Ah, Maximum Carnage. One of the most notoriously infamous Spider-Man sagas of the nineties. And a story that I'd wanted to read for so many years, after playing the SNES game based on the same crossover. After finally being able to read the actual comic book...the result wasn't entirely what I hoped for.
Ask fans of Spider-Man what they honestly think of Maximum Carnage, and the reaction will be mixed at best. Some will say they really loved it, others will say they really hated it. I'm one of those whose opinion is mixed regarding the crossover.
Months after Carnage's first defeat, his symbiote was presumed destroyed and Cletus Kasady was administered to the Ravencroft Institute. Alas, Kasady and his symbiote were merely biding their time, and Carnage is reborn. Instantly, he begins painting the town red again, and the nightmare escalates when he encounters a soul-mate in Shriek, a highly dangerous mutant with a tragic past and unbalanced mind that rivals Cletus' own.
And then...they find others more. Carrion, the Demogoblin and the Spider-Doppelganger from the Infinity Wars. Now with his own family in tow, Carnage ravages New York, and Spider-Man must not only work with Venom again to stop the slaughter, they must assemble their own team of heroes to face off in this extreme, all-out gang war. But the heroes aren't just fighting Carnage and his friends, they're fighting THEMSELVES. Some of the good guys want to END the threat of Carnage once and for all for the sake of innocent lives, whereas others are determined to retain their honour and bring Cletus Kasady to justice. And Spider-Man himself will have to decide whether or not to end Carnage forever...with the fate of his whole city hanging in the balance.
The story itself is SOUND. As demonstrated in the Maximum Carnage game, there are some really choice elements; the MAKINGS of an absolutely CLASSIC tale. For instance, the Carnage/Shriek relationship. Shriek is an absolutely wonderful character. A fearsome and lethal psychotic that also evokes such sympathy. In a way, she mirrors Carnage, whose past was also touched upon for really the first time in Spidey comics. Cletus' appalling childhood is revealed here, and readers had their first proper insight into how and why Kasady grew up into a total monster. It makes for strong material, along with other aspects.
The forced-alliance between mortal enemies Spidey and Venom, tensions fraying on all sides, the whole dichotomy between Carnage, Shriek and their `family', the blood-feud/relationship between Venom and Carnage, the torments and turmoil of the Black Cat, Cloak & Firestar, Carnage's savagery, malice & sheer unstoppability, Mary Jane fearing for her husband's life, some tremendously fun scraps, mob mentality taking over normal citizens and the moral dilemma of whether or not the heroes should end the slaughter permanently: ALL of these ingredients SHOULD'VE produced something rich, deep and delicious.
But annoyingly, it was too many cooks spoiling the broth. The biggest problem with Maximum Carnage is one critics have stressed and one I agree with entirely. At FOURTEEN parts spread across all the main Spidey titles at the time (Amazing, Spectacular, Web Of and Unlimited), Maximum Carnage is a saga that could easily have been told in HALF the number of issues. There's some actual depth present, which is badly suppressed by all the action and mindless fighting, which although serves the story's purpose and is (initially) fun, it becomes incredibly stale after a while.
Out of all the supporting cast, few of them are actually relevant, with the Black Cat, Cloak & Dagger, Captain America, Morbius & Firestar being the only heroes to have strong, prominent & integral roles. The crossover could've easily done without Iron Fist, Deathlok and Spawn...sorry, I mean "Nightwatch" (you'll see what I mean!). And while Doppelganger and Demogoblin serve great character and interaction purposes on the villains' side, Carrion is just a complete waste of space.
On the writing front, there ARE some chapters that are excellently produced (the best coming from the likes of David Michelinie, J.M. DeMatteis & Tom DeFalco) but a lot of it also feels incredibly bloated. Terry Kavanagh's writing is one of the biggest contributors to the overall effort turning out to be such a mess. His dialogue is so clammy, cheesy and overbearing that more editorial input was DESPERATELY needed.
Maximum Carnage also suffers badly from a lot of things that were wrong with Spidey comics in the nineties, such as Peter Parker's parents `back from the dead' (later revealed to be ROBOTS! Good grief...), little Normie Osborn hating the Parkers for the loss of his father Harry, Mary Jane SMOKING, Peter coming across as self-centred and incompetent etc. All tedious sub-plots where the less-said, the BETTER!
On the whole, the artwork is a mishmash. Legend Mark Bagley naturally provides the best stuff, and Sal Buscema and Ron Lim's efforts are strong, striking and bold. Other contributions are either messy (Alex Saviuk) and inferior (Tom Lyle). Such radical contrasts in the artwork's quality only make the saga even more disjointed.
Some say that Maximum Carnage is the worst Spider-Man story of all-time. Even worse than the Clone Saga and One More Day, which is not only ludicrous, but one of the grossest, most inaccurate statements I've ever heard. Did Maximum Carnage drag on for over THREE YEARS? NO. Did it do any long-term or IRREPARABLE damage to Spider-Man? Of course not. There're some great moments, good dialogue, superb interaction and brilliant concepts, and a perfectly fine story, which is just very poorly executed. Recent Carnage stories like Family Feud and Carnage: U.S.A. are proof of what Maximum Carnage might, could & should've been if Marvel had approached the project with much more discipline instead of overdoing it completely.
Maximum Carnage is a good story that hasn't stood the test of time particularly well. A potentially classic saga that's shamefully let down by poor execution. Worth a read, but think before buying. Take it or leave it.