“The Silence of the Lambs” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” can both be classified as “horror” movies, though both clearly represent two wildly different takes on the genre. The former chooses to terrify its audience via psychological horror whereas the latter provides screams via copious doses of blood and guts. Both films definitely have their place in the world, but their respective audiences may not be composed from the same pool of tastes. And that’s okay.
The aforementioned horror movie analogy can be applied to Marvel’s newest Carnage series, written by Gerry Conway, with art by Mike Perkins. Like every Carnage series that precedes it, the comic stars a monster with a knack for killing without a conscience. But Conway and Perkins have a totally different approach to Carnage/Cletus Kasady when compared to their creative predecessors — an approach that is even more apparent in the new book’s second issue. Rather than focusing on blood and guts like Carnage USA or Superior Carnage, Carnage relegates most of the mayhem off-panel, all while still managing to keep tensions high a la “The Silence of the Lambs.”
As mentioned in this site’s Carnage #1 review, this approach to storytelling is a clear throwback to the classic monster comics and movies of yesteryear. Prior stories would show Carnage lopping of the head of an adversary, blood spouting from his neck like Old Faithful, but Conway and Perkins instead choose to have a character happen upon one of Carnage’s victims, the body “unrecognizable” due to how it was mangled by the monster. A person’s ultimate opinion on such an approach might come down to whether or not he or she likes comics soaked red with blood, but for this reviewer specifically, going the cerebral route with Carnage comes across as fresh and exciting.
A similar mood of slow-burning tension is established in the very opening sequence of the comic when a lone soldier is seen weeping about “dying alone” in a coal mine that was destroyed by sonic blasts designed to take down Carnage and the monster himself slowly reveals himself from the shadows a page later, descending upon the man with a quip about his imminent death. The scene then cuts away before the reader gets to see the actual kill shot. It’s such an effective bit of horror that’s masterfully rendered by Perkins and enhanced even moreso by Andy Troy’s dark and ominous coloring. It’s the kind of storytelling that’s hard to come by in today’s comics – a moment that doesn’t hold the hand of the reader and instead requires the individual to use his imagination to picture what actually happened to the poor unfortunate soul who was abandoned in a mine shaft with a monster like Carnage.
But beyond the comic’s mood and aesthetic, Carnage #2 also effectively builds upon its own story through its smart pacing and characterization. This is especially notable since, in addition to the titular villain, Conway and Perkins are working with a cast of characters that includes Col. John Jameson, Eddie Brock (who is still being told to “shut up” every time he opens his mouth) and a cavalry of government stooges who run the risk of becoming faceless, personality-free drones in a story about a monster that actually gets very little face-time. Instead, Conway starts pulling the curtain back and revealing the dark underbellies of some of these characters, creating intrigue and drama in the process. The creative team has also pulled off the somewhat surprising feat of making the man who turns into a werewolf (Jameson), and the man who is bonded to a killer symbiote (Brock) into the two most likeable, cheer-worthy characters in the series.
Carnage #2 ends on a somewhat predictable-yet-fun cliffhanger ending that should segue nicely into the next entry of the series. The only drawback of this very tightly-knit story is that there’s seemingly only so many places Conway and Perkins can take this cast of characters before the series hits either an organic endpoint or is rebooted entirely with a brand new premise. Granted, the “big two” publishers are hitting the reset or cancellation buttons on series at an unprecedented rate these days, but considering Carnage was promoted by Marvel as an ongoing and not another miniseries, it’s disappointing to think that such a spirited blast from the past has an expiration date that’s approaching sooner instead of later.