Shriek

Everything You Need to Know About Shriek Before ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage’

Every comic book fan has those obscure characters that for whatever reason have always stuck out to them. Shriek has always been one of mine. Needless to say, I am stunned at her inclusion in the upcoming sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage, especially after seeing the first glimpse of footage of her in the new trailer. Even in a world overrun with comic adaptations, I never, never expected this character to ever make the leap to the big screen. Like most people even dimly aware of the character, I was first introduced to Shriek through the early ‘90s comic event Maximum Carnage. In particular, its video game tie-in, which led me back around to the comic that spawned it. There was a brief period in that era, when that event was wildly popular, in which Shriek was probably considered the most well-known female Spider-Man villain. Which isn’t actually saying much, considering the fact that female Spidey villains are few and far between to begin with. 

Part of the confusion that may muddy people’s remembrance of Shriek is that there is also a female Spider-Man villain named Scream, who is also directly tied to both Venom and Carnage, and is even a symbiote like them. But make no mistake, the two characters are very different. And while Shriek might not make a ton of comic appearances, nor has she ever approached the popularity she saw in the Maximum Carnage event nearly thirty years ago, she is nonetheless a compelling, unnerving and endlessly entertaining antagonist who really deserves to finally get her due. 

Shriek made her first appearance in Spider-Man Unlimited #1, at the start of the Maximum Carnage event, in which she was already depicted as a full-fledged villain. She hits it off with Carnage immediately, being explicitly and openly attracted to his murderous tendencies. Readers were truly dropped into the middle of things with this character, with her backstory being something that was slowly introduced over time. And even some of the rare details we were given in those debut issues turned out to be false. For example, Maximum Carnage names Shriek as Sandra Deel, though her actual name would later turn out to be Frances Barrison, with Deel being explained as something she would occasionally use as an alias. In those early appearances, and most that followed, Shriek has more than a little in common with Tiffany Valentine of the Child’s Play films, particularly in Bride of Chucky. Like Tiffany—and explicitly unlike other murder-spree couples like Mickey and Mallory of Natural Born Killers—Shriek is not a would-be victim who winds up falling for her abductor, but rather a killer independent of her lover. 

In fact, the partnership is not something she’s forced into by any stretch, but rather something she actively and aggressively seeks out. Shriek’s also not a fangirl who gets strung along by a more powerful monster boyfriend who knows he can manipulate her into doing what he wants, as is often the way these storylines tend to go. Shriek is serving her time in Ravencroft, just like Carnage, for her own crimes which are numerous. Initially, though the attraction is there, she’s really just using him as a means to escape. Once out in the open, they build a partnership and budding romance based on shared interests and beliefs—namely that there is not one person on the earth who deserves to live, and that the random and indiscriminate destruction of the lives of anyone they might come into contact with is the only thing they are on this earth to do. 

With Carnage, this devotion to random chaos is his defining trait and, as such, can make him come across as a little one-note. At least, that’s until the later stages of Maximum Carnage, in which its made clear how much of his personality is a mask to cover his deep insecurities. Shriek, on the other hand, is a little more fleshed-out from the beginning. Her lust for random murder is juxtaposed with her desire to play mother and role-play a traditional nuclear family dynamic, with Carnage as her husband and the mutated Spider-Man clone Doppleganger and walking plague Carrion as their adopted “sons.” There’s something darkly funny about that, in an extremely obvious but still compelling way. This was the early ‘90s, after all. Shriek and Carnage’s perverse family dynamic was a clear play on the many conservative groups and outraged parents at the time who would regularly go on TV to shout that violent entertainment would encourage violence and destroy traditional family values. At the same time, it’s a jab at those same conservative parents who would often play the role and preach the importance of the traditional family without ever acknowledging their own often monstrous tendencies. 

Shriek’s psychotic personality is a large part of what makes her so endearing, but it’s not the only thing. Her power set is so different from Carnage, in a refreshing way. Many stories from the Venom/Carnage side of the Spider-Man world tend to lean a little too heavy on symbiotes, and it’s nice to have a character who works in a very different way and, in fact, stands in pretty heavy contrast to that. After all, Shriek’s power is basically the manipulation of sound. She can amplify it, use it disorient enemies, or channel it into a concussive blast. If used properly, this could actually make her dangerous to Carnage as sound waves are among the symbiotes’ greatest weaknesses. That, again, subverts Shriek’s role as what would in many other stories simply be a subservient sidekick. 

