Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Javier Saltaires (breakdowns), Mark Texeira (finishes)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ghost Rider #1 will reach stores this Wednesday, July 12.
Ariel Carmona Jr.
Johnny Blaze is in Hell in this re-launch of the Ghost Rider series. This seems appropriate considering almost every demonic or Satanic character in the Marvel Universe including Daimon Hellstrom, The Son of Satan, Marduk and Mephisto have all at one time or another been featured in the comics. Sixteen years ago, I read the initial issue of a new Ghost Rider named Danny Ketch written by Howard Mackie and drawn by Javier Saltares. The series had a long run during the 90s, mostly based on some solid storytelling and no doubt aided by the nostalgia for the original character.
A character this cool looking cannot be kept under wraps for long, and no doubt an upcoming feature film has prompted Marvel to rekindle the original spirit of Vengeance which rides again thanks to Wolverine: Origins’ writer Daniel Way. Saltares is given the artistic chores once more but he has help from Mark Texeira and colorist Dan Brown. The result is a slick comic with impressive painted visuals and a good preternatural story in the same tone and style of the original.
So is this inaugural tale any good? Well, it’s definitely entertaining. Ghost Rider enlists the help of a demon named Greexix (which resembles the slime creature from the old Ghostbusters) cartoon to bust out of hell, but of course, Satan is there to try and thwart his escape. It isn’t yet clear what Johnny’s subsequent missions on earth will entail, but it looks as it will deal less with taking on the criminal underworld and focus on more supernatural elements, which of course made the character popular to its original fanbase. I think as long as Johnny’s flaming noggin and that awesome looking bike keep riding into strange situations and offbeat corners of the mainstream Marvel universe, and as long as A-list characters make occasional cameos, the fans will be happy and will keep coming back for more of the same.
It’s short, but it gets the basics right.
Johnny, the Ghost Rider, is trapped in Hell. The Devil constantly teases and tortures him with hope of escape. One day, Johnny finds a demon who claims he’s dug deep enough to find a way out. Johnny takes the chance. But of course nothing’s that easy in Hell…
First and foremost, getting Mark Texeira on the book is the smartest thing Marvel could have done. Getting him to pencil the book might have been better, but his inking combines with Saltares’ pencils and Brown’s colors to create a visually stunning book. Ghost Rider looks scary. That’s the most important thing I was looking for. Texeira drew the best Ghost Rider I ever saw. This looks better. Hell looks pretty empty for a dimension of eternal torment, but it gives plenty of room for Ghost Rider to drive long and fast.
And how great is it to see Satan in a Marvel comic? Not Mephisto, but the real Devil, First Among the Fallen, Lucifer Morningstar, God’s jilted lover. (Think about it.) When the ultimate evil is the hero’s nemesis, the hero has to be the hardest of the hard to get by. Too bad we don’t see much of that hardness here.
Johnny spends most of the book whining and feeling sorry for himself. Which is how he spent his first appearance back in the 70s. We learn precious little about the Ghost Rider. Is this still Johnny Blaze? How’d he end up in hell? Can we get a recap next issue? And maybe some violence? Seriously, no one reads Ghost Rider for the character-driven drama. They read it to see a flaming skeleton whip bad guys and monsters with his flaming chains, and ride his hellfire-powered motorcycle up buildings.
This first issue has some promise: great art, Satan, and zombies. But the next issue better have more ass-kicking and chain-whipping or this won’t last a year.
This is not a mind-numbingly awful comic, but it’s certainly not much good either. The main problem with this new attempt at Ghost Rider is that it’s completely and utterly dull, and yet there’s no reason why it should be.
As an example, the Rider’s longtime nemesis, Mephisto, is replaced here by a generic “Satan.” It’s not so much the breach of continuity that’s the problem here (indeed, the change was initiated in a previous series), but that Marvel’s Mephisto was an interesting character, both in terms of personality and visuals (particularly the latter “lizard with dreadlocks” version), and here he’s ditched in favour of an utterly bland and generic devil figure no different from umpteen other incarnations in cinema, comics and heavy metal album covers. In many circumstances, shedding the baggage of the past can help the story, but here they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater and done away with a more interesting conception of the infernal regions. Which would be fine if it were just a cameo, but seeing as this issue is completely set in Hell, and Satan gets more “screen” time than the titular character, the blandness becomes somewhat pervasive. I can’t help but feel that a story set in a supernatural realm of eternal suffering, even if it is a very common setting, should perhaps have a bit more zing and pep to it, and a bit less of the recycled and conventional. Perhaps the creators are making an amusing and ironic post-modern point about Hell here, but it’s far more likely that there’s a serious imagination deficiency at work.
Similarly, the art, while technically very competent, just doesn’t have any sense of distinctiveness to it, as if the artists are doing just enough to tell the story, but aren’t bringing any flair to the work. The character designs are commonplace and boring, and Hell itself is depicted merely as red rocks and dust. This comic should be visually extravagant, but what we actually get is a case of comics illustration rather than comics art. That said, Dan Brown’s colouring does up the game somewhat, with interesting painted textures used to effectively liven up the dull linework.
