Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #28

Background

Following his recent killing spree across Ney York during the Maximum Carnage saga, multiple murder Cletus Kasady (aka Carnage) is currently en route to a maximum security laboratory in Seattle.

Story 'The Mortal Past'

"The Moral Past". Kasady is immobilised within a highly secured truck, strapped down, bound and gagged. The onboard doctor informs the escort guard that these precautions are necessary as it only takes a spilled drop of Kasady's blood to release the symbiote. Once they arrive at the laboratory in Seattle a team will begin work on "purifying" the extraterrestrial elements from his blood to eliminate the threat for good. Unfortunately Cletus rakes his tongue over one of his back teeth which he had filed down to a razor-sharp point (mentioned previously in Spider-Man Unlimited #1) - drawing blood from his shattered teeth. The oxygen levels rapidly replenish the symbiote's strength and Carnage bursts from his bindings and quickly dispatches the guards, before turning his attention to the doctor (who'd had the bad timing to make a sarcastic "all torn up" remark to Kasady's plight moments before hand). Leaping from the truck's cab window and is about to set upon the surrounding police escort when Spider-Man (heavily armed with an Avenger's thermo-cannon) announces his presence, having followed the convoy to ensure there wasn't a repeat of the Manhattan slaughter. Carnage offers a truce: if Spider-Man puts down the gun, he'll let go of the guards he has just completely submerged and bound within his tendrils. Spidey is too quick to be duped by this trade-off as Carnage uses the moment's hesitation to smash the gun and kill the hostages – thanking them for there cooperation and telling them they are no longer needed, then crushing them to death.. Enraged by both the act and the knowledge that his slowness to take action may have prevented it, Spider-Man hurls a boulder at Carnage which sends the creature crashing into the truck. The symbiote begins to recede, partially revealing Kasady beneath who murmurs that he feel broken inside. Spidey, wracked with guilt goes over to help but is tricked again as Carnage reforms and strikes at him – missing and puncturing a passing fuel freighter. In the resulting explosion Spider-Man is thrown away while Carnage leaps into a police car and makes his escape. Flinging a Spider-tracker onto the vehicle, Spider-Man then turns his attention to the wounded.

Dusk. Location: a lumber mill in the Rocky Mountain foot hills. Mr Bentine's secretary is clocking-off for the night, but Bentine seems hesitant to leave. He retreats into his office; musing on what will happen to her thoughtfulness towards him once she discovers the (as yet unknown) truth – casting a glance at the locked brief-case on the desk as he does this. Mid sentence he is cut off by a figure hiding in the shadows who addresses him as Billy. As the figure emerges, Billy recognises him as Carnage from the news reports. Carnage seems delighted to have made a memorable impression, but gets down to business, informing Billy that he to has been keeping track of his actions ("they let us watch TV even in prison") – apparently Billy has been helping develop a chemical that will double the use of trees and make for an environmental milestone, a pity seeing as he isn't going to live long enough to see if it works...

In the town below Spider-Man has followed the tracking device to the abandoned car, but with no sign of Carnage he is at a loss as of what to do.

Billy enquires as to why he has been targeted, seeing as Carnage's usual M.O. is to kill randomly and without pattern so as to aid in spreading the freedom of chaos to the people. Carnage replies that people have now come to predict on him acting randomly, and so by selecting a specific target this time it all becomes just as random again. He chose Billy because they were once friends. Cue flash-back, and we see Billy at Camp Wak-Sa-Hates (as Carnage refers to it). He spies Cletus hiding in a bush snickering and then notices the girls dorm filled with smoke. One of the campers blames him for the smoke bombs and fire crackers and he takes the fall. When Cletus asks why he did it, Billy simply states its because they're friends – which shocks Kasady as he never remembers having had a friend before then (he even seems ecstatic at the idea). Back in the present Billy is bewildered as to why the only person who was nice to Cletus should deserve Carnages wrath. Carnage's twisted logic is that it's expected for kindness to be repaid, but in the world of chaos you are free to do whatever you want – this being the prime example. Noticing Billy going for a draw at his desk, Carnage heaves it out of the window, which alerts Spider-Man. An emotionally exhausted Billy states he was reaching for a bottle not a weapon (to which Carnage makes a quip about earning money being thirsty work), and tells his executioner that since he became hooked on gambling while on a business trip to Vegas he lost everything; house; wife; savings, and that tonight he was taking the fund money from the environmentalists and making a run to Mexico. Carnage is disappointed that he isn't going to get the chance to shred a righteous citizen, but promises he'll find a way to live with it as he snares Billy's head. Suddenly Spider-Man crashes through the window - striking a blow to Carnage that causes him to release Billy. Spidey tells Billy to get out and call 911 and he agrees, but tells Spidey not to hurt Clete as he's just a mixed up kid inside. Its Carnage Spider-Man is worried about, and he only just has time to shield himself from a volley of symbiote-darts with a filing cabinet, which he promptly uses as a weapon to bludgeon his foe. As Billy makes his escape he sees the open brief case of money on the floor and hesitates.

