Carnage is certainly one of the more out of left field books that Marvel is currently publishing, and this issue continues that tradition in spades. With second-person narration, unholy conceptions, and sapphic admissions, Carnage #14 shows us that writer Gerry Conway is not going to let mainstream expectations dictate what happens in his and artist Mike Perkins’s book, for better or for worse.
Carnage himself shares the limelight this issue with Man-Wolf, aka John Jameson, III. This issue opens with a killer splash panel of Man-Wolf charging through the jungle. If Marvel ever decided to make a Man-Wolf book in their future (and it’s not as unlikely as you think, the next big event is January’s “Monsters Unleashed”), they would be sorely mistaken if they put anyone but Perkins on the title. Not only are his lines feral and kinetic, but the rippling musculature of Man-Wolf is not lost under the softer, less defined lines used to denote his fur. A quick Google for X-Men’s Beast will show that this isn’t always something that artists can accurately portray. In fact, this might be one of Perkins’s best issues as far his line work is concerned. From the MC Escher inspired inner sanctum of the Chthonic temple, to the monstrous Obrien, to the smaller moments between Manuela and Victoria, Perkins’s pencils really make this title shine and gives vitality needed to make a visually believable horror comic.
Conway narrates the segments featuring Man-Wolf in the second-person, as I mentioned. Though the second-person narrative is not completely unheard of in comics, it is certainly not a very common choice and is rarely seen at all outside of interactive fiction (Choose Your Own Adventure Novels). EC Comics, a legendary comic company known for their genre comics – Tales from the Crypt being perhaps the most culturally recognizable of the bunch – frequently used second-person narrative in their stories for a variety of effects. EC Comics’s influence is far-reaching, so it is quite possible that Conway is using second-person narration in the style of or as an homage to these older horror comics. But in the vacuum of Carnage #14, it stands out as a unique stylistic choice that does not appear to serve much merit to the actual narrative. The “you” refrenced in the narration is the wolf half of the Man-Wolf hybrid. It would have been more effective, in my opinion, if the “you” referred to the man half, so that the reader could better empathize with Jameson’s struggle to regain control.
The middle section of the comic gives us more of what we’ve been seeing for the past few issues. The Anti-Carnage Task Force wanders through the jungle, recaps their situation, and gets attacked. The familiarity of it is broken up by Man-Wolf’s intervention and subsequent recapture, but it still smacks of more or less of the same. Meanwhile, Carnage continues his decent into the temple with Raze. The problem at large is how fragmented the sequences feel; right as Conway takes one step forward with the story, the focus is shifted to different party and we begin the process again of recap-setup-event, but the resolution of those events never fully settle with the reader. This contributes to the agonizingly slow (not to be confused with tense) pace that has plagued the book from almost the start. Peppered throughout are bits of intrigue though, most notably is a quick insight into Carnage’s mind and motivation.
With a large swath of these “end of the world” style stories, where some person is clearly trying to bring forth an apocalypse-event, the reader has to take for granted that one person is the clear-cut “bad guy” and another is the clear-cut “good guy” trying to stop them. The tension from the story revolves around the good guy’s attempts to stop the bad guy; rarely do these stories dive into motivations or morals.
However, in almost what seems like a throw-away line, we have Carnage reveal that the reason he’s bought into the Darkhold quest is not because he wants to see mass destruction, per se (though, that desire is what has allowed him to clear any moral hurtle he’s run across so far), but because Chthon has chosen him specifically. If we look back to Carnage #12, we see that Cletus Kasady wasn’t a kid that got very many hugs growing up. The mission to deliver the Darkhold has become a personal one for Kasady. It serves as a way to find purpose and meaning in his life, as well as to serve and gain the approval of an authority figure that matches Kasady’s own world view. To put it bluntly, Chthon becomes the father figure that Kasady wishes (perhaps subconsciously) he had. Not to play armchair psychologist, but it is as if by placing an authoritative figure in power that shares his ideals, Carnage legitimizes what he has always stood for, even if establishing any kind of order goes against his chaotic nature. Even if he doesn’t succeed, by virtue of being tapped for such a task, Carnage finds approval for once in his life.
The issue ends with a call back to the Grey Ridge Mine from Carnage’s first story arc. Call backs are really not something this story needs to put a lot of focus on, but here we are anyway. With the exact same set up, one might guess that there will be some sort of twist so that we do not get the exact same scenario as before – cultist mistakenly thinking they will be the ones doing the sacrificing. The cover for the next issue shows Carnage standing before a large tentacled shadow, so I think what we see is exactly what we’re going to get: a replay of the first arc. And while that is somewhat disappointing, it’s not fair to preemptively judge a story, so all I can say is that this cliffhanger leaves much to be desired, given the history of retreading in this book.
This is a title that never seems to end, with each passing “To be continued” delivering the same mixed feeling of expectation and surprise. It’s not that I am disliking this story, but as the issue count grows, Carnage starts to wear out its welcome. With Chthon on the way (as the solicits promise), hopefully the last two(?) issues will have the typical dynamic shaken up enough to give this title a bang of an ending. That being said, there is a lot of room to play with Carnage’s daddy issues, and while that is not the most original well to draw from, it would at least be a welcomed change of pace.