Ghost Rider Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Tony Isabella, Gary Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, Jim Mooney, Frank Robbins, George Tuska, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2214-6 (HB)

At the end of the 1960s American comicbooks were in turmoil, much like the youth of the nation they targeted. Superheroes had dominated for much of the decade; peaking globally before explosively falling to ennui and overkill. Older genres such as horror, westerns and science fiction returned, fed by radical trends in movie-making where another, new(ish) wrinkle had also emerged: disenchanted, rebellious, unchained Youth on Motorbikes seeking a different way forward.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, Captain America and many others all took the Easy Rider option to boost flagging sales (and if you’re interested, the best of the crop was Mike Sekowsky’s tragically unfinished mini-masterpiece of cool Jason’s Quest in Showcase). Over at Marvel – a company still reeling from Kirby’s defection to DC/National in 1970 – canny Roy Thomas green-lighted a new character who combined the freewheeling, adolescent-friendly biker-theme with the all-pervasive supernatural furore gripping the entertainment fields.

Back in 1967, Marvel published a western masked hero named Ghost Rider: a shameless, whole-hearted appropriation of the cowboy hero creation of Vince Sullivan, Ray Krank & Dick Ayers (for Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1955), who utilised magician’s tricks to fight bandits by pretending to be an avenging phantom of justice.

Scant years later, with the Comics Code prohibition against horror hastily rewritten – amazing how plunging sales can affect ethics – scary comics came back in a big way. A new crop of supernatural superheroes and monsters began to appear on the newsstands to supplement the ghosts, ghoulies and goblins already infiltrating the once science-only scenarios of the surviving mystery men titles.

In fact, the lifting of the Code ban resulted in such an avalanche of horror titles (new stories and reprints from the first boom of the 1950s), in response to the industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales, that it probably caused a few more venerable costumed crusaders to – albeit temporarily – bite the dust.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (and narcotics – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of pre-code reprints made sound business sense, the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always in entertainment, the watchword was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was incorporated into the mix as soon as possible. When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of shocking superstars – beginning with a werewolf and a vampire – before chancing something new with a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the prevailing supernatural zeitgeist.

The all-new Ghost Rider debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5, August 1972 (preceded by western hero Red Wolf in #1 and the aforementioned Werewolf by Night in #2-4).

This sturdy hardback and equivalent digital compendium collects more of those early flame-filled exploits: specifically Ghost Rider #6-20 pairing with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One #8 and a crossover with Daredevil #138, spanning June 1974 to June 1976, and preceded by an informative Introduction in writer Tony Isabella’s ‘The Remembrance Run’

What Has Gone Before: Carnival cyclist Johnny Blaze sells his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father Crash Simpson from cancer. As is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract and Simpson dies anyway. When the Dark Lord later comes for Johnny, his beloved virginal girlfriend Roxanne Simpsonintervenes. Her purity prevents the Devil from claiming his due and, temporarily thwarted, Satan spitefully afflicts Johnny with a body that burns with the fires of Hell every time the sun goes down…

Creative team Isabella, Gary Friedrich, Jim Mooney & Sal Trapani hit the kickstart here as GR #6 sees a perhaps ill-considered attempt to convert the tragic haunted biker into a more conventional superhero. ‘Zodiac II’ sees Blaze stumble into a senseless fight with a man possessing all the powers of the Avengers’ arch-foes. However, there’s a hidden Satanic component to the mystery as Blaze discovers when reformed super-villain turned TV star Stunt-Master turns up to help close the case and watch helplessly as the one-man Zodiac falls foul of his own diabolical devil’s bargain in ‘…And Lose His Own Soul!’ (Isabella, Mooney & Jack Abel).

