Absolute Carnage

Norman Osborn landing in a loony bin after one of his confrontations with Spider-Man is nothing new.  However, when the original Green Goblin bonded with the Carnage symbiote to become the Red Goblin, his path to insanity took a bit of a twist. After his defeat as the Red Goblin, Norman believed himself to be Cletus Kasady and Spider-Man to be Norman Osborn! Thus, it’s no surprise that Osborn became a resident of Ravencroft Institute after that ordeal. 

Norman’s bond with the Carnage symbiote enabled Kasady’s psyche to infiltrate Osborn. Norman had not simply lost his marbles, believing himself to be Cletus...rather, Cletus’s memories, tendencies and psychology were passed on to Norman via the Carnage symbiote. Spider-Man benefitted from this since Norman had re-uncovered his secret identity when he was the Red Goblin, but it appeared as though that information had been forgotten by Osborn.

But things were about to go from bad to worse for Norman because Cletus Kasady was back on the scene and he had one hell of an ambitious goal...to kill everyone who had ever bonded with a symbiote! Kasady’s odds of achieving that goal had improved because he had bound himself to a ‘godly symbiote’ known as Grendel, which gave him more power than he had with his original Carnage symbiote. In Web of Venom: Carnage Born, Osborn was officially placed on Kasady’s radar as the psychotic killer began to formulate his list of symbiote hosts.

Before we get into Absolute Carnage, a little background in symbiote history is required. Long ago, the ‘god’ who created the symbiotes, known as Knull, waged war across the cosmos. Ultimately the symbiotes rose up against him, defeated him and caged him inside what is known as the Planet of the Symbiotes. Since then, the symbiotes have bound with various life forms over the millennia and when they do so they leave a ‘piece’ behind wrapped in the DNA of the host. That is how symbiote species communicate information about the host back to their home planet. That little piece is called a codex. And currently, Carnage is trying to collect all the codices from all the prior hosts with the idea that if he attains them all, he’ll be able to communicate with Knull and wake him up.

Enter Norman Osborn, who carries a codex from his time as the Red Goblin. 

Things kick off in a flashback scene featured in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #30, where the mysterious villain known as Kindred pays a visit to Ravencroft Institute with an ominous message for the delusional Norman Osborn. After finding Norman’s cell, Kindred contemplates killing him on the spot. Whilst his monstrous centipedes clutch the cell door, the mysterious demon decides not to kill Osborn but remarks, “You were so terrifying. Always made me feel so powerless. Whether the mask was on or not.”

Kindred goes on to say that when he fashioned himself into this villain, he wanted to pervade Spider-Man’s nightmares. But, Kindred laments, Spider-Man’s nightmares were instead filled with images of Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin. Revealing even more about the deep psychological connection between this mysterious character and Osborn, Kindred says, “You take the pristine glow of youth and just drown it in death and pain…[you are] the end of innocence made flesh.” The demon then adds, “you’ll never get to kill [Peter Parker]…you won a long time ago.” 

The discussion between Kindred and Osborn continues in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #31 as the villain elaborates on his connection to both Peter and Norman. Kindred ponders the motivation for Norman’s hatred of Peter (a hatred that is seemingly matched by Kindred), but soon decides that he may never know the root cause. As Kindred continues its pseudo-monologue, the demon reveals that its desire for revenge against Osborn has been all-consuming and that its tempted to kill him on the spot. However, the satisfaction would not be as sweet since Norman thinks he’s Cletus Kasady and thus he would not ‘understand’ why Kindred would be killing him.

Instead, Kindred offers Osborn a ‘kindness’ as the villain unleashes one of his centipedes into Norman’s padded cell. The bug makes its way up Osborn’s shoulder and enters inside his ear, nestling itself somewhere inside Norman’s head. 

Kindred laments it would be a terrible irony if Norman was to kill Spider-Man in this mental state, because he would be convinced it was Kasady that defeated the web slinger. The centipede’s function is to spare Norman that insult. Kindred then offers up a tantalizing fact…that Norman Osborn is responsible for making Kindred into what it has become! 

As Kindred prepares to leave Ravencroft it informs Osborn that the next time they will meet, Osborn will be himself again and that “…we’ll all be ready to face the truth together. One big, happy family.” Kindred tosses a few more threats at Osborn as he departs but Osborn summons him to return to the cell. Apparently, the true Norman Osborn’s voice was somewhere inside the head of the Osborn-Kasady husk and the arrival of Kindred had sparked that voice to go into overdrive. 

