If you’ve been following Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s fantastic Venom, you know that “God is coming”. You also know that “God” is really the Symbiote deity and scorn, Knull, who has chosen the newly resurrected Cletus Kasady — Carnage — as his instrument in enacting a horrible will against the Venom Symbiote, Eddie Brock, and just about everyone else on Earth in the coming Absolute Carnage event.
Unfortunately, and although it’s fairly well executed, writer Frank Tieri and artist Danilo Beyruth’s Web of Venom: Cult of Carnage adds very little to that premise in the lead up.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
A new terror has risen on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, stirring in the depths of space. But evil is also rising on Earth, claiming one victim at a time in the name of the killer called CARNAGE
This mostly true, no doubt. In fact, Cult is one of the goriest, more daring, and scary Marvel books I’ve read in a good while (probably just outside of some stuff that’s happened in Venom or its other spin-offs). There’re desiccated corpses, all of that red, goopy Symbiote goodness, cult rituals, zoos of dead animals, and more. It’s a lot. Nevertheless, it’s exactly what I wanted and expected after seeing the cover image months ago in solicitations. Tieri clearly loves the opportunity to play with the aesthetics here, and at the very least the set dressing and tonality is exquisitely well done.
That promised “new” terror, however, is not new at all. To act like it is, which Tieri does again and again — teasing out details and reveals we are already intimately familiar with (the reveal of Carnage, a cult to him, even Shriek) — is a failure to trust the reader, instead taking an opportunity to lean into the arguably more “fun” elements of the story in gore and horror, but not the more important ones.
Those important ones being the connection between Carnage U.S.A. and the coming Absolute Carnage. Namely, John Jameson (Man-Wolf) and Misty Knight. Given that the setting here is Doverton, the same setting as U.S.A., and given that the narrative makes early moves to establish Jameson’s importance in it, it’s very disappointing that this entire issue instead comes across as getting characters into place for the main event instead.
Similarly, Beyruth’s artistic effort is effective enough, but somewhat transitory. Given the opportunity to really relish in the gore and viscera, the shock and horror, one would expect a lot more expressiveness and weight but characters are surprisingly flat, divorced from the scene, and long sketchy lines make it difficult to tell individual forms from one another. Gross, gory scenes still pack a significant amount of impact and surprise (there’s really no replacement for seeing a menagerie of animals without their spines) and the denouement — feverish cult antics — is scary and unwieldy, but there could be a lot more here that isn’t explored.
Ultimately, there’s very little here that we haven’t seen before. God may be coming, and this may be new to him, but it isn’t to us. A stronger lean into the specific things that make Misty and John’s contributions to this story would’ve helped immensely, but as it is, we’ve got a story we’re largely familiar with told through another lens. Well done, but surprisingly unnecessary feeling in a time when Symbiote stories have never felt more vital.