Carnage: USA takes place shortly after Family Feud, with Carnage on the run from the authorities and taking refuge in a remote meatpacking town. Spider-Man and the Avengers go after him, and the rescue mission goes horribly wrong, as Cletus Kasady has physically taken over the town of Doverton.
Carnage has usually been able to take over other creatures on a limited basis, but the crazy devil actually came up with a good strategy, gaining more mass by lying low and eating thousands of cows. As a result, he’s able to simultaneously take over the bodies of everyone in the town, along with Captain America, Wolverine, Hawkeye and the Thing. In a neat touch, they’re literally his puppets -- there’s always a tendril connecting his victims to him, turning them into a part of him instead of spawning new symbiotes (a process which never ends well).
This leaves Spider-Man and the town’s few survivors to find a way to fight back. They’re soon aided by the government and most of the other symbiotes on the planet. Toxin and Anti-Venom sit it out, which is a shame, but then the complexities of the Eddie Brock/Cletus Kasady relationship deserve their own story. Tanis Nieves, the doctor from Family Feud, has been turned into Scorn, a techno-organic variant. Venom, as a government agent, shows up near the end and becomes key to the conclusion.
The most unusual symbiote appearance, however, is Hybrid -- or rather, his components. Back in the Separation Anxiety event, Venom split off five new offspring. They first inhabited five humans, and then four inhabited the body of Scott Washington. These four have been brought under the heel of the government and turned into living, controllable weapons ... with “controllable” being an optimistic term. Unfortunately, the fifth symbiote, Scream, is also absent. It would be nice to get an update, as Scream is the most notable; she’s the symbiote seen on the “Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” ride at Islands of Adventure in Orlando.
At the center of this story is Kasady’s quest for power. He has only reached this point through rage and power; the symbiote is the one with the brains, and even then, it’s more of an instinctual intelligence. Here, he has taken over the town by physically and mentally dominating its residents. Doppelganger, the multi-armed, feral Spider-Man clone, is still at his side, but Shriek, his wife, is still in custody. He tries to take over a local family, physically controlling the children and turning both them and the wife into parts of him. At one point, Spider-Man is attacked by a pregnant woman, a seven-year-old and an infant, all clad as Carnage, and yet the threat still feels authentic.
Kasady also has an inferiority complex about his artificial lower body, which was created after the Sentry ripped him in half. His legs prove to be his undoing in the climax. This is another one of those moments that I can’t bear to spoil, but let’s just say that Flash Thompson, the current Venom, is also a double leg amputee. They temporarily lose their symbiotes, and it becomes what could be the most ridiculously brilliant battle since Thor became a frog. While this goes on, their symbiotes do something I never thought I’d see. Again, I just can’t spoil it; let’s just say that it involves zoo animals.
Zeb Wells’ humor remains strong, especially at the start with the scenes of the Avengers assembling. Through Hawkeye, he points out how clichéd Ben Grimm’s dialogue has become; he even answers the phone as “the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing.” While the Avengers are possessed for most of the story, it does make me want to check out Wells’ Avenging Spider-Man to see more of this interplay. Wells imbues Carnage with a sick sense of humor, taking out his sadistic pleasures on a town fully under his control. For instance, he’s disappointed that “adopted son” doesn’t take to Doppelganger; after all, what’s wrong with a Spider-Dog?
As with its predecessor, Clayton Crain’s art is key, and it’s still as beautiful as ever. Marvel made the right decision in publishing it as an oversized hardcover, because there are times when you need to peer close to get the flow of the story. The one downside to Carnage’s many tendrils is that you sometimes have to trace them back to their source to figure out the action. This is why I didn’t realize the Avengers and townsfolk were being physically manipulated until I took a second look at the art. There are also some character design oddities; his Thing looks like the Michael Chiklis version, missing the brow ridge I’m used to.
Speaking of character designs, however, I do need to mention how much I love Carnage’s redesign. Gone are the long tongue, drool and black splotches, instead replaced with a wine-dark, wiry body consistency. I was trying to place what he looked like, until I re-read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2. The tendrils, eye spots, fleshy throat and beak-like mouth remind me of the Martians from that incarnation of War of the Worlds. It’s such an alien look grafted on to a human body. Crain’s covers are also great, especially the darkly humorous image of Carnage as George Washington crossing a Delaware River filled with blood and corpses.
If you liked Carnage: Family Feud and enjoy villain-driven comics in general, Carnage USA is certainly worth a look. Carnage can’t really support an ongoing, but if we get a five-issue story of pure chaos every year like Family Feud and USA, I think he can stay in the limelight without overstaying his welcome.
I wrote this review after the recent events in Aurora, Colorado; in fact, I felt compelled to move the review up in my queue. The "remote meatpacking town" in the story is in Colorado and so maybe Carnage USA ought be set aside for a while. The way I see it, however, a normal person can read this comic and realize that it’s not inciting the reader to commit violence. We can’t let the acts of a one person get so far under our skin that we can’t enjoy fiction, and so I've written this review in defiance of the terror we're meant to have felt.
[Thanks Doug. Remember, to show your support of the victims in Colorado, you can always donate blood with your local Red Cross.]