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Death is Not the End – How Did Carnage Survive Being Torn Into Two Pieces by the Sentry?

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In this feature, we spotlight the outlandish explanations for comic book characters (mostly super-villains) surviving seeming certain death.

Today, in response to a few folks who asked the question during my recent post about how Carnage’s current symbiote didn’t actually come from Venom, we look at how Carnage survived being torn into half by the Sentry during the first New Avengers storyline…

In 2004’s New Avengers #1 (by Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch and Danny Miki), Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson, assisted by Jessica Drew (actually a Skrull, but that doesn’t really tie into any of this), went to go visit the Sentry in a prison for superhumans. While there, Electro orchestrated a breakout of the prison.

This led to New Avengers #2, where a group of disparate heroes came together to form a new Avengers team in their defense of the breakout.

One of the prisoners released was Carnage, who attacked Matt, Foggy and “Jessica”…

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Other villains got involved and finally, the Sentry was compelled to get out of his stupor and get involved and he did so in striking fashion…

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Okay, so how does one get out of THAT?

Go to the next page to find out!

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34 Comments

Bendis doesn’t seem to be the Symbiotes biggest fan. He brushed off Venom and Carnage pretty quickly in Ultimate Spider-Man, and then used the second issue of a flagship gig like New Avengers to seemingly irrevocably put Carnage out of business.

I dunno, if I were to hazard a guess, I would suspect the move was made for three reasons:

1. Obviously the shock value of a “name” character like Carnage being taken out like that
2. Carnage not being used a lot at the time
3. Of all the characters who could realistically come back from something like that, the alien symbiote seems to be at the top of the list on reasonable returns, ya know?

So you get the shock of a major villain being torn apart like that, but also a realistic chance of a later writer still being able to use the character later on.

The death of Carnage was literally the only thing I enjoyed about Bendis’ first year on New Avengers (I stopped reading after that).

Carnage is such an annoying character. He is literally the Joker with super-powers. Seriously, Erik Larsen acknowledged that he based Cletus Kasady on the Joker. Kasady was a mass-murdering serial killer BEFORE he bonded with a symbiote. Since then how many hundreds of people has he murdered? Hundreds? Carnage is one of those characters who makes the whole “Heroes don’t kill” argument look completely asinine. No matter how many times Carnage gets defeated and locked up, he ALWAYS escapes and kills more people.

I remember how annoying “Maximum Carnage” was, with Spider-Man and his allies unable to stop the city-wide rampage of Carnage and his cohorts. The supposed conundrum of that crossover was that there was no way to stop Carnage short of using lethal force, but Spider-Man kept arguing that “There has to be a better way!” And in the end, how did the heroes defeat Carnage without resorting to killing? Well, um, they invented a device that projected positive emotional vibes, or something. What a cop-out! If as a writer or editor your resolution to a seemingly unsolvable moral dilemma is to trot out a honking big deus ex machina, well, then you’ve failed at your job.

Keeping all that in mind, when Sentry ripped Carnage in half, I was absolutely ecstatic. Finally that SOB was dead! But of course they just had to bring him back.

Stuff like this is why I finally quit reading nearly everything Marvel (and DC, for that matter) publishes.

Ben –

I couldn’t agree more.

The problem is, the moment the Image Brat Pack began to dominate superhero comics was the moment when publishers stopped worrying about long-term consequences to the shared universes, and started doing what was kewlest at the moment.

Introducing a superpowered mass murderer in an universe with heroes all bound by the Comics Code Era morality isn’t the brightest of the ideas. But hey, serial killers and unstoppable alien monsters were all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ben Herman, get out of my mind! Carnage in space seemed like end of the worse of the 90s, but sadly no.

I also agree with fellow commenters: the happiest moment in the first issues of New Avengers was the apparent death of Carnage.

Ben: lol. With a sign-off like that, I had to double check that it wasn’t something I’D posted, and forgot about.

