Review by Ian Keogh
Carnage is the worst possible version of Venom, stripped of any sense of morality, and for some reason his appearances tend to sprawl. Given the list of tie-in graphic novels released (see recommendations) Absolute Carnage would appear to be the sprawliest of all, yet in this core graphic novel Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman provide all the essential components and a smooth reading experience. Quite the horrific thrill, in fact.
Eddie Brock, Venom, provides the narrative voice as Absolute Carnage ties into the mythology Cates added to Venom in Rex. The alien symbiotes have a creator, Knull, and Eddie barely survived a meeting with just an aspect of him, and that was when the Venom symbiote was still part of him. Now it isn’t. Oh, hang on, it is again, which is rather a cheap reversal, but about the only misjudgement Cates makes in building the threat extremely solidly. Carnage is dangerous enough on his own, but he’s now channelling the power of the symbiotes’ God, and it’s revealed that symbiotes leave a little strand of DNA inside everyone who’s ever bonded with them. Carnage can track these people and is slaughtering them. That, however, comes later after a pants-staining opening chapter in which Norman Osborn features as an avatar,
Even by his own high standards Stegman has been a revelation on Venom, possibly because savage horror is so far removed from his previous projects, but a phenomenal artist is a phenomenal artist. You might think you’ve seen horrific creatures in comics before, but Stegman’s designs constantly amaze. The second chapter opens with a terrifying patchwork combination of Cletus Kasady’s head and that of Carnage, accompanied by suitably rabid narration, and he constantly comes up with new designs for symbiote combinations. The way Stegman draws them drooling and snarling sets a new standard for the creatures, and there are definite hints of the Joker about Kasady.
Looking in on the wide variety of people who’ve hosted a symbiote provides a break from endless Carnage, but Cates sells the desperation so well, providing moments where unenviable, life-changing decisions have to be made in an instant. The surprises are beautifully dropped, and it’s only when they happen that you’ll admire how you didn’t figure out what’s almost waved in the face of readers.
This is solid superhero horror exceptionally well drawn, concentrating on Venom, and standing up on its own with no need to bother with any of the tie-ins. However, if you want to read them, they’re combined with this core story in the Absolute Carnage Omnibus.