Carnage USA # 4-5 review

Posted by bulletproofsponge 08 May 2012

Wow! It's been a long time since I've even thought about finishing this series. Don't get me wrong, I loved the series and highly recommend it. However I just haven't had the time to actually finish reviewing it up here.

Carnage USA # 4
We last left off at what can be considered the best cliffhanger possible for a Carnage issue - Agent Venom, preparing to take out Carnage.

This issue starts with Spider-Man giving a speech to the fellow villagers about how they're gonna take Carnage out. Little do they know that a battle is already taking place downtown.

Cletus watches from afar as he grows tired of seeing his little symbiotes being whacked by the Mercury team. He then, brings in the big guns, aka the Avengers whom he has under his control. The poor Mercury team barely stand a chance and resort to calling backup from Dr Nieves aka Scorn. Unfortunately for them, Scorn doesn't answer to their request for backup but is instead seen building something of her own.

Spider-Man and his gang of farmers ( honestly, that's what they look like ) come to the rescue just in time. Spider-Man takes the fight straight to Cletus himself. He struggles a fair bit until Agent Venom comes in to save the day!

Venom fires Carnage with a number of Sonic Shrapnel shots. Carnage eventually loses control of all the people he was controlling, including the Avengers. Venom pretty much owns Carnage and is about to kill him until Spider-Man stops him. This dumb move by Spider-Man gives Carnage enough time to focus his attention again. He controls the Thing and gets him to knock Venom out.

Fortunately, Scorn then appears just in time to pick up both Venom and Carnage and drop them into a machine she built, designed to separate the symbiote from the host.

The issue ends with Cletus, standing over Flash's legless body with a knife, preparing to kill him.

Carnage USA # 5

Spider-Man and the rest of the Avengers, who are now free from the symbiote control, stand on a hill, staring at the meat factory, where Scorn took Venom and Carnage.

Spider-Man worries however, that with the Symbiotes no longer attached, they are now wild, running loose, possibly looking for someone else to latch on to.

Meanwhile, Cletus is about to kill Flash, who is legless. Cletus boasts how his legs aren't made out of symbiote like Flash's. Strangely enough though, just as Cletus speaks those words, synthetic legs crumble. it all soon becomes an arena of death for the two legless lads.

Coming back to Spider-Man and the others, they soon witness a Gorilla covered with the Venom symbiote being chased by a ton of other animals covered in the Carnage symbiote. The Avengers, Mercury team, and farmers all try to stop the symbiotes. Spider-Man notices however that the gorilla only wants to go to the meat factory where Flash is. Spidey helps Venom to achieve his goals by clearing the way.

In the meantime, the order to bomb the town has already been given. A whole lot of firepower comes down on the Carnage symbiote, destroying the town with it.

Coming back to Venom, the Gorilla makes it to the factory in time, just as Cletus is about to kill Flash. Things turn around quickly as soon as Flash connects with his suit.

By the end of this issue:

  1. Cletus is taken captive
  2. the Carnage symbiote is secured by Scorn who has a 'secondary objective' for it. 
  3. The town is burnt
  4. Wolverine, the Sheriff and I are left wondering why they didn't just kill Cletus. 
This whole series was fantastic. Carnage USA was definitely one of the best Symbiote stories in my opinion. It's certainly better than the last Five Carnage issues, which technically provides a background to this mini, explaining how Carnage came back to life. 

Venom did a fantastic job in this issue. His appearance and timing was classic. I must add that the art work for Venom was also beautiful. Unfortunately, Spider-Man prevented him from actually getting rid of Carnage due to his 'no one dies' rule. 

We also see Venom, finally agreeing not to kill Carnage, simply out of his respect for Spider-Man. By doing so however, he also gained the respect of Captain America, which probably means a lot for a war hero like himself. 

I really hope to see more Venom/ Spider-Man team ups in the near future. As for Cletus and Carnage, we know that this is not their end. As such I'll end with ...

To be continued...

