Venom: Let There Be Carnage will introduce Carnage to cinemas. The upcoming film appears to draw heavily from the event Maximum Carnage, the second Marvel Comics story to feature the villain, where he and Shriek round up a group of chaotic evil rogues and unleash pandemonium on society — with only Spider-Man, Venom and a rag-tag group of characters (including Black Cat and Morbius) standing in their way.
It’s probably wiser that the film draws from Maximum Carnage as opposed to the more recent Carnage-centric story, Absolute Carnage. The latter is a spectacle with some incredible moments, but while the story features some incredible highs, it’s lacking compared to Maximum Carnage, which is the definitive take on the character and his impact on the Marvel Universe.
Absolute Carnage is many things. It’s an epic-scale adventure pitting all of the Marvel Universe against a common adversary. However, it ironically doesn’t focus on Carnage at all. It’s about the complete history of the symbiote in the Marvel Multiverse, with tons of references and call backs to over 30 years of history. Carnage plays the role of servant to Knull, who is the Lovecraftian greater adversary in the narrative. Carnage’s central motivation is completely altered in service of Knull, a greater villain.
Maximum Carnage encapsulates Carnage in a nutshell. He believes in no higher power, respects no authority or order. In both stories, Carnage forms what is essentially a cult. However, while both stories feature Carnage surrounding himself with Shriek and the doppelgangers from Infinity War (the comic event, not the film), they play different roles. In Absolute Carnage, the cult exists in service to Knull. They are glorified henchmen obeying a higher entity. This is the sort of thing Carnage mocks Demogoblin for in Maximum Carnage, yet here they’re doing the exact thing Carnage would laugh at in his first couple appearances.
On the other hand, the cult in Maximum Carnage exists in service to the titular villain of the arc. Unlike Knull, Carnage is a present and active main antagonist, driving action as a material presence throughout the story. Carnage exists not to further the agenda of some other unseen villain, but his own.
Absolute Carnage is an event that spans the entire Marvel Universe. Maximum Carnage takes place primarily on the streets of New York City. There is a sense of scale throughout Absolute Carnage that makes it seem larger than life, yet the threat Carnage poses in Maximum Carnage feels more tangible and real. This is for two primary reasons.
The first is that a small cult causing chaos in a contained area is fairly believable. The same thing happened in real life with the Waco seige and the Sharon Tate murders, where a small group of people caused small-scale but unbelievable chaos in a short burst of violence. On top of that, riots happen all the time in real life for various reasons. So, to the average reader, a string of riots and mass murders is tangible and believable, whereas a world-wide alien invasion is a little silly to feel grounded and real.
More importantly, Maximum Carnage is about a small group of heroes trying to fight against the odds. It begins with Spider-Man and Venom teaming up, then Cloak and Dagger joining with outsiders like Morbius, Firestar and Iron Fist, until hope arrives near the end in the form of help from Captain America. The story takes a lot of time to show the strain the fight has put on these heroes. Venom gets tortured, Spidey sports multiple broken bones but still fights and Dagger seemingly dies. All of this shows the real threat Carnage poses and how out-matched the heroes are.
One underrated aspect of Maximum Carnage is the role Peter’s father plays. At this point in the story, the Chameleon has created Life Model Decoys of Peter’s parents in an elaborate scheme to make the photographer who takes Spidey’s pictures reveal his identity. Throughout the story, The LMD of Peter’s father gives speeches about how the riots are proof society is unstable and mankind are just panicky animals at heart. Many of Peter’s allies seem to agree with this sentiment, but Peter (and later Cap) insist people are better than that. Maximum Carnage isn’t just a story featuring heroes fighting villains. It’s a story about humanity’s soul.
Absolute Carnage, by contrast, is a story about alien goo turning people into monsters other heroes fight. Because people lose all sense of self when overtaken, there is no moral conflict here. They’re just bad guys. It’s very simple, very flat and lacks the sense of ideology that makes Maximum Carnage remain a noteworthy story decades later.
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Maximum Carnage is often dismissed by fans, but it succeeds where Absolute Carnage completely fails.