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 the first two issues of the new title Spider-Man Unlimited that bookended the story.
When demi-alien supervillain Carnage escapes from incarceration and gathers a cadre of similarly murderous superpowered followers, the motley crew go on rampage through New York City, 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.
At its best, the story is a Silver Age self-critique, forcing Spidey to face an implacable killer who — as the prologue establishes — is irredeemably evil and can no longer be stripped of his alien symbiont. Coincidentally, it also served as a push for Venom, who butts heads with Peter over whether to bring Carnage in dead or alive, and the villain consequently eludes their grasp several times.
It was later adapted into a surprisingly popular beat 'em up game for the Sega Genesis and Super NES, published by LJN. The game allowed players to control either Spider-Man or 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.
In addition to the game, the event later went on to inspire a haunted house attraction at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights in 2002 also titled Maximum Carnage. The house, while not a direct adaptation of the comic, similarly had a plot where Carnage assembled a team of villains and waged war against Spider-Man and the other heroes; the biggest difference being that this time things didn't turn out so well for the heroes.
The event has received four semi-sequels, two miniseries titled Minimum Carnage and Carnage, U.S.A in 2012, a event series titled Absolute Carnage in 2019, and a series named Extreme Carnage in 2021. In 2023, an event running through Carnage (2022) and Miles Morales: Spider-Man (2022) entitled Carnage Reigns will launch as a Milestone Celebration of the event.
Maximum Carnage provides examples of:
- '90s 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.
- Abnormal Ammo: The sonic gun fires, well, sonic rays, and the heroes' secret weapon harms the bad guys by 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.
- 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.
- Adapted Out: In the video game, the beginning and ending removes anything to do with the Osborns - Peter doesn't monologue about the very recent loss of Harry Osborn and the final battle stays away from the cemetery where both were buried.
- Ax-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.
- Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: 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.
- Big Damn Heroes: Attempted, though the results are more laughable than badass.
- 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.
- Book Ends: The story begins with Carnage escaping and Peter at the funeral of Harry Osborn, who died in Spectacular #200, immediately before the event. The story ends with Carnage captured at the graveyard where Harry and Norman are buried.
- Cardboard Prison: Although this was actually Carnage's first escape, many more would follow.
- Care-Bear Stare: How the heroes win.
- The Cavalry: Two-thirds into the story, the villains have captured Venom and are long gone, leaving the battered heroes defeated. As Spider-Man tries to get back up, he suddenly sees an outstretched hand.Captain America: How 'bout a hand, son? You look like you could use it.
- 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.
- Cover Version: Green Jelly's instrumental cover of Black Sabbath's "The Mob Rules", which is featured in the video game adaptation.
- Crapsack World: Richard Parker espouses this world view, as do Shriek and Carnage.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: One of the few times when Venom really gets one up over his much more powerful offspring. With Carnage driven crazy by the "good bomb" and too confused to fight back, Venom absolutely manhandles him.
- 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.
- Dented Iron: A nasty hit early in the story breaks several of Spider-Man's ribs, leaving him roughed up and winded for the rest of his battles as he ends up underperforming compared to normal. Won't stop him, though.
- 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!.
- Determinator: After a particularly vicious fight (which of course was on the heels of a series of vicious battles) Spider-Man has to actually go to the hospital to treat multiple broken ribs. On the way out, Mary Jane comments that she "didn't know they taped ribs any more"; the moment Peter says he told the doctors he needed support she realizes he's about to go swinging back into the fight, ribs set but still broken and barely treated, without so much as taking a nap to regain some strength, because he has a responsibility.
- 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.
- At one point, Venom rants about Carnage being his evil counterpart, and offhandedly tells Spider-Man he wouldn't understand. He then acts shocked when Spidey says he sees Venom much the same way, in relation to himself.
- Eviler than Thou Counterpart: Carnage, who Spider-Man calls a "twisted" version of Venom (who is already pretty twisted himself). Also, Demogoblin is supposed to be an even more evil version of the Hobgoblin, though the latter does not appear in this story.
- 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...
- Grapple Move: both Spider-Man and Venom can pick up certain objects and even enemies and throw them in the Maximum Carnage Videogame.
- Hate Plague: One of the other problems in the story is that something seems to be driving ordinary, law-abiding citizens mad, leading to mobs duking it out on the streets. It turns out Shriek can subliminally spread her madness, and that of Carnage, to others around her, driving all of New York City slowly mad.
- In Love with Your Carnage: Well, Shriek and Carnage.
- Idiot Ball: At the end of Part 9, Spidey gets Firestar to cease her attack on Carnage, sparing his life. Venom, decides to attack Firestar rather than try and finish Carnage off himself. The distraction allows Carnage to recover and his team to rally and escape (incapacitating and kidnapping Venom for good measure).
- Insult Backfire: Venom is about to attack Firestar for ceasing an attack on Carnage, but Spider-Man stops him.Venom: You're too soft! Too weak! You'll never be like us!
Spider-Man: Best news I've heard all day!
- 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.
- Kryptonite Factor: Carnage and Venom are both extremely vulnerable to both fire and sonic attacks.
- Making a Sidekick with Venom: Spider-Man. This is actually the second time this happened in 1993 alone; Spidey previously worked together with Venom in the Venom: Lethal Protector mini-series (which was later adapted to the video game Spider-Man/Venom: Separation Anxiety, as a sequel to the Maximum Carnage game).
- 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 small-time drug dealer until Cloak accidentally drove her insane and turned her into a all out homicidal maniac.
- 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.
- Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: In Issue Fourteen, Peter gives a speech to his father, challenging his father's Crapsack World View. He points out that the World is full of people who listen to their hearts to do the right thing, and that the Devils can never win as long as people have hope and not surrender to despair! The writers are also on record stating the intent of the Story was to push back against the rise of dark & gritty comics during the 90s.Peter: This world is full of men and women who have the courage to listen to their hearts...and who believe in doing what's right! I'm not just talking about heroes, Dad. I mean everyday people...like you...and me! The Devils can never win...as long as we have hope! That's why you can't give up! You mustn't surrender to despair...or you'll run the risk of becoming a monster yourself!
- Straw Nihilist: Carnage. Shriek actually does a better job of articulating his views than he does though.
- 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.
- Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Carnage's gang is wreaking all sorts of havoc, The Avengers (save Captain America, who shows up towards the end), the X-Men or other major heroes are conveniently not around. The Fantastic Four are also no-shows, but their absence serves a minor plot-point: Spidey having to break into their headquarters to get their sonic weapon.
- 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.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: The series is an examination of this principle, asking if it still makes sense even when faced with an irredeemable monster who has killed hundreds of people and is a threat to even more lives. Ultimately, Spidey's answer is "yes".
- 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 seemingly killed by Shriek early on, but comes back toward the end, with an explanation that seems dubious even by comic book standards.
- Unholy Matrimony: Not truly, but Carnage and Shriek seem to be acting out a horrid parody of husband and wife in this story, even going so far as to call the other three members of their gang their children. (Carnage eventually gets sick of it near the end.)
- 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.
- Shriek goes completely mental when she sees Dagger came back to life.
- Violence Really Is the Answer: Venom spends most of his panel time advocating this. Subverted with Spider-Man and Firestar, who briefly concede that killing someone just this once might be justified and agree to do in Carnage—only to both resist 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.
- Water Tower Down: In the first fight against Doppelganger, it's possible to instantly defeat him by throwing a nearby water tower at him.
- 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. 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 urges Spidey to pursue Carnage rather than help him (Spider-Man, amusingly, chooses to do neither).
- You Have Failed Me: Poor Doppelganger.