My envy as a Spider-Man fan over the quality of the best comic book story of the last decade led me to ponder the best Spider-Man stories, especially when considering the wisdom of recent changes.

Peter Parker’s probably the best character in comics. Excellent writers (Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, JM Dematteis, Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Jenkins, Dan Slott, Peter David, etc) have worked with some of the most talented artists the medium has ever seen (Steve Ditko, John Romita‑ either one, Todd Mcfarlane, Mark Bagley, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, etc) to produce their best work on the character in a few of the greatest comic book stories ever. Given the quality of the character, I’m still left with one question: Why aren’t there more great Spider‑Man stories? Why don’t we have any Spider‑Man stories produced in the last generation as acclaimed as the absolute best of Batman?

The pre “One More Day” Spider‑Man books were good, but could have been better, especially when compared to Captain America or All‑Star Superman. It’s odd that the best Spider‑Man stories haven’t been topped in 20+ years, which is a damn shame given the quality of the best books produced today. In the last twenty years, I don’t think anyone has done a Spider‑Man story as good as Amazing Fantasy #15, or the Master‑Planner three parter. This is disappointing.

One could argue that the Illusion of Change hurt the Spider-Man comics. But I would disagree with that. While there were a lot of excellent stories mainly under writers Stan Lee and Gerry Conway before Marvel had come to that policy, there was a lot of great material afterwards, especially with Roger Stern's run of Amazing Spider-Man.

I hoped that a good relaunch should eventually result in stories better than “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut," "The Kid Who Collected Spider‑Man" and the supposedly outdated Lee/ Ditko tales. It hasn't quite happened yet (despite the awesomeness of some of the post-OMD stories) but I remain optimistic. Perhaps I overrate the classics, or it could just be a matter of the old great Spider‑Man stories being better than any pre-Miller Batman stories I’m aware of, but I haven’t seen any Spider‑Man stories published in my lifetime which are arguably better than The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One or The Killing Joke, even if Kraven’s Last Hunt (which came out more than twenty years ago) and Bendis’s first year on Ultimate Spider‑Man (not exactly the adventures of a married Spider‑Man) come somewhat close.

This isn’t a problem with other superhero franchises. The acknowledged best Superman stories were written after Roger Stern left Amazing Spider‑Man including “For the Man Who Has Everything,” The Man For All Seasons, All‑Star Superman, Kingdom Come, John Byrne’s Supergirl saga, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and “What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” The usual Top Five Batman stories list includes material published since Stern left ASM (Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, the Killing Joke, the Long Halloween, Arkham Asylum.) Captain America has Earth X, The Winter Soldier arc and The Ultimates, in addition to his excellent appearance in Daredevil: Born Again. The Avengers have both volumes of The Ultimates, Ultron Unlimited and the Avengers Forever mini‑series.

While pondering the question of why Spider‑Man hasn’t had an All‑Star Superman a few years ago, I  came to the conclusion that even though Spider‑Man has been married in the comics, the majority of great recent Spider‑Man stories feature a single Spider‑Man, either existing in worlds in which Peter and MJ weren't married, as Untold Tales, or during the periods in which Peter and MJ were briefly separated or MJ was believed dead. If it’s not just an odd coincidence, or a matter of less opportunities to tell stories with a single Spider‑Man resulting in better writers getting the chance to tell those stories, you’re left with one of two possibilities. Either better writers are drawn to stories with a single Spider‑Man, or Peter Parker being single allows the writers to tell better stories. If either is true, I reasoned that erasing the marriage should increase the percentage of upcoming acclaimed Spider‑Man stories.

