Warning: Spoilers ahead for King in Black: Gwenom vs. Carnage #1-3!
Marvel’s newest version of Spider-Man’s red-clad symbiote baddie, Carnage, has become arguably the greatest rendition of the character yet. Cletus Kasady, the original Carnage, explored the ramifications of what happens when a sociopathic mind bonds with a symbiote. But while that take on the villain was made to act as an embodiment of madness to challenge the web-slinger’s ethical boundaries, the latest iteration of Carnage sports a lot more character depth in her own right.
Since the introduction of Spider-Gwen (currently known as Ghost-Spider) from Earth-65 back in 2014, tensions have been simmering between Gwen Stacy and her best friend since sixth grade, Mary Jane Watson. In classic Spider-Man fashion, Gwen’s life as Spider-Woman takes a significant toll on her interpersonal relationships, and MJ is no exception. As bandmates, MJ has always been in subtle competition with Gwen, and as Gwen’s focus on her responsibilities as Spider-Woman took precedence over their childhood dreams of becoming rich and famous through their music careers, MJ’s resentment and arrogance skyrocketed.
Which is why when MJ was transformed into the new Carnage in King in Black: Gwenom vs. Carnage #1 (by Seanan McGuire, Flaviano and IG Guara), it felt like an inevitable payoff to narrative building blocks years in the making. The following two issues of the three issue limited series features a brutal symbiote brawl for the ages between Ghost-Spider and Carnage, but thanks to the time already spent developing their dynamic, this clash packs a much harder emotional punch. With the power of Carnage granted to her by Knull, the God of the Symbiotes, MJ has no mind to resist the incredible influence provided by the suit, in fact, she embraces it with open arms, finally liberated from her feelings of inferiority in comparison to Gwen’s amazing abilities.
Gwen, on the other hand, knows all too well that the symbiote amplifies the anger within a host that’s always been there to begin with, and she’s learning for the first time just how much animosity her good friend has held toward her all along. Even worse, MJ’s verbal criticisms throughout their fight forces Gwen to consider the ramifications of becoming Spider-Woman. From the death of Peter Parker that her actions played a part in to abandoning her friends and bandmates to pursue her costumed second life, Gwen can’t help but feel responsible for the bitterness that’s been augmented inside MJ.
Even MJ’s choice of weapon as Carnage – a deadly, symbiote infused guitar – speaks to her and Gwen’s relationship. As both the lead singer and guitarist of their band the Mary Janes, it’s safe to say that MJ’s own grandiosity has always been a factor at play, and the very idea of Gwen being gifted with qualities that make her more special contribute greatly to MJ’s madness as Carnage. Issue three’s final climactic ending is cleverly showcased as a battle of the bands that MJ can’t help but take Gwen up on. Appealing to MJ’s ego as the band leader, Gwen tricks MJ into a competition between her drum playing and MJ’s guitar shredding that results in the sound waves’ weakening the Carnage symbiote long enough for Gwen to finally pull MJ out of its influence. MJ is ultimately defeated by her own desperation to be better than Gwen.
Mary Jane’s transformation into Carnage strikes a unique chord because while Cletus Kasady embodied insanity at its purest, MJ’s turn as the devilish red character examines the madness of unchecked jealousy and vitriolic resentment. In the end, Gwen successfully manages to free her friend from Knull’s influence, but there’s no denying their friendship will require serious work after some uncomfortable truths were spoken in the throes of battle. Although, optimistically speaking, now that MJ’s deepest grievances were finally brought to the forefront, perhaps some atonement can finally commence.