Ghost Rider – Danny Ketch Classic volume 1


By Howard Mackie, Javier Saltares & Mark Texeira with Jimmy Palmiotti (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3735-1

In the early 1970’s, following a downturn in superhero comics sales Marvel shifted focus from straight costumed crusaders to supernatural and horror characters and one of the most enduring was a certain flaming-skulled vigilante dubbed the Ghost Rider.

Carnival stunt-cyclist Johnny Blaze had sold his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father from cancer. As is always the way of such things Satan, or arch-liar Mephisto as he actually was, followed the letter, but not spirit, of the contract and Crash Simpson died anyway.

When the Demon Lord came for Blaze only the love of an innocent saved the bad-boy biker from eternal pain and damnation. Temporarily thwarted, Johnny was afflicted with a body that burned with the fires of Hell every time the sun went down and became the unwilling host for outcast and exiled demon Zarathos – the Spirit of Vengeance.

After years of travail and turmoil Blaze was liberated from the demon’s curse and seemingly retired from the hero’s life.

As Blaze briefly escaped his pre-destined doom, a tragic boy named Danny Ketch assumed the role of Zarathos’ host and prison by a route most circuitous and tragic…

From that dubious period of fashionably “Grim ‘n’ Gritty” super-heroics in the early 1990s comes this slight but engagingly fast-paced horror-hero re-imagining courtesy of writer Howard Mackie and artists Javier Saltares & Mark Texeira, which quickly secured the new Ghost Rider status as one of the hottest hits of the period.

This first Danny Ketch Classic volume reprints issues #1-10 of the revitalised series spanning May 1990 – February 1991, and opens, following a reminiscence from the author, with the bonanza-sized introductory tale ‘Life’s Blood’ which sees young Danny and his photographer sister Barbara looking for Houdini’s tomb in the vast Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn on the eve of Halloween.

Unfortunately they stumble into a bloody criminal confrontation between ninjas and gangsters over a mysterious briefcase. Discovered, the siblings flee but Barb is hit by an arrow, whilst the case itself is snatched by a juvenile gang who plague the wooded necropolis.

The ninjas and their macabre leader Deathwatch are the victors of the fire-fight and are soon hunting for their hard-won prize and the witnesses…

In an adjacent junkyard Danny is helplessly watching Barb bleed out when his attention is caught by a glowing pair of eyes. Closer inspection reveals them to be an arcane design on the gas-cap of an abandoned motorbike. The ninjas, having caught the girl who stole the briefcase, are closing in on the Ketch kids when Danny, his hands soaked in his sister’s blood, touches the glowing bike symbol and is inexplicably transformed into a spectral horror, burning with fury and indignation – a Spirit of Vengeance hungry to assuage the pain of innocent blood spilled with inhuman vitality, toting an infinitely adaptable bike chain and a mystic “Penance Stare” which subjected the guilty to unimaginable psychic pain and guilt…

The Blazing Biker makes short work of the ninjas, but when the police arrive and find him standing over the dying Barbara, they naturally jump to the wrong conclusion…

As the Ghost Rider flees on a bike with wheels of fire, causing spectacular amounts of collateral carnage, Barb is rushed to hospital, where a re-transfigured, bruised, bleeding and totally confused Danny finds her the next morning…

In the richest part of Manhattan, Wall Street shark and psionic monster Deathwatch makes a ghastly example of the man who lost his briefcase twice even as his rival for its possession, criminal overlord Wilson Fisk, similarly chastises his own minions for failure.

The contents of the case are not only hotly disputed but utterly lethal and both factions will tear Brooklyn apart to get them…

Meanwhile the teen thieves known as the Cyprus Pool Jokers find three canisters in that purloined case and hide them all over the vast cemetery, unaware that both Deathwatch’s ninjas and the Kingpin’s hoods are hunting for them. At Barbara’s bedside Danny is plagued by guilt and anger. Unable to help his comatose sister the lad determines to investigate what happened to him. When he awoke the blazing bike had returned to a normal configuration and now Danny climbs aboard and heads back to Cyprus Hills to look for answers just as the competing packs of killers are turning the streets into a free-fire zone.

Riding straight into the bloodbath, Danny sees his bike gas-cap glowing again and, almost against his will, slams his palm onto it, unleashing his skeletal passenger once again…

Devastating the assembled mobsters and murderers, the Ghost Rider then takes wounded Cyprus Pool Jokers Ralphie and Paulie to hospital and another pointless confrontation with the authorities…

‘Do Be Afraid of the Dark!’ finds open war between Deathwatch and the Kingpin’s forces for the canisters neither side possesses, with the Ghost Rider roaming the night tackling the increasingly savage hunters on both sides. The girl Paulie has admitted that she has no idea where two of the containers could be, since the Jokers split up to hide them and she’s now the last of them…

The urban horror escalates when Deathwatch’s metahuman enforcer Blackout joins the hunt: a sadistic man-made vampire with the ability to manipulate fields of complete darkness. This psychotic mass-murderer targets entire families and starts his search by “questioning” the cops who attended the initial battle in the graveyard…

Danny is on the verge of a breakdown, snapping viciously at his mother and girlfriend Stacy and utterly unable to share the horror that his life has become. Between days at Barb’s bedside, and nights as the slave to a primal force obsessed with blood and punishment, Ketch is drowning…

When Blackout tracks down the recovering Ralphie, the Ghost Rider is too late to save the young felon’s parents and only just manages to drive the vampire away before the boy too succumbs, leading to the inevitable final clash in ‘Deathwatch’, wherein the Wall Street dilettante’s forces find the canisters before being overwhelmed by the Kingpin. Ever pragmatic, the ninja-master simply surrenders, but the wildly unpredictable Blackout refuses to submit and slips into a berserker rage of slaughter, before escaping with the containers and terrified hostage Paulie.