Given how much the symbiotes seem to turn the whole joined organism into something of a gooey, decentralised mass like themselves (shapeshifting abilities in particular, and I’ve seen bullets pass through Venom) I wonder if the ripping-in-half bit needed as much explanation to brush off as it received.
With someone like Flash, who lost his legs and whose wounds healed (healed over, at least) long before he got a sniff of a symbiote, I can see that symbiote not making much permanent difference. Simply filling in the blanks with it’s own mass, rather than altering what’s already there – to stay altered, in it’s future absence. Whereas if injuries like that – crippling or likely fatal to a normal human – happened to a currently-joined whole, I can imagine the already-altered physiology shrugging it off and regrowing the missing mass, however long it took. Like an amoeba, or starfish, or some John W. Campbellish… ‘thing’.

I’m only brainfarting. But gonna be honest, I can more easily suspend my disbelief of ridiculously high regenerative abilities due to alien-protoplasm-saturated tissues, than of the same due to an X-gene that gives you bone shards between your knuckles and a good nose.

To me, Sentry doing this to Carnage was a way to introduce, if not reintroduce, the character into the Marvel Universe. After the initial period when the character first appeared, he hadn’t really done anything and was kind of the odd man out in a sense. Having Sentry do this gave him a mic drop kind of a moment that really drove home what kind of power level you were talking about.

Count me in with the others as a fan of this. I run really hot and cold on Bendis’ writing, but so quickly taking out a character who amounted to little more than a symbol of pointless 90’s comic book excess was something I appreciated. It worked to demonstrate how powerful the Sentry was and set the tone for the character while not losing anything or anyone of any real storytelling value. Win-win!

Crabbieappleton

February 4, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Nice. So Carnage is Darth Maul.

I wish somehow the Axis-switched Carnage had survived being reverted after his sacrifice in that event. Could have become the 90s Venom, battling urges but trying to be a good guy.

Like most good things, the symbiote schtick has been overused. It was cool when Parker had the black costume in the 80s and you either should have kept the black costume or ended the issue permanently. That’s not what happened though. It was allowed to linger into the 90s & since then Venom just became a contest of who can draw his tongue the longest and gooiest, with extra rows of teeth. Then Carnage, then Anti-Venom, now there’s a planet of them in the Guardians, and while I’m intrigued by Venom’s placement in the cosmic realm of Marvel, it’s really hard to shake off the decades of shittiness that surrounds the symbiotes as a whole.

What a bunch of whiny fanboys.

So was the fact that Carnage has legs again a dropped plot line, a common mistake by artists, or was it explained somewhere that I missed? I think the first time he was shown with normal legs was during Minimum Carnage.

Didn’t Bendis also do a follow-up to this plot point himself? I seem to remember there being symbiotes raining down on New York during a Mighty Avengers/New Avengers story, and I thought the two were somehow related.

Well, if Spider-Man defeats Carnage, and doesn’t kill him, and he gets ‘locked up,’ then certainly the actual justice system had their chance to try, convict, and execute Carnage? Why is Spider-Man blamed for not doing it in an act of lawless vigilantism?

Didn’t Bendis also do a follow-up to this plot point himself? I seem to remember there being symbiotes raining down on New York during a Mighty Avengers/New Avengers story, and I thought the two were somehow related.

That turned out to be some sort of a long-term plot by Doctor Doom that was triggered accidentally by incompetent lackeys.

Well, if Spider-Man defeats Carnage, and doesn’t kill him, and he gets ‘locked up,’ then certainly the actual justice system had their chance to try, convict, and execute Carnage? Why is Spider-Man blamed for not doing it in an act of lawless vigilantism?

This is the problem you run into over time in a shared universe; eventually, between the population rallying behind the X-Men’s persecution and then deciding to let Norman Osborn out of jail and make him the King of America, you start wondering why the superheroes bother saving the citizenry in the first place. They should really go on strike.

Phred –

We’re not blaming Spider-Man, we’re blaming the writers for misusing Spider-Man.

The stories are cynically engineered so that mass murderers like Carnage can walk away to kill again and again. Carnage being pitted against a non-killing hero like Spider-Man is a mismatch, but that is not the only thing wrong with the situation. Another big part of it is the ridiculous handling of the judicial system, so that psychopaths (i.e. people suffering from anti-social personality disorder or related stuff like malignant narcissists) can claim the insanity defense, one of the most absurd notions I’ve seen in fiction, that somehow keeps popping up.

