Venom: Let There Be Carnage – The Comics History of the Symbiote Rivalry

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Something that impresses me with a superhero movie like Venom is when it doesn’t rush directly into the expected villain. When there are four different Fantastic Four movies, and they’re all about emphasizing Dr. Doom, it’s a breath of fresh air when, say, Man of Steel only makes an Easter egg reference to Lex Luthor instead of going directly for that confrontation. The MCU Spider-Man has yet to meet an Osborn, guys like Thanos and Darkseid started out as ominous benefactors, and the existence of Heath Ledger Joker was merely a cliffhanger tease in Batman Begins.

Much like how the Justice League movie decided to take its time by giving us Steppenwolf of all people, the first Venom movie had Carlton Drake (who hasn’t appeared in the comics since the early 9’0s) and Riot (the most forgettable of all of Venom’s comic children). By letting Venom build himself up on his own, flanked by some rather mundane villains, it gave more meaning to Cletus Kasady showing up in the post-credits. Carnage, Venom’s main villain, gets more fanfare by appearing in the sequel where our hero is fully formed.

Since Carnage’s first appearance in 1992, the idea has always been to make a darker, scarier Venom. Venom was a villain at the time, sure, but he was also on the border of becoming more. Outside of his personal delusions and anger issues, he still claimed that he wanted to help the innocent and punish the guilty. Even when he was able to accept that Spider-Man was good, they couldn’t co-exist due to their different natures as vigilantes. Carnage was simpler because he was full-on evil and had no potential for redemption. He was something so sinister and malevolent that both Spider-Man and Venom knew it was worth it to put aside their differences and take this creep down.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage has hyped Carnage up as being out of Venom’s league and that was the initial push of the character. Over time, the two became roughly equals as Carnage became the go-to bad guy for Venom to punch.

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So let’s take a look at the history of Venom vs. Carnage. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to define “Venom” and “Carnage” as characters wearing their respective symbiotes (excluding Peter Parker), or the symbiotes themselves. I’m not going to count Eddie Brock as Toxin, or Flash Thompson as Agent Anti-Venom or whatever.

Carnage’s Debut

Not counting cameos and build-up, Carnage’s first major appearance was in Amazing Spider-Man #361, starting off a three-parter. Spider-Man came to realize that he wasn’t enough to stop Carnage and he was going to need help. Specifically, he was going to need Venom. This was an awkward decision as Venom was at the time living his best life on an empty island, thinking that he had succeeded in killing Spider-Man.

Once Venom fully understood the situation, he accepted the temporary alliance. In the very first Venom vs. Carnage confrontation, Venom and Spider-Man tackled Carnage, got slammed into each other, then thrown into opposite walls. Carnage then caused a distraction by putting a baby in danger so he could escape. While he was dominant in that very brief scuffle, he still needed to run off, so I’m calling this a draw.

The handicap match continued into the last issue of the arc at a rock concert. In one-on-one exchanges, Carnage had Venom’s number, but Spider-Man was always there for the save. Spider-Man was able to use the sonics from the amplifiers to take out both of them. Technically a draw again, but it’s also a situation where Carnage regularly kicked the shit out of Venom and Venom only survived because he had help.

Maxium Carnage

Insert your Green Jelly cassettes and press play because it’s time for Carnage’s big ’90s crossover story. After the previous story’s popularity, Marvel decided to add more heroes, more villains, and make the whole thing a whopping 14 issues!

As Venom was a San Francisco vigilante at the time, he flew to New York to stop Carnage’s reign of terror. The first fight wasn’t even shown, as after the reveal that Carnage had Shriek and Doppelganger on his side, it cut away. A brutalized Venom was later found passing out while knocking on Peter and MJ’s door.

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As Maximum Carnage was filled with so much filler and extra characters, there were various fight scenes of a group of heroes brawling with a group of villains. Venom and Carnage talked smack a lot, but nothing much ever really happened in terms of fighting. The story finally kicked into gear when Venom used a stolen sonic gun and blasted Carnage while Firestar assisted with her microwave blasts. This would have done the job, but Spider-Man got in the way and Shriek simply cut Cletus’ face open, causing his symbiote to respawn and bring him back to 100 percent health. Carnage and Shriek overwhelmed Venom and carried him off, along with the sonic gun.

