Remembering Maximum Carnage
|Maximum Carnage Reading Order
Spider-Man Unlimited #1
What was your first comic book? It’s a question I don’t have an answer to. I have been collecting comics so long that they have always been a part of my life. And from the very beginning, I was all about Spider-Man. Some of my earliest memories include endlessly scouring longboxes at the comic book store for sweet sweet Spider-Man comics. I was only allowed one comic on these trips, so I spent an inordinate about of time trying to decide the best comic to purchase.
Deciding on a comic book to take home was no easy task, especially as a Spider-Man fan. At the time, there were no fewer than 4 ongoing Spider-Man titles with a variety of mini-series and associated characters. I flipped through dozens, if not hundreds, of comics every visit. Of course, my only criteria in which to judge the comic was the cover. Or more simply, which comic looked the coolest.
My young comic book collection was erratic in nature. Issues were scattered across series which created broken and incomplete stories. And this never really bothered me much, because I cared more about the art and the characters than I did actually reading the comics themselves. But there was one exception: Maximum Carnage.
(Check out my list of the Best Carnage Comics Ever Published)
Maximum Carnage, the 14-part Spider-Man event, spread across all 4 ongoing titles. Each issue had a distinctive banner across the top declaring the part of the story. The covers included a wide range of heroes and villains (some I was familiar with, some I was not) duking it out. To the child version of me, it screamed big, important, and awesome. I had to have them all.
I don’t remember which part of the story I picked up first, but I remember it being challenging to figure out the chronology of the series. This was before the internet. I couldn’t just look up online how the story progressed. I had to dig through box after box of comics searching for Spider-Man comics with the Maximum Carnage banner. One would think this would be frustrating, but I actually found it quite exciting. I knew generally where they might be based on the issues I owned, but I didn’t know if the store would even have copies available. It became a treasure hunt.
As a child with limited means and resources, I was never able to acquire more than about half of the titles in the series. That is true to today. I was never able to physically collect the series. The complete Maximum Carnage remains illusive to me. Yes, I could easily fill the gaps today, but I have not. Why? Enter Marvel Unlimited.
(I don’t want to make this a commercial for Marvel Unlimited, so I will just quickly say that the service is amazing. If you are a Marvel fan, it’s a no-brainer.)
I finally decided to sit down and read the entire Maximum Carnage event from beginning to end. This is something I was never able to do as a kid. I wondered how good it actually was. Would the story live up to my memory? Or would shining a light on my nostalgia leave me disappointed?
How Does It Hold Up?
Well, I read the 14-part series and it’s completely ridiculous in the best way possible. You can tell it’s from a bygone era of comic books where plot was non-essential and only there to necessitate big superhero battles. It felt like I was reading a vehicle to sell toys, but I also didn’t care. I loved it for what it was.
The plot is downright laughable at times. Some of that is the anachronism of the story, but also because I don’t believe they really cared to make a strong story. The entire plot feels like an excuse to pit character X against character Y, often in a repetitive manner. There are a shocking amount of times a character shows up, both good and bad, simply because they happened to be around town. In fact, every single ally of Carnage teams up with him because they happen to be in the same vicinity and also like being bad. Carrion isn’t even supposed to be alive, but here is he anyways.
The story is almost exclusively a repetition of search for bad guys, fight bad guys, recuperate from fight, repeat. There are a few subplots, such as Shriek’s power of turning everyday citizens into violent people and Dagger’s death/resurrection. But even these plots are resolved unsatisfactorily. At times, if feels like you are reading an after school special with how heavy handed the themes get. Spider-Man struggles with whether or not they should kill Carnage. Do you think Spider-Man will go down the dark side and begin killing? Unlikely.
But even with the plot being so basic and repetitive, it really doesn’t matter. I found myself literally laughing at some of the dialogue and I think that is a good thing. It really was entertaining, once you accepted what you were reading. I don’t know if I would call it “so bad, it’s good” because I don’t think it was trying to be some form of sophisticated art. It was a story meant to get a bunch of characters together to fight and it achieved that.