Most unfortunate of all, where the creators have attempted to bring something innovative to the concept, they’ve misjudged things wildly, resulting in some baffling, Chuck Austen-esque, mismatches of tone and context. Ghost Rider’s all about metal and machines, chains and fire, all very urban and industrial bits of imagery that don’t immediately make one think of moonlit tropical beaches and aquatic undead, and yet that’s how the issue ends. I’m not one to try and limit creative possibilities in comics (and such a mismatch might very well work somewhere like Nextwave), but not even on my most generous days am I ever going to harmoniously associate Ghost Rider with Zombies of the Caribbean.
All in all, this comic betrays a lack of creative thought. Beyond a very brief, and completely out of place, bit of stunt driving, there’s nothing here that couldn’t be done with any other Marvel character. This just doesn’t have any kind of distinctive Ghost Rider feel; perhaps there’s no such thing, and that’s why the character has been in limbo so regularly and for so long, but even so there’s no excuse for something so very bland and unimaginative. The general impression is that, with the upcoming movie, Marvel decided they should be publishing a Ghost Rider comic, but found themselves with nothing of significance to say about the character, beyond trotting out the same old clichés. Disappointing.
Kevin Noel Olson:
This issue reunites Javier Saltaires and Mark Texeira, the team for the Ghost Rider series from the early nineties, to incredible effect. Saltaires and Texeira make a great team, joined by Daniel Way as writer. The story starts out with an impactive pair of pages showing the Rider escaping Hell by crashing through its gates while he narrates thoughts regarding hope. “Hope. It’s the Devil’s favorite poison.” The thrust of the plot displays Ghost Rider’s role as a Sisyphus. Kierkegaard says that hope is what redeems Sisyphus. Sisyphus always expects that he has a chance of getting the rock over the hill, and Ghost Rider always thinks he has a chance of escaping hell.
This series returns Ghost Rider to Johnny Blaze, although the Rider never turns into Johnny in this issue. In an attempt to get out of Hell, Ghost Rider rescues a slug-like demon named Greexix. The demon claims he can tunnel out of hell to help them both escape. Meanwhile, the Devil smugly manipulates Ghost Rider all along the way. Ghost Rider fights demons throughout, and completes impossible feats on his motorcycle. One particular jump he makes is quite incredible.
The artwork in this issue is stunning, to say the least. It hails back to some of the finest work done by Texeira and Saltaires in the 90s run with Dan Ketch. The demons are quite unsettling, and the landscape likewise. Everything visual here is accomplished to great effect. The very first page, Ghost Rider breaks through the gates of hell, followed by demons and spirits. The plot involving Ghost Rider’s attempts to escape hell is pretty basic, but well-written and effective. Way understands Ghost Rider, and the human and supernatural dichotomy that rules his existence. If the creative team maintains the quality offered in issue #1, Ghost Rider promises to be a mind-blowing series.
Ghost Rider. It’s a name to evoke fear in the heart of many: mostly comics fans, and not for the reasons you might expect. Ghost Rider has always suffered from the kind of problems that afflict all such characters who have been conceived as great visuals first and interesting personalities second, as beyond the flaming skull gimmick (which is cool, in a 90s sort of way) there’s very little that’s original or compelling about the character. With a movie adaptation due out soon, Marvel obviously thought that the time was ripe to give the Spirit of Vengeance another shot, and with writer Daniel Way on something of a high, handling some of the other more morally questionable Marvel heroes recently (Hulk and Wolverine), he was picked as the right man for the job. Sadly, this issue fares very poorly, both as an introduction to the title and as a decent Ghost Rider story.
A crucial flaw is that there’s none of the kind of character work which is so important in getting readers to buy into a new series, as Johnny Blaze himself is barely developed at all beyond the fact that he’s a guy on a motorbike with a flaming skull head who’s trapped in hell and wants to get out. The story of the issue focuses on Blaze’s attempt to escape from hell by helping a demon tunnel his way out (yes, really). Ghost Rider’s Faustian pact – one of the more dramatic and interesting parts of the character - is never explored, his true identity barely addressed, and the nature of his incarceration in hell is kept incredibly vague. There’s nothing for readers to get their teeth into here, and this extends to the visuals as well, which are more bland and featureless than any comic I’ve seen come out of the “House of Ideas” in quite a while.
The devil himself is also undeveloped as Ghost Rider’s antagonist, never feeling like much of a villain beyond the level of cackling pantomime baddie - and there’s a twist towards the end of the book where Satan shows up to confound Ghost Rider which felt completely nonsensical to me. Then again, maybe the story isn’t meant to make too much sense, as it plays out with a dreamlike, fractured quality – right down to the bizarre ending which doesn’t seem to have been set up by anything which came before it. The whole thing feels like a bad 1990s rock video, right down to the uninspired designs of Hell and Satan, and even the artwork feels run-of-the mill, coming off as loose and unpolished (indeed, it’s interesting to see the artists listed as providing “breakdowns” and “finishes” rather than traditional pencils and ink).
With three attempted relaunches of the book in the last 5 years, it has not been long since the last Ghost Rider #1 hit stores, and that should say something about how difficult it is to get readers interested in the character. Sadly, with a confounding first issue like this one, I have a feeling that this new series is going to go the same way.
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