Shriek also stands out amongst Spider-Man villains in that she’s a mutant, which also makes her the rare mutant to almost never be connected to the X-Men corner of the Marvel universe. Which is, on some level, a shame. With her personality and power set, I still sincerely feel that this character was destined to be Dazzler’s nemesis and it’s a genuine shame that that has not happened yet. Shriek’s mutation was activated around the same time she succumbed to her mental illness and under the same circumstances. The vigilante Cloak (who, along with his partner Dagger, is also a major part of the Maximum Carnage story) sucked her into the Darkforce dimension inside his cloak, but was unable to pull her out. She got stuck in there and went mad, thus activating her mutation at the same time.

This is, to me, one of the most endearing aspects of her character. There are so many stories that depict a hero not knowing their strength, not having full control of their powers, but Shriek stands as a perfect example of the consequence of that. This wasn’t just a case of Cloak not knowing how his powers work and spitting someone out a few hours later. This woman was trapped inside of a void. She not only suffered extreme trauma, she was forced to relive her own, buried childhood trauma and emerged from the Darkforce fundamentally changed. This is something that Cloak has to live with, something he is responsible for, as no matter his intentions, he destroyed what little stability she had. It’s also a shame that Shriek could not have made an appearance on the Cloak & Dagger TV series, as that show often dealt with the consequences of untrained superpowers head-on, and Shriek would have fit in perfectly with that. 

After being taken into custody at the end of Maximum Carnage, Shriek was returned to Ravencroft, though she did have another breakout attempt which was thwarted by J. Jonah Jameson, of all people. Even separated from Carnage, she retained her devotion to their “family” dynamic. When saw Malcolm McBride, the recovered Carrion, through her cell, she broke out and kidnapped him, still claiming to be his “mother” and turning him back into Carrion in her attempts to reclaim their one-time family. She even attempted to force Carrion to kill his own biological mother so that she, in her mind, could fully assume the role without competition. This proved to be the rare bridge too far for her, as after realizing what she had done and what she had nearly forced him to do, Shriek absorbed the Carrion virus into herself, reverting him back to Malcolm, saving his real mother, and nearly killing herself in the process. 

Shriek has a complicated relationship with motherhood in general. Her own mother constantly ridiculed her for her weight and created so many body image issues in young Frances. In fact, her introduction to hard drugs, which led her to drug dealing and the low level crime spotlight that put her in the sights of vigilantes like Cloak & Dagger and Spider-Man, was something she was driven to by her mother’s body shaming as a deeply upsetting means of weight loss. Her mother’s abuse drove Frances to harder and harder drugs, but also to an obsession with becoming a mother herself, so she could succeed where her own had failed.

After Shriek’s attempt at self-sacrifice, her next couple of appearances seemed to bend toward the possibility of rehabilitation. That was certainly the case in Brand New Day, in which the Carnage symbiote and Doppleganger’s attempt to rescue her snapped her back into her homicidal state. Once again, it was the sight of her adopted son that provided the catalyst for her revived bloodlust. With the band nearly all back together, Shriek, Carnage and Doppleganger set out on another murder spree similar to the events of Maximum Carnage. This time however, Shriek also bonded with a symbiote, although only partially. But the symbiote became literally afraid of her and eventually found another host, creating Scorn.

Shriek later appeared in the Deadpool vs. Carnage miniseries. Humorously, Deadpool uses his trademark awareness that he is a character in a comic book to subvert Carnage’s deep-seeded nihilism and cause him to question everything about himself. Deadpool then uses Shriek, disguised as Deadpool himself, to attempt to trick Carnage into killing her. She was last seen in Web of Venom: Cult of Carnage, in which she and Carnage are once again reunited, this time forming a cult devoted to worshipping the evil entity Knull.

Maximum Carnage was a terrific debut for the character. It showcased her potential as a long-running villain right out of the gate. Unfortunately, now decades later, that’s a potential that still really hasn’t been met. While that storyline (not to mention its pop culture impact at the time) cemented Carnage’s popularity forever, it did not at all have the same impact for Shriek. She’s made some memorable appearances since, to be sure, but Carnage has become widely considered one of Spider-Man’s premiere villains, has been at the center of several major story arcs and has had several self-titled miniseries, not to mention his own ongoing. None of Shriek’s appearances post-Maximum Carnage could hold a candle to that. As for the screen, to date, she’s only made a few animated appearances in Ultimate Spider-Man and even those were very brief. Here’s hoping that a prominent role in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, in which she’ll be played by the fantastic Naomie Harris, will finally provide this villain with the spotlight she should have had a long time ago.

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