Carnage, the most evil of evil alien symbiotes, is a long-time enemy of Spider-Man. It's an offshoot of the original extraterrestrial gloop monster, Venom. And while its "parent" has gone from villain to violent anti-hero to straight-up good guy in the Agent Venom series, the younger organism was born bad and stayed that way.
It's a sower of chaos, a gleefully kill-crazy monster that is so violent that it's named after mass murder. That's because it premiered in the early '90s, when the comic book industry as a whole forgot what subtlety was and writers and artists started falling all over each other trying to come up with the most extreme characters and plot lines possible. But back then, they spelled the word "X-TREME" because hyphens are edgy, and proper spelling is for narcs.
While Carnage as a "character" (by which we mean "an insane blob of sentient goo that stabs everyone it sees") hasn't changed much since its inception, the people who have hosted the symbiote have been many. One character in particular is its favorite, and it keeps coming back to him. And we'd put money on him being the host when he appears as the villain in Sony's Venom movie, which is due out next year. But Carnage is, like the victims he leaves behind, all over the place.
Here are 17 Characters Who Have Been Carnage.
We’re starting with Carnage’s original, most famous, and favorite host. Cletus Kasady was a serial killer before the authorities finally caught him and inexplicably put him in a prison cell with the also incarcerated Eddie Brock. The latter was in jail for all the trouble he caused as Venom, and while everyone believed that the symbiote that gave him his powers was dead, it was just hibernating like a black, gloopy space bear.
Venom returned to rejoin Brock, and he used its powers to break out of the penitentiary. But neither Eddie nor his “partner” knew that the suit had left behind a little piece of itself in the process. That bit globbed onto Kasady, and Carnage was born. The new creature looks different from its originator, probably due to its host’s insanity; while the Venom symbiote forms closely around its host (as it also did when it was Spider-Man’s black suit), Carnage is a non-stop frenzy of tendrils that erupt from its body in a constant, blood-red roil.
We imagine it’s hard to look at it directly for too long — but then again, very few people who see Carnage are alive long enough to find out.
Ultimate Spider-Man changed a lot of the circumstances around Peter Parker’s crimefighting adventures, but it still finds a way to kill Gwen Stacy.
In these comics, Curt Connors (The Lizard) creates Carnage in a lab partially from Spider-Man’s DNA. This version isn’t Venom’s offspring so much as it is a much more volatile version of the same experiment. Carnage kills Gwen Stacy, but she shows up again later on like nothing ever happened.
But in the “Clone Saga” story, we find out that “Gwen" is actually Carnage, who’d absorbed Stacy and created a duplicate of her that remains intact until stress triggers it into reverting back to its familiar, red-and-black form. It fights the Fantastic Four, but the team quickly captures it.
This is a weird case because it isn’t so much that the Carnage symbiote has bonded with Gwen, like the Venom entity covering Eddie Brock. Instead, it’s just walking around looking like her, like the creature in John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Cletus Kasady dies (presumably) during a prison break from The Raft, which you might recognize from Captain America: Civil War as the prison that the rogue Avengers end up in. While he’s trying to escape, Sentry flies him up into space and rips him in half.
That should have been it for the symbiote, but it ends up back on Earth and winds up with industrialist Michael Hall, who uses the organism’s unique properties to create prosthetic limbs. One of them goes to a psychiatrist named Dr. Tanis Nieves, whose patients include Carnage’s old “girlfriend,” Shriek.
While Nieves is recovering in Hall’s facility, the bit of alien goo in her new arm takes control and forces her to free the rest of it from its holding tank. The symbiote bonds with the doctor, creating a new Carnage that goes to rescue its original host from another of Hall’s facilities. Kasady, who failed to die in space because the alien goo protected him, reclaims the rest of his "suit" and becomes Carnage again.
Superior Carnage follows the Wizard’s plan to rebuild the long-standing, villainous supergroup known as the Frightful Four consisting of himself, Klaw, Carnage, and Dr. Karl Malus. He hopes to use his mind-control powers to keep the killer symbiote under control, but that plan fails because he has nothing to manipulate; injuries from a previous battle with the Scarlet Spider left Kasady more or less lobotomized, so the monster ends up going on a rampage, instead.
