Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Mayhem Party
Written by Robert Sheckley

Summary:  Psychologist Charles Morrison decides to use Carnage to prove that his method of exaggerating the id, ego, and superego can rehabilitate criminals.  He lures Carnage to a conference populated by serial killers, and soon tricks him into ingesting concentrated ego.  After Carnage is lured into a mirrored room, his lust for violence is sated, until he grows annoyed with Dr. Morrison for crowding his image.  Morrison stays in the room with Carnage too long, asking questions, and is killed.

Continuity Notes:  I can only assume this is a reference to one of the Clone Saga issues…Carnage uses his recently discovered ability to “transmit himself across cyberspace” (what?) in the story.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Carnage actually shouts, “Tough shit!” which is the harshest profanity I’ve read in any of the Marvel prose novels.

Review:  I don’t think anyone reading this short story thinks Carnage is actually going to be cured by Dr. Morrison’s serum, but Sheckley does an admirable job of adding a few red herrings into the story, and the premise is kind of clever.  The story hinges on the ironic twist at the end; Morrison is actually killed by his own ego, because he can’t stop asking Carnage questions about his own procedure.  It’s an idea worthy of The Twilight Zone.  Carnage could’ve been cured if he’d been allowed to wallow in the “terminal stage of narcissism” (based on the belief that violence is a result of insufficient ego, not too much), but his doctor’s desperation to validate his theories to his peers allows Carnage to survive.

The Night I Almost Saved Silver Sable
Written by Tom DeFalco

Summary:  Sandman is notified that the Wizard has kidnapped his employer, Silver Sable.  Unbeknownst to Sandman, Silver Sable allowed herself to be kidnapped and is awaiting the chance to apprehend Wizard.  Sandman is caught sneaking into Wizard’s hideout, forcing Silver Sable to make her move early.  Wizard escapes, but his gang is apprehended.

Continuity Notes:  Sandman, while narrating this story, refers to himself as “Bill Baker.”  Sandman’s real name in the comics has gone from Flint Marko, to William “Flint” Marko, to William Baker, to (I believe) Flint Marko once again after John Byrne declared that Sandman never truly reformed during his infamous stint on the Spider-Man titles.

Review:  For some reason, Tom DeFalco chooses the Sandman to star in a tribute to old pulp detective novels.  I only know the stereotypes associated with the genre, and rarely find tributes or parodies of it that entertaining.  (Tracer Bullet is the only exception, really.)  Overlooking the fact that the Sandman’s dimwit persona makes him a somewhat annoying narrator, casting him as a stand-in for Mike Hammer just seems like an odd move anyway.  When did Sandman remind anyone of an old detective novel?  A first-person Sandman story focusing on why he’s chosen to reform and expressing some remorse for his past could be worth reading, but I have no idea what DeFalco was thinking here.

Who Do You Want Me to be?
Written by Ann Nocenti

Summary:  Mary Walker awakens with no memory of her past.  Flashes of the past reveal her innocent Mary persona drawing in susceptible men, Bloody Mary attacking a wife beater, Typhoid Mary seducing a prison psychologist, and a painted woman in a mysterious ceremony.  As she tries to piece her memory together, Mary grows close to Kobu, a man she met outside her office.  Looking in his closet, she discovers a sheet with impressions of painted images on it.  The memory of the ceremony returns.  She berates Kobu for selling her into the ritual, despite his pleas that it was her idea.  As sirens approach, she leaves the bloodied Kobu behind.

Review:  I wonder if a licensed Typhoid novel series would find a mainstream audience.  Despite the fractured narrative, this is probably the easiest read in the entire anthology, and its content is certainly strong enough to exist independently of any established Marvel continuity.  Just like “Ripples,” this is legitimately good on its own merits, and probably would’ve found a larger contemporary fiction audience if it didn’t appear in a book with a painting of the Abomination on the cover.  (I’m not saying this to diminish the other contributions to the anthology; I just wonder if the stories that don’t have any obvious connections to superhero comics could’ve reached an audience that normally dismisses this material.)  

“Who Do You Want Me to be?” follows the events of the Typhoid miniseries, which brought us the premise of Mary Walker, the “normal” persona, using her three other identities to work as a detective.  Nocenti utilizes an amnesia gimmick, similar to one Memento will use years later, to have Mary Walker try to piece together who she is and why she woke up one morning in a slutty red dress, following notes she left for herself earlier.  The seemingly random flashbacks allow Nocenti to give each persona a scene to establish her personality, making good use of the limited space allowed her, while also setting up the mystery of the painted woman to be resolved in the climax.  Not that we’re ever told too much about the mysterious ceremony, which apparently involves drunken men abducting a woman and using her body as a canvas during the preamble to some surely horrible ritual, but we know enough to get the idea.  And the ambiguity of Kobu’s role, if he’s honestly deranged or if he only sold Mary to help her Bloody Mary persona infiltrate the group, is well played.  The ending, which has the allegedly normal, together Mary Walker beating Kobu while her Bloody Mary persona stays dormant and leaves the violence up to her, is truly brutal.  If you’re familiar with Typhoid’s appearances in Nocenti’s comics, this is essentially a greatest hits of material she’s already explored, but it’s still worth tracking down.


Anonymous said...

Hi, first time commenting here. I missed it at first, but skimming this post a second time I noticed that Carnage story was written by Robert Sheckley, which is very surprising to me.

In case someone doesn't know, he was very prolific sci-fi writer. His novels and short stories were often absurdist, satirical and very, very funny. When I was a teenager, he was one of my favourite authors. I read "Dimension of Miracles" too many times to count, more than anything by Adams of Pratchett.

I didn't know he was into superhero fiction (or maybe he did this story for quick buck, who knows). Weird thing is, of all possible comic characters to write about, he chose Carnage. And it wasn't a parody, but straight character study. What a bizarre find!

Anonymous said...

I know! I felt the same way. I was wondering, "Could this be THE Robert Sheckley, or maybe someone else with the same name?".
It surprised me to see that he would choose Carnage for a story.

As far as I'm aware, this is Sheckley's only contribution to the world of comic books though.

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