Tag Archives: Thing

Review: Carnage U.S.A. #5 – Double-Amputees Battle to the Death!

Carnage U.S.A. #5 (of 5)
Writer:  Zeb Wells
Art:  Clayton Crain

So here’s the recap:  Carnage takes over a small town in Colorado.  Spider-Man and a group of Avengers (Captain America, Hawkeye, Wolverine, and Thing) go there to stop him.  Unbeknownst to them, the Carnage symbiote ate a ton of cows at a meat-packing plant and expanded exponentially, allowing its host, serial killer Cletus Kasady, to control the town’s occupants like puppets.  This also allows the Carnage symbiote to possess Cap, Hawkeye, Wolverine, and Thing in the same manner.

Spider-Man narrowly escapes, finding the town’s survivors in a compound/private zoo owned by the now-dead owner of the meat packing plant.  The government sends in the cybernetic symbiote Scorn (see last year’s Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain mini-series Carnage] and a spec ops team augmented by the four symbiotes that once composed the symbiote Hybrid, and Cap breaks free of Carnage’s control long enough to call in the newest Secret Avenger, Venom.  Scorn manages to trap Carnage (and Venom) in some sort of sonic machine that scares away their symbiotes.

That brings us to this week’s final issue of Carnage U.S.A., which opens with Cletus Kasady (complete with cybernetic legs) preparing to kill double-amputee Venom host Flash Thompson.  Fortunately for Thompson, Kasady’s legs were partially powered by the Carnage symbiote and the machine fries their circuits in short order.  The result is (and I’m making an assumption here) the first fight to the death between double amputees in a comic not published by Avatar Press.  This fight gets nasty pretty quick–I’m talking blades impaling arms, biting, and meathooks to the rib cage.  It’s exactly what you’d expect to see in a book starring Carnage.

Meanwhile, the Venom and Carnage symbiotes have gone rogue.  Remember that private zoo I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, you can see where this is going:  Avengers vs. Animal Kingdom.

For what it’s worth, Carnage U.S.A. (and last year’s Carnage) have been the best story involving Cletus Kasady I’ve ever read.  Wells has successfully revamped a character that, for many people, was run into the ground during the ’90s in a lot of cheesy, over-the-top stories.  In all fairness, though, comics were still fairly PC at the time, with the darkest the Spider-Man books had gone probably being Gwen Stacy’s death, Harry Osborn’s drug addiction, and “Kraven’s Last Hunt.”

This story is as fun as it is dark, and Crain’s art, though it doesn’t always have the most detailed backgrounds, compliments it perfectly.  I think I’ll pretend “Maximum Carnage” never happened in favor of this.

STORY:  9/10
ART:  9/10 

Review: Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 – ‘Nuff Said

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1
Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis
Art:  John Romita Jr. [Pencils], Scott Hanna [Inks], Laura Martin [Colors]

After what has felt like an eternity of build-up (but was really more like just over six months), the event to end all Marvel events has finally arrived on shelves–but was all of the hype worth it?

So far, it’s a toss-up.

The premise, in case you’ve been living under a rock or reading some other company’s books, is that the Phoenix is coming to Earth and has chosen the would-be-mutant-messiah Hope Summers as its host.  Hey, she looks like Jean Grey, so who else is it gonna pick, right?  Anyhow, the Phoenix is a cosmic firebird that leaves devastation in its wake on a planetary scale wherever it goes in the Universe.  It chose Jean Grey as its host once and she almost destroyed Earth, but that’s “The Dark Phoenix” saga and you can read about that elsewhere.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 opens with the Avengers hanging around Avengers Tower doing the sorts of things you’d expect powerful people in tights to do (but not those things, sicko!) when all of a sudden, the intergalactic superhero Nova conveniently crashlands in New York City after falling from space.  He warns the Avengers that “it’s coming,” and Iron Man deduces that he’s referring to the Phoenix.  He and Captain America then brief the President on the danger.

