Let’s face it, Absolute Carnage is a terrible name. I cringed when I first heard it. Maximum Carnage was bad enough, but now you’re invoking that oft-maligned story AND giving it an unimaginative name?
Of course, we all should have learned by now, even when things look bleak, you should trust in Donny Cates. The writer who first started to majorly turn Marvel heads with Thanos has spent the last year and a half writing, almost undeniably, the best Venom comics ever made. And Absolute Carnage brought similar acclaim, with the wide-reaching crossover digging into the murky depths of symbiote continuity.
The story covers so much ground, the tie-ins might actually matter! Even the three over-sized one-shots in Absolute Carnage: The Immortal Hulk and Other Tales tell potentially crucial stories, and certainly fit the bill of mining continuity while pushing things forward.
The collection is named after the highest selling parent regular series represented here, The Immortal Hulk, in which writer Al Ewing teaches a master class of using canon to create. If you haven’t been following and are just dipping in here, it frankly may be a little tough to catch up. Apparently Rick Jones is a zombie Abomination and Betty Ross is Red Harpy.
And the corpse of her father has been stolen! This hearkens all the way back to Rick Remender’s Circle of Four Venom story, in which the Red Hulk temporarily wore the symbiote. Bruce Banner is relating all this to … a certain someone, with cameos from a trifecta of Hulk personalities. It’s dark, horror-laced, and psychological, so if you like the regular series, this is probably right up your alley, too.
Artist Filipe Andrade has a scratchy, minimalist style that suits the story, inviting you to lean in and take in more of the unease, against your better judgment. Chris O’Halloran’s colors are also somewhat muted, the right decision for a dark and brooding tale.
Next up is an installment from Peter David’s Symbiote Spider-Man, a series literally built on dancing between the raindrops of continuity. So much so, in this case, that the issue opens with two reprinted pages from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #99 and 100, in which a tourist named Leonard Elkhart is briefly possessed by the Venom symbiote, after it’s been separated from Spider-Man. David then proceeds to weave a serious narrative of how he later fell from grace, thanks to a satisfyingly sinister White Rabbit, before Carnage comes for the codex in his spine.
Francesco Mobili’s modern art is obviously a contrast to the first two pages, but it’s beautiful, expressive, and highly-detailed, with perhaps the most “realistic” looking White Rabbit ever drawn. The colors of Java Tartaglia and Rain Beredo make it all the more grounded, but still manage to capture the supernatural glow of souped-up Carnage.
The collection is rounded out with “Absolute Carnage: Symbiote of Vengeance,” by Ed Brisson, writer of the current Ghost Rider series, and it’s another riff on Circle of Four. Alejandra Jones, having been stripped of her spirit, has retreated back to Nicaragua to defend her village, but Johnny Blaze knows she can’t handle Carnage alone, so he sends Dan Ketch to help. It’s an action-packed dust-up that could potentially lead to interesting developments in the regular series.
Juan Frigeri’s art is frenetic, with plenty of chains and tendrils reaching across panels. Dono Sánchez-Almara’s colors are somehow bright and yet sinister at the same time.
Absolute Carnage: The Immortal Hulk and Other Tales is an engaging, surprisingly relevant corollary to an already well-received event. A little hard to get into if you’re not up on the lore from the original books, but still worth a read if you want to get a feel for what goes down in each, or have any interest in Cates’ main story.