The battle has sent Carnage tumbling through a wall and into the lumber mill. Spidey follows and fires webbing into Carnage's face while dodging his attacks. Unfortunately he underestimates the symbiote ability to repel web- fluid and Carnage is able to pin him against the wall. Outside Billy is making a break for it when he has a sudden change of heart. Carnage asks which limb Spidey wants to loose first, but the only thing he's losing is his patience – web-snaring a pile of timbers with his free hand and sending the pile of two- by-fours cascading onto Carnage. This dos little but prove a momentary distraction and Carnage is quick to shack off the bombardment and declare he's taking the Wall-Crawler's eyes for that one. However its given Spider-Man enough time to break free and shied himself from Carnage's darts on the timber conveyer belt – this proves a mistake because Carnage powers the machine to life and pins Spider-Man to the belt. Too deluded in victory, Carnage isn't quick enough to react as Spider-Man web-snares the buzz-saw, yanking it free and sending it splicing into the tendrils holding him. Spider-Man hurls himself at Carnage but has to divert his attack in order to push an inquisitive security guard to safety, before he his sent flying into a vat of the chemical's Billy's company have been developing. With his enemy weighed down and stuck Carnage launches himself for the killing blow when Billy reappears and demands that if Carnage is to kill anyone tonight then let it at least be the intended victim. Over the years he may have lost a lot of things, but with this Billy intends to take back his honour by doing the right thing and not leaving another man to die while he runs in cowardice. Unmoved, Carnage goes for him. Billy wants Cletus to know that he wont hate him for this because it's the monster inside that's the real culprit - little Clete Kasady would never have hurt him. Carnage laughs at this statement, the symbiote retracting as Kasady informs Billy that Clete would happily murder him with his bare hands, allowing Spider-Man to land a knock-out blow to his weakened foes face. Billy says how he saw Spidey pulling free and remembered what he mentioned earlier about Carnage being tough but Cletus being vulnerable. Though Kasady would probably cringe to hear it, he was the best friend Billy ever had.

Hours later Kasady is back in the Vault prison facility, behind an electrified and (somehow) flame coated bars, silently mocking the guard's delusion that he was still there for any other reason than that they expect him to escape, and dwelling on the fate of Billy – he wont go after him again, but only because the Guy will be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life anyway. Secure in the thought that people like that never change, we see Billy entering a gambler's anonymous group despite the mad-mans ramblings.

General Comments

"The Moral Past" is an entertaining and well animated story. After the whole Maximum Carnage debacle I felt sure that this would be the end of anything remotely decent for the character, but instead we get something long enough to be fully-fleshed out but not bloated and a return of a Carnage more true to his original conception. I love the way he coats the two police men in his symbiote and crushes all their bones on the 13th page – finally something original after 18 or so issues of spikes, daggers and axes. I also like the return of his logic (the stuff applied in Maximum Carnage was frankly as dire as the arch itself) by attempting to throw off his captors by going somewhere any other normal villain would defiantly head for - a source of their discontent. This helps demonstraights why Carnage is such a unique adversary – he can rely on the general predictability used to track any other criminal to avoid predictability (if you catch my meaning). He continues this theme by attempting to kill his only friend for the reason that in life it is expected to return kindness, and so to bring chaos he must destroy convention – great skewed logic. Fantastic fight scenes, actions and story aplenty are the many key features here – if only his later appearances had kept this kind of standard. To once again comment on the animation, I found it very high standard with good and creative use of shading and vivid colour. My favorite panel in this entire annual is the scene in which Carnage first reveals himself to Billy on page 17, slowly emerging from shadow – an image that seems to have been the source for a similar panel in the New Avengers: Breakout #2. Okay so I admit this is a tad bias as I am a mayor symbiote fan, but its always good to see a character, favored or not make a decent return after a seemingly career ending debacle. The only thing I didn't get was the electric door of fire at the end, but what can you do? Full marks.

Overall Rating

A return to form for Carnage with beautiful illustraitons and a desent story to boot. Full marks.

Footnote

Billy Bentine appears in Carnage: It's a wonderful life