Well, it’s official now, Zeb Wells can do anything.
Not only has this guy written one of the best Spider-Man titles in recent years (Avenging Spider-Man), he’s now made Carnage interesting, something I never thought could happen. To me, Carnage was always a second stringer – yet another way for Marvel to milk the whole alien symbiote thing. Let’s take the alien and have it bond with a serial killer, that’ll be spooky. The whole thing seemed goofy to me. In Carnage USA #1, the five issue series from Zeb Wells, the second string monster steps up to the plate.
Issue #1 opens in small town USA involved in doing small town USA type things. Children play while their mother scolds them to be careful, the locals try to get the town drunk home safe and an elderly couple sits on a swing. Wells takes great pains to set up the calm and tranquility of existence within the folds of small town life. Then, without warning, he shatters the illusion using Carnage, a meatpacking plant, and lots of dead cows. From there comes a domino effect that redefines how twisted Carnage is. The scene where Carnage oozes from a bathtub and bonds with a small child is particularly chilling.
The backbone of Carnage USA #1 is the same as Avenging Spider-Man, dialog. Wells is a great at laying down a story and keeping the action paced perfectly, but his dialog is beyond reproach. It would be easy to make Cletus Kasady, the serial killer bonded to Carnage, over the top in his violence, but Wells goes for sadistic and cruel, which is much more effective. Kasady’s repertoire with the elderly couple is disturbing to read. In addition to his Carnage, Wells also nails the dialog for each Avenger. The bit where Hawkeye has become frustrated because The Thing’s shtick is getting boring is priceless. Like Avenging Spider-Man #2, Carnage USA changes moods on a dime. By the last page, things have shifted in such a dramatic manner that it’s palpable, even from a two dimensional medium.
I find it fascinating how much great stuff is going in the fringes of the Marvel Universe. As the “House Of Ideas” begins to ready comic fans for what amounts to Civil War II (Avengers vs. X-Men), the really great work is being done on the peripheral. Carnage USA #1 is a perfect example of that. An edgier story, a more adult tone, great dialog, and none of the trappings of the “event” writers. Folks like Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and Brian Michael Bendis would do well to check out Zeb Wells, Greg Pak, Dan Slott and some of the other folks who are rocking and rolling out there. It’s not about ego or statement, it’s about story and Carnage USA #1 will knock you out with the story.
My only reservation, and I realize it’s a personal taste matter, is the art. I don’t like Clayton Crain’s style, I never have. I don’t like the dentist office “fine art” way of doing comic books. It looks like a bad watercolor project and it completely doesn’t work for this book. Crain is obviously a master artist, but his style keeps taking you out of the story, which is annoying. I’m sure Carnage USA will have Crain’s art throughout, which is too bad. That being said, don’t let the misguided artist choice allow you to pass by one of the best kick off issues I’ve read in a long time.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 7/10 (for the art)