Everything '90s is good again.
We all remember Maximum Carnage, right? Even if you never read it, it was part of the absolute symbiote overdose that happened during 1990s Spider-Man comics. Toothy, drooly goo-monsters who looked to have escaped from death-metal album covers, seeming like every appearance should be accompanied by some kind of tongue-flickering guitar lick, murdering willy-nilly because that's totally radical, man. In hindsight, if the modern comic book age was born in 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen changing the game, it makes some sense that the 1990s would be the growing pains, acting out like an adolescent and pushing boundaries just to see what they could get away with, no matter how little sense it made. Grim was in and gritty was… um… the shitty to the Beavis and Butthead generation. We didn't know any better.
Now, we do, and that means we can go back through the detritus of the era that detonated the industry with speculation and foil covers and figure out what can be salvaged. That has given us Rick Remender's new-school Venom and Chris Yost's revival of Scarlet Spider. Symbiotes, it turns out, are not necessarily bad ideas – they were just overexposed to the point of nausea. Clones of Spider-Man aren't inherently awful, they were just poorly executed.
That brings us to Minimum Carnage Alpha, a knowing wink to the '90s that suggests 'hey, we get it now.' Cullen Bunn has taken the handoff from Remender to continue telling tales of ex-bully, ex-drunk, ex-war hero and current paraplegic Eugene "Flash" Thompson sporting the Venom symbiote in service of the military, while Yost continues to revitalize the castoff character of Kaine, the deranged failed clone of Peter Parker who has recently been cured of his maladies, but not forgiven for his past – hence, dressing up in a version of Spider-Man's costume and reluctantly fighting crime in Houston, Texas. Flash is a soldier not afraid to kill in the line of duty, and Kaine has an ugly history of cruel murder he kinda-sorta wants to atone for.
Now, the two hard-luck heroes willing to cross the line will have to work together to recapture the escaped Cletus Kasady, otherwise known as toothy goo-monster Carnage. He kills people for sport, and this time, he's been sprung from prison by tiny people. Tiny, weird people who promised him a world where he can murder with impunity if he helps them return to the Microverse where they belong. Agent Venom is tracking him since his escape, while the Prometheus Pit needed to make the trip to Eensy Weensy Land is located, conveniently enough, in Houston, where Scarlet Spider tries to save people from a fire and comes across the grisly crime scene of an elderly murder victim. Inconveniently, Venom's new info-feeder, tabloid reporter Katy Kiernan, happens to be right there at NASA's LBJ space center when Carnage shows up to commandeer the pit, and Kaine barges in to try and put the kibosh on it.
While the confluence of events feels a little contrived, it's hard to really care about that, because it promises to be a very interesting mix of personalities crashing together in a messy, gooey, nougaty way. Contrive what you need to, just get these people interacting with each other. Kaine's fight with Carnage really sets the tone that this is not a Spider-Man story – the first thing he does is snap Cletus's neck to kill him quickly. There's no 'great responsibility' here – it's a very no-B.S., just end the problem now kind of M.O. Trouble is, that doesn't get the job done, and that's why this is an event that requires an Alpha.
This series promises to explores some murky moral waters, with heroes who will likely both agree that they're not trying to capture Kasady, they're trying to kill him. It's that kind of anti-hero mentality from the gritty days, but it doesn't feel nearly so exploitative and ain't-we-edgy like it used to. Having followed both Venom and Scarlet Spider, these are characters who deal with the consequences of their choices, and often make wrong and bad decisions that make things worse. Flash may have idolized Spider-Man all his life, but he's been learning the hard way that being a superhero sucks more often than not – and that's something Kaine's known from the get-go, and a strong part of him still wants nothing to do with any of it, and hates the Parker portion of his brain that keeps bringing him back in. Plus, he's a potty-mouth.
The art from Lan Medina is pretty great, dynamic and cool, and the script is compelling less because of Carnage and more because I can't wait to see how Flash and Kaine deal with each other. They don't cross paths until the last page here, and the story will continue in their individual titles. It's a crossover that makes sense, even if it's a smidge forced. Minimum Carnage Alpha is a good set-up for what's to come – which I hope involves the two new spider-dudes on the scene killing Kasady dead.
One minor observation – I'm not sure how I feel about the trend of rolling out comic credits over several panels like they're movie credits. It was cute once, but now it just feels like you're trying to compensate for something.