Let’s talk about the art, because where the story was laughable, the art was gorgeous. Everything from the penciling to the colors, this is Spider-Man and Friends at their best. Mark Bagley and Sal Buscema are the obvious stars of the series, but Tom Lyle, Alex Saviuk, and Ron Lim bring their A-game as well. Nearly every page is beautiful and iconic. You can really tell this was an era of comic books that sold books based on art and not story.
Maximum Carnage is the perfect example of a 90s comic. It is pure entertainment. Don’t look for deeper meaning in the story, because you won’t find it. But you will find bombastic superhero battles and wonderful art. Would I recommend this series? It depends. If you grew up in the 90s loving comics and have that nostalgic pit in your heart, then absolutely. But never would I tell a new reader to read Maximum Carnage. It’s such a product of its time and in no way represents the medium today. It’s a fun and ultimately brainless ride through the world of Spider-Man.
The Maximum Carnage Guide
The Heroes and Villains
Spider-Man – Grieving over the recent death of Harry Osborn, Spider-Man learns Carnage’s has returned. Now he must struggle with sacrificing his ideals to defeat the serial killer.
Venom – Learning of Carnage’s return, Venom puts aside his differences with Spider-Man to take down the being he feels he created.
Black Cat – Known ally of Spider-Man, Felecia Hardy joins the battle against Carnage. She has the power to affect probability and is a trained fighter.
Cloak – One half of Cloak and Dagger. Cloak learns he is responsible for creating Shriek, the woman who appears to kill Dagger. He is on a quest for justice and revenge.
Dagger – The other half of Cloak and Dagger. She has the power to use light as a weapon. She dies early on in the series (or does she?!) at the hands of Shriek.
Captain America – The one Avenger in town who decides to intervene in Carnage’s killing spree. He is the beacon of light that Spider-Man needs. He also has access to all the cool Avengers tech.
Firestar – One of Spider-Man’s amazing friends. She has the ability to manipulate, you guessed it, fire. This just so happens to be one of Carnage’s weaknesses and thus her part on the team.
Deathlok – He is a cyborg with superhuman physical abilities as well as a way with computers. When he sees the destruction caused by Carnage, he must intervene.
Iron Fist – A supreme martial artist trained in the mystical city of K’un Lun. He wields the power of the Iron Fist. He also happens to be around town when shit goes down.
Morbius – He’s a freakin’ vampire! He suffers from his vampiric curse while trying to be a force of good. Again, he’s a vampire, so he can fly and stuff, but isn’t very helpful during the day.
Nightwatch – Spaw– I mean, Nightwatch is a lesser known hero. His costume gives him general super-strength as well as the ability to fly. Nightwatch happened to be out at night, watching.
Carnage – If you didn’t catch it, he’s the main bad guy. A serial killer that has bonded with an alien symbiote. He likes chaos and killing. Because he’s bad.
Shriek – She was created while hanging out in Cloak’s cloak. She has the power to weaponize sound and bring the darkness out from others. She teams up with Carnage because she is nuts like him.
Spider-Doppelganger – An evil duplicate of Spider-Man created in another dimension. He just hangs out in New York City apparently. He doesn’t like Spider-Man and is “adopted” by Shriek.
Demogoblin – He’s a demon that used to posses Hobgoblin but then went solo. He is like most of Spider-Man’s goblin foes, in that he throws pumpkins. Also likes killing.
Carrion – Thought to be dead, he comes out of a sewer during Carnage’s attack on the city. He joins up with the bad guys because, eh, why not. Don’t let him touch you!
Spider-Man Unlimited #1 – Carnage escapes Ravencroft with Shriek. They encounter Spider-Doppelganger. Shriek/Doppelganger get the best of Spider-Man and he passes out in an alley. Carnage finds J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle.
Web of Spider-Man #101 – JJJ reports Carnage is looking for Spider-Man and Venom. Spider-Man, Cloak, and Dagger battle Carnage, Shriek, and Doppelganger. Dagger appears to die. Carnage briefly turns on Shriek. Venom watches the news report of Carnage.