Examples of great recent pre-OMD stories (in the years before One More Day) with an unmarried Peter Parker include the best of Ultimate Spider‑Man, the first two Spider‑Man Movies, most of Spider‑Man: Blue (with the exception of the last three pages), the first four issues of Dan Slott’s Spider‑Man/ Human Torch mini series, Darwyn Cooke's Valentines Day Tangled Web, Lee Weeks’ Death and Destiny mini series, Joe Kelly’s prom story in Webspinners, Negative Exposure, Dematteis and John Romita Sr’s “The Kiss” and even Kaare Andrew’s alternate future tale Reign.  Going back a few years, you could add Busiek’s Amazing Fantasy mini‑series and the best of Untold Tales of Spider‑Man to the list.

One time there was a disproportionate amount of great Spider‑Man stories was when when Mary Jane was believed dead, or immediately after she moved to California, as long as Howard Mackie wasn't writing. During that period, you had Paul Jenkins's first two standalone issues, The Revenge of the Green Goblin crossover (even Mackie's issue of that was exceptional), Jenkins's Robot Master and euthanasia storyline, his Fusion three‑parter, Straczynski’s first nine issues of Amazing Spider‑Man (with Morlun, and Aunt May learning Spider‑Man’s identity) and "Heroes Don't Cry" and the Ultimate Punisher three‑parter.

There were some excellent and beloved Spider‑Man stories since the 1998 relaunch featuring a Peter Parker married to Mary Jane, but there just weren’t as many of them. The list would include Jenkins’s last issue of Spectacular Spider‑Man, his Chameleon three‑parter in Webspinners, the fifth issue of Spider‑Man/ Human Torch, the last three pages of Spider‑Man: Blue, the Sensational Spider‑Man annual, Straczynski’s “Happy Birthday” and “Book of Ezekiel” three‑parters, Sins Past (some people loved it so I’ll include it), Mark Millar’s twelve issue stint on Marvel Knights Spider‑Man, the best of Spider‑Girl (I’d argue that the best of Ultimate Spider‑Man more than makes up for this one), the Civil War tie‑in of Amazing Spider‑Man, the Friendly Neighborhood Spider‑Man Vulture storyline, “My Science Teacher is Spider‑Man,” and Beland’s Web of Romance one‑shot. And that’s pretty much it.

While I'm sure that there are readers who believe that the stories mentioned are among the worst in comic book history, most of the comics I listed are fairly popular. Opinions could differ, but it's difficult to deny the success and popularity of Ultimate Spider‑Man, Spider‑Man 2 or JMS's first nine issues of Amazing Spider‑Man amongst general Spider‑Man readers. At the same time, I’ve yet to hear anyone make a convincing case for a Spider‑Man tale being as acclaimed as The Dark Knight Returns or All-Star Superman. This isn't me just defending random Spider‑Man stories I happen to like. It's a trend I notice amongst many of the most successful and acclaimed Spider‑Man stories, stories which I happen to enjoy.

As Peter and Mary Jane are married in the regular comics, there are more stories featuring that status quo, so a greater percentage of pre-OMD great Spider-Man stories should be from that period. It’s significant if there seem to be more great stories in which they are single. Spider‑Man: Blue, one story which made both lists, exemplifies the possibility that the marriage represents an ending, not a plot that can go somewhere exciting. It features Peter reminiscing about his relationship with Gwen Stacy, and ends with him happily married to Mary Jane, presumably forever. It works for a single TPB, but not for a never‑ending serial.

Some of the stories that I've mentioned don't have romantic tension, but there are other things the marriage removed. A few came from a period when Mary Jane had essentially left Peter, bringing their relationship to an uncertain place- right after Mackie's last arc. While Peter wasn't really romantically interested in anyone else at the time, there was more tension in those stories because he lacked a supportive wife to go home to when a story arc was done.

There is the question of how much any change to the status quo would contribute to good stories, and the comparison has been made between Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane and his job as a photographer for the Daily Bugle. This doesn’t work as well since the latter has been a big part of many of the best Spider‑Man stories ever, even if it was just the scrapbook of Jonah’s retractions in “The Kid Who Collects Spider‑Man.” Peter Parker working for the Daily Bugle doesn't limit the stories you can tell with him and opens up new stories, with the Bugle providing the perfect excuse to put Peter Parker in situations in which Spider‑Man is needed. His usual position as a freelance photographer also meant that he didn’t have job security, which kept the Bugle from bringing stability to his status quo. Post-OMD, he has been blacklisted from any photography positions. Presumably his marriage was more stable.

