Grew up reading comic books in the 90's. Marvel fan at heart. Hulk, the Midnight Sons, and Marvel's cosmic universe are my favorites.
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Writer Gerry Conway and artists Mike Perkins and Andy Troy have given readers fourteen issues of Marvel's symbiote serial killer Carnage. ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen takes a look at one of the most surprising and entertaining books to emerge from the last year.
Carnage: A Marvel Horror Story
In October of 2015 Marvel Comics launched the All-New All-Different brand of books. Among the many new titles solicited was a Carnage book. The book appeared to be another title in the Spider-Man line of books, or so I thought. In some ways it is. In other ways Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins' Carnage is a return to Marvel Horror, accessible yet steeped in Marvel's rich history of the supernatural and the macabre.
Carnage: A Tale From The Pages Of The Darkhold
A government task force is charged with the capture and or elimination of one of the most notorious serial killers in history: Cletus Kasady. The team consists of FBI agent Claire Dixon, Colonel John Jameson, Eddie Brock a.k.a. Toxin, and the only person ever to escape one of Kasady's murder sprees: an Afghan War veteran named Manuela Calderon. A trap is set at Grey Ridge Mine in West Virginia using Manuela as the bait.
Carnage falls for the trap. One after another the task force's plans begin falling apart. Agents upon agents are slaughtered in the dark of the mine shafts. And a mysterious third party emerges from the bowels of the mine with their own plans for Carnage. A sect of Chthon worshipers believe Carnage to be "The Red Slayer" spoken of in a prophecy within the pages of the Darkhold. Carnage is lured to an altar surrounded by Chthonic acolytes and a priest in possession of the Darkhold. The demonic ritual is interrupted by Toxin and Man-Wolf and the mine shaft collapses.
Carnage escapes with the Darkhold, the partial ritual having granted him heightened powers. He sets out in search of another Chthonic altar in which to complete the ritual and gain more power. The pursuit for Carnage is joined by a shadowy group calling themselves the Children of Midnight. A member of the Children of Midnight, a mysterious woman named Victoria Montesi, offers to help them find Carnage and the Darkhold. Their search takes them around the world to an island not on any map or radar. There they find Carnage performing the ritual and about to resurrect a dark elder god.
Marvel Horror: A Brief History
It has been a long time since Marvel's horror and supernatural corner was alive and thriving. Marvel's horror legacy began in the 1950's during the Atlas Era. These horror tales were their own entity, singular self-contained stories that rarely carried over to the next issue. Once the Comic Code Authority was adopted and the rebirth of super heroes occurred these grim tales were all but forgotten.
Then in the 1970's, when the Comic Code relaxed a bit, horror returned to Marvel. Characters such as Man-Thing, Morbius, Werewolf By Night, Dracula, and even a character from the Atlas Era named Simon Garth emerged. The fiery skulled Ghost Rider and vampire hunter Blade made their first appearances as well creating the second great era of Marvel horror. Even Satan himself had sired two anti-hero children in Daimon Hellstrom and Satana. But by the 1980's these characters had all but dwindled away.
The 1990's saw the last great era for Marvel's supernatural heroes. Howard Mackie's legendary Ghost Rider run saw the return of Morbius and Blade and the formation of the Midnight Sons. Doctor Strange, Vengeance, and the Darkhold Redeemers numbered among them. Len Kaminski and Warren Ellis' Hellstorm: Prince of Lies was perhaps the hidden gem of the group. And towards the latter half of the decade both Man-Thing and Werewolf By Night saw new solo titles albeit briefly.
Since then Marvel's supernatural realm has been in flux. There was a brief period of hope during Jason Aaron's run on Ghost Rider in the mid to late 2000's. Marvel released a few mini series here and there under titles such as Dead of Night and Legion of Monsters. And Rick Remender's Doctor Voodoo ended all too soon. A Marvel Zombies mini series by Fred Van Lente saw the brief return of the Midnight Sons.
In recent years Marvel has tried to make these characters child friendly too, appearing in the Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H. animated series and a relaunch of the Howling Commandos comic book. But nothing seemed to stick. It's as if Marvel is struggling with what to do with their supernatural line, trying anything and everything under the midnight sun.
Carnage: A Return to Marvel Horror
Gerry Conway is a legend in comicdom. Having written many of Marvel's greatest from Daredevil, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, and many others including issue one of Ms. Marvel's first series. Perhaps none are as epic as his run on Amazing Spider-Man encompassing battles with the Hulk, Luke Cage, transforming John Jameson into the Man-Wolf, the first appearance of the Punisher, and the death of Gwen Stacy and Norman Orsborn.
He is also known for helping create another Marvel hero named Jack Russell: the Werewolf By Night. It was within the first story arc of Werewolf By Night that the Darkhold was first introduced into the Marvel universe.
The Darkhold is a grimoire of vast black magic power, comprising the spells of the elder god Chthon. If there is a character in Marvel more evil than Mephisto it's Chthon. And through the Darkhold he influences our world. During the time of the Midnight Sons the pages of the Darkhold were spread throughout the world. A group of individuals calling themselves the Darkhold Redeemers, led by Victoria Montesi, sought to gather the missing pages to keep Chthon's power from spreading.
Gerry Conway has taken the characters of Man-Wolf, Eddie Brock, and Carnage and turned what could've easily been another Spider-Man book into true Marvel horror. Carnage is killing fistfuls of people in nearly every issue, in many ways evoking a presence not unlike the Xenomorph in Ridley Scott's Alien. The first story arc takes place in a mine shaft. A group of characters are trapped miles deep in the earth, no lights save the dim illumination of a flashlight. Not only is a monster in the dark stalking them but cave-ins too are claiming lives.