The Amazing Spider-Man #378 – Venom returns to New York City to take on Carnage. Spider-Man battles Demogoblin. Spider-Man goes home to rest after. Venom takes on Carnage and co. Afterwards, Venom shows up beaten at the door of Peter and Mary Jane.
Spider-Man #35 – Venom takes a nap. Demogoblin fights Carnage and co., but then joins them anyways. Spider-Man talks to Black Cat. Black Cat convinces Spider-Man to team up with Venom to take down Carnage. Cloak confronts Carnage and co. Spider-Man, Venom, and Black Cat come to his aid. Carnage and co. escape. Venom passes out and Black Cat is buried in rubble.
The Spectacular Spider-Man #201 – Spider-Man argues with Venom and Black Cat. The two venture out on their own to take on Carnage. There is some brief infighting within the Carnage crew. Peter’s dad is a bit of a jerk. Spider-Man vows to take no mercy on Carnage.
Web of Spider-Man #102 – Morbius is recruited. Carnage and co. go to a night club, to predictable results. Venom, Black Cat, Morbius, and Cloak arrive to fight the baddies. Spider-Man arrives fashionably late and forces Carnage and co. to retreat.
The Amazing Spider-Man #379 – Carrion joins Carnage and co. Deathlok faces off with them alone and is defeated. Spider-Man, Venom, and Black Cat retrieve Reed Richard’s Sonic Blaster. Cloak recruits Firestar.
Spider-Man #36 – Spider-Man and co. force JJJ to lure Carnage to them. Carnage reminisces on childhood. Iron Fist appears to free Deathlok from a billboard. The two sides fight. Carnage is momentarily defeated by the Sonic Blaster, but Spider-Man prevents Venom from making the killing blow. Shriek cuts Carnage and he is renewed.
Spectacular Spider-Man #202 – Spider-Man and co. battle Carnage and co. Spider-Man instructs Firestar to kill Carnage, but then tells her to stop. Venom attacks Spider-Man out of anger. Then he attacks Shriek and Carnage by himself. They defeat and abduct Venom. Captain America arrives to help Spider-Man.
Web of Spider-Man #103 – Captain America, Firestar, and Spider-Man make contact with Deathlok and Iron Fist via Avengers computer. Shriek and Carnage torture Venom at the Statue of Liberty. Peter visits MJ. Morbius, Cloak, and Black Cat battle Demogoblin, Doppelganger, and Carrion. Nightwatch swoops in to save Black Cat. Spider-Man beats up some bad guys. Morbius and Nightwatch go after Demogoblin/Doppelganger/Carrion while Black Cat and Cloak retreat. Cap, Firestar, Spider-Man, Deathlok, and Iron Fist group up.
The Amazing Spider-Man #380 – Morbius and Nightwatch attack Carnage at the Statue of Liberty. Spider-Man and co. attack and defeat Shriek. Spider-Man and co. eye rolling-ly make the community realize they are acting crazy. Spider-Man’s beliefs are reaffirmed. Doppelganger and Demogoblin free Shriek and attack Spider-Man and co. Shriek increases her influence on the community and they forget their life lessons.
Spider-Man #37 – Venom escapes Carnage. Spider-Man and co. continue their battle against a raging community. Carnage is upset and attacks Shriek and Doppelganger. Shriek loses her control over the community. Cloak returns with Dagger (who is not dead now FYI).
The Spectacular Spider-Man #203 – Dagger tries to defeat Shriek with love. It doesn’t work. Spider-Man takes on Carnage and co. alone. Other heroes return with a big weapon dubbed a “Good Bomb”. Shriek, Carrion, and Demogoblin are defeated. Carnage is killed. Spider-Man, while thinking about life, finds Venom. Also Carnage isn’t actually dead.
Spider-Man Unlimited #2 – Venom and Carnage fight. Spider-Man takes a break to heal up. Then he comes back to prevent Venom from killing Carnage. The two team up to hunt Carnage down again. They find him in a cemetery. They battle while Spider-Man attempts to prevent Carnage’s death. Black Cat joins the fight. Venom and Carnage fly into a generator and explode, leaving Carnage unconscious and Venom in hiding. The Avengers take Carnage into custody. The End.