Web of Venom: Carnage Born #1


Staff member
Continuing his character-defining run on “Venom,” Donny Cates explores who is perhaps his greatest nemesis, the psycho-killer known as Canarge. But does he inject the same energy here than on Eddie Brock and his symbiote?

On his recent contributions with Marvel, writer Donny Cates has made a name for himself for being able to add layers to existing characters – usually crazy, over-the-top layers – without disrespecting what has come before. That ability not only refers to immediate issues or runs prior to his own work, but actually harkens back often to pivotal moments on these series and leads from years, sometimes decades before. Nowadays, it is not a common trait observed in comics, that balance between respecting continuity but now allowing the scripts to be bogged down by it. Gladly, “Web of Venom: Carnage Born” is no exception to this rule.

Before going fully into the script, high praise must be given to Danilo Beyruth and Cris Peter on art. This is a story that demands a lot from its artists, as it paints both in introspective moments and some truly horrific bits. This review will be spoiler-free, but reader should know going in that the art pulls absolutely no punches when it is called upon showing just how twisted Carnage can be.

Breaking this down in more specific moments, Beyruth and Peter’s style gel very well together on “Web of Venom: Carnage,” even in quieter moments towards the beginning of the issue. Those pages, focused on how Cletus Kassidy was born and how his early years dictated his madness show a dedicated craft on facial expressions, small nuances and details. Nothing seems gratuitous about, every line a hint of things to come. The overall tone in red, linking in to Cletus’s traditional red hair, his symbiote and the prevailing theme of horror and murder – is also especially well done.

In the more action-oriented moments, the artists simply have a field day. Some pages might remind readers of Yanick Paquette’s visual for the horror stories on “Swamp Thing” from a few years back. It is the type of drawing that cannot be unseen, truly ghastly creatures and situations that trick the audience’s mind in continuing to look at it, even when the saner option is to simply flip the page. Beautiful, in a disturbing, skin-crawling way.

But what holds it all together? Cates’s scrip goes against what most would say about a modern comic book should be. It relies heavily on narration, exposition, past knowledge of the character and of other series being published today. And yet… it works. The key reason for that, perhaps, is how the overall package is structured.

At first, “Web of Venom: Carnage Born” explores unknown portions of Kassidy’s origin, walking a thin line between retconning an aspect of it, but never truly crossing it. Instead, new layers are added almost as if mythology, in the sense that readers are left in the dark if the tale is truly like it is portrayed, or if it is influenced by an unreliable narrator (an effective trick Cates also utilized on the recently wrapped “Death of the Inhumans”). By opening the issue with that, it then allows for more traditional explanation of Carnage’s past, without becoming too heavy or convoluted.

Another key element is the focus of so much of the issue on the groups and forces who want Carnage and the powers it could unlock. Cletus Kassidy is not a anti-hero like Venom, not even a sympathetic villain, so structuring a story around him is often a challenge. There are no redeeming qualities about the character. The choice of framing “Web of Venom: Carnage Born” on the unwise individuals who should know better than to be involved with him result in a typical horror story, where viewers gasp at the bad decisions the protagonists are making.

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Even better than the wise manner Cates reintroduces Carnage backstory is how he pushes it forward. There are developments on this issue that could realign Cassidy’s broader role within the Marvel Universe and make him, once again, a truly menacing villain, especially for the already solid “Venom” series. The paths that the last few pages of “Web of Venom: Carnage Born” open introduces new groups, new missions statements and new threats, adding a lot to the table that can be utilized during this mini-series and on other books alike. World building at its best.

If one were to summarize this debut issue, it could be described as a narrator-heavy, background-explanation story, and that would be a significant disservice to what lies within. Instead, “Web of Venom: Carnage Born” is a trademark comic in a shared universe; it pulls the best from the past, does not allow it to be bogged down by it and expands it for future tales. Having it all wrapped in such beautiful and haunting visuals makes it even better.

Final Verdict: 8.3 – “Web of Venom: Carnage” delivers big on reintroducing one of Marvel’s vilest foes, while painting the path ahead of him in deep reds.