Klaw uses his sonic powers to subdue the marauding Carnage, and the Wizard arranges to have the symbiote — which is ingrained in Kasady’s bloodstream at this point — transferred to Malus via a transfusion. The new, “Superior” Carnage sports a new look and love of guns, as well as a functioning brain that allows the Wizard to keep it doing his bidding.
But that whole scheme depends on the Wizard not dying, which he definitely was, of a brain tumor. And Superior Spider-Man (who is Otto Octavius’ mind in Peter Parker’s stolen body) dropping him off a roof doesn’t help, either.
Wizard loses control of Carnage, who kills Klaw. The resulting sonic explosion blasts the symbiote off of Malus’s body …
… and onto the Wizard, making him the third host in this five-issue storyline.
The new-new Carnage eats poor Malus and battles Superior Spider-Man until the web-slinger makes a risky play, bringing in Cletus Kasady’s unconscious body to entice the symbiote to abandon its new home. The alien goes for it and leaves the Wizard, intentionally making the removal as painful as possible. It bonds with Kasady again, which doesn’t really solve the whole “Carnage is going to kill everyone” problem.
And things would be dire if not for Klaw, who has been narrating the story from the Force-like “sound wall” that he joined after he exploded. He manages to focus his remaining energy into a final, powerful blast of lightning, separating Carnage long enough for Spider-Man’s henchmen to contain it.
Their brief contacts with the symbiote cured both Wizard’s terminal illness and Casady’s lobotomy, and they get to enjoy their newfound good health in jail.
After the events of Superior Carnage, Kasady went back to prison, while Superior Spider-Man sent “neutered” bits of the alien goo to labs for study. Carla Unger is researching one of them when it leaps up through her microscope and into her eye. She returns home, where her anger at her abusive husband helps the symbiote take over her body, unleashing Carnage.
It kills Mr. Unger, which the host is fine with. But the good news stops there, as the symbiote’s true goal is to get back to Kasady, its favorite host. It starts making its way toward him, but only after eating Unger from the inside out to make itself bigger, like the organism in The Blob.
So if you’re keeping track, Carnage is like The Thing and The Blob. It’s all terrifying, alien goo monsters simultaneously.
The symbiote hops from body to body until it reaches Kasady, whom the prison psychiatrist has murdered in a bid to be the next Carnage. But its healing powers can even cure death, and the original team gets back together once again.
Not all of Carnage’s hosts use its powers for evil; some actually fight against the symbiote’s control and try to use it for noble purposes.
In the Amazing Spider-Girl series, which follows the adventures of May “Mayday” Parker, who takes up her father’s tradition of balancing arachnid-based crimefighting with the needs and stresses of high school life. And along with her father’s amazing superpowers, she also inherits some of this enemies.
Carnage breaks out of SHIELD containment and gloms onto Maurice “Moose” Mansfield, which also continues the long-held tradition of Spider-people knowing their foes personally. Moose thinks he can use Carnage’s restorative powers to cure his dad’s cancer, which we buy because that thing cured death once.
Peter Parker arrives with some armor that fires sonic blasts powerful enough to kill Carnage, and Spider-Girl destroys it before Moose can save his father. And the elder Mansfield isn’t the only casualty.
While the new Carnage is running around causing trouble (by which we mean attacking everyone he sees), he stops by Peter Parker’s house in search of revenge for all the trouble Spider-Man had caused it in the past.
It kidnaps Peter and Mary Jane’s infant son, Ben, and infects it with a tiny part of itself to make the smallest and most adorable Carnage ever. And we can appreciate its cuteness when we’re outside the comic book, where it can’t kill us.
When Peter shows up with the sonic weapons, he freezes when he sees Benjy-Carnage, so May has to take the shot herself. The blast removes the tiny symbiote from the infant, but it gives Benjy hearing loss. But exposure to the alien also accelerates the development of his own spider-powers, and he starts crawling on ceilings and making his own organic webs before he can walk.
