"Carnage U.S.A." Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Marvel Comics
Originally published as Carnage U.S.A. #1 - #5
Written by Zeb Wells
Illustrated by Clayton Crain
2012, 112 Pages
Trade Paperback released on December 26th, 2012
There are few things that personify the "X-treme" culture of the 1990s more than the Marvel character Carnage. Sure there was the X-Games, grunge music, and slap bracelets, but serial killer Cletus Kasady and his symbiote represented everything that was ridiculous and awesome about that time period. He was brash, rude, and insane. For awhile, he was everywhere, including a 14-part story arc called Maximum Carnage that was eventually turned into a video game. Then the '90s ended and he sort of disappeared for awhile until he had a cameo in the first few issues of New Avengers when the Sentry literally ripped him in half in space. That seemed to be it for the lunatic until he was brought back with robot legs in his own mini-series. Yes, I said robot legs. This is a comic book after all. After escaping capture once again in his self-titled mini-series, he laid low until he was ready to strike. Carnage U.S.A. is the sequel to that comic and it's far scarier than the first tale.
Doverton, Colorado, is your average Middle American small town. Then Cletus Kasady shows up and takes it over. He uses his symbiote to infect the water supply, spreading through the towns people like a virus. Before long, he has control over everyone, using them like puppets to perform heinous acts for his amusement and forcing them to fight for him. It's not long before the Avengers are called in, but they're quickly taken over as well. Now you have Carnage, along with a symbiote powered Captain America, Hawkeye, Wolverine, and The Thing. The government sends in a special ops unit that's powered by symbiotes of their own in an attempt to fight fire with fire.
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The premise of Carnage U.S.A. is the kind of horror that is rarely seen in the Marvel Universe. This isn't something hokey like taking over the world or trying to defeat the Fantastic Four. This is personal and something that will absolutely traumatize every person in Doverton. It's not like you can easily forget being a passenger in your own body as you were forced to attack your friends and loved ones. The Avengers helped out, but they're not handing out mind wipes to everyone before the leave. Carnage's plan is chilling and feels far scarier than anything he's done. In the past, he'd just go around killing people left and right. That was effective at spreading chaos, but it was only a matter of time before Spider-Man sent him back to jail. This feels like he's reached a whole new level.
The government's symbiote unit is a pretty cool setup. They've been testing the waters in the new Venom series in which that creature has bonded with the now legless Flash Thompson (who eventually shows up in this comic). It would make sense that they would expand after the success of that program. Each of the soldiers seem to have a screw loose which is probably a prerequisite to bond with an alien symbiote that tends to crave blood. They have different specialties. One has a huge gun. Another uses the power to create a dog-like avatar. One guy can just turn invisible. Their talents are unique and it makes for an interesting read. I would definitely check out a spin-off title featuring this group.
Author Zeb Wells manages to sprinkle in some humor throughout Carnage U.S.A. to help alleviate some of the tension created from this horrific conquest of Doverton. He gets the characters and more importantly, he understands how fans can be tired of some of the clichés that have developed around them. Early on, Hawkeye is annoyed that Spider-Man has called in The Thing, explaining that he's a catch phrase machine. Of course, The Thing ends up proving Hawkeye right as soon as he shows up.
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Clayton Crain returns to the character with Carnage U.S.A.. He drew the previous mini-series which looked amazing so it's no surprise that this one looks just as good, if not better. Crain paints his pages and creates a completely unique look for the characters. On the one hand, his work looks gorgeous with some fine details, but on the other, it makes Carnage and the monsters he creates far more terrifying. Crain also adds a hint of humanity to Cletus, like there's some remnant of a soul lingering behind those cold, dead eyes.
Carnage U.S.A. is a little horror story set in the main Marvel Universe. It elevates Cletus Kasady to a legitimate villain, even though he looks ridiculous with robot legs. You don't have to have read the previous series to enjoy this one, but you'll get much more out of it if you do. If Wells' snappy dialogue or Crain's fantastic artwork isn't enough to sell you, let me leave you with this: Venom Gorilla vs. Carnage Lion. Yes. This is a thing and it exists in these pages. You're welcome.