Absolute Carnage: Separation Anxiety #1
Written by Clay McCleod Chapman
Art by Brian Level and Jordan Boyd
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Writer Clay McCleod Chapman and artist Brian Level turn some wayward symbiotes into a family reunion from hell in Absolute Carnage: Separation Anxiety #1, a solidly executed one-shot that is still one step behind in terms of having a solid narrative concept or a reason to justify its existence. Like the symbiotes themselves, this tie-in needs a larger storyline to feed upon, but the actual human core of the story feels so tangential to everything else that this Separation Anxiety feels more like an identity crisis.
To his credit, however, Chapman tries his level best to imbue this storyline with something real and relatable — namely, following a young girl named Sadie as her family is tearing itself apart. That inversion of the struggle of divorce — the monkey’s paw bargain of keeping your family together no matter what the cost — drives the scariness of his narrative, and as a horror story, it’s an effective one. Chapman’s pacing is strong, particularly as Sadie and her brother Billy flee her symbiote-possessed parents — watching them escape, then get pulled back, and then escape again has its own visceral thrills to it, as does the perversion of 1950s-style Americana with a gruesome family dinner that can’t help but send a chill down your spine.
But the disconnect here is that while Chapman’s family-oriented horror story is a solid concept, it does feel a little bit wonky in the context of the Venom symbiotes and the larger Absolute Carnage storyline. Some of this is due to the fact that the Hybrid symbiotes are already a pretty deep cut in Marvel mythology, and Chapman already has to do a little bit of continuity sleight-of-hand to get these characters back into the fold, while also trying to make readers care about a standalone narrative about a family we’ve never met. Focusing on making either one of these stick the landing would have been an effective one-shot, but trying to juggle both is like a peanut butter and pickle sandwich — two tastes that doesn’t necessarily go well together.
Brian Level’s rough-inked artwork undergoes a similar split in objectives, although I’d argue he’s able to nail the discordant tone of the story a bit better than the script. Admittedly, though, it’s a bit of a rough start — while Level and Chapman have a clever framing narrative for Sadie literally huddling between panels of her parents arguing, other bits like the symbiotes pouring out of a stray dog feel a bit overambitious, with panels squishing together in a way that’s hard to follow rather than terrifying. That said, once the symbiotes start chasing their victims, Level’s art shifts into higher gear, with some great expression work that really sells just how scared these kids are.
As both a one-shot and a tie-in, it’s hard to really recommend Absolute Carnage: Separation Anxiety to more than just the diehards, which is a shame given that the actual execution behind this shaky premise is actually really promising. You can’t say that Clay McCleod Chapman isn’t working hard to make this 40-page story something a little more substantial and a little less forgettable than the standard event comic tie-in fare, and for sure Brian Level is drawing the absolute hell out of it as best he can. Sometimes good creators still get put on middling books, and given how assured the main Absolute Carnage flagship series is, it’s not like there’s a ton of room for further reinvention in these side stories. While it’s hard to justify the price tag on this one, I hope Absolute Carnage: Separation Anxiety at least provides a springboard for these promising creators for bigger opportunities down the line.