After Carnage was defeated by Spider-Man and Venom, he was transferred to Ravencroft Institution at a doctors persistent request. She accidentally sets loose his alien symbiote which laid dormant in his bloodstream. Regaining his powers, Carnage thanks her by murdering her, and all of the inhabitants under her care except for one woman named Shriek. Together, the two set off on a murderous rampage recruiting anyone who wants to join in on the "fun". Spider-Man finds himself once again allies with Venom, along with other street level superheroes to put an end to Carnage's terror, which has turned New York into a city of chaos. -summary
Carnage was no doubt an instant smash into the pages of Spider-Man. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before the character resurfaced once again to plague the wall crawler's life. But this time he would receive some major treatment, and Marvel would tell his story through one massive 14 issue cross-over titled Maximum Carnage. The story was such a success that it would later get the video game treatment, and be featured on both the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis as side scrolling brawlers. It's also remembered for debuting Spider-Man's fifth title called Spider-Man Unlimited. Although a major success, the story still had its problems. This trade paper back collects the entire 14 issue series, which ran through Spider-Man Unlimited 1 - 2, Amazing Spider-Man 378 - 380, Spectacular Spider-Man 201 - 203, Spider-Man 35 - 37, and Web of Spider-Man 101 - 103.
The story begins pretty much like Carnage's debut; brutal action and giving the reader a heads up on what kind of villain he is, which is a merciless killer who treats life less than trash. Carnage goes on his reign of terror very early, and the action never lets up. For 14 issues, the reader is treated to senseless violence with the heroes trying desperately to put a stop to it. This plays into my biggest issue that I will address later.
Now make no mistake, this arc is action oriented through and through, but there is a message at work here, and it plays mainly on Spider-Man's morality and other heroes who's beliefs are very similar. Spider-Man knows that Carnage and his savage rampage must be stopped. Despite the sheer evil Carnage represents, Spider-Man doesn't want to stoop to his level, and he wants to stop Carnage without killing him, but his alliance with Venom doesn't make this choice any easier, because Venom believes the terror will only stop with Carnage's death, and Venom is hellbent on ripping his heart out. Other heroes try to hang on to their morality as well, but it seems almost impossible to do so when considering the trail of dead bodies left by Carnage and his followers. In which, the death count grows into the hundreds.
This portion of the story can go either way though. If the reader is the type who believes to fight fire with fire. Then they can find Spider-Man's ethics to be quite annoying and side with Venom. While on the flip side, if the reader believes in the justice system, then they will hope for Spider-Man to prevail. The dueling storyline, although repetitive, plays a major role in the storylines enjoyment. The reader will also be given examples in the form of normal people's actions, and wonder why should Spider-Man even continue playing by the rules. In any case, when observing the mayhem it's hard to argue against Venom, because he has a damn good point which happens to be this; as long as Carnage lives no one is safe. Also going against Spider-Man are his personal issues. His marriage is suffering terribly, which has led his wife to take up smoking to deal with the stress of him constantly putting his life in danger. To make matters worst for her, Venom even showed up to Spider-Man's doorstep beat up after his first encounter with Carnage and his crew.
The biggest issue that I have with this story arc is the length. I think it would have been far more effective and reached its full potential had it been shorter. The message was clear, and the possibility of the superheroes abandoning their ethics was always there. Unfortunately because of the length, the story became one repetitive bloodbath with Carnage and his cronies attacking one different section of the city, with the heroes failing to stop them each time. The ridiculous plot device leading to the end didn't help matters as it seemed too tacked on, despite the fact it was one last chance for the heroes to try and end things without having to resort to murder.
The guest appearances also help out the story a great deal featuring Black Cat, Cloak and Dagger, Morbius the Living Vampire, and several others. The villains who make up Carnage's carnival of chaos are Shriek (who made her debut appearance here), Demogoblin, Spider-Doppleganger, and Carrion. I think for the most part each of the characters played into the plot very well, with several getting a chance to shine here and there. However, if the reader isn't very well rounded in the Marvel Universe, then they may not care for much of the line up on the heroes part.
The artwork has its moments but the good outweighs the bad. The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man Unlimited, and Spider-Man boast superior artwork, with easy to follow dialogue bubbles and action panels. The character designs are very well detailed and Venom looks built like the Juggernaut. While the other two titles have very bad character designs, sometimes hard to follow action, and annoying, very dark lines found in Web of Spider-Man. At times, I found those books hard to get through.
When looking back, Maximum Carnage is not as great as I remember, but I still find it to be a very solid story, and there would be repercussions; such as Spider-Man having to pay for bringing the symbiote to Earth in a confrontation with a faction called the Jury, who are made up of rogue Guardsmen. Plus Shriek would later return to threaten Carrion's family and battle Spider-Man alone. Overall, this is a solid story that I recommend to serious Marvel fans and to those who love massive cross-overs.
The Saga of the Alien Costume
The Birth of Venom
Spirits of Vengeance: Venom
-Lots of action, artwork in three of the crossovers, thought provoking content, guest stars galore
-Artwork in two crossovers, length, questionable plot device towards end
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