Was It One of the Greatest Spider-Man Stories Ever Told? Hell No.
September 26, 2020 11:40 AM   Subscribe

During this time, you had a lot of new characters that were more “extreme” and “edgy.” Some may disparage them now as really “‘90s” characters, but they were really fresh at the time. Carnage, in particular, is a product of the 1990s, and I think that’s clear due to the violence of the character and because he’s just a more extreme version of Venom, who was already kind of extreme. Carnage was very much a “turned up to 11” kind of character. An Oral History of ‘Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage’ [MEL]
posted by chavenet (14 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
>Some may disparage them now as really “‘90s” characters,

I may, in fact.

Carnage and Venom are Spider-Man's Poochie.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:21 PM on September 26 [19 favorites]

The most interesting thing about Venom is how buck-wild and convoluted his origin story is, and how every subsequent version of that origin is "IDK he's from space shut up"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:53 PM on September 26 [10 favorites]

Venom works really well as a queer character. Focus on the fucked up symbionic love. The character is salvageable.

Carnage is just 90s edgy to the max and can be safely discarded to the dustbin of time.
posted by explosion at 2:37 PM on September 26 [9 favorites]

I dunno if I'd write Carnage off as some edgy artifact. Like so many things that once felt over-the-top or absurd, reality might have them beat. If Carnage came out today, I'm not sure he would register as quite so edgy given the backdrop of our year.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:52 PM on September 26 [2 favorites]

The number of Venom spinoff characters is staggering at this point. Comics are always a product of their moment, so a 90s edgier Venom made total sense, much as vigorously scraping the bottom of long empty barrels does in 2020.
posted by StarkRoads at 3:12 PM on September 26 [2 favorites]

Venom is just a pair of grouchy space panties. Any time someone lists him as one of their favorite characters, I know that the Punisher is about to be the next one they mention.
posted by haileris23 at 3:53 PM on September 26 [18 favorites]

Yeah, this is around when comics really started to suck. The article is a pretty good postmortem of that whole mid-90s era when the Big Two comics companies, Marvel in particular, were chasing after the fading echoes of the speculation-driven sales high of a few years earlier, and creating some of the most abjectly shitty characters and comics in their history. Venom wasn't the worst idea in the world--most superheroes end up facing off against evil versions of themselves sooner or later, and it was a canny and visually striking recycling of the symbiote Spider-Man costume, itself a gimmick used to promote the original Secret Wars limited series--but "Venom, but even more extreme" is the kind of thing that a twelve-year-old would come up with, and given the number of comics fans who were (and are) stuck at that level of emotional development, it's no wonder that it was a hit. It's kind of sad now, though, to see someone like J.M. DeMatteis (who has written far, far superior work) still standing up for it. Danny Fingeroth is more honest:
All these crossovers and big stories aren’t a bad thing, but I do think something was lost in that and there wasn’t as much room for smaller stories anymore, or stories that were just one good issue. That trend didn’t start with Maximum Carnage — I’d say maybe Death of Superman started it — but Maximum Carnage was another brick in that wall.
I'd say that it started even earlier than that, probably the one-two punch of Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:50 PM on September 26 [12 favorites]

a pair of grouchy space panties

This is just Kill la Kill.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:54 PM on September 26 [10 favorites]

I’ve always thought 90s XTREEEM comics were based on bad readers. Like, people who read a text, but just don’t get the message, just that, in this case, the text was Watchmen, and the misreading was that Rorschach was the hero in a story that was specifically written in a way that there were no heroes . I think you have a bunch of comic book fans talking about Watchmen and how good it was, and you have a fan base raised on comic tropes, and the instinct is to find the hero, the one who will save the day. In a comic filled with impotence (literal and otherwise) and indecision, people looking for a hero mistook characters taking action and making commitments as heroic, giving us people hungering for more of Rorschach (an outright psychopath with extreme right wing views), and fuck, even the later day flamethrower wielding Comedian.

I think it’s a pretty straight line from Rorschach to Spawn, X-Force, Bishop, Carnage, Venom and Rob Liefield’s entire career, and if the Comedian and his armor, facial scar, and guns weren’t at least part of the character model for Cable, I’d eat a comic book.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:05 PM on September 26 [14 favorites]

Depending on who's handling things, Venom as the Lethal Protector can be a thoroughly entertaining and even charming character(s). Venom as a hapless, well-intentioned ball of violence and cluelessness is an iteration I personally find endearing.

There was an early-2000s Spiderman video game that had a lot of symbiote plot, and at one point Venom is brought in because he's technically an expert on symbiotes. Peter tells Venom that they need to do more research and he has to get to this particular laboratory to do so. Venom responds, "Are we going to... *surf the web*?" and then there is a long, silent pause. Cut to the two of them webslinging into the lab area and Venom is humming and chatting to themself, "Surf the web, surf the web" in such a way that you can tell they were so pleased with their joke that they have been repeating it the entire trip over. Peter Parker's posture is one of resigned suffering.
posted by Scattercat at 5:15 PM on September 26 [12 favorites]

> "Yeah, this is around when comics really started to suck."

Well ... it's when mainstream superhero comics really started to suck. But it was also the heyday DC Vertigo, and wasn't exactly a wasteland for indie comics, either.
posted by kyrademon at 5:30 PM on September 26 [9 favorites]

the kind of thing that a twelve-year-old

To be fair 12 year old Stark LOVED these. They have a tastelessly large number of head stockings and grimacey faces but like, they're just comics. I can't tell you they 'hold up' but I don't need 'em to.
posted by StarkRoads at 6:26 PM on September 26 [3 favorites]

Of course it's not the greatest Spider-Man story ever told. It's not If This Be My Destiny/The Final Chapter, AKA The One Where Spider-Man Does the Thing.
posted by BiggerJ at 6:39 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]

kyrademon: Well ... it's when mainstream superhero comics really started to suck. But it was also the heyday DC Vertigo, and wasn't exactly a wasteland for indie comics, either.

A fair point, although DC basically founded Vertigo as a walled garden to keep from losing more prestige creators the way it had lost Alan Moore, who'd created Vertigo stalwart John Constantine (in the process of reinventing Vertigo stalwart Swamp Thing) and continued his work on V for Vendetta at DC, as well as encouraging a young writer named Neil Gaiman, whose major work up to that point had been a biography of Duran Duran, to get into comics. Moore left DC in part because of its rating system, which the company created in part because of the more mature work that Moore, Frank Miller, and Howard Chaykin were doing for the company, work that would be published under the Vertigo label in the nineties. And, for all that, the company still took several years to create the separate imprint. So, DC did do something good in the nineties... to fix its fuck-up of the eighties.

As for indie comics, that's even more complicated, since you had a number of prominent companies that flourished in the eighties (First, Eclipse, Comico) but were dead or dying by the mid-nineties. The black-and-white comics boom and bust (prompted by the runaway success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) had something to do with that. Then you've got Fantagraphics, which has somehow managed to survive for decades, companies like Last Gasp that got their start with the undergrounds, and, oddly enough, Image Comics, which started off as the publisher of the hot artists of the early-nineties comics boom (mostly doing pretty obvious knockoffs of DC and Marvel characters) and eventually evolved into a respectable indie house publishing projects such as Saga and The Walking Dead. In the mid-nineties, though, they were still churning out crap like WildC.A.T.S. and Supreme that wouldn't be worth reading until they hired a formerly-hot writer who needed the work, by the name of... Alan Moore.

In conclusion, 90s comics was a land of contrasts, and yeah, I was really just talking about DC and Marvel.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 PM on September 26 [2 favorites]

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