Venom spent several issues being tortured until coming up with the plan to sneak some of the symbiote into the sonic gun so that Carnage would splatter Venom with more Venom. He punched Carnage down and escaped with gusto, hiding the fact that he was in no condition to fight.

It isn’t until the last issue that we FINALLY got a real Venom vs. Carnage fight. Venom was physically busted a bit, but Carnage was mentally busted. The heroes hit him with some MaGuffin device that caused him to be haunted by those who screwed him up in life. Venom pretty much just kicked Carnage’s ass around the city while Carnage tried in vain to escape. Every now and then, Spider-Man would appear and go, “B-b-but Eddie! Killing is wrong!” for the sake of giving Carnage a second wind.

Eventually, Venom punched Carnage so hard that Carnage’s brain ghosts went away. Knowing Carnage was more of a threat this way, Venom tackled him into a transformer. After the explosion, Cletus was knocked out and Venom got to weakly sneak away. Hey, good for him!

Venom: Carnage Unleashed

Venom was so popular that we got Carnage. Carnage’s initial storyline was so popular that we got Maximum Carnage. Maximum Carnage was so popular that we got a Maximum Carnage video game. Then we got Venom: Carnage Unleashed, a comic based on the popularity of the Maximum Carnage video game. It…wasn’t all too popular.

Still, it did give us the rarely used plot device that symbiotes can travel through phone lines and the internet! Symbiotes really are like pre-Crisis Superman where you can give them whatever power and people will just go with it no matter how ridiculous. As Carnage escaped from Ravencroft and commandeered a security tank, Venom eventually caught up with him and they had a fight on a runaway vehicle through traffic. Carnage eventually won when Venom got slammed by an oncoming train.

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Their final battle here is a big pile of “That’s not how any of this works!” The two characters send symbiote tendrils into the internet, which were rendered on the Times Square big screen as the two brawled in cyberspace. Venom destroyed a nearby heatsink, which blasted both and knocked them out of the internet.

Carnage was ready for another go, but his kidnapped psychiatrist set him on fire and caused him to fall out a window. Venom reached through the phone lines and out the window to catch the falling Cletus because dying is WHAT HE WANTS. Which… no, that’s not true at all. Hell, even in Maximum Carnage, Cletus was freaked out about the possibility of dying.

Venom: On Trial

So there was a big Spider-Man/Scarlet Spider/Venom team-up called Planet of the Symbiotes that culminated in a 40-foot-tall Carnage, but there was never a specific Venom vs. Carnage moment, so I won’t go into it. Venom’s ’90s antihero run did have a storyline where Eddie was arrested and put on trial for all of his many crimes. Cletus Kasady was brought in as a star witness, which was an invitation for him to freak out and go on a killing rampage. I mean, seriously, guys. Come on. You should know better.

This story went all-in on Venom wrecking Carnage. Again, Spider-Man would interrupt and give Carnage a chance to turn things around. This time though, Venom decided to ride the wave by sneaking away while Spider-Man and Daredevil took on Carnage. Realizing that the two didn’t have a chance, Venom picked up a couple syringes filled with dopamine blocker and sprung into action. He smacked Carnage around, injected the blocker into his neck, and watched as the symbiote retracted into Cletus’ body.

Venom Triumphant

Howard Mackie wrote Spider-Man comics for a long while and he had an annoying tendency when it came to storytelling. He would come up with an interesting, if nonsensical, idea that would shake up the status quo, but instead of following up on that and using it to tell an actual story, he would just forget about it and move to the next idea that popped into his head. He was one of the main reasons why the Spider-Man Clone Saga was such a mess.

In the 10th issue of Peter Parker, Spider-Man, Venom broke into the prison where Carnage was being held. Despite the legion of heavily armed guards with flamethrowers and sonic guns, Venom killed them all so quickly that the artist didn’t even show it. Cletus, for some reason, figured Venom was trying to break him out of prison, but instead Venom was there to absorb the Carnage symbiote. Carnage barely put up a fight. Pieces of the symbiote were on him, but he didn’t fully transform or try to defend himself. Venom simply pulled the symbiote off of him and ate it, becoming stronger.

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After this issue, there was barely any follow-up to this.

Venom vs. Carnage

This miniseries came out at a really weird time for those involved. Carnage was just a couple months away from being torn in half by the Sentry and being written out of comics for years. Venom was appearing in Marvel Knights Spider-Man where Eddie Brock got rid of the symbiote and it bounced around to different hosts until landing on Mac Gargan. Meanwhile there was a Venom ongoing that was more about a symbiote clone where Eddie Brock only appeared for a couple late issues.