A final confrontation – of sorts – begins in Ghost-Rider #8 as ‘Satan Himself!’ comes looking for Johnny’s soul, with a foolproof scheme to force Roxanne to rescind her protection. She finally does so as the Hell-biker battles Inferno, the Fear-demon and most of San Francisco in a game-changing epic called ‘The Hell-Bound Hero!’. Here Blaze is finally freed from his satanic burden by the intervention of someone who appeared to be Jesus Christ

The cover of issue #10 (by Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott) featured GR battling the Hulk, but a deadline cock-up delayed that tale until #11 and the already included origin from Marvel Spotlight #5 filled those pages. Gil Kane & Tom Palmer reinterpreted the scene for their cover on #11 as the issue finally detailed ‘The Desolation Run!’ (by Isabella, Sal Buscema, Tartaglione & George Roussos).

As Johnny joins a disparate band of dirt-bikers in a desert race, he collides with the legendarily solitary and short-tempered Green Goliath and learns who his true friends are, after which we divert to Marvel Two-in-One #8, teaming Ben Grimm with the supernatural sensation in a quirkily compelling Yuletide yarn. Crafted by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ sees the audacious Miracle Man attempting to take control of a very special birth in a modern-day stable…

Artists Frank Robbins, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito limn Ghost Rider #12 wherein Isabella reveals the fate of World War I fighter ace Phantom Eagle. When Blaze tries to rescue a stranger from a ghostly aerial assault, he soon learns he has innocently thwarted justice and helped the warrior’s murderer avoid the ‘Phantom of the Killer Skies’

Ghost Rider #13 declares ‘You’ve Got a Second Chance, Johnny Blaze!’ (Isabella, George Tuska & Vince Colletta) as the terms of the hero’s on-going curse are changed again, just as the dissolute biker heads to Hollywood and a promised job as Stunt-Master’s body-double. No sooner has he signed up, however, than Blaze becomes involved with starlet Karen PageDaredevil’s one-time girlfriend – and a bizarre kidnap plot by super-villain The Trapster.

‘A Specter Stalks the Soundstage!’ features Blaze’s revenge-hungry nemesis The Orb who returns to destroy the Ghost Rider, an action yarn that spectacularly concludes with ‘Vengeance on the Ventura Freeway!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Don Heck).

Whilst hanging out on the West Coast Blaze joins new superteam The Champions, but they play no part in Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Colletta’s fill-in yarn ‘Blood in the Waters’, as the Ghost Rider oh, so topically tangles with a Great White Shark in the gore-soaked California surf.

Back on track in #17, ‘Prelude to a Private Armageddon!’ by Isabella, Robbins & Colletta sees a team-up with the Son of Satan wherein fellow stunt-actor Katy Milner is possessed by a demon and only Daimon Hellstrom can help…

The saga continues in ‘The Salvation Run!’ as Blaze must race through the bowels of Hell and relive his own traumatic past before finally saving the day, Katy and his own much-tarnished soul in ‘Resurrection’.

All this time the mystery of Karen’s attempted abduction had percolated through the subplots here, but explosively boil over in Daredevil #138 as ‘Where is Karen Page?’ (by Wolfman, John Byrne & Mooney) reveal the machinations of criminal maniac Death’s-Head to be merely part of a greater scheme involving Blaze, Stunt-Master, the Man without Fear and the homicidal Death Stalker. The convoluted conundrum cataclysmically climaxes in Ghost-Rider #20 with ‘Two Against Death!’ by Wolfman, Byrne & Don Perlin…

This spooky compendium compounds the chilling action with a cover gallery from repint series The Original Ghost Rider #14-20, and original art covers from Gil Kane to truly complete your fear-filled fun fest.

One final note: backwriting and retcons notwithstanding, the Christian boycotts and moral crusades of a later decade were what compelled the criticism-averse and commercially astute corporate Marvel to “translate” the biblical Satan of these early tales into generic and presumably more palatable or “acceptable” demonic creatures such as Mephisto, Satanish, Marduk Kurios and other equally naff downgrades, but the original intent and adventures of Johnny Blaze – and indeed series spin-offs Daimon Hellstrom and Satana, respectively the Son and Daughter of Satan – tapped into the period’s global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spooky and Supernatural which had begun with such epochal films as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel) and remember these aren’t your feeble bowdlerised “Hell-lite” horrors.

