Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s revamp of Venom as a character and franchise has taken the comics industry by storm over the past year and a half. Absolute Carnage was a massive climax of that first year of Venom stories, with spinoffs and tie-ins and event shenanigans galore. Now that the whole thing is over, we can finally sit back and experience this massive Venom story as a unit, rather than as the glue binding all these disparate symbiote stories together.
Right off the bat, the prose in this story is distinct and memorable, with an immediate sense of the scale of the threat being faced. Stegman draws gorgeous splash pages filled with some of the most distinctive moments of the last year of Venom stories, before switching to the perspectives of Eddie and Dylan Brock – showing just how terrified these two are of their enemy. The threat of Knull and Carnage’s ultimate goal are explained quickly – enough for new readers to understand the gravity of the situation, but not so long that folks reading Venom feel like it’s repetitive.
It only takes a few pages to give all the necessary exposition for this event before Cates and Stegman dive into the story – there’s an emotional reunion between Eddie and Venom, but it’s short lived as we finally get to see the face and body of Carnage in all of its horror and glory. There’s a fantastic buildup to the reveal, it’s tense and paced perfectly. This level of pacing continues for the rest of the event – near every major reveal feels significant. The middle of the story is a bit of a macguffin hunt as it quickly becomes about gathering codices, but it never really feels that way while you’re reading it. There’s a sense of desperation, and everything that begins as a hunt for a codex turns into a fight where it genuinely feels like Carnage will win.
Now this is an event, and not just an arc of Venom – that means there’s certain expectations that come with it, most notably the appearance of the greater Marvel Universe. Cates kicks the event off by bringing in Spider-Man (both of them), and while they’re written really well, it’s not until midway through the volume that the scale of the conflict feels tangible. When Wolverine, Captain America, The Thing, and The Hulk show up to help Venom, it finally begins to feel like the massive event that was promised. Cates and Stegman do a fantastic job delivering with these characters, too – the usage of Bruce Banner is fantastic, and Cates has a solid voice for pretty much everyone. We get to see the Avengers fighting off hordes of Carnage’s symbiote spawn, and it truly feels like Carnage has taken over New York. The only negative about these guest stars is one moment where all the characters from the tie-ins come to join the fight, as the moment lands awkwardly if you haven’t read the tie-ins. It still works, just less strongly.
Throughout all of this massive conflict, the core of the story is something far more personal. Dylan Brock believes he is Eddie’s brother, when he is actually Eddie’s son. This is something brought up early on that continues to be important as the story goes on. When Carnage learns this for himself, the conflict turns from something involving gods and monsters into one about family and fatherhood. This is potentially the most personal conflict Venom has ever been in and it truly feels that way.
Absolute Carnage is really the gold standard for what a Venom event should be, and honestly what a Marvel event should be. While it could have been altered a bit to be an arc of the Venom ongoing, Cates and Stegman proved that this deserved the ties into the larger Marvel universe. The stakes were gigantic, the characters were written incredibly well, and there was a personal undercurrent to the whole thing to cement it as a story about Eddie Brock just as much as it is about Venom and Carnage.