The true Norman Osborn clearly recognized Kindred and thus wanted to pass a message along to the mysterious villain. Osborn’s message for Kindred is that he is glad to see him and that there is nothing Kindred can do to him that will make his life as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin feel like it wasn’t worth it. He goes on to say that Kindred is Osborn’sLegacy and that “[Norman is] so proud of you.” As Kindred exits, Norman’s insane cackle serenades him. Once again, this reinforces the notion that there is a strong connection between Osborn and Kindred.

The series of events that led to Norman’s involvement in Absolute Carnage #1 comes from one of his many dastardly deeds as the Red Goblin. Specifically, his conversion of Normie Osborn to the Goblin Childe! Since Normie Osborn had bonded with the Carnage symbiote, he was also on Kasady’s radar, a fact Spider-Man was aware of, so the webslinger proactively sequestered his arch-enemy’s grandson in order to keep him safe. 

Spider-Man and Normie join Eddie Brock and his son Dylan, since all four are trying to evade capture (or death!) by Carnage. Their goal is to find a way to remove their codex so that they will no longer be one of Carnage’s targets. In order to do so, Brock enlists the help of the Maker (aka Reed Richards from an alternate universe). This genius has a machine called ‘the extractor’ which can, in theory, remove the codex from a person. Peter and Eddie are reluctant to try such an experimental process on these young kids, so they come up with an alternative strategy: try it on Norman Osborn first. The only problem with that plan is that they must go to Ravencroft and get Norman...which is not an easy task since Carnage is also hunting Norman.

During Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #1, Spider-Man and Venom reach out to John Jameson, who works security at Ravencroft, and ask him to clear out the facility so that they can nab Osborn. Unbeknownst to the duo, Jameson was under the mind-control of the Carnage symbiote and, presumably, he was responsible for all the slain security guards that adorned the floors of that facility. Spider-Man and Venom were walking into a trap!

Returning to Absolute Carnage #1, Spider-Man and Venom make their way to Ravencroft and are soon joined by Jameson. Jameson agrees to help the duo move Norman Osborn to safety so they can try the extractor on him. However, things start to go awry once they reach Norman’s cell. Jameson begins to lose control, seemingly taken over by Carnage, he pulls out his firearm and begins shooting at Osborn’s cell to free him. The gunshots don’t open the cell but they do trigger the security alarm with a high-pitch siren that causes Brock’s symbiote to begin to lose control. 

Meanwhile, Cletus Kasaday slowly begins making his way to Norman’s cell to join them. Along the way, Cletus converts various prisoners to his symbiote army by giving them small amounts of his symbiote. Soon after, Carnage and a swarm of symbiotes converge on Spidey, Venom and Jameson. 

Spider-Man and Venom fight valiantly to hold off the swarm, but it is not enough. Eventually Carnage grabs the webslinger, strangles him, then throws him through the door of Osborn’s cell. Norman Osborn steps out to greet his long-time foe…

Norman immediately begins slashing at Spider-Man with a blade and he even lands a few cuts, however Venom hops into the fray and drop kicks Osborn, knocking him unconscious. All that heroism was for nothing though because Carnage eventually makes his way to the cell and unveils his plan to the two heroes. He’s not there to kill Norman…rather to bind him once again to the Carnage symbiote, making Osborn another minion in Kasady’s swarm of killer symbiotes... 

The action continues in Absolute Carnage #2, as the new Osborn-Carnage leads the attack against Venom and Spider-Man. Realizing they have no chance against this army of symbiotes, Venom and Spidey blast through the walls of Ravencroft and flee to safety. 

The friction between Osborn (who believes himself to be Cletus Kasady) and the real Cletus first rears its head at this point. Norman suggests that they continue after Venom and Spidey, whereas Cletus decides to let the heroes go because “there are more spiders where they came from.” Cletus, as the undisputed leader, wins out but the antagonism between the two had begun. 

The relationship between Cletus and Osborn is explored further once they return to ‘The Spire’, the hive’s base of operations miles under the streets of New York. After Norman’s yammering gets on Cletus’s nerves, he tells the former Green Goblin to shut up and reminds him that he is Norman Osborn, not Cletus. Asserting his power, he then pulls Osborn close to him and reminds him that there is “only one Carnage in this house. And Carnage rules.” 

