Extreme. Radical. Maximum.
It was the flavors of 90s comics. Almost everything was pushed to its limits. Lots of hair. Big muscles. Big belts (with an obscene number of pockets). Great action. And big events.
This was the scene in which the 14-part Spider-Man maxi-series, Maximum carnage was born in. The comic, which debuted 29 years ago in May 1993, is a perfect example of the comic book industry’s impulses at the time – for better and for worse.
The impact of Maximum carnage
By the summer of 1993, symbiote fever had reached an all-time high. Venom’s popularity has grown exponentially since its debut in 1988, and the villain-turned-anti-hero just got his own miniseries, Mortal Protector. Additionally, the symbiote-enhanced Cletus Kasady (aka Carnage) debuted a year earlier, rocking Spider-Man’s world and forcing the hero to do the then unthinkable: team up with Venom. Needless to say, fans were hooked on the idea, which meant Marvel had to find a way to do it again, only bigger.
There was no shortage of Spider-Man titles to choose from that year, and Marvel gave fans a reason to buy them. The story of Maximum carnage distributed The Amazing Spider-Man, The spectacular Spider-Man, Spider Man, Spider-Man weband the new tenant unlimited spiderman. To keep the plot from spiraling out of control, an army of writers (Tom DeFalco, JM Dematteis, Terry Kavanagh, David Michelinie) and artists (Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Ron Lim, Tom Lyle and Alex Saviuk) united their strengths.
The result was a cohesive narrative that would shake up the Spider-Man mythos. Or, at the very least, sell lots of books.
Maximum carnage books sold and more. This led to a popular video game adaptation for Genesis and Super NES that most 90s kids remember, even if they didn’t read comic books. Toy Biz has created a line of action figures. There was a Halloween Horror Night event at Marvel’s Super Hero Island at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, which led to an overpriced line of merchandise. And more recently, the event served as loose inspiration for Sony Venom: let there be carnagewith Woody Harrelson playing the role of the psychotic red symbiote to take on Tom Hardy’s Venom.
Maximum carnage became a defining event for Spider-Man, and it did so with a deceptively simple story that pushed comic book boundaries with a joy that has yet to be captured.
What happens in Maximum carnage?
Maximum carnage begins with Cletus Kasady (whose symbiote was believed to be dead) escaping from the Ravencroft Institute after slitting his wrists and freeing Carnage, who was hiding in his blood. (So metal!) After slaughtering everyone in the mental hospital, he escapes with inmate Frances Barrison, nicknamed Shriek.
Meanwhile, Peter Parker and MJ attend the funeral of Harry Osborn, who recently sacrificed his life to save Spider-Man. The couple really feel the stress of Spider-Man. MJ started smoking, which upsets Peter and inadvertently dates the comic (Marvel Comics no longer depicts its characters smoking after the Disney takeover). Peter tells MJ that he doesn’t want his funeral to be the next one he has to attend (probably not the best time to drop an anti-smoking PSA about your wife).
So yeah, it’s all very dark, serious and violent – and that’s only in the opening pages.
Meanwhile, Carnage and Shriek connect with Doppleganger (a six-armed duplicate of Spider-Man who is more animal than man) and the three form an odd family unit and refer to each other by their family roles. . (Was Carnage the original “daddy”?)
Under the influence of Carnage, the trio decides to paint New York red and sow blood and chaos. Ultimately, that’s the full extent of Carnage’s plan: to wreak as much havoc on NYC as possible while picking up a few other C-list villains from Spider-Man, Carrion, and Demogoblin along the way.
Clearly, Spider-Man has no choice but to get involved, despite MJ’s insistence that she’s not going to sit there and watch him get run over. Great power, responsibility and all that good stuff drives him into action, while MJ retreats into his party ways.
But Spidey isn’t the only one protecting his city. The Avengers and the Fantastic Four are off on separate missions, which means it’s time to deploy the B-Team. Spider-Man joins Cloak and Dagger, Black Cat, Morbius, Firestar, Nightwatch, and Venom (who has his own ideas on how to deal with his offspring, Carnage). Later, Iron Fist, Deathlok, and Captain America join the fight as NYC quickly descends into rioting and looting.
Maximum carnage: Fun and cynicism
It’s shocking how quickly New Yorkers descend into anarchy here every day. The event is all about showing the worst in people, whether it’s ordinary citizens or the beloved Mary Jane. This festival of rage is only suppressed by a device that Deathlok constructs to magnify positive emotions. So yeah, that’s a pretty cynical prospect. It’s also one that would continue to plague many far less fun ’90s superhero comics than Maximum carnage.
‘Cause when you get down to it, Maximum carnage is fun. The slim story is stretched over 14 issues, but the work of some of Marvel’s top artists of the time resulted in some incredible pages and character designs.
And speaking of the characters, seeing them interact is a blast, especially lesser-known heroes. Where else will you face off against Spider-Man, Iron Fist and Deathlok against a row of deadly lunatics?
The finale sees Spider-Man trying to stop Venom from assassinating Carnage, but the red symbiote was driven insane by Deathlok’s device after experiencing positive emotions for the first time. Despite Spidey and Black Cat’s best attempts, Venom manages to escape after seemingly destroying the Carnage symbiote and rendering Kasady comatose. But, of course, neither is really gone for good, hosting the little symbiote-centric events like Separation anxiety and Planet of the Symbiotes which would bring the characters together once again.
While Maximum carnage isn’t the best event involving Spider-Man, Venom, and Carnage, it still has a place in essential Marvel canon, both as a time capsule and as an event that would lead to better stories in the future. future, like Donny Cates and that of Ryan Stegman Absolute Carnage. And really, it was the gift of 90s extremism: messy fun with great art that laid the groundwork for better things to come.