Spider-Man himself has become Carnage in two of the web-head’s animated series.
In the 1994 version, Spider-Carnage is an alternate version of Peter Parker. That universe’s Spider-Man is a clone of this one, who changed his name to Ben Reilly and eventually became host for the evil symbiote and came up with an idea to obliterate the multiverse. A bunch of Spider-Mans from different Earths team up to stop that from happening after a lot of ‘90s animated craziness occurs.
The Ultimate Spider-Man series has Green Goblin injecting Peter with the Venom serum, which reacts poorly to his irradiated-spider biology. The black suit mutates into the more chaotic, spiky version, and Goblin sends his new minion out to kill all of Spider-Man’s friends — and Spidey, because he doesn’t know whom he kidnapped.
Harry Osborn, who is Venom in this universe, convinces the symbiote to leave Peter and return to him. And that solves the Carnage problem. But then Venom is running around, which is only slightly better in most cases.
The 1996 “Web of Carnage” storyline has Peter Parker’s clone, Ben Reilly (who is also working as Spider-Man), juggling two mysteries. One is a skeleton in a Spidey costume that appears to be yet another genetic copy of Parker. The other, more relevant puzzle concerns reports of a Carnage-like figure terrorizing New York.
But Cletus Kasady is still locked up in the Ravencroft insane asylum with a cell his captors designed specifically to keep the symbiote in check, so Reilly tracks down the possible imposter to figure out what’s going on.
He discovers that the monster is, in fact, Carnage, and its new host is John Jonah Jameson III, son of the Daily Bugle editor. Jameson works as Ravencroft’s chief of security, and it was his job to make sure nothing got out of Kasady's cell. So, solid work there, John.
While fighting Reilly, Carnage realizes that it’s found a stronger host to inhabit, so it leaves Jameson and latches onto Spider-Man.
When the Carnage symbiote leaves Jameson to bond with Ben Reilly, it creates the comic book version of Spider-Carnage. The new creature goes on a rampage, despite Reilly’s constant efforts to assert mental control. It goes to Peter Parker, where the alien demands Reilly kill its old enemy, but the hero manages to stifle that urge.
Eventually, Spider-Carnage goes to Ravencroft so that Reilly can ask Kasady for tips to keep the symbiote from killing everyone. And that’s a little bit like asking for driving advice from a person with multiple DUIs, but comics don’t always make complete sense.
The symbiote, sensing its old host is near, leaves Reilly and gets into Kasady’s cell via the plumbing, which is how it escaped in the first place. The two combine yet again because Marvel writers just can’t keep them apart, even when someone literally rips them in half and leaves them floating in space.
The Marvel 1602 series tells the adventures of a group of heroes on Earth-311, which is like the regular universe (Earth-616) but 400 years in the past. It was created when Steve Rogers travelled through time and created an alternate timeline that had the usual heroes and villains appearing centuries earlier than they should have. This is a long way of saying, “Iron Man, but in Colonial America,” but that’s how it happened.
The 1602 universe has its own Carnage, Canice Cassidy, who describes his symbiote as a “demon” and leads an evil team called the Sinister Sextet. His partners are old-time versions of Kraven the Hunter (“Karnov"), the Lizard (“Reptile”), Mysterio (“Magnus”), Hobgoblin, and Electro.
They appear in the first issue of the 2015 run of Amazing Spider-Man, in which they rob a cathedral. But a team of Spider-folk from different dimensions, who have been running around fighting crime in dimensions that lack their own Spider-Man, arrive to thwart their plans. It’s an incredibly complicated storyline.
The three-part “Symbiote Saga” in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series has Carnage returning to infect several different characters, including Doctor Octopus and some of the Avengers. But we’re focusing on the scene in the third part when the symbiote combines with Mary Jane Watson to make her the Carnage Queen.