But Norman is not as docile as Cletus would hope and his attempt to put Osborn in his place fails. An unphased Norman retorts that there will come a time when the two of them will have to square up and that “one of them will have to die to collect all the pieces of the codex.” An obvious bit of foreshadowing…

The story then shifts to Mac Gargan (aka Scorpion) and Miles Morales fighting off the symbiote horde in the streets of New York. They had crossed paths in Absolute Carnage: Miles Morales #1 when the Scorpion’s truck robbery was thwarted by the young Spider-Man. After Miles and Gargan battled each other they were swarmed by Carnage’s minions, including Norman Osborn as their leader. 

Osborn’s target is Gargan, who had first worn the Venom symbiote way back when Osborn had formed his Sinister Twelve. Norman quickly snares the Scorpion, wrapping him in the symbiote tentacles. He then fashions a blade from his symbiote and spears Gargan through the back, sending his former ally into tremendous pain. 

Miles then comes to the rescue, landing a venom-blast punch onto to Osborn, causing him to drop Gargan. A furious Osborn turns toward Miles and instead of killing him, assimilates Miles into his horde. Another hero becomes Carnage-bound. 

Absolute Carnage #3 picks up immediately following Miles bonding with the symbiote and becoming a member of the Carnage horde. As a result, Miles becomes a monstrous spider-like symbiote and he attacks Eddie Brock. Brock deters Miles-Carnage, but that leaves him vulnerable to an attack by Norman Osborn. After some taunting, Osborn prepares to crush Brock with a car but before he can do so, Eddie screams, “….[I’m] trying to fix your grandson, Normie!” This gives Norman a momentary pause as the symbiote briefly unveils his face. Norman is conflicted as he asks Brock about his grandson.

Meanwhile, the Venom symbiote is urging Brock to take this opportunity to kill Norman while he’s vulnerable, but Brock refuses. His symbiote has other plans though and without Brock’s consent it sends a tendril straight through Osborn’s chest, incapacitating him. The symbiote then lingers over Osborn’s body claiming that they should just kill him now while they have the chance. A frustrated Brock goads the symbiote into killing him, but the symbiote decides not to as it retorts to Eddie, “don’t be mad at me…when we lose.” Venom then escapes with Mac Gargan, allowing the Carnage symbiote to repair the battle-damaged Osborn. 

At some point after Osborn healed, he set his sights on the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool. The mercenary had a history with symbiotes, in fact at one point he had hosted multiple symbiotes at once. This, of course, made him a prime candidate chock-full of codices for Carnage and his horde to hunt. Indeed, a slew of B-List villains that had bonded with the Carnage symbiote, tracked him down, but they were no match as Deadpool easily dispatched the group. Unfortunately for Deadpool that was not the last wave of attack and at the conclusion of Absolute Carnage vs Deadpool #2, Deadpool found himself in the clutches of one of his most vile foes…Norman Osborn!

Osborn wastes no time using every perturbation of the symbiote to beat the living daylights out of Deadpool in Absolute Carnage vs Deadpool #3. With Deadpool wrapped up in the symbiote’s tendrils, Osborn reminds him why he is of such high interest to the Carnage horde (answer: his bonding with multiple symbiotes simultaneously). Deadpool, unphased, continues cracking jokes and as Osborn prepares to rip the merc’s spine from his body, Spider-Man arrives in the nick of time to save the day!

The arrival of the web-slinger presents a huge opportunity for Osborn, which the villain quickly realizes. Instead of returning to the horde with only Deadpool, Norman now has the chance to bring Spidey back as well. Deadpool and Spider-Man initially neutralize Osborn-Carnage but eventually the original Green Goblin turns the tables on them. Using his symbiote to send multiple tendrils from his body, Norman quickly thwarts the heroes’ collective attack. 

Realizing he has no shot to defeat Osborn, Deadpool bails, leaving Spidey alone to defend himself against his arch nemesis.

As to be expected, Spidey doesn’t last long against Osborn and the hero soon found himself in The Spire confronted by Grendel-Carnage, Osborn-Carnage and all the rest of the Carnage minions. Norman offers his long-time foe up to his superior, and although Kasady is surprised to see Spider-Man he’s more than willing to sacrifice the web-slinger immediately. 

Unexpectedly, Deadpool arrives to rescue his pal, whom he had earlier left stranded. When Grendel-Carnage snares Deadpool and attempts to rip out his spine he makes an unfortunate realization…Deadpool replaced his own spine with a bomb! Grendel-Carnage’s attempt to remove the spine triggers an explosion that decimates The Spire. This gives Deadpool and Spider-Man a chance to escape the Carnage horde and make their way to safety. 

