1) Maximum Carnage, Maximum Carnage
Here it is, folks. The final abyss, abandon all hope, this shit is about to get real, etc. This is it: the worst Spider-man story ever written. And could there be any doubt? Sprawling over fourteen issues, starring patently awful villains, guest-starring the greatest D-List heroes the early ‘90s could offer, and never featuring Spider-man do a damn thing but mope and whine, Maximum Carnage is everything wrong with superhero comics. It’s preachy, mindlessly violent, and ultimately doesn’t make a bit of fucking sense. It also relies on a nigh-endless parade of really fucking stupid contrivances. I’d tell you to pay attention in order understand what’s going on, but no amount of concentration would really help that. Just read it and weep.
Okay, you know how the first Carnage story ended with the symbiote being destroyed? Maximum Carnage, right out of the gate, reverses that in the most flagrant way possible. Host Cletus Kasady just… regenerates another symbiote in his blood, and up and transforms on a visit to doctors at Ravencroft. So he kills everyone in the room, and then starts killing guards and inmates and basically everything. He only stops when he hears Shriek, a D-list villain who fought Cloak and Dagger previously, cheering him on. They decide to head out into the city to… well, break shit, basically, and find the evil Spider-man Doppleganger left over from some fucking Infinity crossover I can’t be bothered to remember. Shriek adopts Doppleganger so the story can start beating us over the head with its heavy-handed “Manson Family” parallels.
Spider-man takes the first of many assbeatings in this story, injuring his rib cage, and has to get saved by… hey, Cloak and Dagger, how ‘bout that. They take Spider-man back to an abandoned church where they hang out, and the villains follow to ensure more dumb brawling, which escalates to the point where Shriek is able to kill Dagger. Venom sees some TV coverage of events out in San Francisco and decides that Spider-man is far too fucking incompetent to handle Carnage, so he’ll fly out and do it himself. What’s sad is, generally speaking, the story thus far makes Venom look right.
Venom shows up the next issue to hunt Carnage, Spider-man is still running around hunting Carnage, and Cloak is looking for Shriek. Spider-man actually ends up brawling with (sigh) Demogoblin, the devil-possessed Goblin who exists to “kill sinners”, and even then Spidey has to get his ass saved by a priest. Meanwhile, Venom finds Carnage and starts brawling with him, but loses and has to crawl back to Peter Parker’s apartment (where he knows he’s a welcome guest). Demogoblin, meanwhile, hooks up with Carnage’s posse at their abandoned warehouse hideout. Venom wants to team-up with Spider-man, who’s also gone home, and Spidey goes to ask the Black Cat (sure, whatever) for advice. She teams up with Spidey, and the two team up with Venom. Christ, this is like reading about a bunch of nine-year-olds trying to start a baseball team.
Cloak arrives at Carnage’s warehouse hideout and tries to avenge Dagger, but instead gets his ass kicked. Team Spidey conveniently sees some energy blasts flying around and homes in on the warehouse to bail Cloak out. There’s yet another fucking battle to a standstill, the roof is set on fire, and then the villains bring it down on the damn heroes. We have a moment where Spidey has to choose between saving his ailing allies, Black Cat and Venom, or chasing after Carnage solo. That the latter is presented as any sort of real option is part of the fucking idiocy inherent in this story. Of course Spider-man saves his allies. Could he even fucking stand a chance against Carnage’s posse solo, anyway?
Because Venom is a fucking moron, he yells at Spider-man for saving him and Black Cat instead of going after Carnage so he could get killed. Spider-man’s reaction is to sulk and go home, where his father Richard Parker (who isn’t an evil robot yet) screams about how you have to be an asshole to get by in the world. Guess he’s a Republican. Peter goes back out swinging around, and thinks of the goodness inherent in the common man as he runs across looting and rioting. When he tries to stop things, he gets dogpiled by enraged citizens. Spider-man emerges from the pile mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! This is a grim and gritty Spider-man for the ‘90s!
Venom and Black Cat regroup with Cloak to form Team Venom , and go recruit Morbius. Meanwhile, Mary Jane is mad at Peter for being Spider-man during a superpowered serial killer crisis and decides to go out dancing. Stupid and contrived, since this means mostly that Carnage can attack the club she’s at. Team Venom goes there to get into a big battle with Team Carnage, which tears up the club. Spider-man sees footage on the news and heads over to help out Team Venom. The club (surprise!) collapses at the end, and Spider-man forces Team Venom to help save people trapped in the rubble instead of stopping Carnage right away.
Next Team Venom (which Spidey has joined, I guess?) decide to get Reed Richards’ sonic gun and Firestar so they exploit Carnage’s damage type weaknesses for extra press turns. Team Carnage is destroying a museum, meanwhile, and picks up Carrion as a bonus member. Z-list cyborg guy Deathlok shows up to try and stop them, but he gets his ass handed to him easily and Team Carnage escapes. Later B-list hero Iron Fist shows up to rescue him.