Meanwhile, Cyclops–who has known all along that the Phoenix was on its way back–is training Hope and trying to prepare her in the hope that she’ll be able to control its power when it does return.  This entire conflict centers around the Avengers’ belief that the Phoenix will use Hope Summers as its vessel to try to destroy the world again versus Scott’s belief that if Hope can somehow control the Phoenix’s power, then she can undo the “no more mutants” spell that Scarlet Witch decimated the mutant population with.

Scott believes that Hope is the savior of the mutant race, and he’ll stop at nothing to see her fulfill that destiny–perhaps to the point of taking things too far during his particularly ruthless training sessions.  During the time that has passed since he joined the X-Men, Magneto has pointed out that Scott is growing more and more like him than his mentor, Charles Xavier.  This trend continues here, as Magneto–watching the training from a distance–comments to Emma Frost regarding the difference between “taking it seriously” and “compulsion,” perhaps foreshadowing things to come.

Anyhow, Hope is finally pushed far enough and releases a flare of Phoenix-like energy strong enough that the Avengers notice it.  Traveling to Utopia to see about taking Hope into Avengers custody until the Phoenix situation is figured out, Captain America is greeted by a particularly hostile Cyclops.

Thus, the first shots in the battle are fired, so to speak.

Over all, this is a solid start to the event, but it is by no means perfect.  Despite being packed with action, the dialogue pulled me out of the story on a few occasions, most notably during the conversation Captain America has with Wolverine regarding the Phoenix.  Given Wolverine’s history with Jean Grey and how he felt about her, I have a hard time believing that he wouldn’t just refer to her by her first name.  Using her entire name felt a little unnatural, especially after the previous scene already established her history.

Aside from that, though, anything else I noticed here would just be nitpicking.  Bendis’ first chapter draws you in and gives new readers a primer on what’s going on, and the art here is phenomenal.  The facial expressions of everyone standing in the vicinity when the first blow of this battle is landed were perhaps the highlight of the entire issue.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, especially when your bluff is being called, and that panel alone sells that idea absolutely.

After event fatigue had fully set in following last year’s Fear Itself (which, no offense to Matt Fraction, fell short of expectations), I swore I’d never drop $3.99 an issue on another “event” book again.  Despite being highly skeptical of the idea of Avengers Vs. X-Men, I have to say I’m impressed so far and actually looking forward to where this goes from here.

STORY:  8/10
ART:  9.5/10 

Review: Carnage U.S.A. #4 – Venom Assembles

Carnage U.S.A. #4 of 5
Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Clayton Crain

Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain’s Carnage U.S.A. begins to wind down this month as  Spider-Man rallies Doverton’s survivors and Venom joins the fray.

Last issue, Captain America was able to break free of the Carnage symbiote’s control long enough to call for help from Venom (who is now a member of the Secret Avengers if you’re out of the loop).  Of course, Venom shows up this issue right as the government task force powered by the de-amalgamated Hybrid symbiote is failing and Carnage is about to tear Spider-Man’s eyes out through his mask (while promising it will be “like your skull is givin’ birth!”).

Unfortunately, Spider-Man stops Venom from blowing Carnage’s head off, giving Carnage a moment to regain the upper hand (and control of Captain America, Wolverine, Hawkeye, and the Thing) before Tanis Nieves (AKA the most recent addition to Marvel’s long list of symbiote characters, Scorn) uses a bulldozer to push both Carnage and Venom into a…silo of some sort? Whatever it is, it causes the symbiotes to leave both men and run off, and leaves Venom’s host, Flash Thompson, in a compromising situation with mass murderer Cletus Kasady.

If my description of the plot sounds a bit chaotic, that’s because this issue moved along at breakneck speed. That’s not to say the writing suffered–it didn’t. Wells’ Carnage gets more and more maniacal with every issue he writes the character, and his Spider-Man stays well in-line with the “No One Dies” status quo Dan Slott has set for the character.

Most of the backgrounds remain relatively sparse, but that’s to be expected when each frame is painted by hand on a monthly title and features the amount of character detail that Crain includes here. It really works in his favor that this story is set in a small Midwest town because there isn’t really anything to see in a place like that, anyways.

I’m excited to see how this one wraps up (and hopefully get more of an explanation for that big silo thing).