The insanity defense applies to cases like people with severe dissociation. Generally, if you’re having raving hallucinations and thinks your victim is actually a Smurf, then you may be deemed criminally insane. But if you’re like Carnage and Sabertooth and just has a brain that is wired not to feel remorse or deep emotions, but can totally understand law and reality (and even make funny quips about how the law can’t stop you) then you are very much able to stand trial.

@meStevo

“Could have become the 90s Venom, battling urges but trying to be a good guy”

Venom was never trying to be a good guy. He was just a vanilla hypocrite.

Between this and Kassady coming back from eating a nuke in AXIS, I thought that the symbiote gave him so Plastic Man level powers. How the hell did he come back from his AXIS death anyway?

Well, if Spider-Man defeats Carnage, and doesn’t kill him, and he gets ‘locked up,’ then certainly the actual justice system had their chance to try, convict, and execute Carnage? Why is Spider-Man blamed for not doing it in an act of lawless vigilantism?

Marvel society is biased as hell. The Vision could walk around normal and won’t get shit but his ex-wife would get lynched because she’s a “mutie”.

The Vision’s been attacked by terrorists too, but no, not as frequently as mutants.

David Spofforth

February 5, 2016 at 7:56 am

What I’m most surprised about is that 21st century Marvel actually bothered to address and explain how Carnage survived. They usually handwave it away.

The Sentry throws everything else into the Sun….so why not Carnage?
After ripping him in half he should have tossed him into the sun…..but NO……………

Sentry …Fail…

(Writer = Fail)

For the record…I hate Venom and Carnage….terrible characters!

There is not much of a Watsonian reason for why Carnage and others of his ilk get such a free pass in the Marvel and DC Universes.

The Doylist reasons are obvious. Superhero morality bound by the Comics Code, supervillains who can’t be ever permanently stopped (even permanent imprisonment or teleportation to a barren dimension are out) because characters are merchandise brands that must be used continuously, and the superhero genre constantly absorption of other genres (in this case, the Freddy Krueger/Hannibal Lecter craze from the 1980s and 1990s), and no editors to stop it.

It all adds up to characters from hyper-violent horror movies popping up again and again and the heroes being sort of powerless to stop them. Nihilist despair works for the horror genre, but it’s a poor fit for traditional superheroes.

Another issue with the judicial system, in real life a guy like Carnage would sit in prison for decades before actually being executed. That would give a person with superpowers ample opportunities for escape.

Given that I don’t care for Carnage OR Sentry (or Venom, for that matter, though I think Venom at least has a germ of something that could have made an interesting character, and yet, somehow, never did), I’m not sure why I’m still following this discussion- but, then, the discussion is a lot more interesting than the characters are…

Luis Dantas- “He was just a vanilla hypocrite.”

Is a vanilla hypocrite ice cream that says vanilla on the outside, but is actually chocolate? Or the other way around?

I always get annoyed when people use the word “vanilla’ to mean “plain” or “bland”. To me, vanilla isn’t a bland flavor- I actually find that a lot of store-bought chocolate ice cream tastes blander to me than most of the vanilla does- unless it’s exceptionally chocolatey chocolate. Vanilla ice cream isn’t plain ice cream- it’s ice cream flavored by vanilla beans (or vanilla flavoring). I’ve had plane ice cream- it’s sometimes marketed as a flavor called ‘sweet cream”, and tastes nothing like vanilla.

Rene- One of the things I love about the superhero genre is the shear variety. I think combining hyper-violent horror with traditional superheroes CAN work- it just needs to a) not be overused, and b) be done in an interesting and imaginative way. Much like hyper-violent horror itself (not generally a genre I care for, I should point out). Unfortunately, in both cases, it’s extremely overused, and rarely interesting or imaginative.

Putting Spider-Man into a single story where he has to deal with a horrifying superhuman mass murderer could (theoretically) be interesting, if done well. Turning that mass murderer into a recurring foe for Spidey is an inherently bad idea.

On the other hand, on some level, this is all a matter of personal taste (much like the “vanilla” issue mentioned above). There are plenty of fans who love Carnage. I may find him boring and disturbing (in an oddly boring way), but some people find something that appeals to them in him..

Alaric –

Agree.

It’s great that superhero comics can incorporate stuff from so many genres, but it requires a bit of thought, and the guys that introduced Carnage lacked that awareness. They were just interested in riding cool tendencies.