Carnage Queen exists to bring order to the symbiote. Even though this version of the villain is a lab experiment instead of an alien, it’s still sentient, and the Queen provides a central mind to organize it. This mostly means creating surprisingly cute mini-Carnages to attack Spider-Man and Venom, but the plan doesn’t get very far.
Eventually, Spider-Man, Agent Venom, and Patrioteer help Mary Jane break the symbiote’s hold by revealing their secret identities. The gesture and knowledge that her friends believe in her is so inspiring that she wills Carnage to cartoonishly explode off of her, but a bit of the substance stays behind. Later, she gains complete control over the organism and uses it to become this show's version of Spider-Woman.
The Amalgam Comics series combined Marvel and DC characters into strange — and often amazing — new versions. The relevant one in this case is Bizarnage, which mixes the Carnage symbiote from Marvel with DC’s Bizarro, who is, himself, a weird copy of Superman. Are you confused yet? We are.
Bizarnage is a failed experiment at Cadmus Labs that aims to synthesize alien DNA. It escapes, naturally, and it really wants to bond with Spider-Boy, who is Amalgam’s fusion of Superboy and Spider-Man. It merges with a few other characters along the way, but this crossover’s cast is so convoluted that it would take too long to explain.
Our favorite thing about Bizarnage is that it has a term for the act of taking a host. It calls the process “Bizarnagizing,” which is so weird that we can’t help but get on board with it.
We’ve already mentioned that Carnage takes over Doctor Octopus on the Ultimate Spider-Man TV show. But almost two decades before that, Ock hosts the symbiote as the final boss of the 2000 Spider-Man video game.
The story has Octavius and Carnage plotting to clone the alien and infect all of New York with symbiotes. They mask their activities with a blanket of poison fog which, coincidentally, hides the fact that all of the buildings Spider-Man spends the whole game crawling around on disappear into nothing with no street in sight.
After Spidey thinks he’s defeated Carnage, it joins with Octavius to create “Monster Ock,” a being so terrifying that you spend most of the fight running from it. It’s not the most Spider-Man thing we’ve ever done in a game, but the far superior Spider-Man 2 was still four years away.
The Carnage symbiote has changed bodies for a variety of reasons over the years. You can usually depend on it to go in the general direction of Cletus Kasady, because as its first host, the two of them share a special bond. It will also leave one person when a stronger comes along. But on at least one occasion, it has abandoned even Kasady for more powerful motives.
Carnage encounters the Silver Surfer when the former herald of Galactus sees the monster fighting Spider-Man and step in to help the web-slinger out. Upon sensing the Surfer’s presence, the symbiote flees, later engulfing the cosmic hero when he goes in pursuit.
When the Surfer was still scouting out words for Galactus to eat, he marked the symbiotes’ home planet for consumption. The ones who survived retain a genetic memory of the event, and it absorbs him to get revenge. After an intense battle of wills in space, the Surfer returns to Earth and gives the alien back to Kasady. But he encases the killer in an impenetrable shell of energy so that he can sit in there and think about what he did, presumably forever.
After the events of the first Carnage miniseries, Kasady and his symbiotic other half return in 2011’s Carnage, USA.
That story has him infiltrating — and completely controlling — Doverton, a small Colorado meatpacking town. The alien part eats a bunch of cattle to build its mass enough to make this possible, and then it travels through the water system to get to the population.
A team of Avengers (Spider-Man, Captain America, the Thing, Hawkeye, and Wolverine) arrive to investigate the trouble, and everyone but Spider-Man also ends up under the villain’s sway. The government sends in a squad of symbiote-enhanced soldiers which includes Tanis Nieves, who is now calling herself Scorn. Flash Thompson (Agent Venom) also ends up going in, making Carnage, USA one of the most symbiote-dense stories in existence.
Later, the soldiers get Carnage out of the population of Doverton, but the mass of alien goo takes over a bunch of animals from a private zoo, so we get an army of Carnage lions, zebras, and giraffes, along with a Venom gorilla. This is a super-busy story.
Have any other notable Marvel characters fallen victim to the Carnage symbiote? Let us know in the comments.