Following his recent breakout from Ravencroft, Carnage has invaded the New York penthouse of the videogame tycoon Fordham Rhodes, CEO of Excessively Violent Video Games, seeking reparations for the use of his likeness in an online game capitalising on the whole Maximum Carnage saga. Venom, however, is hot on his trail, having attempted to kill a man he suspected of being a junkie in order to protect a new acquaintance, Kristin. All that's left now is the symbiote-on-symbiote action.
To busy to notice the heavily armed S.W.A.T. team gathering in the street below, Venom recants the events of the previous few days until his is interrupted by a hail of gun fire. Despite possessing the ability to web-swing and having the benefit of already being several stories up, Venom (i.e. the writer; Larry Hama) decides there is no possible way he could make it to the penthouse that appears only feet away, and launches into a melee with the cops and in the process debunking everything that the anti-hero has been striving to achieve since he parted from his villainous roots, let alone the start of this arch. Listening in on the loud-speaker announcement that Venom has headed off in the direction of Times Square, Carnage sneers at having gained the upper hand, even if he hopes of the train that finished his last confrontation (Venom: Carnage Unleashed #3) failed in killing Brock. He taunts the crowds below that if no one's set on coming up to try and stop him then there isn't much time left for the hostages (including Dr. Pazzo of Ravencroft, who he kidnapped during his earlier escape). Never a man to miss an opportunity, Rhodes sells the pitch that all this publicity will shift countless copies of Carnage Unleashed – ultimately there is no need for Kasady to pursue this any further because he's willing to strike a new deal that'll make them both millionaires. Dr. Pazzo unsuccessfully prompts Rhodes to drop the topic but in his arrogance Rhodes informs her she's had her shot, but is prevented from finishing his proposal by Carnage, whom, still raw from his last stitch-up by Rhodes reminds the CEO that what little of the royalty assets did come his way would have been subverted to the Ravencroft institute, effectively meaning he'd have gotton nothing, so re-negotiating is the last course of action available between the two men at this point. Rhodes stutters to convince Carnage otherwise, but the symbiote has already stopped listening and is now scoping out the computer – asking how many people are connected to the internet if they could rake in millions of dollars, and confirming that they can all be reached through Rhodes computer rig....
Elsewhere, Venom has evaded the police, conveniently stopping right where a large electronic billboard displays a message that the online hook-up to Carnage Unleashed can be viewed from 'right here'. With lightning thinking and a terribly 90s get-up, Brock morphs the symbiote into a delivery-man outfit and asks the receptionist which floor the bill-boards operations room is (instead of, you know, intimidating the guy and getting the same answer quicker). Inside hub-centre 30-3B the department head is fruitlessly explaining that the project is a failure now that Kasady is gone, and with no star to pull the punters the live game is unsellable. The tech-head is more optimistic, currently speaking to Rhodes who is alleging to have Carnage with him right now. On the other end of the line Carnage, with Rhodes at the terminal, instructing the CEO what to say; the game goes on-line as planned and it's to be free for all – he's taking on the entire internet. Apparently unphased by the announcement that they won't be seeing a dime from the game, the programmers get a house call from Brock who demands to know if the modems are connected between here and the penthouse? Even less fazed than when he heard he wasn't going to become a millionaire, the programmer calmly tells the screaming, toothy monster drooling into his face that they certainly are, at which point Venom launches a tendril into the screen and into the internet. The programmer finally shows some kind of emotion upon Venoms assault on the system, gasping that the impact of this could overload the entire system so isn't it conveniently that he happened to install a new heat sink to stop the system going into meltdown (don't you love it when a plot point is shamelessly dropped at just the right moment?).
Venom appears on the penthouse's monitor and challenges a baffled Carnage to join him, like he needed prompting. Rhodes demands the programmers get this fight playing live, his girlfriend sparks up a light and announces she's going for a drink to celebrate (seriously), and Dr. Pazzo states her interest in joining her – plus expressing her amazement at the impressive 'real Dunhill' lighter the other woman sports (the product placement in Transformers TM was less obvious). On the other end of the connection Brock is almost as equally amazed that he can see through the tendril as it navigates the modem like a fibre-optic cable. The two symbiote's meet and race through the screens as the two men throttle each other. While the symbiotes' and Rhodes are distracted, the two women launch into action, but Dr. Pazzo's ingenious plan of hitting the super-powered psychopath with a chair is cut abruptly short by Rhodes who is adamant that nothing will stop the fight going out – apart from a bottle to the head administered to his head by his (ex)girlfriend, Alana. The gargantuan screen outside flickers to life as Venom and Carnage go toe-to-toe...somehow showing a battle that couldn't actually be happening as it's only a tendril each inside the system, yet despite this lack in logic they are both shown in full. Inside cyber-space Carnage has gained the upper hand due in part to his previous several seconds navigating the system in the previous issue. However, Venom has a trump card – locating the heat sink and destroying it, along with the computer terminals and jumbo-screen at the same time. The pair withdraw to their separate buildings to recuperate, Carnage recovering first and vowing that he'll have his revenge by exterminating entire area codes, until Dr. Pazzo seizes Alana's bottle of cognac and lighter and douses him in alcohol, makes a quip about his lack of response to her previous therapy sessions and sets him alight. Ablaze, Carnage stumbles backward out of the window and tumbles the thirty-so stories to earth. The telephones are both still off the hook, allowing Venom to hear the commotion at the other end, believing this to be a death too painless for such scum and sending his tendrils back through the computer, where they emerge on the other side and snare the unconscious Kasady mere inches from the sidewalk and deposits him next to the amassed Ravencroft response team. Col. John Jameson orders the squad to open fire on the Venom strand but is talked down from causing any further collateral damage by Dr. Kafka.
