While hugely popular, there was always something slightly stale about Carnage in the original Spider-Man series. A somehow more savage version of Venom, already supposedly the epitome of unrestrained savagery, never seemed logical or relevant. Could Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley somehow overcome that for the Ultimate Spider-Man counterpart? Is that a question that really needs asked considering their run as a whole? It’s a slow build, but this is a stunner, which is welcome after the dip of Hollywood.

Bendis and Bagley’s way of developing Carnage is so much more interesting than the original, involving Dr Curt Connors, already established as a research biologist whose heart is in the right place, but who’s taken risks resulting in disaster. He begins testing a sample of Spider-Man’s blood and the result is an eventual living organism sustained by blood.

If there’s one consistent factor to Bendis’s writing it’s that he loves his dialogue, but this version of Carnage has no voice, and it leads to the interesting situation of a Bendis graphic novel where many of the pages are silent, Bagley telling the story. His pages are improved from this volume for Scott Hanna taking over the inking, far more sympathetic in supplying the humanity of the cast, and Bagley creates one hell of a visual for Carnage. J.D. Smith’s colours are also important in creating the terrifying glowing yellow facial effect.

The Carnage title works as both character name and adjective for a desperate story with a tragic interlude that rakes over ethical issues and finally acknowledges a New York with some black folk. The Breakfast Club homage to end isn’t as successful, despite having some nice moments. It solves a mystery about Flash Thompson that’s been hanging around since Vol. 7, but the solution’s not that wonderful. It’s as if someone reminded Bendis the mystery was hanging, and he had to come up with something quick. The moralising that accompanies it says the right things, but employing a clumsily heavy hand in reinforcing why Peter should be Spider-Man.

Superstars is next, or alternatively they’re combined in hardcover as Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 6, and in bulkier paperback as Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate Collection Vol. 6.