The albino maniac knows the canisters contain a toxin that will wipe out New York and harbours an impossible plan to use them to kick-start an atomic war which will produce a nuclear winter on an Earth he would inevitably rule. However his delusional dreams are ended when the Ghost Rider appears and engages the vampire in blistering battle.

Incensed beyond endurance, Blackout savagely bites the blazing biker, but instead of blood sucks down raw, coruscating hellfire which leaves his face a melted, agonising ruin and burns the canisters to harmless slag…

Issue #4 found Danny, unable to resist the constant call to become the Furious Flaming Apparition, decide to lock up the cursed motorcycle beyond the reach of temptation in faraway Manhattan, only to find it had a mind of its own when a clash between a biker gang and an old Thor villain trapped both Ketch and an car full innocent bystanders in a subterranean parking garage. ‘You Can Run, but You Can’t Hyde!’ taught the troubled young man that the Rider was a cruel necessity in a bad world, an argument confirmed by the beginning of an extended subplot in which children began vanishing from the streets of Brooklyn…

The very epitome of Grim‘n’Gritty stopped by for a two issue guest-shot in #5-6 as ‘Getting Paid!’ and ‘Do or Die!’ saw a mysterious figure distributing free guns to children, drawing the attention of not just the night-stalking Spirit of Vengeance but also the merciless, militaristic vigilante Frank Castle, known to criminals and cops alike as The Punisher.

The weapons are turning the city into a deadly battleground, but the cops and unscrupulous TV reporter Linda Wei seem more concerned with stopping the Ghost Rider’s campaign against the youthful killers than ending the bloodshed. Danny decides to investigate in his mortal form and quickly finds himself in over his head, but for some reason the magic medallion won’t transform him. He is completely unaware how close he was to becoming the Punisher’s latest statistic…

The situation changes that night and the flaming-skulled zealot clashes with the Punisher before uniting to tackle the true mastermind – a manic anti-nationalist, anti-capitalist terrorist known as Flag-Smasher.

With the insane demagogue determined to unleash a storm of death on Wall Street, the driven anti-heroes are forced to briefly unite to end the scheme and save the “bad” kids and the system that created them…

‘Obssesion’ in #7, illustrated solely by Texeira, saw the return of animal-trainer and contortionist the Scarecrow, who had barely troubled Iron Man, the X-Men and Captain America in his early days, but after having slipped into morbid thanophilia had become a death-preoccupied maniac who presented a truly different threat to the mystic agent of retribution.

A far greater menace was seen – or rather, not seen – with the return of Blackout who silently stalked Danny Ketch, savagely slaughtering everybody who knew him. Not even the police guards at Barbara’s hospital bedside could stop the fiend with half-a-face…

Through dreams Danny debated his cursed existence with the Spirit of Vengeance in #8’s ‘Living Nightmare’ (Mackie, Saltares & Texeira) constantly bemoaning his fate but seemingly unable to affect the implacable, terrifying being he couldn’t stop becoming. Adding to his fevered nights were visions of Deathwatch, Barbara and the vile psycho-killer Blackout.

As Blackout continued to murder anybody coming into contact with the troubled Ketch – who was seemingly paralysed by his dilemma – girlfriend Stacy neared the end of her training as a cop, and her father increased patrols to catch the blazing Biker. Impatient and scared, the Cypress Hills Community Action Group took controversial steps to safeguard their streets by hiring maverick private security company H.E.A.R.T. (Humans Engaging All Racial Terrorism – truly one of the naffest and most inappropriate acronyms in comics history) who promptly decided Ghost Rider was the cause of all the chaos and went after him with an arsenal of high-tech military hardware and a helicopter gunship…

The Spirit of Vengeance was already occupied, having found Blackout attacking a girl, but their final showdown was interrupted when the fiery skeleton was attacked by a colossal Morlock (feral mutants who live in tunnels beneath New York) who mistook the saviour for the assailant…

Issue #9 guest-starred the X-Factor – a reformed X-Men team comprising Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman and the Beast who uncover the mystery of the missing children in ‘Pursuit’ (with additional inks by Jimmy Palmiotti) when they follow the Ghost Rider and Morlocks under the city.

Tragically, Blackout too is on the Blazing Biker’s trail and finds in the concrete depths even more victims to torture Danny Ketch’s breaking heart and blistered soul before their climactic last clash…

This volume ends on a thematic cliffhanger with ‘Stars of Blood’ as Danny begins a new phase of life reconciled to his burden. When a series of horrific murders are attributed to a publicity-seeking serial killer named Zodiak, the boy begins investigating the deaths and discovers that the haunted gas-cap is again inactive, although it does transform him later when he stumbles over a couple of kids fighting…

Arcanely active again, the Ghost Rider then follows a convenient tip to the astrological assassin and discovers a far more prosaic reason for the string of slayings before an inclusive and unsatisfying battle with the insufferable, elusive Zodiak.

Meanwhile across town, the humiliated H.E.A.R.T. team accept a commission from Deathwatch to destroy the Spirit of Vengeance, whilst in the western USA the previous victim of the curse of Zarathos is riding his motorcycle hard, determined to get to New York and destroy the latest Ghost Rider as soon as possible…

To Be Continued…

This expanded re-issue of the 1991 Ghost Rider Resurrected trade paperback also includes the cover and introduction to that volume, pin-ups by Saltares, Texeira & Palmiotti and a full cover gallery and, despite being markedly short on plot and utterly devoid of humour, does deliver the maximum amount of uncomplicated thrills, spills and chills for action-starved fight fans.

If you occasionally feel that subtlety isn’t everything and yearn for a vicarious dose of simple wickedness-whomping, this might well be the book for you…
© 1990, 1991, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.