These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the worst of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hold steady and accept no supernatural substitutes…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Marvel Masterworks: Ghost Rider volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Jim Mooney, Herb Trimpe, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302918170 (HB)

At the end of the 1960s American comicbooks were in turmoil, much like the youth of the nation they targeted. Superheroes had dominated for much of the decade; peaking globally before explosively falling to ennui and overkill. Older genres such as horror, westerns and science fiction returned, fed by radical trends in movie-making where another, new(ish) wrinkle had also emerged: disenchanted, rebellious, unchained Youth on Motorbikes seeking a different way forward.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, Captain America and many others all took the Easy Rider option to boost flagging sales (and if you’re interested the best of the crop was Mike Sekowsky’s tragically unfinished mini-masterpiece of cool Jason’s Quest in Showcase). Over at Marvel, a company still reeling from Kirby’s defection to DC/National in 1970, canny Roy Thomas green-lighted a new character who combined the freewheeling, adolescent-friendly biker-theme with the all-pervasive supernatural furore gripping the entertainment fields.

Back in 1967, Marvel published a western masked hero named Ghost Rider: a shameless, whole-hearted appropriation of the cowboy hero creation of Vince Sullivan, Ray Krank & Dick Ayers (for Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1955), who utilised magician’s tricks to fight bandits by pretending to be an avenging phantom of justice.

Scant years later, with the Comics Code prohibition against horror hastily rewritten – amazing how plunging sales can affect ethics – scary comics came back in a big way and a new crop of supernatural superheroes and monsters began to appear on the newsstands to supplement the ghosts, ghoulies and goblins already infiltrating the once science-only scenarios of the surviving mystery men titles.

In fact, the lifting of the Code ban resulted in such an avalanche of horror titles (new stories and reprints from the first boom of the 1950s), in response to the industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales, that it probably caused a few more venerable costumed crusaders to – albeit temporarily – bite the dust.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (and narcotics – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of pre-code reprints made sound business sense, the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always in entertainment, the watch-world was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be incorporated into the mix as soon as possible. When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of shocking superstars – beginning with a werewolf and a vampire – before chancing something new with a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the prevailing supernatural zeitgeist.

The all-new Ghost Rider debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5, August 1972 (preceded by western hero Red Wolf in #1 and the aforementioned Werewolf by Night in #2-4).

This sturdy hardback and equivalent yet barely tangible digital compendium collects those earliest flame-filled exploits: adventures from Marvel Spotlight #5-12, Ghost Rider #1-5 and a terror-tinged Marvel Team-Up (#15), spanning August 1972 to November 1973 and supplemented by an informative Introduction from then editorial head honcho Roy Thomas on how the series came to be. At the collection’s conclusion there’s also an effusive Afterword by Mike Ploog as he relates ‘My Ride with the Ghost Rider’

The comics thrills, spills and chills begin with that landmark first appearance introducing stunt biker Johnny Blaze, his fatally flawed father-figure Crash Simpson and Johnny’s devoted girlfriend: sweet innocent Roxanne Simpson.

Plotted by Thomas, scripted by Gary Friedrich and stunningly illustrated by Ploog, ‘Ghost Rider’ sees carnival cyclist Blaze sell his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father Crash from cancer. As is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract and Simpson dies anyway, but when the Dark Lord later comes for Johnny his beloved virginal girlfriend Roxanne intervenes. Her purity prevents the Devil from claiming his due and, temporarily thwarted, Satan spitefully afflicts Johnny with a body that burns with the fires of Hell every time the sun goes down…

Haunting the night and terrorising thugs and criminals at first, the traumatised biker soon leaves the Big City and heads for the solitary deserts where – in ‘Angels From Hell’ – the flaming-skulled fugitive joins a biker gang led by enigmatic Curly Samuels: a resurrected agent of Satan attempting to destroy the protective Roxanne and claim Blaze’s soul.

No prizes for guessing Curly’s true identity then, since the next chapter (inked by Frank Chiaramonte) is entitled ‘Die, Die, My Daughter!’