STORY: 9/10
ART: 9/10

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Review: Amazing Spider-Man #680 – In space, no one can hear you thwip!

Amazing Spider-Man #680
Writers: Dan Slott & Chris Yost
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli [Pencils], Klaus Janson [Inks], and Frank D’Armata [Color]

Mayor J. Jonah Jameson’s son, Col. John Jameson, is performing repairs outside of the Horizon Labs space station Apogee 1 when suddenly he loses communication with the Horizon Labs science team on Earth–as well as his dad, who is visiting the lab.

As is typical, Jonah flips out and the team discovers that all systems on the station are failing.  As is also typical, Peter Parker rushes off in typical Peter Parker fashion, as he knows the Fantastic Four and space emergencies are their forté.

Of course, the Parker luck plays its hand and the only one home is the recently-back-from-the-dead-though-he-never-really-died Human Torch, who Spidey catches in the middle of a… somewhat compromising situation.  I won’t spoil it here, but it’s fairly amusing and all ties into Johnny taking the night off to catch up on all of the pop culture events he missed while he was “dead.”

Anyhow, Spidey convinces a less-than-serious Torch to tag along to the space station with him, where they discover something “Sinister” is afoot…

Overall, this is another stellar issue of Amazing Spider-Man.  Am I surprised that Dan Slott had help from Chris Yost with writing this?  Not really.  He’s been putting together the huge “Ends of the Earth” storyline featuring the return of the Sinister Six and the potential death of Doctor Octopus. (Yeah, I get it.  They killed Doc Ock in the ’90s during the “Clone Saga,” too.  That death, however, was pretty cheap and undeserving of a character who rivals Green Goblin as Spider-Man’s biggest enemy.)  Anyhow, the writing here has the perfect balance between humor and seriousness, not letting the one-upsmanship and one-liners between Spidey and the Torch overshadow the gravity of the plot.

Giuseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson, and Frank D’Armata do a great job of conveying all of this in their art, as well.  Jonah’s bug-eyed expression of panicked rage on page 4 perfectly captures the emotions of a parent whose son is in grave danger, especially when you factor in that Jonah is still probably grieving his recently-murdered wife, Marla.  In fact, practically every panel in this issue featuring Jonah is a hit.  Hell, this whole issue is gorgeous.

If you weren’t already excited for “Ends of the Earth,” the panels of Doc Ock in this issue might change that.  Never before has he looked so menacing.  If this is just the lead-in to that story, you really have to wonder how big the endgame is.

STORY: 9.5/10
ART: 9.5/10

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Review: Carnage U.S.A. #3 – Symbiote dogs and moral dilemmas

Carnage U.S.A. #3 of 5
Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Clayton Crain

When Cletus Kasady, aka the symbiote-enhanced mass murderer Carnage, takes over a small Colorado town and compromises an Avengers task force, there’s only one thing the government can do–and it doesn’t involve napalm.

They assemble a top secret, symbiote-enhanced task force of their own.

Last issue, we were introduced to said task force, powered by the four de-amalgamated symbiotes that once comprised Hybrid.  The coolest among these is the symbiote-enhanced military dog Lasher, who has a confrontation with Carnage’s pet, the Doppelganger (remember him?), at the beginning of the issue.

Zeb Wells keeps the dark tone in place throughout, with Kasady–dressed as a priest–holding much of the town’s population in a church and demanding they each remove their teeth with pliers as a sacrifice to him.  Meanwhile, he’s demanded that the wife of the town’s sheriff, leader of a small camp of survivors where Spider-Man has found refuge, kill her husband lest he should kill their children.

Of course, he’s also using them as puppets via the Carnage symbiote, and Spider-Man intervenes as soon as things take a turn for the ugly.  This creates a moral dilemma, though, as Spider-Man finds himself having to fight off two Carnage-possessed children.  To Spider-Man’s relief, Kasady becomes angered that Sheriff Morell’s wife still won’t kill him and calls the sheriff’s family back to the church.

If writers had created these types of deranged moral dilemmas back in the ’90s when Carnage was first created, perhaps he wouldn’t have been so one-dimensional.

