[22 September 2009]
It’s funny how we latch on to things as children, accepting them despite their apparent flaws. We can connect with books, movies, events, songs, and just about anything. Somehow, we could look past the flaws that we see as adults and like something simply because we honestly enjoyed it. We did not have to analyze every detail, filtering through our minds about what was good and what was bad. Back then, you could enjoy something just because. We all have those guilty pleasures we gained as kids. Now we look back and wonder, ‘What on earth we were thinking’. I love Godzilla movies, old Speed Racer cartoons, and even the song Thunderstruck by AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’, simply because of the events and feelings I had at the time I experienced these things. Comic books are no different. Sometimes we can read a comic and it is cemented in our minds; we can build it up so much that we remember it being better than it really was.
I was eight years old when Maximum Carnage hit the stands. It was the first comic series I had ever bought from the store. I acquired other comics from yard sales and stuff, but Spider-Man’s fourteen-part mini-series, Maximum Carnage, was the first series for me to own, fresh off the stands. Well, I did not buy it, my mom bought it for me. Every week we went to the local grocery store. One day, I saw Web of Spider-Man #101. This was part two in the Maximum Carnage series. The cover amazed me, ‘Part 2 of 14’ it read. A fourteen part comic series sounded amazing, and Carnage was a really cool villain. I must have asked on a good day, because my mom said ‘yes’. We even went home and read each issue as it came out. (I actually did not get the first part in the series, Spider-Man Unlimited #1 until a few years later at a flea market. Even though I was missing the first part, I quickly got the gist of what was going on.) Spider-Man was after Carnage who just broke out of jail and was now hurting people. Carnage started getting more allies, so Spider-Man needed more help as well. I quickly recognized some familiar faces: Venom, Black Cat, Morbius, and Captain America, but just about everyone else was brand new to me. Characters like Cloak, Dagger, Deathlok, and Demogoblin quickly gained a soft spot in my heart. This series lead to multiple action figure purchases, such as Doppelganger and Deathlok. I even bought the video game for the Super Nintendo, with its bright red cartridge. For years to follow, whenever I would go on a road trip of any kind, I would take the Maximum Carnage series with me. I must have read it through dozens of times as a kid. The books themselves have been through the wringer; the pages are bent, discolored, water-damaged, and even taped together, but I don’t plan on selling them. I could never sell them. They are what started my passion comic books.
No comic series had more of an impact on me than Maximum Carnage. It also affected my overall view of comics, at least as far as crossovers go. To me, it was perfect. Every crossover should aspire to be Maximum Carnage. With all the close calls for the heroes, villains causing chaos, last-second rescues, and many iconic images, what wasn’t perfect? When I decided to write my first review on Maximum Carnage, and it’s appeal to me as a child, I realized it had been a couple years since I read it; probably close to seven or eight at least. Therefore, I wanted to go back and reread it, the first comic series I ever bought as it was released and review it, fifteen years after the original release date, close to eight years since I had last read it. How good was the series? Was I blinded as a child? Could it really be the greatest mini-series ever?
So, with my modern read-through, what was good? It’s hard to say, because every issue changes writer and artist, something I didn’t notice when I was eight. I quickly caught myself dividing in my mind the good writers and artists from the bad. Some writers constantly used cheesy one-liners all through fight scenes, which made parts unbearable. Others had nailed the characters’ voices perfectly and I wish they would have handled the whole series. The most impressive writer through the whole series was David Michelinie. He was the monthly writer for Amazing Spider-Man at the time and it is obvious why. He has the right blend of getting the characters’ voices right, and humor, but not stooping to the level of corny one-liners. Another noteworthy writer is Tom DeFalco. I will be honest; he is a little too cheesy for the most part. He only writes two issues, bookending the series; parts one and fourteen. I was very disappointed with part one, and was not impressed with DeFalco’s writing, but he redeemed himself big time with his delivery of part fourteen. As far as artwork goes, my favorite was Michelinie’s partner on Amazing Spider-Man, Mark Bagley. You might have heard of him. Hands down, his artwork is easily the most consistent through the series. My honorable mention for artists goes to Ron Lim, Tom Defalco’s partner for the most part. Lim pencils part one and the second half of part fourteen. Part one is good, but Lim’s civilians do not look natural. His superhero scenes look great, but his regular Joes could use some work. He really knocks it out of the park in part fourteen. This is the best I have seen Venom. Ever. The fight scenes between Venom and Carnage are very creative, attacking each other as only symbiotes can. Lim also did the cover artwork for Spider-Man Unlimited #2, part fourteen, one of my favorite covers of all time.
Now, let us take a deeper look at the story itself. There were moments that still triggered major nostalgia. However, there were also moments that made me say, ‘That was ridiculous; I don’t remember that at all’. Probably the most impacting moment of the series, and the turning point for the good guys, is after the battle in the park in part nine. Carnage and his gang had got the best of them, leaving the heroes for dead. Spider-Man is beaten, ready to give up hope. At that moment, he is met by a figure, saying, ‘How ‘bout a hand son? You look like you could use it’. It is Captain America reaching down to help Spider-Man. I still cannot help but grin from ear to ear whenever I read it; but as I said earlier, there were moments that made me cringe. Seriously, sorry to spoil this series that has been out for fifteen years, but the good guys won with a gun that amplifies the goodness in their hearts and somehow turns it into a force that damages their foes. Maybe I am off base, but that seems a little farfetched to me. When I was younger, I just thought it was some powerful blaster. I didn’t realize the gun beat them with sunshine and rainbows, or ‘a counter tide of inner light’ as part thirteen refers to it.
Despite this, the final issue is still magic. I enjoy everything: the fight between Venom and Carnage, Peter and M.J. making up after their fourteen-issue-long fight, and then the three-way battle to end the issue. The only thing that disappoints me is that there are no long lasting changes from this series. Ultimately, everything ends just the same as it started. Carnage and the others are back behind bars, Venom slips away in secrecy, and Spider-Man lives on to be the hero another day.
Does my childhood memory of Maximum Carnage hold up to my current read through? Absolutely. Despite the super cheesy one-liners, and terrible plot device that is the ‘tide of inner light’, I still loved reading through this again. The appearance of Deathlok, Captain America, and the fight scenes between Venom and Carnage all take me back to my eight-year-old self, where I ignore the flaws of the series and enjoy it just because I can. Through this I learned that no matter what happens in our lives, or who we become, we can always find comfort and enjoyment in the things that were fun as a kid, even comic books.