When Marvel Comics writer and Venom's creator David Michelinie first pitched the idea of another symbiote, his purpose was to draw more attention to an aspect of Venom that many readers failed to note: Venom had a moral code — a twisted and psychotic one, yes, but a moral code nonetheless.
"I intended to do this by introducing a similar but contrasting character with no sense of ethics or right or wrong at all — a sociopath," Michelinie told SYFY WIRE this week. "That became Carnage."
Michelinie and former Marvel Comics editor Danny Fingeroth both talked to SYFY WIRE about the creation of one of the Marvel universe's most feared villains, his role in the almost guaranteed Venom movie sequel, and which symbiote characters could be tapped for future films.
According to Fingeroth, a Marvel Comics editor from 1980 to 1995, the company was going through a boom period of very high sales, publishing well over 100 comics a month at the time in the early '90s.
Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of Venom, Michelinie first brought the idea to editor Jim Salicrup, whom he'd worked on the symbiote character before.
Initially, Michelinie said, he planned to have Venom's host, Eddie Brock, killed off in Amazing Spider-Man #400 and his symbiote continue on, bonding with a series of hosts. But, as Venom's popularity increased, the powers at Marvel Comics wouldn't allow it.
"Venom was popular, and before he was created, Spidey's alien costume was popular," Fingeroth said. "So we just did stories and characters that played on that popularity."
At the core, Fingeroth said, the symbiotes are a subset of the "What if I had superhuman powers?" fantasy.
"In this case, it's 'What if I had a living costume that granted me power — but that could and would take over my body and conscious mind?' he said. "Would it be worth the tradeoff?"
In February of 1991, Michelinie and artist Erik Larsen first planted the seeds for Carnage in The Amazing Spider-Man #344 with the debut of homicidal maniac Cletus Kasady.
In the issue, Kasady, who happens to be locked up with Eddie Brock, gets a first look at the symbiote through a barred window at Ravencroft Prison as he manically sharpens a shiv.
Just one issue later, as Kasady finally prepares to kill his cellmate Brock, the symbiote arrives, bonding to its former host. United once again, Venom escapes, smashing through the prison wall. But not before leaving a trace of the symbiote on the shattered prison bars.
Prior to settling on the name Carnage, Fingeroth said, the creators at Marvel cycled through several other names, including Chaos and Ravage, which were in use elsewhere in the Marvel universe.
"Eric Fein, an editor on the Spider-Man titles, was the one who came up with 'Carnage,' and David and I liked it, so we went with it," Fingeroth said.
In March of 1992, fans got their first look at Carnage. In a one-page aside, we see Carnage target a random man who was just getting home from work. As the monster floods Stein's nose and mouth with the symbiote, he admits he picked the victim randomly by searching the phone book and decided to kill him because his name "was really stupid."
Fingeroth said Carnage was a product of the late '80s and early '90s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
"That Carnage was the color and consistency of blood (always a staple of horror stories), which was among the way AIDS (and other diseases) was carried made him especially a sign of the times and added a level of menace to him," he explained.
Fingeroth pointed to a number of superhero stories — "Legacy Virus," for one — at the time that played on these very real fears people had.
"If Venom was deluded into thinking he was a hero, Carnage had no such illusions about himself. He reveled in being a psycho killer," he added. "Carnage is a vehicle for exploring what naked evil coupled with unlimited power would do. That's a terrifying but alluring fantasy to explore."
With the success of Sony's Venom movie and the tease of Cletus Kasady (as played by Woody Harrelson) in the post-credits sequence, Carnage is almost assuredly set to return in the sequel.
In a Facebook post on October 3, Michelinie said he thought the movie was "okay," adding that he thought the changes to Eddie Brock made sense for Sony as they built the film into a franchise.
"It's hard to keep a ruthless, messed-up psycho as a leading man," he wrote.
As for the inclusion of Kasady as a possible setup to Carnage's debut in the Sony film universe, he half-joked, "I think it's great — more money for me!"
Michelinie said since there are rumors about Spider-Man doing a studio crossover in a Venom sequel, Carnage would be a good reason for Spidey and Venom to fight on the same side.