There were certainly clunkers with the single Spider‑Man and the Illusion of Change approach, but they compare rather favorably to the worst of married Spider‑Man: "Peter Parker No More!" "Live and Let Die," the worst of the Clone Saga and post‑reboot Howard Mackie. There have been fantastic Spider‑Man writers since the marriage (JM Dematteis, Paul Jenkins, and Mark Millar immediately come to mind) so the question of why we haven’t seen Spider‑Man’s Killing Joke is not a matter of the past creative teams not being good enough. Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane and the way it limits the writers is one of the reasons the books simply weren't as good as they could be.


Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's twelve-issue run of All-Star Superman is probably the best comic book of the last decade. It's when I discovered that The Dark Knight Returns can be surpassed. It made me realize I prefer Superman to Batman. And I'm kinda jealous that there isn't yet an equivalent Spider-Man story.

In a Newsarama interview, Grant Morrison explained his approach to the series, clarifying an earlier statement that the title would be his take on the Superman books if Crisis of Infinite Earths had never happened. I admit that writing this piece would be slightly easier for me if Morrison hadn't let on  how his position on the matter is more nuanced than he had initially described it.

When I introduced the series in an interview online, I suggested that All Star Superman could be read as the adventures of the ‘original’ Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman, returning after 20 plus years of adventures we never got to see because we were watching John Byrne‘s New Superman on the other channel. If ‘Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?’ and the Byrne reboot had never happened, where would that guy be now? 
This was more to provide a sense, probably limited and ill-considered, of what the tone of the book might be like. I never intended All Star Superman as a direct continuation of the Weisinger or Julius Schwartz-era Superman stories. The idea was always to create another new version of Superman using all my favorite elements of past stories, not something ‘Age’ specific.  
I didn’t collect Superman comics until the ‘70s and I’m not interested enough in pastiche or nostalgia to spend 6 years of my life playing post-modern games with Superman. All Star isn’t written, drawn or colored to look or read like a Silver Age comic book.  
All Star Superman is not intended as arch commentary on continuity or how trends in storytelling have changed over the decades. It’s not retro or meta or anything other than its own simple self; a piece of drawing and writing that is intended by its makers to capture the spirit of its subject to the best of their capabilities, wisdom and talent.  
Which is to say, we wanted our Superman story be about life, not about comics or superheroes, current events or politics. It’s about how it feels, specifically to be a our dreams! Hopefully that means our 12 issues are also capable of wide interpretation. 
So as much as we may have used a few recognizable Silver Age elements like Van-Zee and Sylv(i)a and the Bottle City of Kandor, the ensemble Daily Planet cast embodies all the generations of Superman. Perry White is from 1940, Steve Lombard is from the Schwartz-era ‘70s, Ron Troupe - the only black man in Metropolis - appeared in 1991. Cat Grant is from 1987. And so on.  
P.R.O.J.E.C.T. refers back to Jack Kirby’s DNA Project from his ‘70s Jimmy Olsen stories, as well as to The Cadmus Project from ’90s Superboy and Superman stories. Doomsday is ‘90s. Kal Kent, Solaris and the Infant Universe of Qwewq all come from my own work on Superman in the same decade. Pa Kent’s heart attack is from ‘Superman the Movie‘. We didn’t use Brainiac because he’d been the big bad in Earth 2 but if we had, we’d have used Brainiac’s Kryptonian origin from the animated series and so on.  
I also used quite a few elements of John Byrne’s approach. Byrne made a lot of good decisions when he rebooted the whole franchise in 1986 and I wanted to incorporate as much as I could of those too..  
Our Superman in All Star was never Superboy, for instance. All Star Superman landed on Earth as a normal, if slightly stronger and fitter infant, and only began to manifest powers in adolescence when he’d finally soaked up enough yellow solar radiation to trigger his metamorphosis. 
The Byrne logic seemed to me a better way to explain how his powers had developed across the decades, from the skyscraper leaps of the early days to the speed-of-light space flight of the high Silver Age. And more importantly, it made the Superman myth more poignant - the story of a farm boy who turned into an alien as he reached adolescence. I felt that was something that really enriched Superman. He grew away from his home, his family, his adopted species as he became Superman. His teenage years are a record of his transformation from normal boy to super-being. 
As you say, there are more than just Silver Age influences in the book. Basically we tried to create a perfect synthesis of every Superman era. So much so, that it should just be taken as representative of an ‘age’ all its own. 
In the end, however, I do think that the Silver Age type stories, with their focus on human problems and foibles, have a much wider appeal than a lot of the work which followed. They’re more like fables or folk tales than the later ‘comic book superhero’ stories of Superman when he became just another colorful costume in the crowd...and perhaps that’s why All Star seemed to resemble those books more than it does a typical modern Marvel or DC comic. It was our intention to present a more universal, mainstream Superman.