One small editor’s note from this story, when Osborn refers to himself as Cletus Kasady to Spider-Man, the web-slinger is confused by the revelation. He shouldn’t be though, Peter had seen/heard Norman refer to himself as Cletus on multiple occasions to this point. So Deadpool should not have needed to explain Norman’s mental state to Spider-Man. It’s worth pointing that slight continuity error. 

Returning to Absolute Carnage #3, Spider-Man reconvenes with Brock back at the Maker’s lab. They’re joined by the Avengers whom Spidey had contacted to both remove their codices (since they were infected way back in New Avengers #35) and to enlist their help in defeating Carnage. There was only one problem with that plan, Carnage had already infiltrated their base and the serial-killing symbiote unleashed hell upon the group of heroes. Norman Osborn eventually rejoins the Carnage horde and sets his sights on tracking down his grandson Normie. 

Luckily for Normie, he’s alongside Spider-Man and Eddie Brock at the outset of Absolute Carnage #4. Brock, who has diverged from his Venom symbiote (the symbiote bonded with the Hulk), leaves his son, Normie and Spider-Man to help defend the Avengers whilst their codices are being removed. Brock asks Spider-Man to protect the two boys, Spider-Man, of course, accepts the task. Soon after, Osborn-Carnage confronts the trio, who were hiding in a storage room. The villain begins ripping through the walls in order to snare his prey.

In Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #30, Spidey makes a desperate attempt to save Normie and Dylan by directly confronting Osborn whilst the boys are hidden safely away. Peter and Norman clash in a battle royale, but the symbiote-enhanced Osborn soon takes the upper hand. Norman, still under the impression that he’s Cletus Kasady, pummels the web-slinger and at the conclusion of the story he has his long-time foe in a completely vulnerable state. 

The battle between Osborn and Spider-Man continues in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #31, as Osborn savors his opportunity to finally eliminate his arch nemesis. With Spidey lying motionless on the ground, Norman’s only concern is not ‘if’ he’ll kill Spider-Man but how long it will take him to do so. Suddenly, Osborn appears to lose control of his mind and instead of laying a deathblow on to Spider-Man, he begins talking (err…screaming) to himself. “Stop scratchin’at my head!” the former Red Goblin exclaims. Clearly the centipede that Kindred had delivered directly into his cranium caused Norman to cease his attack. Kindred had made it very clear whilst Norman was at Ravencroft that it did not want Osborn killing Peter in his current mental state. Unable to kill Spider-Man due to Kindred’s manipulation, Osborn then settles for killing Normie and Dylan. 

As Osborn-Carnage tears through the walls nearly reaching the two young boys, Peter returns to consciousness with a second wind. Peter notices that something halted Osborn’s attack against him, but he has no idea what caused that to happen. Inspired by the loss of Gwen Stacy and Flash Thompson, the web slinger returns to his feet and attacks Norman with conviction. After absorbing a few blows from Osborn-Carnage, Peter goes on the offensive, ripping the symbiote mask from Osborn’s face and landing some haymakers that send the villain flying through the air. The story concludes with a battle-ravaged Spider-Man hovering over an unconscious Osborn.

The aftermath of this clash between Peter and Norman is covered in Absolute Carnage #5.  Once Peter delivers his final knockout blow to Osborn and the villain crashes to the ground, Spidey turns toward the two boys and tells them that they are safe…at which point he passes out and joins Norman on the floor.  

Meanwhile, Venom and Grendel-Carnage are also locked in battle as Cletus tells Brock, “you’re going to lose your little boy!”  Suddenly, the Carnage symbiote that was bound to Norman emerges from his body and prepares to attack Dylan and Normie.  

However, Dylan stares down the symbiote and utilizes and untapped (and presumably unknown!) power and vaporizes the symbiote into a red pile goo.  Norman appears to vanish as well.  It is unclear whether he was also vaporized by Dylan or whether he somehow managed to escape when Dylan unleashed his wrath upon the symbiote. 

Astounded by this amazing power, Dylan then passes out as well, thankfully Normie is there to catch his fall.  Soon after, Cletus sets his sights on killing the two boys and Brock is forced to kill him and take his codex…thus breaking Kasaday’s control over his horde but also unleashing the God Knull.  Once Spider-Man returns to consciousness he realizes that Osborn has gone missing at which point Brock aptly states “…sounds like a job for Spider-Man.”   True indeed!

Truthfully, this was an incredibly anticlimactic ending to this saga, so much so that it begged the question as to whether or not this was even the actual conclusion to this story.  Nevertheless, he we are.  The question of whether or not Norman is dead or has simply disappeared beguiles us once again!

