It’s been a wild and at times unending ride from start to finish, but after fourteen months we’ve come to the end of Gerry Conway and Mike Perkins’s tale with Carnage #16. The body count rises, symbiotes change hands, gods come from the machine, and we get one final “shut up, Brock” to tie the series together.
Carnage bookends itself by narrating the final issue from Carnage’s viewpoint, mirroring the same choice with the first issue. We don’t see much of a change in Carnage over the course of the series, he’s still his hateful, violent self, but this wasn’t about Carnage per se. So while the narration doesn’t carry the typical arc we see in fiction, it does serve the purpose of showing us Carnage’s end game. Not to dive too deep into armchair psychology, but ultimately Carnage’s goal was to create a father figure that reflected his own warped worldview and to have that figure bestow a boon that would both benefit Carnage while also asserting his outlook as legitimate. It benefits the story by giving Carnage a deeper reasoning for summoning a “biblical apocalypse,” but I wish, given that Carnage’s motives are not new information, that it played more into the struggle between Chthon and Jubulile.
Last issue we saw Eddie Brock giving the Toxin symbiote to Jubulile in order to save her. Here she appears as some sort of angel capable of flight and a host of other things typically not associated with symbiotes. The explanation is paper thin; Jubulile states that the symbiote enhances what is within the host and then implies that her new form is because the symbiote is enhancing the power she gains from her connection with Carnage/Chthon. After another spell is cast that powers her up further, Toxin/Jubulile grows medieval style armor and blasts Chthon away with some pyrotechnics. It might be my personal preference, but I always want more dueling ideologies in my “final battle” style endings, and I think it is a fair criticism to make since Conway spent the first few pages of Carnage #16 restating Carnage’s own ideology.
The issue ends with Claire Dixon de-powered and slain, the status of the Toxin symbiote in question, Kasady contained, and the Anti-Carnage Task Force going their separate ways. The story concludes and I’m resending off this series with a shrug. It seems counter to almost everything we’ve said about Carnage so far, but it almost seems as if it is ending too soon.
Perkins has not missed a single beat this entire run and it seemed like Conway was just starting to hit his stride and unfold some of the layers and connections between the characters in the Anti-Carnage Task Force. Not to retreat on old complaints, but I think that was the biggest miss of the series; the Task Force, who are the protagonists of the story, felt thin and dispensable. The dispensability is supposed to allow for more tension, but to me the Task Force never had enough time to grow on the reader as characters. Eddie Brock was untouchable (and to a lesser extent Man-Wolf), but there’s no reason why Conway could not have expanded on some of the other characters and toyed with a little more peril to make this series more exciting and suspenseful.
As expected, Mike Perkins really brings this issue home. Chthon is huge and imposing, Carnage is monstrous, Jubulile looks godly, and all of is packed in tightly, but paneled in such a way that allows his spreads room to breath without hogging real estate. Letterer Joe Sabino deserves a shout-out as well. Chthon’s bubble-less dialogue is a neat visual showcasing his chaotic nature that really sells his god-status by creating a striking visual difference between him and everyone else.
Ultimately, Carnage ended with little fanfare but plenty of artistic pizazz. The series certainly had its highs and its lows, but ultimately I’m left a little frustrated by what we ended up getting. For a book that was essentially about hunting down Carnage, there never was much feeling of a hunt, and the urgency of the task weighed heavily on telling the reader how urgent the matter was, rather than the reader seeing the stakes of leaving Carnage to his own devices. There were times where this did not weigh true, like when we saw Carnage tearing through Indonesia, but even those segments had their issues. But I don’t meant this to sound overly critical. Carnage was a decent series that offered a different spin than what Marvel has been producing the past few years, and it succeeded to tell the story it set out to tell, it just didn’t pass with flying colors.