One of the first female Symbiotes, a fan favorite, and having a host with a unique relationship with Eddie Brock, Scream was always bound to be central to Absolute Carnage. Unfortunately, this first issue of her very own tie-in series from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Gerardo Sandoval fails to capture what’s so compelling about the character in favor of connecting her to a larger universe and plot beats.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
THE RETURN OF A CLASSIC SYMBIOTE…AND IT’LL BE A SCREAM! Years ago, Patricia Robertson was unwillingly bonded to the clone of Venom that eventually became Mania, and she’s been living in fear of symbiotes ever since. But she’s also been living with a secret, and with the coming of Carnage, Patricia must take a stand — and will have no choice but to confront her demons head-on!
Now, if that doesn’t sound familiar to readers of Lethal Protector (or the excellent novelization), or keen Venomaniacs who have picked up Scream’s other appearances — that’s because it isn’t. In fact, this issue has much more to do with Daniel Way’s Venom from 2003 than it does with Scream’s original host, Donna Diego, or her gruesome death at the hands of one Eddie Brock. Sure, Donna features momentarily as a skeleton and a voice inside the larger death machine that is Symbiotes aligned with Knull, but this story isn’t hers.
Instead, and regrettably, Bunn utilizes spartan narration and same-y beats from his previous Funeral Pyre tie-in to introduce Patricia Robertson (a former Venom) and Andi Benton (a former Mania) to Scream’s story with diminishing returns — Diego and all her own history with the Symbiote world pushed to the sidelines. The idea of an all-female storyline is a good one for the broader Absolute Carnage event, especially as the central event relies heavily on sometimes overbearing toxic masculinity, but the forced nature of Patricia’s introduction, with little information or reason to grab onto her characterization after a very long absence, holds the idea back. Yes, I know these characters and I recognize them, but the narrative here struggles with introducing a reason to care despite some spooky dialogue and imagery that works well.
Which is to say that isn’t all bad. There’s substantial horror value and genuine fun to be had scenes like Scream emerging from her earthy tomb — a skeleton cloaked in living alien flesh — and the broader Knull worshiping, gore-laden, storyline that Cates and Stegman are laying out well in the main event and Bunn and Sandoval bring those elements to life fantastically.
Sandoval’s style cribs from Stegman’s layouts in the main event — strands of web, silk, hair extending into the darkness only to be greeted by the flash of white teeth and a swirling red logo of a death god — in a way that feels unique and totally the book’s own. Seeing the Scream symbiote lord over a veritable army of Carnage’s own creation is something worth taking stock of, too. The art does well with the relatively limited, although appropriately sinister, story it has to work with, and given more room to run, I can see Sandoval’s Symbiote turning into something worth really appreciating.
Unfortunately, and ultimately, that narrative just isn’t here. A first tie-in issue that I hope to see improve with the two issues to go, but one that I feel is lacking character and definition especially when working with some of the characters that have the most history with Venom of all.