In other words, in the Venom vs. Carnage miniseries by Peter Milligan and Clayton Crain, even the creative team had no idea who Venom’s host was supposed to be. Luckily, the story wasn’t about Venom or Carnage, but a new character who would quickly fall into obscurity anyway.

Venom and Carnage swung around New York City, giving the exposition. The Carnage symbiote was pregnant and Venom was explaining that there was nothing to do to stop the creature from going into labor. Venom was all about protecting the new spawn while Carnage wanted to destroy it, immediately. Carnage got the better of Venom by flinging him into the distance. Regardless, the explosive birth wore out Carnage so much that he could only plant the baby onto a nearby cop and escape to rest up.

When the two had a rematch, Venom was there to save the baby symbiote (Toxin) and its host (Pat Mulligan). As if getting revenge for that Carnage Unleashed story, Venom brought the fight to the subway and pushed Carnage into an oncoming train.

And… that’s really all the Venom vs. Carnage we get in Venom vs. Carnage! Once Venom sees that Toxin is a good guy and capable of kicking Carnage’s ass, he gets afraid of Toxin befriending Spider-Man and decides to team up with Carnage for once.

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Carnage, USA

Carnage returned from his maiming at the hands of the Sentry, albeit without a bottom half. By then, a lot had happened with Venom. The symbiote was removed from Mac Gargan and joined with war hero Flash Thompson. Agent Venom went on to join the Secret Avengers.

Carnage, USA told the story of Cletus expanding his symbiote to overtake an entire town in the middle of nowhere. When various heroes went to oppose him, the Carnage symbiote ended up taking over Captain America, Wolverine, Hawkeye, and the Thing. When gaining a moment of clarity, Cap called in Agent Venom for help.

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In their first meeting, Agent Venom easily took down Carnage with some explosive projectiles that came with sonic shrapnel. Then when getting ready for the kill – say it with me everyone – Spider-Man got in his face and went, “No! Don’t kill!” Carnage recovered, and overwhelmed Venom with his army of Carnage’d heroes. Then another obscure symbiote hero, Scorn, popped in to run Venom and Carnage over with a bulldozer and bring them into a facility that would blast their symbiotes off the hosts.

While Cletus and Flash had a fight based around the novelty that both were legless, the Venom symbiote latched onto a gorilla and ran for its life against an entire zoo full of animals with the Carnage symbiote. After almost being taken down by a Carnage lion (Spider-Man with the save), the gorilla returned to Flash and gave him the power to bring Cletus into custody.

As for the town-wide Carnage symbiote, most of it was taken out by an airstrike.

Minimum Carnage

Following up on Agent Venom, he had his own team-up arc with Scarlet Spider (Kaine) with the fun dynamic of a Venom who doesn’t want to kill and a Spider-Man who does. The two chased Carnage into the Microverse, where Carnage was able to create an army of symbiote clones. While Agent Venom was able to decapitate Carnage, the villain had attained some level of power where his body is more overall fluid and animated. In this case, Carnage could just reattach his head with no problem.

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Although Flash had sedated his own symbiote and lacked the monstrous advantage, he was able to wipe out a bunch of the clones by amplifying his own inner sorrow outward through the Venom symbiote. Strangely, that’s not the first time Venom was able to do that. What’s left of Carnage slinked away, cackling.

Carnage and the clones returned to Earth and Voltron’d themselves into a giant Carnage. As Carnage tried to devour Agent Venom, Venom shoved a sonic grenade down Carnage’s throat and let the blast do the rest, taking out the enlarged Carnage symbiote almost completely. In the aftermath, Scarlet Spider jabbed one of his claws through Cletus’ eye and lobotomized him.

Venomverse

Venomverse is about a series of Venom hosts from different realities coming together to fight beings called Poisons. Under normal circumstances, Poisons are harmless. If one of them makes physical contact with a symbiote and its host, it transforms them into a nigh-unbeatable crystal-like creature with the Poison in control. By this point, Eddie Brock was Venom again and joined with all sorts of random symbiote heroes to the point that he came off as just a regular dude.

