Maximum Carnage was a fourteen issue Spider-man event from ’93. It was written by Tom Defalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh & David Michelinie. It’s a rather divisive event with some calling it one of the last good comic events and others calling it the start of the era of trash events. So, I’ll give my thoughts on it as part of hero month.
We open with Cletus Kasady being taken for therapy at Ravencroft Asylum. Everyone assumes he’s powerless since the Carnage symbiote was destroyed. What they don’t know is that the symbiote mutated his very blood, allowing him to summon a copy. Which he does, breaking loose and massacring the staff. He runs into another inmate named Shriek, who he breaks out. The pair recruit some other villains and their little “family” goes around New York, while Spidey and several other heroes try to put an end to their killing spree.
My biggest issue with the event is that there are a lot of scenes that seem kind of repetitive. Yeah, I get what they’re going for. They’re trying to show how all of this is wearing at the heroes and how much difficulty they’re having. It just doesn’t have the best execution. The civilian casualties are also kind of weakly handled. Carnage and his group are basically killing a bunch of nameless fodder we have no reason to care about. On one hand, it is better than having them kill off characters we know and love, which is what would happen in a modern event like this. On the other hand, I’d like to see some mourners to give it some more impact and add some humanity to the victims.
There are definitely things I appreciate about the narrative too. I like that we don’t lose any of our heroes for a cheap, shock moment. I also like the general theme of holding onto hope when times are dark and finding the strength to overcome. Particularly when various heroes step forward to bring out the best in humanity when facing a group of violent rioters. That is a powerful scene. The back and forth with Spidey and his wife while they argue because she doesn’t want him to risk himself but he knows he can make a difference is really good. The way they foreshadow major events is solid.
Then there’s the whole element the story is about. Namely: should heroes stoop down to the level of villains in extreme circumstances? It’s important to remember that this was made in the early 90s when the trend of more “extreme” and dark heroes had already started. And this is a story that plays with that trend but also, ultimately, rejects the whole idea of it. Spidey questions the idea of just how far he and his comrades should go throughout the event and consistently argues against taking lethal action. Then he reaches his lowest point and he almost asks his amazing friend, Firestar, to take Carnage’s life. But he pulls back and realises that it’s the wrong approach. As heroes, they have to stand for something greater. Even when facing a mass murdering psychotic like Carnage. And that’s an uplifting epiphany. I like the way the topic gets explored a lot.
I’ve already mentioned how well Spidey & MJ’s marital discussions work. Although I haven’t said fuck modern Marvel for retconning that out of existence yet. There are other characters to discuss though. There’s an effort to humanise our villains, in spite of all the murder and mayhem they’re responsible for. Which is a nice touch but it’s one of those cases where the execution is the lazy “they had rotten childhoods” types for both Carnage & Shriek. Doppelganger, Demogoblin and Carrion have the same basic motives they do in the regular comics. One is overly simple-minded, one has a misguided view of being on a holy crusade and the other is the victim of a virus. Which is something.
Our major heroes are Spidey, Venom, The Black Cat, Cloak & Dagger. We also get appearances from Firestar, Deathlok (nice to see Deathlok being used), Morbius, Iron Fist, Nightwatch and Captain America before modern Marvel made him a Nazi. Fuck modern Marvel for that too. The heroes are handled pretty well. The point where Cap makes his appearance is kind of brilliant since he’s kind of used as a beacon of hope and heroism when things are looking bleak but it’s not heavy-handed and he doesn’t just fix everything. I will say, Nightwatch is kind of pointless in this. His entire reason for being around seems to be to participate in two fight sequences and rescue Morbius before escaping. Although it’s still far better than what he was subjected to when modern Marvel decided he needed to be resurrected and turned evil. Fuck modern Marvel.
One issue I have with the artwork is that it’s not consistent and some of the artists who worked on it are clearly better than others. Mark Bagley’s work is good. Tom Lyle’s work is good. Sal Buscema’s work is more than a little awkward looking. This guy might get the facial expression right once in every three panels where you can see a face. And that’s generous. It also does have some of the bad 90s art tropes starting to emerge at various points, like everyone being on their toes so the artists don’t have to draw feet properly or scenes being covered with shadows to an absurd degree but there aren’t that many moments like that all things considered.
Areas of Improvement:
- Some work to humanise the victims. Like I said, I’d show some scenes with mourners. Maybe have that instead of some of the more repetitive scenes.
- Cut out Nightwatch and Morbius. Honestly, these two don’t do much in the event and it’s a bit annoying to have scenes where Morbius has to abandon a rescue mission or fuck off for multiple issues because it’s day time.
- Develop the humanity of the villains a bit more. I like the idea they were going with, but the execution was mediocre and you know these writers could have done better because they did with so many other elements.
I will say, without any question, I agree more with the people who absolutely love this event than I do with the ones who hate it. It takes emerging trends and it tackles them in a way that’s subversive and clever. Its themes are, largely, well handled. There’s a lot about it that’s just good. It does, however, have its definite flaws. Its moments of lazy writing, 90s art and good ideas they don’t bother developing. So, I wouldn’t put it nearly on par with something like The Secret Wars but I would go so far as to call it good. I’ll give it a 7/10.