On that note, Carnage isn’t going to kill the sheriff’s kids himself if he can scar someone else’s psyche in the process.  Attempting to get the symbiote-possessed Captain America to do the dirty work backfires, though, as Cap fights back and is able to free himself from Carnage’s control long enough to radio for help from “Code Name 4563.”

Given recent developments in Secret Avengers (Carnage U.S.A. takes place after the events of Secret Avengers #23), fans probably already know who Cap was calling in…

Overall, this series is still moving along at a great pace with enough nods to (and improvements upon) the past to keep longtime readers engaged while not alienating anyone new to the characters.  Crain’s artwork still fits the story’s dark tone, although a lot of his backgrounds are very plain, if there’s anything in them at all.  Of course, this story is set in the Midwest, where there really isn’t much to see to begin with, and Crain paints everything, making extremely detailed backgrounds in every panel something that would be quite a bit more time-consuming.

This is still required reading for any 90s kids who like to go on and on about how awesome Carnage is, or anyone who hated symbiotes after Marvel stuffed them down everyone’s throats during that same time period.

STORY: 9/10
ART: 9/10

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Review: Carnage U.S.A. #2, I’m Slowly Forgetting That ‘Maximum Carnage’ Ever Happened…

Carnage U.S.A. #2
Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Clayton Crain

The Carnage symbiote, after devouring all of the cattle in the Midwest town of Doverton’s meat packing plant to increase its mass, has taken a small town hostage via its water supply for its host — the psychotic mass murderer Cletus Kasady.  A team of Avengers including Captain America, Wolverine, Hawkeye and the Thing, in an attempt to put an end to the terror, were compromised and placed under the symbiote’s influence with the exception of Spider-Man, who has found refuge among a group of the town’s survivors.

What’s the government to do, aside from, you know, napalming the town and everyone in it to contain the disaster?

They put together a task force of their own symbiotes, of course.  Unfortunately for Uncle Sam, however, heavy hitters like Venom (AWOL — See current issues of Venom), Anti-Venom (Inactive — See recent “Spider-Island” event story in Amazing Spider-Man) and Toxin (Missing — You’re on your own here, kids) are unavailable.

That’s not to say there are no options whatsoever.  After all, a new symbiote (Scorn, aka Dr. Tanis Nieves) was “born” in Zeb Wells’ first Carnage mini-series last year.  And it turns out that symbiote is a hybrid of symbiote and machine, allowing Nieves to “form sympathetic bonds with technology.”  (Yeah, I had a hard time suspending disbelief for the whole ‘hyrbid of organic creature and machine’ bit, too, but this is a comic book, so deal with it.)

Don’t think Scorn is going to the dance alone, though.  Back in the swingin’ symbiote heyday that was the 1990s and early 2000s, there was another symbiote called Hybrid (though I can’t recall at the moment which symbiote it was an offspring of…Who do I look like, the Maury of comicdom?).  It was an amalgam of 4 different symbiotes, though it was — as conveniently explained in four pages of this issue — “de-amalgamated” to be put to use by a four-member special forces group, a by-product of the success (or lack thereof) of “Project Venom.”

Each member of this special forces group trained its symbiote, rendered catatonic by the aforementioned “de-amalgamation” — to serve a specific purpose in the battlefield.  The coolest of the bunch?  A symbiote bonded to a military dog called Lasher.

Anyways, that’s enough synopsis babble.  You want the details and whether or not this is worth your hard-earned $3.99 (or less, if your local comic shop offers discounts to regulars like mine does).

If you love Carnage, darker Spider-Man stories, Zeb Wells’ writing, Clayton Crain’s art or all of the above, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Wells, who I praised briefly in my review of this week’s Amazing Spider-Man #677, really gets how to handle a dark Spider-Man story and manages to make Carnage a deeper, somewhat-more-interesting character while he’s at it.  (The guy is creepily longing for a family!  It’s…mildly disturbing and minutely sympathy-inducing…)  I know I give Wells a ton of praise on his regular Avenging Spider-Man series for being a fun, light-hearted Spidey team-up book, but these dark stories are where he really hits the ball out of the park.  Again, I hope Dan Slott stays on the flagship Amazing Spider-Man for as long as possible, but if he ever leaves, I want to see Wells get the job.