The origin epic concludes with a monumental battle against ‘…The Hordes of Hell!’ (offering a rather uncomfortable artistic collaboration by Ploog & Jim Mooney), resulting in a torturous Cold War détente between the still nightly-transforming Blaze and the Lord of Lies, as well as the introduction of a new eldritch enemy in Native American Witch Man Snake-Dance

With Marvel Spotlight #9 the tragically undervalued Tom Sutton takes over the pencilling – with inks by Chic Stone – for ‘The Snakes Crawl at Night…’ as Medicine Man magic and demonic devil-worship combined to torment Blaze just as Roxanne goes west to look for him. To further confound the accursed cyclist, Satan decrees that although he must feel the pain, no injury will end Johnny’s life until his soul resides in Hell… which comes in very handy when Roxanne is sacrificed by Snake-Dance and the Ghost Rider has to battle his entire deviant cult to rescue her…

In #10, ‘The Coming of… Witch-Woman!’ (Friedrich, Sutton & Mooney) opens with Blaze a fugitive from the police and rushing the dying Roxanne to hospital. Meanwhile, on the Reservation tensions remain high as Snake-Dance’s daughter Linda Littletrees reveals her own connection to Satan, culminating in a devastating eldritch assault on Blaze in #11’s ‘Season of the Witch-Woman!’ (inked by the incomparable Syd Shores).

That cataclysmic conflict continued into Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973), which further extends the escalating war between Blaze and the Devil whilst introducing a new horror-hero who would take over the biker’s vacant slot in Spotlight.

Linda Littletrees isn’t so much a Satan-worshipping witch as ‘A Woman Possessed!’, but when her father joins fiancé Sam Silvercloud in calling Boston-based exorcist Daimon Hellstrom for help, they are utterly unprepared for the kind of assistance the demonologist offers.

With Roxanne slowly recovering and Blaze still on the run, Ghost Rider #2 depicts the bedevilled biker dragged down to Hell in ‘Shake Hands With Satan!’ (Mooney & Shores) before the saga concludes in Marvel Spotlight #12 with the official debut of ‘The Son of Satan!’ by Friedrich, Herb Trimpe & Frank Chiaramonte, which reveals Daimon Hellstrom’s long-suppressed inner self to be a brutal scion of the Infernal Realm eternally at war with his fearsome father.

The liberated Prince of Hell swiftly rushes to Blaze’s aid – although more to spite his sire than succour the victim – and, with his own series off to a spectacular start, continues to take the pressure off the flaming-skulled hero. From Ghost Rider #3’s ‘Wheels on Fire’ (Friedrich, Mooney & John Tartaglione) a fresh direction is explored with more mundane menaces and contemporary antagonists such as the thuggish gang of biker Big Daddy Dawson – who has kidnapped the still frail Roxanne…

Blaze also learns to create a spectral motorcycle out of the Hellfire that perpetually burns through his body: a most useful trick considering the way he gets through conventional transport…

Eager to establish some kind of normal life, the wanted fugitive Blaze accepts a pardon by the State Attorney General in GR #4’s ‘Death Stalks the Demolition Derby’ (inked by Vince Colletta) in return for infiltrating a Las Vegas showman’s shady operation, leading to another supernatural encounter, this time against a demonic gambler dubbed Roulette in ‘And Vegas Writhes in Flame!’ by the transitional creative team of Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Mooney & Sal Trapani.

Closing up the show here – and slightly out of chronological order – is a yarn where Ghost Rider and Spider-Man battled a demented biker bad-guy. Marvel Team-Up #15 (November 1973 and by Len Wein, Ross Andru & Don Perlin) introduces lame-duck villain The Orb who had been maimed and disfigured years previously in a confrontation with Crash Simpson and now seeks belated revenge against his heirs in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ He’d have been smarter to wait until Blaze’s roadshow was far away from superhero-stuffed New York City and its overly protective friendly neighbourhood webslinger…

Adding extra cachet following Ploog’s afterword are the August 1972 Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the debut of the Biker Ghost Rider and stunning selection of original art pages, cover and design sketches by Ploog, Chiaramonte, John Romita, Mooney & Shores, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia and Andru & Perlin plus an eerie back-cover from FOOM #7 featuring early Ploog visualisations of the Blazing Biker.

