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Maximum Carnage was a 14-part comic book crossover event in 1993. The story spanned every Spider-Man title released that summer, three issues apiece of The Amazing Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, and Spider-Man, plus two new Spider-Man Unlimited issues that bookended the story.
When homicidal supervillain Carnage escapes from incarceration and gathers a cadre of similarly murderous superpowered followers, the motley crew go on rampage through New York City, slaughtering countless innocent civilians and sparking mass rioting and mob violence. Spider-Man teams up with a voluminous number of guest stars (including one-time foe Venom) to stem the tide of violence and recapture Carnage.
Carnage recruits C-list villains Shriek, Doppelganger, Carrion, and Demogoblin, while Spidey teams up with (deep breath) Venom, Firestar, Black Cat, Cloak and Dagger, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Nightwatch, Morbius, and Captain America.
The event was poorly received and in hindsight marked the beginning of a downward spiral in quality in the Spider-Man books over the next several years. In fact, the whole thing might have faded into obscurity if it hadn't been unexpectedly adapted into a surprisingly popular beat 'em up game for the Sega Genesis and Super NES, Which was published by LJN Toys. The game allowed players to control either Spider-Man of Venom, and featured the rest of the hero cast as summonable power-ups. A surprising amount of attention was paid to accurately recreating the comic, including levels modeled after scenes from individual issues, and villains' vulnerabilities or resistances to certain attacks.
Received a semi-sequel in a miniseries in 2010.
The series provides examples of:
- Abnormal Ammo: The sonic gun fires, well, sonic rays, and the heroes' secret weapon harms the bad guys by (wait for it) shooting positive emotions at them. Apparently, Demogoblin had a similar idea much earlier, because in Part 3, he blasts Spidey with a pumpkin grenade that covers him in sadness (or something. It's really not clear what the hell is going on here).
- Abusive Parents: Poor Shriek had a rough childhood. Carnage was abused in an orphanage.
- Achilles in His Tent: Spider-Man does this twice.
- Action Girl: Lots of female heroines here, but the Black Cat in particular fits this trope.
- Ass Pull: Carrion literally appears out of nowhere, and joins Carnage for seemingly no reason. Doppelganger is found lurking around an alley, for no obvious reason.
- In the case of Doppleganger, Carnage and Shriek are webbing around the city when Carnage catches a glimpse of Doppleganger and immediately attacks, mistaking him for Spider-Man. Shriek then decides he's cute.
- Anti-Hero: Venom is a Type V, Morbius is a Type IV while Black Cat is a Type II.
- Axe Crazy: Carnage is basically the living embodiment of this trope. Shriek as well, to a lesser degree.
- Badass Normal: The Black Cat had, at this point, no super powers.
- Big Damn Heroes: Attempted, though the results are more laughable than badass.
- Big Damn Villains: Averted. Venom tries to step in and take the hurt to Carnage the way that Spider-Man won't, but Spidey just plain refuses to stand back and let him do the dirty work.
- BFG: The sonic gun. Also, whatever the hell it is that Deathlok is carting around at the end. Although even his "normal" guns probably fit the bill.
- Black and White Morality: Spider-Man, Captain America, and Firestar are good, Carnage and all are bad. Very bad. Period. Some Black and Gray Morality creeps in, since several of Spidey's allies are former villains and anti-heroes who come to loggerheads with him over their more violent methods (it was the 90s after all), but the creators insist the story was really intended as a Take That against such material.
- Cardboard Prison: Although this was actually Carnage's first escape, many more would follow.
- Care Bear Stare: How the heroes win. Yes, really.
- C-List Fodder: The huge cast features quite a few obscure names, though only a few die.
- Doppelganger tops the list. He was a throwaway mook created for the Infinity War crossover, but he stayed around due to his interesting visuals and got folded into Carnage's crazy serial killer family.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Carnage and friends have a good old time with Venom.
- Crapsack World: Richard Parker espouses this world view, as do Shriek and Carnage.
- Damsel in Distress: Spidey has to go rescue his wife from the villains at one point. The Black Cat gets angry when the other characters assume she needs a similar rescue, though this may or may not be justified.
- Dark Action Girl: Shriek.
- Darker and Edgier: Many fans interpreted the story as an attempt to push Spider-Man in this direction. As a counterpoint, author J.M. DeMatteis insists that the purpose of the event was completely the opposite and that they were trying to tell a story about old-fashioned Silver Age morality butting heads with the violent 90s nihilism, with the story ultimately vindicating the former. Despite some blatantly Anvilicious moralizing, few interpreted it as such.
- Deadpan Snarker: Spider-Man showcases his signature wit only occasionally, presumably because of the gravity of the situation, but Carnage takes up the slack with lots of morbid humor while he slaughters victims.
- Depending on the Writer: Carnage's personality. Of the four writers involved, only David Michelinie and Tom DeFalco seem to remember Carnage's working class, uneducated roots (probably because the former wrote the character's origin story, and the latter was also the editor). Terry Kavanagh has Carnage spitting off Dr. Doom-esque lines like "Your pathetic arrogance, fools, shall be your very downfall!" J.M. DeMatteis gives Carnage a highbrow sense of humor which doesn't fit the character at all. He even makes a reference to Leo Buscaglia.
- Spidey's moral conflict during all this chaos also fluctuated too with each different writer, creating much inconsistency. See This Means War.