Neil Marshall's horror film The Descent comes to mind. The second story arc begins with Carnage and a 16 year old girl trapped together on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The girl runs and hides wherever she can with Carnage in deadly pursuit, recalling elements of the film Dead Calm. The third story arc sees the characters trapped on a mysterious island and stalked by monstrous humanoid natives. It's as if Cannibal Holocaust and Humanoids From the Deep had a baby. This is about as far from Spider-Man as you can get.
Conway treats the character of Man-Wolf (one of Conway's originals) seriously, something that hasn't been done in decades. The writer resurrects Man-Wolf's horror roots a la his early Creatures on the Loose appearances. Carnage too is treated like the monster in a horror film as if he's Freddy Krueger or Pumpkinhead. While it's Carnage's name on the billboard he's not the protagonist. Instead we follow another group of characters. Each character Conway brings to the table is treated with respect and earnestness.
In issue two Conway reveals what the book is really about: the Darkhold and a prophecy that could ultimately lead to the rebirth of Chthon. Carnage is on a mission to complete a spell within the Darkhold. He believes this spell will make him stronger when in fact it will bring about the second coming of Chthon. Then Victoria Montesi appears (a character not seen since Doctor Strange #90 in 1996) working with a group called the Children of Midnight. And, to my utter delight, the Darkhold Dwarf makes an appearance too.
All of these characters and elements are woven together in a fantastic story honoring a rich heritage long gathering dust. Conway's story is lush with classic Marvel continuity, but presented in a subtle way. The story doesn't beat you over the head with exposition and history. Instead it's dropped here and there in little tidbits adding more weight to the narrative and credibility to the characters. Rather than finding yourself lost in Marvel history, you find yourself in the moment with these characters. The continuity isn't ignored, but instead crops up when relevant.
Conway takes full advantage of the characters, their histories, and over forty years of storytelling. This is the magic that can be achieved working in the Marvel Universe. Thrilling and fascinating for new readers as well as rewarding for long time fans. Gerry Conway has written each issue of this volume of Carnage so far.
Conway's story is elevated to whole new levels by the art of Mike Perkins.
The art may not have a singularity of style a la Michael Allred or Chris Bachalo. But Perkins' art possesses striking realism, smooth lines, and incredible depths. He uses shadow and light to his advantage. By half revealing a character during a night scene he lets the reader's imaginations fill in the rest. Likewise, his fully lit panels are beautifully detailed and captivating. Man-Wolf's reveal at the end of issue two and then the Man-Wolf/Carnage battle in issue three are breathtaking.
In short, Mike Perkins' art is gorgeous.
Let's not forget Andy Troy's colors. Following the lead of both writer and artist, Andy Troy utilizes a natural color pallet. In keeping with the serious tone of the story, Troy's colors enhance the visceral horror with an array of blacks, blues, and deep reds. The colors in every issue strike the perfect tone. Both he and Perkins have contributed the art to every issue thus far. Together Perkins and Troy have produced some of the best looking art this year in comics.
This is Marvel Comics at their best.
What I would give to see Mike Perkins and Andy Troy do the artwork for Doctor Strange or a Danny Ketch/Ghost Rider book with Gerry Conway on writing detail. An even greater dream come true would be Perkins and Troy teaming with Warren Ellis to finish Hellstorm: Prince of Lies.
Why has it taken me so long to find out about this book?
From what I had read of Carnage prior to the launch of All-New All-Different Marvel it appeared as if the House of Ideas was taking the character in a heroic direction. With stories like Axis and his subsequent appearances in Nova it seemed at the very least Carnage was becoming an anti-hero along the lines of Deadpool. At the time such a story wasn't what I was looking for. I dismissed the book outright before ever reading it. It also didn't help that Marvel's initial solicitations for the book had no synopsis or high concept attached. Just an image and a name.
As season four of the television show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. progressed, and the Darkhold was revealed, I grew excited. I became curious if the Darkhold Redeemers had returned in any comic books I was unaware of. Upon looking up the character of Victoria Montesi I discovered she had indeed returned and whatsmore appeared to have a regular role in the last book I ever imagined: Carnage. I flipped through the back issues at my local comic shop and ended up purchasing every issue. It's now on my pull list and is the book I'm looking forward too more than any other.
Marvel's horror and cosmic realms have always called to me more than the mainstream heroes. I'll take the Midnight Sons and the Heralds of Galactus over the X-Men or Avengers any day. It's a little messed up choosing Werewolf By Night over Spider-Man but you can't help who you like. I am probably one of three people who geeked out over the Darkhold appearing in Agents of Shield. Honestly I hope there were more than just three of us but I'm not betting too high on it.
If you're like me and love Marvel's supernatural realm then check out Carnage if you haven't done so already. If you're new to Marvel's horror characters and interested, Carnage is a great example of the potential lying in wait in that corner of the Marvel universe.
And if you've longed for a Marvel horror story worthy of the days of Midnight Sons and stories long past. Look no further.
Add Carnage to the pull list and keep the terror flowing.
Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @NinjaMitche
Source: Marvel Comics
Writer Gerry Conway and artists Mike Perkins and Andy Troy take Cletus Kasady down into the pits of horror. Dark and serious, this current series embraces the best aspects of Marvel's horror realm and imbues them with new life. For fans of Marvel Horror this is the book for you.