In the 1990s The Original Ghost Rider reprinted these classic tales and the 13 covers by Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Palmiotti, Javier Saltares, Andy Kubert, Joe Quesada, Jan Anton Harps, Kevin Maguire, Brad Vancata, Mark Pacella, Jeff Johnson, Dan Panosian, Ploog, Klaus Janson, Michael Bair, Darick Robertson, Chris Bachalo, Kris Renkewitz & Andrew Pepoy suitably bring the fearsome fun to close for now…

One final note: backwriting and retcons notwithstanding, the Christian boycotts and moral crusades of 1980s and 1990s compelled the criticism-averse and commercially astute corporate Marvel to “translate” the biblical Satan of the early episodes into generic – and presumably more palatable or “acceptable” – demonic creatures such as Mephisto, Satanish, Marduk Kurios and other equally naff, low-rent downgrades.

However, the original intent and adventures of Johnny Blaze – and spin-offs Daimon Hellstrom and Satana (respectively the Son and Daughter of Satan), tapped into the late 1960’s global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spookily Supernatural which had begun with such epochal releases as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel), so please remember these aren’t your feeble bowdlerised “Hell-lite” horrors here. These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the baddest of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hold steady and accept no supernatural substitutes…
© 2019 MARVEL.

Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire


By Jason Aaron & Roland Boschi (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4235-5

In the early 1970’s, following a downturn in superhero comics sales, Marvel shifted focus from straight costumed crusaders to supernatural and horror characters with one of the most adaptable and enduring proving to be 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, the devil afflicted Johnny was with a condition which made his body burn with the fires of Hell every time the sun went down and become the unwilling, unknowing host for outcast and exiled demon Zarathos – the Spirit of Vengeance.

After years of travail and turmoil Blaze was (temporarily) freed of 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…

Over the years a grim truth emerged: Johnny and Danny were actually half-brothers and both the Higher Realms and Infernal Regions had big plans for them. Moreover the power of the Ghost Rider had always been a weapon of Heaven not a curse from Hell…

This riotous, rollercoaster grindhouse supernatural thriller collects the 6-issue miniseries Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire (from August 2009 to February 2010) by Jason Aaron & Roland Boschi, featuring a horde of fan-favourite villains, a variety of previous fire-headed hosts, a gaggle of grim guest-stars and assorted Spirits of Vengeance in a bombastic, Hell-for-Leathers romp which concluded a long-running saga.

It all began when usurper Archangel Zadkiel – thanks to his unwitting dupe Danny Ketch – finally achieved his appalling ambition: ousting God to become the new Supreme Power of the universe. The sinister Seraph hadn’t reckoned on a motley crew of sinners and worse, led by Blaze, who were utterly resolved to stop Him…

With covers and variants by Jae Lee, Phil Jimenez, Das Pastoras, Dustin Weaver, Greg Land and Christian Nauck, the dark drama begins when Zadkiel’s angels raid a satanic fertility lab and slaughter all the infants and children. The victims were all prospective Antichrists, but one escaped…

When Hellstorm – a fully grown, naturally conceived Son of Satan – arrives, he finds himself in a peculiar position. Having spent his entire rebellious life battling his sire, Daimon Hellstrom and has no desire to aid the Evil One’s schemes, but by his murderous acts Zadkiel is actually trying to unmake Biblical Prophecy.

