Review by From the Booth‘s own KEN
‘Maximum Carnage’ is a fourteen-part arc that crossed over into all the Spider-Man titles that were being published in 1993. It focused on Spider-Man teaming up with Venom to fight Carnage but expanded to include an army of both superheroes and supervillians.
The story opens with Cletus Cassidy being examined in Ravencroft asylum as he surprises his handlers by calling forth Carnage who had been hiding in his blood. After his escape, Carnage quickly recruits Shriek, Doppelganger, Demogoblin, and Carrion into his “family” and begins inflicting his own version of “family values” on Manhattan.
Although I had fond memories of this crossover from my youth, it’s got multiple things wrong with it. The first is that it hasn’t aged very well. Shriek, Carnage’s “wife” and second in command is clearly a metaphor for heavy metal music. She often declares that heavy metal music is all about destruction and carnage and that’s why she’s on board. This seems to be a backlash from the so-called ‘Heavy Metal Suicides’ that were litigated against Judas Priest and others in the nineties.
The second is the subplots. Some of the ones we visit, but are neither started nor resolved during the arc, are Mary Jane smoking and Peter’s parents’ return from their Soviet Russian gulag. The smoking subplot is kind of silly and seems to distract from the larger drama between Peter and MJ, namely that he continues to go out and fight Carnage’s family with a broken rib, no sleep and an untrustworthy ally at his side. Peter’s parents are not important to his character and they predictably turn out to be frauds later on.
The third is the lingo. While future generations could very well LOL and say OMG at how people in the aughts abused the language, we’ll still always look better than the nineties. Doppelganger is referred to as “Dope-el-ganger.” Carnage also pushes his family metaphor every chance he gets. The supervillians always refer to each other as “mother”, “father”, “sister”, “brother”, etc. to the point of annoyance. Even when it seems like they wouldn’t need to say each other’s name, they take pains to include familial references.
The resolution is begun with the deployment of a “good bomb” which is not explained too far beyond that. It drives the supervillians away, seemingly killing others (now THAT’S good), and reverts Shriek back to how she was presumably before she’d ever heard of Ozzy Osbourne.
While the book’s writing was distracting for the reasons I wrote above and the payoff just wasn’t worth it, I enjoyed the art for its nostalgic value. Despite its shortcomings, the book is epic in scope and works well as long as you know it’s a period piece and you don’t go in with too high expectations.