Dr. Pazzo watches the security team load up Kasady and whisk him away to Ravencroft from the shattered window. Rhodes broods over his lost assets in the corner, leading Pazzo to affirm to Alana that once he gets over the initial shock and denial he'll probably redirect all his anger onto her, to which she replies glibly it was worth it just to have that one piece of vengeance.
Venom re-assembles himself back at the programming centre as the irate female programmes' grills him over saving Kasady. Brock informs her that Kasady is hoping for an easy way out, so it's his duty to ensure he never gets it, instead, rotting forever in his cell thinking about who put him back there is the most befitting punishment.
Kristin is on the phone to her mother about how Clive is recovering in the hospital following his run-in with Brock, demanding justice. On the other end of the line her mother informs her that she isn't able to get her justice, but would she be happy to settle for revenge?
I think by now you know my general criticisms over this arch so I won't re- iterate them again. Suffice to say this has been one of the worst run of comics I have ever read, with no positive aspects to reflect on what-so-ever. It's so bad that it's taken me nearly a year to review just a four part story. So let's cover the specifics;
The dialogue here is hopelessly dated, as is the character's fashion and the general style of the issue. Not that that's necessarily a drawback, after all, how re-readable and outstanding are many of the original title runs? No, this is only serves as a stark reminder of why Marvel took such a nose-dive during the 90s. Not only is the dialogue atrocious, but so is its delivery. "Now is the time to act, while he's distracted" - nobody speaks like that, especially during a 'tense' action scene. But the prize line has got to be "You know, Alana – that Cognac isn't a bad idea! Is that a real Dunhill lighter?", which is so awfully written in and out of context that it actually grates the eyes – it sounds more like Dr. Pazzo is coming on to Alana ready for a scene that would rightfully place this comic in the Mature Audience sector, but make it no more interesting or less tedious.
Secondly, the characters themselves are so two dimensional that even the pencilers and inkers decided not to design them with any shading that might otherwise suggest they had depth. Poorly conceived and inarticulate, they respond badly to the various situations they find themselves in. Prime example #1 being the programmer that Venom speaks to about network connectivity. As stated in the synopsis the man is utterly emotionless to Brock transforming into a snarling hulk with more teeth than the entire cast of the Scrubs looming into his face, but threaten to overheat his computer and suddenly the man is on his feet gawping in sheer terror at the prospect of what repercussions could occur had he not put in a new fan! He isn't even fazed by the idea that anybody with a computer could be viciously slaughtered. Elsewhere, each of the cast seem to have the incredible ability to state a plot-point the moment it rears its head, insulting the reader's intelligence even further – although if you paid for this I can understand why you might need the plot spelt out for you in huge letters.
Then there's the final brawl itself, which amounts to literally only a single page comprising one large image of the melee, and several smaller ones as Venom smashes the heat-repressor-thing. Considering this comic was advertised as essentially Carnage Unleashed: Take 2, there is barely any face-off time between Black and Red the entire run. Not that increasing the amount of fights could lift this above sub-standard tripe, but it would have at least distracted from the supporting cast and their inane twitterings.
Some scenes even boggle the mind with their gaping logic. How, for one, can the symbiotes throttle each other from two separate sides of a city block through the internet via microscopic tendrils, while at the same time appearing inside cyber-space as if it were they were actually inside the system? And how can the fight actually be broadcast as it is? Plus, the heat- repressor system is only inside the monitor that Venom interfaces with, so technically the damage done by destroying it would only really harm him to any great degree and cause Carnage to just withdraw to a safer distance. I'd say it has to be read to understand the utter lack of sense here, but that would be ill-advisable.
There was one good (read: tolerable) element within this issue that trounced the previous three, and that was the absence of the Kristin/Clive sub-plot, which was so dull it made me look forward to the character-sodamising bits featuring Carnage, Venom, Col. Jameson and Dr. Kafka. Even worse, in Venom: Carnage Unleashed #2 she actually sang a dire, self-pitying tune.
It's reading atrocious comics like this that really make you appreciate the talent currently heading Marvel at this time – Ellis, Bendis, David, even the much despised Quesada and Lobe can't be faulted (well, yeah they can) when you look back to this dark period. It's just unimaginative, bland re-hashes of stories covered already by characters with too little scope for development but too popular to shelve.
Thank the Powers That Be this story is over.