God always intended for an Apocalypse to finish His Divine Plan, and the usurper’s coup is actually beyond all concept of right and wrong. Thus the die is cast and Hellstorm must, albeit reluctantly, find the last Earthborn heir of Hell and ‘Save the Antichrist, Save the World’

Simultaneously, Blaze, accompanied by mystic Caretaker/combat nun Sister Sara, is tracking Zadkiel’s angelic agents, determined to find a door to Heaven and confront the renegade face to face. They also want to kill Johnny’s brother Danny, whose pig-headed hubris has led to Zadkiel replacing God and occupying the Vault of Heaven…

When the bikers wipe out a brace of boastful rearguard cherubim and learn of The Plan, they immediately change tack, joining the hunt for missing Anton Satan (AKA Kid Blackheart) to save him from the wrath of the Pretender God…

Oblivious to the threat Anton is exactly where you’d expect an Antichrist to be: making millions as the youngest executive at a Wall Street Hedge Fund. His cruel, calm arrogance is soon shaken, however, when a Seraphic Assassin bursts in only to be promptly eradicated by occult terrorist Jaine Cutter and her “Breathing Gun”: another player determined to restore the Biblically-scheduled Armageddon.

She, however, has severely underestimated Zadkiel’s determination and sense of proportion and drags the protesting Hell-brat straight into an angelic ambush. And far across the country someone is gathering a small army of Ghost Rider villains. They already have Orb, Blackout and The Deacon on board…

With tormenting demons replacing his lost arms, Master Pandemonium is a living doorway to Hell, but even he had no idea what true suffering was until Danny Ketch kicked his door in, looking for a quick introduction and shortest route to the Big Bad Boss of Gehenna…

Now, three days later in New York, Hellstorm explosively saves Cutter and Anton from the ruthless Flight of Angels, but when the self-serving kid bolts he runs right into the newly returned Ketch.

Blaze and Sister Sara arrive moments later and all parties very reluctantly agree to suspend hostilities for a team-up in ‘Are You There, Devil? It’s Me, Danny.’

The anti-Ghost Rider Squad is growing too. Freshly signed up are Zadkiel’s own flame-headed fanatic Kowalski AKA Vengeance, plus Scarecrow, Madcap, motorised maniac Big Wheel and a savagely sentient steam-shovel called Trull

Thanks to Pandemonium, Ketch has met the Devil and made a deal. In return for preserving the last extant Antichrist from Zadkiel’s forces, Satan will provide the brothers with access to Heaven and give them their shot at restoring the previously incumbent Deity…

After brutally working out their operational differences in time-honoured fashion, Johnny and Danny at last unite just as ‘The Brothers Ghost Rider’ are bushwhacked by Big Wheel and Trull (an alien mind-force which could possess any mechanical contrivance: tractor, bulldozer, chainsaw…)

The catastrophic clash brings the boys to a temple which is a gateway to the Eternal Realm, but thanks to Blackout they miss their chance to use it…

Meanwhile in a hidden location the secret sacred order of Gun Nuns prepare for their last battle…

‘Here Comes Hell’ starts in the Jasper County Sheriff’s holding cell where Scarecrow and Madcap have just slaughtered all the other occupants. Outside, Hellstorm, Sara, Jaine and obnoxious Anton have entered the quiet town, seeking safety and a useable satanic sanctuary to stash the kid in.

Zadkiel’s converts are waiting for them and a deadly duel ensues. In the melee Anton shows his true colours by attacking Sara and allying with Master Pandemonium even as Vengeance and the Orb lead an army of killer angels, demons and zombie bikers against the primed-for-martyrdom Gun Nuns protecting a fully operational highway to Heaven…

‘Sole Reigning Holds the Tyranny of Heaven’ finds the triumphant, power-drunk Zadkiel remodelling Paradise to his own gory tastes and fitfully rewriting snippets of Creation when the Ghost Riders storm in through the nun’s gate…

Meanwhile on Earth equally blockbusting battles break out as Hellstorm and Cutter at last suspend their truce and renew their personal vendetta. Elsewhere Kid Blackheart brutally uncovers Sister Sara’s impossible hidden destiny as a living portal to Heaven, and utilises her to transport battalions of demons to conquer Kingdom Come…

The occult overdrive thus rockets to a cataclysmic conclusion as Zadkiel personally smashes the invading Spirits of Vengeance in ‘If You Can’t Lower Heaven, Raise Hell’. With the streets of Heaven knee-deep in blood, even a pep talk from his own dead wife and kids cannot keep Blaze battling against the new Omniscience, but when the Legions of Hell attack and Danny incites all the previously expired Ghost Riders to rise, Johnny sees one last chance to make things right…