Once again, Clayton Crain’s individually painted panels really fit the tone of the story.  I know people who complain that he doesn’t have much detail in his backgrounds, and maybe that’s part of why this story was set in a tiny Midwest town, but it’s the characters that really make the story.  The facial expressions on the townspeople alone really drive home the despair of the situation.

Two issues into this five-part mini-series and, unlike the majority of Carnage stories from the ’90s, I’m not hoping it ends yet — especially now that a private zoo stocked with lions, gorillas and other wildlife was briefly mentioned this issue.  Like that’s totally not going to come into play later on…

Story:  9/10
Art:  9/10

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Review: Carnage U.S.A. #1, Midwest Mayhem!

Carnage U.S.A. #1
Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Clayton Crain

Before last year’s Carnage mini-series (also by Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain), I pretty much cared very little for the character.  He was one of Spider-Man’s most one-dimensional villains:  A serial killer who ended up with a symbiote spawned by the Venom symbiote, which basically allowed him to kill on a more massive level.  It’s a pretty basic villain archetype, as he’s just a guy who likes to kill people.

Anyways, that series was essentially what the “Maximum Carnage” storyline of the ’90s could have been if it were done right.  As much as Wells is good at writing a light-hearted, fun Spidey book over on Avenging Spider-Man, the guy writes AMAZING dark Spidey stories.  For the best evidence, you need look no further than his “Shed” story arc from Amazing Spider-Man last year where Curt Connors ate his son Billy after transforming into the Lizard once again.

As we learned in Carnage, Cletus Kasady was alive and well, as was the Carnage symbiote.  Long thought dead after the Sentry had torn him in half in space during an Avengers storyline a few years ago, the symbiote had actually kept Kasady alive as they floated in Earth’s orbit.  Eventually, a weapons designer with little foresight and no integrity had the symbiote and Kasady retrieved from orbit, Kasady was held in a secret facility after being given a robotic lower half, and the symbiote was used for new technology…until it reunited with Kasady, allowing a typical Carnage killing spree.

The two escaped from Spider-Man and Iron Man at the end of that series, and in Carnage U.S.A., we find that Carnage has taken his latest murderous rampage to the Midwest and claimed the entire town of Doverton, Colorado as hostages.

Of course, Spider-Man and several Avengers — namely Captain America, Wolverine, Hawkeye and the Thing — show up, but that might not be enough to deal with a serial killer who’s using a baby as a shield and has symbiotic tendrils around the throats of an entire small town.

After having not cared about Carnage or the majority of the symbiotic characters since I was about 9 or 10, it’s been nice seeing Wells breathe new life into the character and make him interesting again instead of just a symbiotic Joker knock-off.  That, combined with Remender’s revamp of Venom, has made the last year somewhat interesting.  Of course, Clayton Crain’s painted (PAINTED!) artwork makes the story that much better, given his ability to bring out a gritty realism in his work.  These panels are absolutely beautiful.

If this series turns out anything like that last one, it’s only going to get crazier and darker from here.  Here’s hoping the detail of the artwork doesn’t hold up the schedule like on the last book.

Story: 9/10
Art: 9.5/10 

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Review Double-Shot: Amazing Spider-Man #672 & Venom #8

Amazing Spider-Man #672
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Humberto Ramos, Edgar Delgado, Victor Olazaba & Karl Kesel

Venom #8
Writer:  Rick Remender
Art:  Tom Fowler & John Rauch

When we last saw Flash Thompson in Venom #8, he was at the bedside of his just-deceased father with his blogger-journalist-girlfriend Betty Brant.  The drama of his father’s ailment played out over the past several issues, with Flash wondering why he should care.  After all, his dad was an abusive drunk who, if you think about it, is the cause of Flash being such a douche earlier in life when he was the constant high school tormentor of now-friend Peter Parker.

