Written by Ed Brisson
Pencils by Juan Frigeri
Colours by Dono Sánchez-Almara
Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Cover price: $4.99 USD
So far, the one-shot tie-ins for Absolute Carnage have been a strange mix. While Separation Anxiety and Symbiote Spider-Man took advantage of the crossover for their stories, they didn’t really matter to the story overall (aside from a nod in Venom in the case of the former). Symbiote of Vengeance has that same quality, but the story it tells is also not as interesting, strangely misaligned with Absolute Carnage and its ties to the aforementioned event are easily the least interesting parts of it.
Symbiote of Vengeance follows up on former Ghost Rider Alejandra Jones, who was left deformed after her Spirit of Vengeance was returned to Johnny Blaze. She has been protecting a remote village and does the same when Carnage rears his ugly head, on the hunt for Alejandra and the symbiote codex contained in her spine. Unable to aid Alejandra due to his duties as king of Hell, Johnny Blaze calls on another Ghost Rider, a reluctant Danny Ketch, to assist Alejandra.
Ed Brisson’s script does a decent job establishing the status quo of his Ghost Rider run. Johnny Blaze’s inexperience in regards to managing the underworld is apparent but he carries himself with an authoritative, aloof and brotherly demeanour that makes him feel like a natural evolution of the rough and tumble version of the character seen elsewhere. Danny Ketch’s reluctance to take up the mantle of Ghost Rider once again is well-written, with Brisson’s dialogue selling Danny as a reluctant and wary hero, while never making him unlikable. Even Alejandra Jones, who is seemingly not playing a role in Brisson’s Ghost Rider, is given a unique voice as a strong, no-nonsense character who has some memorable scenes with Johnny Blaze.
Brisson is also manage to naturally world-build throughout the issue. The interactions between the various Ghost Riders imply a history that makes these characters feel fully realised while never overbearing or too steeped in continuity. Brisson has always had a knack for addressing continuity in engaging ways and he does a fine job of it here. From Johnny Blaze alluding to his mentorship of Alejandra to Danny Ketch’s reluctance to assume the Ghost Rider role, these characters feel like they have a history to them that makes them more than blank slates for an action-heavy crossover tie-in.
The issue’s biggest weakness is the events themselves and how strangely they tie in to Absolute Carnage — namely, not very well. The premise of the issue starts of strange, as Alejandra was never bonded to a symbiote, and the way Brisson gets around this is awkward. Some of the events of the comic are strange and seem almost like they’re just there to justify some art choices, with the Ghost Riders meshing with the Absolute Carnage event much more awkwardly than you would expect. Carnage himself feels more like the cartoony serial killer of yesteryear as opposed to the calculating dark messiah figure he’s been presented as for a while now, even if this issue takes place before the events of Absolute Carnage themselves. Not helping matters is how overly long this issue is, with even the issue itself seemingly thinking so, before coming to an underwhelming conclusion.
Juan Frigeri’s pencils are nicely bombastic and violent. His art is largely interested in the crazy action that the premise allows for and he makes the most of the premise. His Carnage is a mess of tendrils and claws that fittingly appears as demonic as the usual Ghost Rider villains. The action is not particularly easy to follow — particularly at one pivotal point in the narrative — but it is nicely choreographed and makes use of the characters’ unique abilities, while possessing the hyperviolence one should expect from a comic featuring both Carnage and Ghost Rider.
That’s not to say the smaller character moments aren’t well done. Frigeri does fine with the quieter character moments, such as when Danny and Johnny are talking in Danny’s bar or the brief reunion between Alejandra and Johnny. Danny and Alejandra in particular convey a lot of emotion with just their facial expressions. However, there are moments where faces feel unfinished or unclear in what emotion is intended, which hurts the issue. Overall, the characters are not particularly subtle, but with a comic like this, subtlety is the last thing anyone is expecting.
Dono Sánchez-Almara’s colours are serviceable but similarly unsubtle for the most part. Most of the comic has a very bright superhero palette, with a striking bright red for Carnage in particular and swathes of bright orange and yellow for the plentiful amount of hellfire throughout the issue. While Frigeri’s pencils can be forgiven their unsubtle nature, Sánchez-Almara’s colours can at times feel disconnected from his backgrounds, such as his depressed Danny Ketch’s sudden blue hue that does mesh well with the brighter backgrounds. However, an interesting decision for the backgrounds is a very subtle progression of time through the gradually changing colour of the sky. While this is an interesting decision, it probably would have had a better effect — showing the prolonged nature of the fight — by being more obvious, it is a nice touch.
If taken as a start to Ed Brisson’s Ghost Rider run — well, really, the second part if we count Marvel Comics Presents — then Symbiote of Vengeance is fine for what it does with its Riders. But as a tie-in to Absolute Carnage, it is just not good. While there is enough Ghost Rider goodness here that could allow this comic to reach the heights of a good comic, the event it’s tying into drags it down, and what’s left is a very mixed bag.
2.5/5 – Average