Fast, frantic, irreverent, satirically funny, violently gratuitous and clearly not afraid to be daft when necessary, this is a fabulously barmy, two-fisted eldritch escapade in the manner of TV’s Supernatural or Angel that will reward any fans of raucous road thrillers, magical monstrosity tours and the minutiae of Marvel’s horror continuity.
© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

Ghost Rider: Fear Itself


By Rob Williams, Matthew Clark, Brian Ching, Lee Garbett & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-499-7

In recent times Marvel has eschewed colossal braided mega-crossover events in favour of smaller, themed mini-epics but following the release of the Captain America and Thor films – not to mention the upcoming Avengers celluloid blockbuster – the time obviously seemed right to once more plunge their entire Universe into cataclysmic chaos and rebirth.

This collection gathers the prologue an 5-issue miniseries which reintroduced the Ghost Rider to contemporary continuity and can even be read without reference to the Fear Itself core volume and subsequent spin-off books (stemming from the 30-odd regular titles, miniseries and specials the saga expanded into).

In the main storyline an antediluvian Asgardian menace resurfaces and by possessing a selection of Earth’s heroes and villains sets in motion a terrifying bloodbath of carnage to feed on the fear of mankind and topple the established Norse pantheon. With that much spiritual energy unleashed its no surprise that other supernatural entities begin to feel threatened…

Years ago carnival stunt-cyclist Johnny Blaze 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. Crash Simpson died anyway and when the Dark Lord came for Johnny 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 demon Zarathos – the spirit of vengeance.

In later years Blaze briefly escaped his doom and a tragic boy named Danny Ketch assumed the role of Zarathos’ host and prison.

Now in a classy fright-fest by Rob Williams (Cla$$war, 2000AD’s Low Life) and artists Matthew Clark, Brian Ching, Lee Garbett & Sean Parsons, with additional art from Valerio Schiti, the Angel from Hell possesses a new host and is unleashed again to punish the guilty, beginning in the Prologue issue ‘Give Up the Ghost’ wherein the emotionally shattered but still valiantly heroic Blaze – once again bonded to the flaming phantom – is tricked by the mysterious adept Adam into surrendering the curse to a more than willing new vessel…

As the fear-mongering “Worthy” decimate the planet and humanity’s psyche, a female Ghost Rider roars through the ruins on her flaming bike saving the innocent and destroying the things which prey on mortals, but finds her match in the transformed Asgardian herald Skadi

Meanwhile the liberated Blaze is confronted by his lifelong tormentor Mephisto who reveals that he is not the only Great Big Liar in creation: Adam, who claims to be the First Man, has a plan for the new Ghost Rider which will alter mankind forever…

Adam wants to eradicate all sin on Earth using the gullible, girlish novitiate acolyte Alejandra as his weapon but that is actually an even worse proposition and fate than anything any devil could devise…

Driven by conscience, Blaze makes another Devil’s Bargain to save humanity whilst the sheltered child who now contains the Ghost Rider begins to carry out Adam’s plan with staggering success.

Raiding Adam’s hidden temple. Blaze joins forces with British Zombie wizard Seeker – who knows far more than he’s letting on – just as Adam’s devoted disciple begins to find her own mind and path…

With the planet sliding swiftly into physical cataclysm and psychic Armageddon can the disparate forces of Free Will unite in time to save us all from salvation…?

The book ends on a superbly powerful human note as the mortal who eventually retains the power of Zarathos goes on a mission of old-fashioned vengeance only to be confronted with the most appalling of father figures…

Cool, action-packed, mightily moving and wryly witty, this is a splendid reinvention of a character who has been in equal amounts both the best and worst of Marvel’s mighty pantheon and one well worth a little of your time and money.

Ghost Rider: Fear Itself is scheduled for British release on January 12th 2012.

™ & © 2012 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. Italy. A British Edition by Panini UK Ltd.