Carnage, by Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins, officially entered into unchartered waters this week, and no, that’s not just a pun about its nautically-themed cover. Carnage #6 kicked off the book’s second full arc — an accomplishment that many probably would have laughed at when Marvel first announced last year that this series was going to exist. After inundating us with the character in the 1990s (some would go as far as to say suffocating us), Marvel would eventually find that Cletus Kasady and his serial-killing symbiote worked best in small doses (think five issue minis). So you can’t blame a person for being a tad skeptical that this new Carnage series was truly an “ongoing,” regardless of what was initially promised when it launched.
Putting aside all sausage-making and historical lessons, Carnage #6 kicks off the second arc in style by delivering a visually arresting issue that also introduces one of the most interesting supporting characters of the Conway/Perkins run with the 16-year-old Jabulile Van Scotter.
As enjoyable as the first five issues of this series were, perhaps the book’s biggest flaw related to its supporting cast. Beyond the cast of characters that were already well-established in the Marvel Universe (including Kasady, Eddie Brock and Col. John Jameson), Carnage mostly consisted of one-dimensional stooges or whack-jobs who solely existed to serve as fodder for the book’s titular villain. None of these characters necessarily detracted from the quality of the story, but when propped up next to a character like Jabulile, the lack of characterization becomes more apparent.
But before this starts reading as a back-handed compliment, let me be clear in saying Carnage #6’s introduction and development of Jabulile warrants praise without caveats or conditions. She kicks off the storyline as the issue’s sole focus — which is eerily similar to how other new characters in a Carnage series are typically introduced before being unceremoniously hacked to bits by Kasady. However, unlike some of these past red shirts who came and left the Marvel Universe in the blink of an eye, Jabulile’s intro is accompanied with some gravitas. Conway’s use of language is at its most elegant in these passages, as the young woman describes that point where the sea meets the horizon, while Perkins’s gorgeous pencils add to the overall sense of tranquility.
Still the book’s creators stay true to the old seaman’s adage, “red sky in the morning give sailors fair warning” when Kasady, and his newly acquired Darkhold, cross paths with Jabulile’s boat. Conway’s script further evolves the character as we learn that in addition to being introspective and poetic, she’s also very selfless and caring. It was at that moment I felt a pit forming in my stomach — characters introduced in the first few pages of a Carnage storyline rarely see the end of it, yet we’ve never had a character as inherently likeable and well-crafted as Jabulile debut in the first few pages of a Carnage storyline. And thus that’s where Carnage #6 grabs firmly to the reader’s emotions and refuses to let go until the final visual.
In the midst of a tangibly tense altercation between Jabulile and Carnage, the issue does feed the reader a steady dose of exposition to further demonstrate how Kasady’s status quo has been so significantly altered by the appearance of the Darkhold (which, for those playing the home game, is apparently an old macguffin from the Bronze Age that Conway dug out for this series). It would be really wonderful in a series that is filled with snappy, off-beat ideas from Conway, and top-notch visuals from Perkins, if we could see some more of Carnage’s new power-set in action rather than having to mine what’s different from large swaths of dialogue, but that’s picking nits at this stage for an otherwise stellar kickoff to a new arc.