dr. Karl Malus, an evil genius who’s profile has now just been raised tenfold depending on what the Carnage character is up to at the end of this mini-series.
I’m sure there will be Kasady lovers out there who will be disappointed by the new Carnage’s lack of sense of humor, but I think if I’m going to invest in a comic book universe that HAS to feature a character like Carnage, this is the version of Carnage that I can accept and get used to. The Malus Carnage (who is being mentally controlled by the Wizard and held at bay by Klaw’s sonic blasts) features the violent brutality the character is long known for, but without the goofy campiness that I’ve clearly grown tired of. So there’s still a high body count but I don’t have to deal with a poor-Freddy Krueger knockoff while I’m taking it in.
Segovia’s character design actually reminds me a bit of the Punisher, which only raises my eyebrows since I’ve voiced my disinterest with Frank Castle’s one-note characterization many times over the years. At the risk of trying to justify my hypocrisy, I guess my comic book brain can more easily accept Carnage as being an oversized gun toting maniac in a trench coat and combat boots than a guy who’s been psychologically wrecked by the death of his family at the hands of organized crime. I’m sure someone much smarter than me can analyze what that says about me as a person.
But all this talk about Malus-Carnage distracts from this comic’s heart and soul, which is actually the Wizard and his sad descent into madness. Shinick has managed to do a masterful thing with the Wizard here in that the character is doing very bad things in trying to take over New York City (and THEN the world!!!) via any means necessary, and yet because the guy is clearly teetering on the brink of becoming mental mush, I’m pulling for him regardless. Watching the Wizard struggle to maintain his connection to reality, and thus his control of Carnage, is exhilarating because as a reader I just know that it’s inevitable that he’s going to fail. It then becomes a question of who’s closest to Malus-Carnage when the Wizard’s brain goes kaput that adds to the story’s intrigue and suspense.
And speaking of characters closest to Malus-Carnage (and the Wizard), Shinick’s Klaw is just plain fun. Given my first exposure to Klaw was during Secret Wars when he was Doctor Doom’s echo-inducing lackey, I’m really enjoying Shinick’s take on the character. Klaw is still a bit of pushover, but he’s not clueless and he knows he’s probably fighting on a losing team. Still, he’s standing by his long-time friend Wizard despite the impending doom that awaits him as a reward for his loyalty. It’s like some kind of twisted Greek tragedy unfolding where I know the bad guys can’t possibly win (even more so than usual), so instead I feel bad and don’t want to see them cut to pieces, or worse, by Malus-Carnage.
Without even talking about the very end of this issue, I was ready to declare Superior Carnage #3 the best entry in the series thus far. And then Shinick and Segovia manage to stick in the landing in a major way, revealing Spider Ock in J. Jonah Jameson’s mayoral office, awaiting the arrival of the Frightful Four and Carnage and ready to throw down.
Between Spider Ock, the Wizard, Jonah and Malus-Carnage, there’s so much hubris-fueled malice in that one room, I don’t know even know where things are going to pick up when Superior Carnage #4 is released next month.
All images from Superior Carnage #3: Kevin Shinick, Stephen Segovia & Dennis Crisostomo. Cover by Clayton Crain.