Best Shots Review: ABSOLUTE CARNAGE #4 'Graced with Heart, Theatricality, & Intensely Creepy Artwork'

Absolute Carnage #4
Credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer/Frank Martin (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer/Frank Martin (Marvel Comics)

Absolute Carnage #4
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Ryan Stegman, JP Mayer, Jay Leisten, and Frank Martin
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

”I can pretend to be a hero for ten minutes.”

Credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer/Frank Martin (Marvel Comics)

Outnumbered, outgunned, and out-Symbioted, Eddie Brock finds his strength in the penultimate installment of Absolute Carnage. Locked in another pitched, tightly contained battle with the Carnage Horde, Eddie holds his own thanks to some timely advice from Spider-Man and leftover weapons from the Jury, all while the Venomized Immortal Hulk goes punch for punch with the Grendel, holding him off until the Maker’s Codex Machine can recover the combined might of the Avengers.

While that all might sound a little busy, writer Donny Cates again centralizes the action, keeping the whole issue contained within the warehouse that has served as Eddie’s base of operations. Also keeping things focused is Cates consistently engaging narration, cutting to the heart of Brock’s despair and hope as he stands “unarmored” against the Horde in order to protect his son and world from Carnage, both literally and figuratively speaking.

And while Brock is de-Venomized for most of this issue, artist Ryan Stegman, along with inkers JP Mayer and Jay Leisten, and the stony colors of Frank Martin still bring the ruckus. Focusing instead on the roiling emotions of the fight and less on the fight itself, Stegman and the team bring a real humanity to the monstrous even as the world falls to red. Tightly constructed, tense, and armed with an unexpected pathos, Absolute Carnage #4 sets this event up for one hell of an endgame.

Credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer/Frank Martin (Marvel Comics)

Peter Parker and Eddie Brock have ten minutes before the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are back up and in fighting form. But the real problem is, Venom is taking the Immortal Hulk for a ride at the moment, so Eddie is basically defenseless. Or at least, that’s what Carnage thinks. Therein lies the main focal point of Absolute Carnage #4 — instead of making that Eddie’s downfall, Donny Cates transforms it into an unexpected strength. Faced with almost certain and horrible death, Cates morphs this sucide mission into a major heroic moment for Brock, standing only with Cap’s shield and an anti-Symbiote gauntlet.

Not only is this a neat inversion of what readers would expect for a “final stand” set piece, but it also continues the emotional character work Cates has been engaging in over in the main Venom title, punctuated by his engrossing, portentous narration. Also adding punctuation is the art team, spearheaded by Ryan Stegman’s stone-washed pencils. Though I feel this issue doesn’t completely make good on the Immortal Hulk-ifed cliffhanger last issue - a story for another tie-in, perhaps - Stegman is still leaving it all on the field here, just taking a much more heartfelt, character-focused track this time around. Sharpened by the contained setting of the warehouse, Stegman and the rest of the team focus in on emotional states and turns, using the action as backdrops for heart-wrenching character moments like Eddie trying to reach a Carnage-possessed Miles Morales and Bruce Banner pleading with Carnage to simply leave him alone.

Credit: Ryan Stegman/JP Mayer/Frank Martin (Marvel Comics)

Separated from his other half and welding borrowed weapons, it’s in Absolute Carnage #4 that Eddie Brock learns what it means to be a hero - assuming that lesson doesn’t kill him first, that is. Graced with heart, theatricality, and intensely creepy artwork, this issue positions this goopy event for a thunderous ending. And the best part is, it could go either way. It could be a legendary showdown between Carnage and Venom for the fate of the world, or it could be another densely-packed emotional catharsis for Eddie and his sphere of influence. Either way, this issue is proof that the suit doesn’t make the man - that Eddie Brock is a worthy hero no matter what he’s wearing.

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