Carnage #8 (2024) Crafts an Ending, to be Continued

Carnage #8 (2024) Vol 4 Main Cover Juan Ferreyra

Comics are forever second-act creatures. Big Two comics, especially. So, the idea that one series might be ending, with an eye to be continued (even sometimes in the very next month, with a very new #1 on shelves) is not new to me.

And yet, there’s something curious about the position Carnage #8 (2024) finds itself in that leaves this finale feeling very much like a victim of the state of modern comics publishing, despite being what is otherwise a strong character piece for Flash Thompson.

Years of Carnage Gone By

Even as a symbiote fan, the litany of symbiote-related titles that have come out just over the last five years is bordering on exhausting to keep up with. Two years-long Venom runs, two ongoing Carnage series, Absolute Carnage, King in Black, Extreme Carnage, Carnage Reigns, Death of the Venomverse and now the upcoming Venom War joins those ranks. Combine that with the fact that the hands these series have found themselves in has changed just as much, and the fact that the last few years of symbiote stories feel so cohesive is practically a miracle – and credit where it’s due, they do feel cohesive.

One of the consequences of all this, however, is that things inevitably start to feel more patchwork.

This current, fourth volume of Carnage, for example, was born out of that very turbulence. When Ram V left for the Distinguished Competition during the previous volume, Marvel was tasked with finding a new creative home for the title (and to their credit, they landed on an immense and growing talent with Alex Paknadel, who confidently picked up the reins and co-scripted the delightfully violent Carnage Reigns event). After that we had a transitional Web of Carnage one-shot, and then, Torunn Grønbekk and Pere Perez were officially at the wheel.

Yet despite how consummately everyone involved handled that period of inflection, the seams were showing. Key elements from Ram V’s run were filed away, including a supporting cast that really brought Carnage’s schemes to become a god to life. Detective Jon Shayde was out, Flash Thompson was in. But still, the general arc remained, however fragmented is was being delivered.

I bring all of this up because it’s that feeling of pinballing readers through various reboots, one-shots, mini-series and relaunches that has cast a shadow over this series throughout, and that is nowhere as clear as it is in its ending.

Because, guess what: it’s not ending! In August 2024, the same creative team returns to continue the plot threads of this run in the 3-issue Venom War: Carnage tie-in series.

When you step back and view this on its longest axis, the actual story being told here is really strong. The growing threat of Cletus and Carnage has been engrossing, and his journey to godhood has remained surprising at every turn, despite how many writers it’s gone through. It’s just hard not to get to the final page of Carnage #8 (2024) and not feel like you’ve just finished three rounds in the literary ring, only to be told there’s still 30 seconds left on the clock.

In short, it is equally as impressive as it is tiring that Grønbekk and Pérez have fought against the trappings of the publishing arena so well. Even with this non-ending, they’ve still managed to deliver something visceral, evocative and capable of leaving you wanting more (and it just so happens, there is!).

The Meat and Potatoes (And Blood, and Screams)

Putting my concerns about the metatextual elements of Carnage #8 aside, this really is just as good an issue as I’ve come to expect from Grønbekk and Pérez, regardless of it being slightly undercut by its final few pages.

Continuing on from the cliffhanger at the end of last issue, Carnage is seemingly vanquished (at least for now), leaving Flash and Liz Allen to pick up the pieces.

What follows is a closing chapter that, through the plot manoeuvres and logistical elements, manages to find just enough room to hone in one last time on the dual emotional cores of this run: Flash’s loss of purpose and Cletus’ designs and failures at godhood.

There’s one page that I think summarises their cross-purposes beautifully, where, in a series of cascading panels, Flash slowly pulls himself out of his depression and starts finding new ways to live once again. However, as Flash subtextually lifts himself out of a descent, the panels themselves unfold down the page, and on them drips the slopping remains of Carnage as the symbiote sinks deeper and deeper into the sewers, grasping for life.

Pere Pérez’s construction of this scene serves to underline so many facets, both of these characters’ relationship but also their philosophies, and the nature of recovery as a whole. On one level, rendering an ascension from depression as a downward series of panels might initially seem counter-intuitive, but it actually speaks to the challenge of the process that Flash is undergoing. In order to get better, and re-establish his place in the world, he has to do the work. Even though he’s been at his lowest – in this case, literally trapped in the Darkforce Dimension mere issues ago – the act of healing still requires facing into the darkness, not running away from it, and I appreciate the subtle framing of that journey. Additionally, this type of panel composition also helps to rebuild tension. Carnage #8 is working back up to a bloody conclusion here, and outlining Flash’s attempts at happiness as something that brings him closer to where Carnage resides helps elicit an unsettling sense of what’s to come.

Then, on the other hand, this panelling underlines how symbiotic Flash and Carnage have become over the course of this run. Cletus’ religion of violence is deeply nihilistic, and it only survives by consuming the hope of people like Flash Thompson. In many ways, the consumption of that hope has proved more nourishing to Carnage over this series than any worship his followers have given him. Which is why Pérez’s choice to illustrate the symbiote dripping onto and slipping around the vignettes of Flash’s recovery is so effective. Not only does it make those moments feel real and tangible with Carnage visually interacting with the panels themselves, more real than anything Carnage has achieved, it also renders the symbiote as desperate for Flash’s attention. It’s almost as if these trails of blood-like goo are stroking at the windows of these moments, begging to be let in as Carnage itself withers into waste.

Flash’s recovery is both necessary and excruciating for Carnage, their fates intertwined. In other words, after all the death and destruction, it is Flash’s resilience that emerges as Carnage’s true Anti-Venom.

It’s this kind of attention to detail and intelligent construction that makes the ending of this issue, with Cletus and his other returning to type, land far better than it otherwise might. In lesser creator’s hands, this kind of shift would feel more like a regression than an evolution. But in this case, it feels only logical. Carnage tried to become a god. He killed a multiversal Knull, stole his power and became, in effect, a King in Red. He travelled to the Garden of Time and ruined Meridius’ plans. But he still hasn’t found contentment. Flash was still able to take the wind from his sails and send him back down to the depths. And as Grønbekk invokes comparisons to the Ship of Theseus, Carnage’s grasp for a stable sense of identity comes ever clearer into focus. What else does Cletus have, but the nothingness left in the wake of mindless Carnage?

All this leads to a conclusion that, while not really a conclusion at all, does serve to tie a bow on the relationship between this title’s protagonist and antagonist, leaving things in an explosive position when Grønbekk and Pérez return in August. So, despite the slightly odd place it sits within the history of Carnage series over the last few years, Carnage #8 closes out this volume as strong as it started, and confirms just how well-suited Grønbekk and Pérez are as shepherds of the symbiote lore.


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