With their back against the wall, Eddie came up with an idea. They brought in Carnage from an alternate universe as a ringer. At first, Carnage fought against the Venoms, but they were reluctant to fight back. Once he saw the Poisons and understood that the Venoms wanted him to kill an army of twisted superheroes, he gladly joined their ranks. He just let them know that once he was done with the Poisons, he’d kill them next.

He ended up being a huge help, especially since the Poisons had a hard time bonding to the Carnage symbiote. Carnage died in an explosion fighting Poisons alongside Poison Deadpool (who was able to bypass his Poison’s mental control).

There was a sequel to this called Venomized where the Poisons returned and tried to invade Earth. They kidnapped Cletus, forced him to bond to an alternate universe Venom, and then bonded that to a Poison. While he was referred to as “Carnage” at times, the Carnage symbiote was never involved, so I’m going to skip this one.

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But where was the Carnage symbiote during all of this?

The Red Goblin

At one point, Norman Osborn became the host for Carnage to give us a climactic villain to finish off Dan Slott’s lengthy run on Amazing Spider-Man. Knowing that Spider-Man was out of his league, J. Jonah Jameson decided to fight fire with fire by calling up Eddie Brock and blackmailing him into aiding Spider-Man. This led to a brief fight of Spider-Man, Venom, and repulsor-wielding Mary Jane against the Red Goblin.

Venom and Red Goblin brawled for a bit, but Red Goblin appeared to be immune to the usual symbiote weaknesses, so only Venom took damage. While he got some hits in, Eddie was too exhausted to continue. Instead he offered the symbiote to Spider-Man to give him the extra boost. This brief team-up allowed the two vigilante enemies to finally bury their lengthy rivalry.

Absolute Carnage

Now we get to Donny Cates’ bonkers run on Venom. Cletus had been resurrected and turned back into Carnage via a bunch of cultists who worshipped Knull, God of Symbiotes. Carnage then started going around eating the spines of those who were once host to a symbiote, getting stronger by the meal. Dark Carnage first fought Venom in a subway and easily overpowered him. Still, Venom got the win by grabbing onto the third rail while holding onto Dark Carnage. It was enough to knock Carnage loopy while Venom could get away and seek out help.

Venom and Spider-Man sought out Norman Osborn (who believed himself to be Cletus Kasady after the Red Goblin episode) and were ambushed by an army of inmates possessed by Carnage symbiotes. Overwhelmed, the two heroes broke through a wall and swung off into the night.

Venom got involved in another big fight against an army of Carnages and could have killed Osborn, but instead chose to save a wounded Mac Gargan nearby and brought him to safety. The Venom symbiote wasn’t happy with this and later left Eddie for Bruce Banner, giving us a fight between Venom Hulk and Dark Carnage. This turned out to be a dire choice, as Dark Carnage tore into Hulk’s brain, caused him to shrink back to Banner, then ate his spine. Carnage was stronger than ever.

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Meanwhile, mad scientist the Maker had a machine that took the “symbiote codex” stuff Carnage was looking for out of former hosts without the nasty “tearing out their spinal column” part. Eddie unleashed the codex collection onto himself, turning him into a more powerful version of Venom. As he took on Cletus one last time, Carnage made note that Venom was screwed no matter what. Either Carnage killed and ate Eddie’s son Dylan or Eddie killed Carnage, which would wake up Knull and drive him to Earth.

Venom summoned the Necrosword to cut through Carnage, destroying him once and for all. For a time, at least.

Prelude to Knull

Wouldn’t you know it, killing Dark Carnage caused Eddie to absorb the Carnage symbiote into himself. Soon he was separated from Venom and stuck on an island while being bonded against his will to the Carnage symbiote. Dylan was able to remotely control the Venom symbiote and transformed it into a giant Venom T-rex. Like it wasn’t even bonding onto a dinosaur or anything. It was just the size and shape of a tyrannosaurus just because.

Eddie and Dylan had a dreamlike meeting in their minds while Carnage Eddie chopped down at the Venom dino. Eventually, the power of familial love was enough to overpower the Carnage symbiote and blow it up. Eddie rejoined with the Venom symbiote, and a little piece of Carnage latched onto a nearby shark to swim off and fight another day.

Okay, then! Phew! Going by every Venom vs. Carnage fight, I’ve judged them so that there have been six draws, eight victories for Carnage, and nine victories for Venom.

Congratulations, black ooze. Here’s hoping your red offspring doesn’t turn the tide at the box office.

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Venom: Let There Be Carnage will be released in theaters on Oct. 1.

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