One interesting side note to this story is that whilst all this absolute carnage was unfurling, a Norman Osborn from an alternate universe (Earth 44145) arrived in the 616 universe to do battle with the superior Spider-Man (aka Eliot Tolliver aka Otto Octavius).  This Osborn's revenge game was to prove that Otto is a fraud hero by forcing him to kill three innocent people.  Ultimately Otto defeats this Osborn but the key point is that the Earth 44145 Osborn had been using the real Osborn's credit to enjoy fine dining and posh hotel accommodations...the nerve of that Osborn!!  This all played out in Superior Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #9-12.  

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Kindred visits Osborn in his Ravencroft cell and reminisces over times past, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #30

The mysterious villain then claims he would love to take out his revenge against Osborn right there on the spot, but decides not to since Osborn wouldn’t realize why it was happening, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #31

Kindred alludes to a familial connection between he and Osborn, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #31

Osborn’s consciousness breaks through his Cletus-persona to share a message with Kindred, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #31

John Jameson arrives outside Norman’s cell, as seen in Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #1

Norman responds to Jameson’s remarks whilst in his Cletus-persona, as seen in Absolute Carnage: Lethal Protectors #1

Eddie Brock introduces Normie Osborn to his son Dylan, as seen in Absolute Carnage #1

A mind-controlled John Jameson loses control and begins firing at Norman Osborn’s cell, as seen in Absolute Carnage #1

Cletus Kasaday launches Spider-Man into Norman’s cell, freeing the original Green Goblin, as seen in Absolute Carnage #1

Once freed, Norman immediately begins to attack Spider-Man with his blade, as seen in Absolute Carnage #1

Cletus makes Osborn a member of his horde by bonding him directly to the Carnage symbiote, as seen in Absolute Carnage #1

Norman and Cletus disagree over whether or not to pursue Spider-Man and Venom, Cletus’ opinion wins out, as seen in Absolute Carnage #2

Osborn-Carnage threatens to kill Cletus if it comes down to a battle between the two of them to collect all the codices, as seen in Absolute Carnage #2

Osborn-Carnage spears his former ally Mac Gargan, crippling him, in order to retrieve the Scorpion’s codex, as seen in Absolute Carnage #2

Top panel:  Miles Morales attempts to save Gargan from Osborn-Carnage by striking Norman with his venom blast. as seen in Absolute Carnage #2
Bottom panel:  
Miles Morales attempts to save Gargan from Osborn-Carnage by striking Norman with his venom blast. as seen in Absolute Carnage: Miles Morales #1

Miles is converted into a member of the Carnage horde by Osborn-Carnage, as seen in Absolute Carnage: Miles Morales #1

Osborn-Carnage realizes it was Miles that prevented him from swiping Gargan’s codex, as seen in Absolute Carnage #2

When Osborn-Carnage hesitated after hearing his grandson Normie’s name, the Venom symbiote lashes out and strikes Osborn, as seen in Absolute Carnage #3

The Venom symbiote contemplates whether or not to simply kill the vulnerable Osborn, as seen in Absolute Carnage #3

Osborn-Carnage confronts Deadpool, as seen in Absolute Carnage vs Deadpool #3

When Spider-Man arrives to aid Deadpool, he’s quickly disposed of by Osborn-Carnage, as seen in Absolute Carnage vs Deadpool #3

Deadpool and Spider-Man crack jokes about Osborn whilst fighting him, as seen in Absolute Carnage vs Deadpool #3

Osborn-Carnage brings his prey, Spider-Man, before his master, as seen in Absolute Carnage vs Deadpool #3

Grendel-Carnage (Cletus Kasaday) rips open Deadpool’s spine and finds a bomb, as seen in Absolute Carnage vs Deadpool #3

Osborn-Carnage tears through the door that sheltered Dylan and Normie, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #31

Spider-Man confronts his long time foe and a battle royale ensues, as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 6) #31

Whist the real Norman Osborn is under the impression he’s Cletus Kasaday, an alternate universe Norman Osborn is utilizing his credit to enjoy posh hotels and meals, as seen in Superior Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #12

A bewildered Dylan and Normie observe the red splattering on the floor as all that remains of Osborn-Carnage after Dylan used his untapped powers to vaporize the symbiote, as seen in Absolute Carnage #5

Spider-Man realizes that Osborn has vanished after Dylan vaporized the symbiote, as seen in Absolute Carnage #5