Anyhow, as Betty hands Flash a letter his father wrote to him in his last lucid moments, he receives a call from good ol’ Uncle Sam letting him know that Venom is needed to kill the Queen (who was revealed several issues of Amazing Spider-Man ago to be the true villain behind Spider-Island).  Flash gives Betty — who of course doesn’t know that her boyfriend is secretly moonlighting for the government as Venom because, hey, he got his legs blown off in the war — the excuse that he needs to run off to find a safe evac point for her.

As Flash goes off to fight the Queen, the contents of the letter are displayed in captions throughout most of the rest of the issue, revealing that the elder Thompson actually regretted his actions as a father and was, indeed, proud of his son.  Unfortunately, the letter will never be read because it falls out of the Venom suit mid-battle and lands in a fire.  Sorry, Flash…Looks like you’ll have to go through life still believing your dad was an alcoholic asshole who never cared about you.  Although it feels like this gets played out often in storytelling, it’s a nice plot device that Remender is wise to use in this situation.

The fight between Venom and Queen shuffles through a lot of dominance double-entendres until eventually, the now-cured Captain America (remember, he was the Spider-King for a bit) shows up to aid Venom and remind the Queen that there are laws against public fornication in the city of New York.

This leads us right into the beginning of Amazing Spider-Man #672.  Part of the brilliance of how this event has been set up is that you don’t have to read every tie-in to get it.  If you aren’t following Venom, the opening pages of ASM essentially recap the last moments of Venom and Cap’s fight with the Queen before she mutates into a giant spider beast (complete with weird, random boobs!).

Fade to Peter Parker and his clone, Kaine — who he cured in the last issue — still in Horizon Labs as they hear people approaching, namely Mr. Fantastic and Pete’s Horizon Labs coworkers.  Pete takes off the Spidey suit and gives it to Kaine because the scruffier clone of Peter Parker is just going to be confusing to everyone.  There’s some great back-and-forth between Pete, Kaine and the rest of the supporting cast as they round the corner to find Pete standing next to Spider-Man, as Mr. Fantastic, the Avengers and Mary Jane are the only ones who know he’s Spider-Man.

After this issue, and pending any random surprises, I think it’s safe to say everyone has a good idea of who the new Scarlet Spider is going to be.  Of course, putting Kaine in a Spidey outfit and having him run off to save the day with Pete would also be a good way to confuse readers.

As Peter, Kaine and several Marvel heroes try to stop the now-giant-spider-creature-with-weird-boobs Queen, Mary Jane says something to Peter that leads to him realizing how to save everyone.  Essentially, being in mental control of all the spider monsters she’s created from the entire population of Manhattan Island has made the Queen a god, so if Spider-Man somehow cures them all, she becomes much less powerful.

I won’t spoil anything any further, but it’s really quite ingenious of Dan Slott to keep pulling up random plot points from past issues.  It really gives the book a feeling of consistency.  He deserves even more praise for continuing to throw fuel the “Restore the Peter/MJ Romance” fires.  (Seriously…Pete forgot entirely about current girlfriend Carlie Cooper after she turned into a spider monster, and instead of going off to find her after he cures everyone, he has a moment with Mary Jane on top of the Empire State Building.)  He’s building up some good potential conflicts and drama here.

If anything, the only thing that really jumbled this story up was the overall amount of characters.  With so much going on at one time, it sometimes makes things a bit jumbled and harder to follow.  Venom flowed a bit better this issue because its felt more focused, but this is not unexpected in an event storyline, where you have a macro-focused main book and micro-focused tie-ins.

Ramos’ work continues to pop, as well, and that’s equally due to the fantastic coloring of Edgar Delgado.  The same can be said for the Fowler/Rauch team over in Venom.

All that considered, I’ll be surprised if there isn’t some sort of heated debate on message boards about the sex references by Slott and Remender in both books, as well as the boobs on the giant spider-creature version of the Queen.  While the spider-creature boobs did weird me out a bit, the sex references advanced the story and added character depth.  Both of these books carry at least a “T” rating, and there is the entire Marvel Adventures line if you can’t handle that.

Amazing Spider-Man #672
Story:  8.5/10
Art:  9/10

Venom #8
Story:  9/10
Art:  9/10 

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