There are, shall we say, key metaphysical incompatibilities between the gory horror and superhero genres.

When you get a unstoppable horror monster in a movie, you either have a hero that is willing and able to stop the monster permanently, or you make the monster really unstoppable and just shrug it off with horror being a genre that is at home with hopelessness.

But traditional superheroes are about hope, justice, the possibility of a better world, and all of that stuff. You keep introducing recurring antagonists like Carnage, and then something just has to give.

Jeff- in a world with superpowered maniacs who are difficult to hold in prison, they could simply pass a law that says ‘if we have to, because you’re a supermaniac, we’ll waive the appeals process and zap your caboose to that big padded room in the sky right after the trial.’ Or, make a law that says if you are a fugitive at large and killing numerous people, you can be tried in absentia, and if convicted the sentence could be carried out anytime they get a chance. Maybe not 100% constitutional, but lots of stuff we already do isn’t either. Drone strikes, for instance. Or SHIELD could nuke him. Or they could hire/deputize Wolverine to put him down. Or they could, while arresting him, have a cop yell ‘he’s drawing a gun!’ and shoot him with a flamethrower. All of this stuff is a lot more effective than ‘hoping a random vigilante decides they are fed up and whacks him.’

But of course they don’t, because, as everybody has said, story reasons.

This story is what happens when you add two bad character concepts and add a touch of Bendis. Sentry wasn’t a character; he was a practical joke. That’s all his mini was. He wasn’t really designed to be an ongoing character. Thus the need for his “kewl” moment here.

And Carnage’s only reason for existing is because they decided Venom was so popular they needed to make him a “good guy.” Which was ridiculous. Venom already was the Spider-Man serial killer bad guy. “I’m going to eat your brains!*” And he had a better “costume” than Venom. But they needed someone worse than Venom. Except, they didn’t.

*Still the greatest action figure voice chip saying ever.

@Ben Herman: the irony of your complaint in a column like this one is surely obvious. What happens if superheroes kill the bad guys? The bad guys come back anyway, because (as others have said) they have to for story reasons. So, you’ve taken away one of the main points that make the superheroes, super-*heroes*, and achieved nothing since the bad guys are going to come back anyway.

The complaint, I think, is actually mainly about it being ‘unrealistic’ that the heroes don’t kill the villains at least in some cases. But that’s a matter of taste more than anything. It’s an inconsistency I’m happy to swallow for the purpose of keeping guys like Spider-Man ‘heroic’.

One who is not a fan of a character does not use it.

Bendis brought Carnage back to evidence by using him.

I wish he had not.

Rene-

“But traditional superheroes are about hope, justice, the possibility of a better world, and all of that stuff. You keep introducing recurring antagonists like Carnage, and then something just has to give.”

Agreed, plus you have the basic problem of bad/lazy writing when creating a character like this. OK, so he’s this crazy, super powered serial killer; he’s so crazy and violent that he’s a threat to hero and villain alike and is an unpredictable menace to both sides! Whoops, wait, no; he’s going to just team up with other villains and kill lots of regular people because reasons.

OK, then maybe you build in some kind of basic limitation, like Kasady and the symbiote are constantly battling against each other for control. It’s not like Venom, where the host and symbiote have the same driving motivation; have it be a Hulk-like situation where sometimes the alien is in control and has this odd inherited trait of wanting to “be” Spider-Man and others where Kasady basically takes over and lashes out. But no, instead they’re both just caaaaaaa-ray-zay and completely in sync and just want to murdermurdermurder. *Yawn*

Carnage is so indicative of a lazy, boring 90’s character that when I picture him it’s the version drawn by maybe the the epitome of lazy, boring 90’s Marvel art, Alex Saviuk.

“But if you’re like Carnage and Sabertooth and just has a brain that is wired not to feel remorse or deep emotions, but can totally understand law and reality (and even make funny quips about how the law can’t stop you) then you are very much able to stand trial.”

Cletus Kasady actually *was* convicted of murder despite being completely insane, but Carnage is a human being under the permanent influence of a psychotic alien creature, so I could see the legal argument for the equivalent of insanity, within the reality of the Marvel universe. But I’m sure they didn’t put that much thought into it.

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