For the longest time, one of the most notorious symbiotes in the Marvel Universe, and possibly Spider-man’s worst enemy, was once bonded to notorious murderer Cletus Kasady, becoming the vicious and aptly named Carnage. However, in the new series Carnage, penned by Ram V, with art by Francesco Manna, colors by Dijjo Lima, and letters by VC’s Joe Sabino, the symbiote has parted ways with his human host and struck out on his own. Since then, Carnage has “befriended” another serial killer, Kenneth Neely, aka the Artist. Neely is an insecure and nebbish man whose ritualistic killings include making pictures of his victims before and after their deaths, commemorating their “transformations.”
In Carnage # 2, entitled “Transformations,” the symbiote is taking the next steps towards his true goal. While the Artist has yet to totally win his respect as a potential host, he’s given him plenty of inspiration to make some transformations himself. Tearing Hydro-Man apart was just the beginning. Now, Carnage has his sights set on superheroes and villains with the powers he needs. Jon Shayde, in pursuit of Neely, stepped in to stop the killers, but ended up injured, infected by Carnage, and imbued with Kasady’s dark instincts and memories. Armed with new powers, he is determined to stop both killers in their tracks, but he has to act fast since Carnage has already set his sights on his next target.
Writer Ram V, just as with the last issue, makes use of traditional crime drama tropes and elements in Carnage # 2. Loud-mouthed, crude, and sadistic Carnage and the awkward, timid, but similarly unstable Kenneth Neely come across as a sick parody of the “buddy cop” pair. The two chat while sketching the mutilated bodies of their victims, tear up Hydro-Man’s form, and exchange words on the fine art and philosophy of art, power, death, and dismemberment. Horrible murders aside, it’s a treat to see Carnage’s poetic, thoughtful, and artistic side. Conversely, Shayde’s story is a twisted inversion of a horror story. It is only when Shayde literally gains the memories, consciousness, and powers of Carnage and Cletus Kasady, two irredeemable villains, that he becomes the hero the story needs. Carnage # 2 is dark, twisted, subversive, at times darkly humorous, and oddly introspective amongst the gore.
Carnage # 2 achieves the precarious balance between continuing the drama from the previous issue while opening new paths for the next, not leaving readers too much in the dark while leaving just enough threads for them to pick up and question. Carnage’s unpredictable character helps in this regard, as even his close would-be ally, Neely, is kept guessing. Kenneth is similarly an active character, with his soft-spoken brand of sadism contrasting nicely with Carnage while giving the symbiote a good soundboard for his twisted thoughts. Shayde’s inner monologue, once he gains Kasady’s memories, is accompanied by some of the creepiest visuals in Marvel Comics history and has a similar effect. Carnage # 2 manages to show and tell at once – not an easy feat.
For a dark and grimy story, Carnage # 2 has elegant art. Francesco Manna’s art style, with smooth, sleek, glossy lines, is beautiful and softens the edge of this issue’s plentiful gore. Blood abounds in Carnage # 2, from huge puddles to trickles on a knife, heaps of viscera to distended veins. It’s hideous but so gently and carefully depicted that it almost looks romantic. Similarly, go-to veteran colorist Lima’s colors complement the line art nicely, with a dark, cool palette and gritty, natural textures scattered throughout. Subtle details, such as the wallpaper, clouds, and sky, give the world depth and elegance. The colors are hard and wintry, with splashes of wine-hued reds as eye-catching brights.
Carnage # 2 quickly amps up an already impressively violent, nail-bitingly suspenseful narrative, exploring the twisted psyche of both the killers and the hunters alike, blurring the lines between the sane and obscene. Carnage has never looked so good.
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