"That was was one of the things I thought was cool to do in the three-part comic book origin," he said.
Additionally, he said, Carnage's tendency for wanton destruction and death have transcended the manic '90s.
"Have you watched the news lately?" he said. "You don't think a sadistic, brutal sociopath would fit in today's world?"
As for Harrelson, Michelinie said he thought he was perfectly cast.
Michelinie is also the man behind several of the symbiote offshoots, namely Riot and Scream, who feature in the Venom movie but were created during his run on the Venom mini-series Lethal Protector.
"I introduced Carnage for a specific purpose, then introduced several more symbiotes in Lethal Protector specifically to kill them off and establish that they were the last, and other symbiotes could not live long in Earth's atmosphere," he said.
Obviously, he said, that ploy failed.
Since Venom's introduction, the symbiotes have spread throughout the Marvel universe, with more than two dozen characters or creatures taking up the alien hosts now known as the Klyntar race.
In 2018, Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman took the idea one step further, introducing the god of the symbiotes, Knull.
According to Venom director Ruben Fleischer, he used two story arcs — 1993's Lethal Protector and Michelinie's 1995 Planet of the Symbiotes — as the basis of his film.
In Lethal Protector, Eddie Brock moves to San Francisco, trying to start a new life, only to have the sinister Life Foundation get in the way. After "seeds" collected from the parent Venom symbiote, five new symbiotes, Riot, Scream, Agony, Lasher, and Phage are created, each with distinct powers.
Michelinie returned to the symbiote well in with Planet of the Symbiotes, which revealed that the symbiotes are actually a race of creatures intent on taking over host bodies from other races in order to feel emotion.
With the Klyntar alien race at the center of the film, there are more than enough options in the Marvel universe to explore if the Sony gets its wish and develops a franchise. Here are a few options we're interested in seeing.
Debut: Venom Vs. Carnage #2 (September 2004)
Host: Patrick Mulligan
Patrick Mulligan, an NYPD cop, had recently been married and blessed with a baby on the way when he ran into Carnage.
Implanted with the spawn of Carnage, Mulligan used his powers for good, teaming up with Spider-Man. Soon, though, the symbiote's murderous urges began to take over and Mulligan left his wife an newborn to protect them from his new alter ego, Toxin.
Eventually, Mulligan decides suicide is the only way to escape Toxin, but the symbiote saves him, seeing his desperation as a cry for help. Together again, Mulligan and Toxin make an agreement to allow Patrick two hours a day to become human and see his family. In turn, Toxin gets two hours, late at night, for "playtime."
Debut: Venom: Along Came A Spider #1 (January 1996)
Host: Scott Washington
After the defeat of the Life Foundation symbiotes by Scream, Riot, Phage, Lasher, and Agony combine with prison guard Scott Washington. Washington, who is tasked with watching the symbiotes, now in prison, takes pity on them and releases the four.
In a twist on the usual symbiote formula, Washington has a lot of anger, so the symbiote tries to temper his violence, not the other way around. Since his symbiote was originally four different entities, Washington also has to contend with four different personalities in his head beside his own.
Debut: The Amazing Spider-Man #375 (March 1993)
Host: Anne Weying
Played by Michelle Williams in the new Venom movie, Anne Weying is a successful lawyer and Eddie Brock's love interest in the Marvel Comics universe.
In the comics, Weying plays the voice of reason when Eddie Brock captures Peter Parker's fake parents in Amazing Spider-Man #375. In a later Venom storyline, Weying is shot but turns into She-Venom when the symbiote temporarily bonds with her to save her life.
Debut: Venom (Vol. 4) #3 (August 2018)
Introduced as the originator of the symbiotes, Knull manifested the first symbiote from his shadow in order to kill a Celestial. Introuduced in Donny Cates' current run of Venom, Knull uses the split god-blood to form a suit of symbiote-armor and All-Black, the Necrosword.
While stranded on a desolate world, Knull learns he can infect "lesser creatures" with the living abyss, creating the symbiotes to conquer the universe. It's revealed in that arc that Kyntar is the symbiotes' word for cage.