- Enemy Mine: Spider-Man and Venom set aside their mutual differences to confront the shared enemy of Carnage. Morbius also is a former (and occasionally still) Spidey villain who briefly finds common cause with the heroes.
- Evil Counterpart: Doppelganger, who is, well, Spider-Man's Doppelganger. Venom as well, though he was technically an anti-hero at this point.
- Five-Bad Band
- Forgotten Phlebotinum: Seems Demogoblin only had one of those black pumpkin bombs, because he never breaks one out again, in this story or in the future. In Part 8, when Carnage regenerates his symbiote after having it seemingly destroyed by the combination of the sonic gun and Firestar's powers, the heroes for some reason try to retreat rather than, ya know, just shoot him again with the same combo. Although granted, that might have lead to a cycle of futility pretty fast, but still...
- In Love with Your Carnage: Well, Shriek and Carnage.
- Kill It with Fire: Carnage's only real weakness.
- Knight Templar: Demogoblin, believe it or not. He insists that he's an agent of God and that his victims are paying for their sins. Of course, he only believes he works for the Man Upstairs, so there's no evidence that that's actually the case. He rationalizes teaming up with the cartoonishly evil Carnage because it will help him kill a lot of sinners (sinners, according to Demogoblin, are everyone but children). And then of course he'll kill Carnage at the end.
- So they turned him into a demonic/psychotic take on Starscream?
- Kryptonite Factor: Carnage is devastated by fire. Venom is vulnerable to both fire and sonic attacks.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Spider-Man, Venom, Black Cat, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Morbius, Nightwatch, Cloak & Dagger, Captain America, Firestar, Carnage, Shriek, Doppelganger, Carrion, and Demogoblin.
- Most Common Superpower: All over the place. Even the rather conservatively dressed Firestar is very well endowed, although she keeps them under wraps.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Shriek's ability to incite mob violence comes out of left field and appears to have nothing to do with her other powers.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Shriek was just a penny-ante drug dealer until Cloak accidentally drove her insane and turned her into a all out homicidal maniac.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Carnage. Shriek actually does a better job of articulating his views than he does though.
- Nineties Anti-Hero: Venom is one of the ultimate exemplars of this trope, a "reformed" villain who shows almost no heroic qualities and can be considered a hero only by contrast with the Complete Monsters he fights. Morbius follows this formula to a tee as well. Though Deathlok's origins are in the 70s, by this point he's morphed into a textbook Rob Liefeld design, right down to the shoulder pads, and Nightwatch is typical of the many shadowy mystery men who populated hero comics at that time. Cloak goes off the deep end for most of this tale as well, but perhaps in his case it's a Justified Trope, given that he's coping with extreme grief and survivor guilt and that he comes to his senses by the end.
- Old Shame: A lot of people involved didn't like the story. In fact, many people involved referred to it as "Maximum Garbage."
- Redemption Equals Death: Almost comes to an explosively literal example when the good vibes from the Alpha Wave gun appear to have killed Carnage. It turns out he was just playing possum, although exposure to the "Good bomb" really did mess with his head. Perhaps as an interesting epilogue, in a story shortly afterwards, Demogoblin sacrifices himself to save the life of an innocent child.
- Stripperiffic: Dagger and the Black Cat's costumes are simply ridiculous, not only displaying mind-boggling amounts of cleavage (and side boob, and underside boob), but also basically their entire stomachs too (and are seemingly either attached with spirit gum or just painted on). Shriek's costume is just bizarre; she has skin the color of white-out, a remarkably skimpy outfit, and some weird spandex collar that covers her neck and chin (it's weird that they let her dress like that in the asylum). As an aversion, Firestar's costume covers her entire body except her face, including a good part of her neck.
- This Means War!: The rioting pushes Spidey over the edge, and he declares "No mercy!" Although his behavior through the rest of the crossover doesn't seem much changed.
- Token Evil Teammate: Venom
- Unexplained Recovery: The Carnage symbiote was believed destroyed, but reemerges after hiding in its host's bloodstream. Similarly, it is seemingly annihilated several times during the story, but always bounces back. In a more traditional example, Dagger is killed by Shriek early on, but comes back toward the end, with an explanation that seems dubious even by comic book standards.
- Villain Team-Up: Except the villains are mostly nobodies.
- Villainous Breakdown: Well, Carnage was never the calm, collected bad guy that this trope usually entails, but at the end of the story, he's so traumatized that he actually appears to have gone crazy even in comparison to his regular behavior.
- Violence Really Is the Answer: Subverted. Spider-Man and Firestar briefly concede that just this once killing someone might be justified and agree to do in Carnage, but both
wimp outresist sinking to Carnage's level at the last moment.
- The Voiceless: Carrion is not quite voiceless, but it's not until Part 12 that he utters his first line.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Weird example, where the Black Cat berates Spider-Man for taking time to address lesser crimes and emergencies instead of single-mindedly pursuing Carnage, including one instances where she yells at him for saving her life. Your Mileage May Vary as to whether her argument makes sense in theory, but in practice, all she was really saying is that Spider-Man should try to take on a bunch of villains he clearly wasn't qualified to fight. Venom also encourages Spidey to pursue Carnage rather than help him (Spider-Man, amusingly, chooses to do neither).
- Women in Refrigerators: Played straight or subverted, depending on your point of view. On the one hand, Dagger gets better, so perhaps a subversion, but then again, Death Is Cheap, so maybe the resurrection doesn't undermine the trope, since such things are so common they're almost a given.
- You Have Failed Me: Poor Doppelganger.