Team Venom meanwhile crashes J. Jonah Jameson’s office to have him set a trap for Carnage, by printing “Carnage Come Home!” as a headline. Team Venom hopes Carnage will go back to the orphanage where he grew up in, and that they can lie in wait for him there. JJJ goes along with it, and that means it’s time for another motherfucking fight. This time the heroes get Carnage pinned down pretty effectively, but Shriek does something fucking inane to make sure the symbiote can bounce back and this shit can go on for six more fucking issues. Team Venom and Team Carnage battle, with Cloak getting banged up enough to have to retreat. Shriek kindly explains her ability to make other people act deranged and violent, so suddenly people doing plausible things during a social breakdown is just evil mind control. People are basically good, Spider-man! You go right on believing that.
Team Venom starts collapsing during the battle, as Black Cat wimps out and Demogoblin takes out Morbius. Firestar has Carnage on the ropes, and Venom urges her to just kill him. Spider-man agrees for a time, but then begs her to stop when Carnage begins, you know, acting like dying really hurts. Firestar doesn’t really want to kill him either, which makes Venom take the tactically brilliant move of trying to kill her. He beats up Spider-man, too, which leaves both him and Firestar out of the battle. Carnage and Shriek then team up on him, beat the crap out of him, and drag him off to torture him some. Spider-man is wondering how much worse it can get, but then Captain America shows up, bringing with him singing doves and shafts of light breaking through the clouds and a heavenly fucking choir.
Captain America takes Spidey and Firestar to conveniently empty Avengers Mansion to gather information, and there they hook up with Deathlok and Iron Fist. What remains of Team Venom keeps trying to fight what remains of Team Carnage, and mostly fails until Spawn… er, wait, no, I mean Nightwatch shows up to bail their asses out. Carnage and Shriek have taken off to the Statue of Liberty to torment Venom with fire and yelling and sonic blasts, oh my. Black Cat is finally too beat up to care anymore and leaves Team Venom to go recover. Cloak also leaves to go… sulk or something.
Shriek leaves off torturing Venom for a bit to go out and cause riots or something, fuck, I don’t know why. Team Spidey, which is really more Team Cap at this point, go out to stop the rioting and beat Shriek up enough to web her a lamppost. Doppleganger and Demogoblin free her, and then there’s another big dumb throwdown with Team Cap. Shriek briefly loses her hold over the crowd around them, but pumps it up so the heroes also have to deal with an angry mob. Shriek pulls back with her posse (plus Carrion, who sorta… shows up at some point) to watch the battle while she angsts about her crummy life.
Carnage shows up and is very angry with Shriek for… leaving and doing things, I guess? Carnage begins beating the crap out of her, and the Doppleganger tries to come to her defense. Carnage slaps the Doppleganger around easily and then throws him off a roof, killing him. Team Spidey shows up after this to throw down with Team Carnage, now that the rioters are dealt with (uh… somehow). Cloak also shows up with a not-dead-at-all Dagger, who regenerated from the… folds of his cape? Something like that. It’s as fucking random as her death.
By now it’s time for the next-to-last issue, which means we can resolve all this bullshit. After a pointlessly inconclusive brawl between Dagger and Shriek, Spidey faces Team Carnage by himself while everyone else goes offscreen to get a stupid thing. After Spider-man gets beaten up for awhile, Deathlok returns with (sigh) the Alpha-Wave Illuminizer, a gun that shoots happy beams of goodness out of Iron Fist and Dagger through a biofeedback thingy Deathlok rides. They focus the Happy Gun to Shriek, which forces her to transmit Happy Waves to all of Team Carnage. The Happy Waves take out every single member of Team Carnage, or weaken them so much they can be easily subdued. It doesn’t work on Carnage, who gets so angry about happiness that he makes the Happy Gun explode.
At first the explosion appears to kill Carnage, so the good guys clean up all the mess and go home. Spider-man goes to Central Park to decompress, and Venom arrives there, angry that he didn’t get to kill Carnage. That’s also when Carnage shows up, cackling about how he’s not! Really! Dead! Now it’s down to a final issue’s worth of fighting between Carnage, Spider-man, and Venom where Spidey is really at the most pathetic he’s been through this entire sorry story.
Carnage and Venom brawl all over New York, first at Ryker’s Island and then back at the orphanage where Kasady grew up, and Spider-man really can’t do much more than try to keep Venom from killing Carnage. Eventually Spidey and Venom agree to team up and track Carnage down to a graveyard, but this really makes no difference. Spidey still has cracked ribs and Carnage is about to murder him when the Black Cat returns to make the save. Venom takes the opportunity to throw Carnage into a nearby… bank of… generators? This causes a massive explosion that knocks Carnage out. Spider-man and Black Cat haul him from the fire while Venom escapes. The Avengers show up to haul off Carnage, which leaves Spider-man’s score card of “things accomplished” for this story at absolute fucking zero.