Spider-Man is different from Superman in that there has always been one main continuity, even with all the side adaptations. It's tougher to figure out who the real Superman is. While some fans prefer the Pre-Crisis Superman, the Golden Age Superman was the original and Christopher Reeve's take on the character has influenced the public consciousness the most. Despite a few retcons and changes to the setting, the Spider-Man in the current comics is the same one who was in Amazing Fantasy #15.

The Illusion of Change allows the writers and editors to pick and choose which elements of the backstory to use. So it can be similar to what Grant Morrison did with All-Star Superman. Post-One More Day, most of the stories that occurred when Spider-Man was married can still be referenced. Which means less explanations are necessary when reconciling the backstory.

CBR's Stephane Garrelie had one of the most insightful comments about Brand New Day, suggesting that the creative team of Amazing Spider-Man was trying to accomplish something similar to the "If the Crisis of Infinite Earths never happened" take on Superman.
As long as you choose to ignore OMD, BND is a good read. As far as I'm concerned, I read it as if we got only the illusion of change since 1985. So no problem. 
OMD poses some moral problems that should be adressed later, but no matter how crappy the Joe Q stuff was, or the fact that this EIC made all he could to make a reboot inavoidable during the last 7 years, that change nothing to the quality of the new stories.  You can read Dan Slott's BND as if it was the Marv Wolfman or the Roger Stern Spider-man with 2008 refs. It works. 
Under the Illusion of Change, we would still have new villains like Venom. Roderick Kingsley would still be exposed as the Hobgoblin, minor characters like Lance Bannon could still die, and major characters like Norman Osborn could still return from the grave.

Some elements of the backstory remain tenuous. While Spider-Man has always had one core continuity, things do get complicated thanks to the sliding timescale, which means that stories written in the 1960s happened several years ago. Another factor is the effect of other media. Some of the adaptations tend to define the characters to a greater extent than the original comics.

So the Brand New Day Harry Osborn might seem to be closer to James Franco's take on the character than the guy with the weird ties in comics published in the late 1960s. Because the movies, cartoons and Ultimate Spider-Man have shown it, readers could assume that the alien costume caused Spider-Man to become more aggressive, when that was never the case in the original saga. In some cases, Marvel has to deal with readers misremembering the backstory. And it's more confounding when the unofficial version might just be an improvement.

There is a Cary Bates Superman vibe from the Brand New Day/ Big Time comics, although a major distinction is that things tend to change more from issue to issue. But the transformation of the Rhino reminded me of how Lex Luthor became even angrier after he accidentally destroyed an alien world along with his wife and infant son. It's something for future writers to use at their discretion, the result of the illusion of change compromise between no issue to issue continuity and characters eventually changing in irrevocable ways. Doing it right is the way Marvel (and readers) can have it both ways.



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