Friday, June 22, 2018

Marvel Comics Presents (1988) # 107

Cover Artist: Sam Keith
Published: August 1991
Original Price: $1.50

Title: "Return of the Braineaters, Part 1: Bad Moon Rising"
Writer: Chris Cooper
Artist: John Stanisci
Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti
Letterer: Mike Heisler & Steve Dutro
Colorist: Freddy Mendez
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

SYNOPSIS
In Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Ghost Rider discovers the mutilated body of a person that appears to have been mauled by a large beast.  The next day, Jack Russell reads about the murder in the newspaper and goes off to find the killers, thinking to himself that he's been tracking them across the country.  That night, a young couple is being mugged by a large biker, but the mugger flees on his motorcycle when he's interrupted by a group of bikers that have their own plans for the couple.

Later, Jack is in the park searching for the killers while a group of kids play nearby.  One of the kids named Billy accidentally sees the bikers killing the couple; they are the Braineaters, a group of werewolves that kill indiscriminately.  Billy overhears them discussing how another gang of Braineaters encountered Jack Russell and were wiped out, which this gang's leader Scuzz says happened because they forgot the first rule: anyone who sees them change has to die.  Ghost Rider deals with some criminals in the city, then makes his way toward the park.  Billy is discovered by the Braineaters, who give chase after him, and Jack arrives just in time to discover the bodies of the couple they killed.  Ghost Rider appears on his motorcycle and, upon seeing Jack in his werewolf form, assumes he is the killer he's been searching for and attacks.

ANNOTATIONS 
This issue of Marvel Comics Presents also contained stories featuring Wolverine/Nightcrawler, Red Wolf, and the Young Gods.

Werewolf by Night encountered another group of Braineaters in Marvel Comics Presents (1988) # 54-59, which ended with all members of the gang dead.

While this is his first encounter with this incarnation of Ghost Rider, Jack Russell did meet Johnny Blaze twice, in Marvel Premiere # 28 and Ghost Rider (1973) # 55.

The biker that attempts to mug the young couple is named Fraser and he previously appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) # 4.

REVIEW
Another storyarc for Ghost Rider in Marvel Comics Presents means another random superhero team-up, this time with the Werewolf by Night.

Jack Russell had kinda become a staple of Marvel Comics Presents by this point, and it makes sense as to why.  He's one of those solid C-list characters that can't quite manage to anchor their own book despite fans still having affection for him.  MCP was a haven for those characters, guys like the Man-Thing and Shang-Chi, and the series proved to be a popular place for Werewolf by Night stories.  Len Kaminski turned out a wonderful 6-part story with the character about 50 issues before this one, which also served as the basis for Chris Cooper's sequel story that starts here. 

So that's a little odd, right?  This is a sequel to a story by Kaminski that's written by Cooper AND it's the first Ghost Rider story in MCP that's not written by Howard Mackie.  I'm not sure why I think that's so odd, but there it is.  Cooper is a writer that will show up often as the MCP Ghost Rider writer going forward, and he's usually more of a miss than a hit.  He has my respect for his work on the criminally underrated Darkhold: Pages From the Book of Sins series that debuts not long after this, but his MCP stuff never manages to seem more than just average.  The opening chapter of "Return of the Braineaters" isn't hugely imaginative, biker werewolves are killing people while heroes investigate, and its smart enough to not make the Kaminski Braineaters story essential to the plot of this one.  It just doesn't do anything to elevate it from all the other MCP Ghost Rider team-ups, especially when the cliffhanger hinges on yet another mistaken identity hero fight.

The artwork's not much to laud, either.  John Stanisci isn't a name I'm very familiar with, I believe he may have drawn some other MCP stories later on, and his work here seems very rough with little polish.  I do appreciate how his work echoes the style of great artists like Kelley Jones and Bernie Wrightson, definitely making him suitable for a horror story like this one.  I also think he does a strong rendition of Ghost Rider, such as in the page where he's dispatching the two criminals.  Where he struggles is with the werewolves, who don't seem to adhere to standard rules of anatomy for either men or wolves.  I think he's trying to ape the look of movies like the Howling and just falls a little short, making his werewolves look silly instead of scary.   When your story hinges around werewolf horror, that's a bit of a problem.

All told, this is the opening chapter to a middling MCP serial.  There's just not much here to grab your attention, though things do pick up some in later chapters.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Upcoming Comics for September 2018

Marvel has released their new comic solicitations for August, which include new issues of Avengers and Cosmic Ghost Rider!  There's also some interesting trade paperback collections solicited for October, including Doctor Strange: Damnation and Darkhold: Pages From the Book of Sins; that last one, along with some other horror collections like Tomb of Dracula and Blade: Sins of the Father makes me think there's probably something Midnight Sons related coming in October, we shall see! 

Finally, Marvel has made September the month for Cosmic Ghost Rider variant covers across their entire line!  I've posted the covers that have been revealed so far below, along with the list of which comics will be receiving these variants.

SEPTEMBER 2018







AVENGERS #7
JASON AARON (W) • SARA PICHELLI (A)
Cover by GEOFF SHAW
VARIANT COVER BY CLAYTON CRAIN
COSMIC GHOST RIDER VS VARIANT COVER BY EMA LUPACCHINO
Marvel’s Spider-Man Video Game Variant Cover BY EVE VENTRUE
FEATURING GHOST RIDER 1,000,000 BC!
If you thought you knew the beginnings of the Marvel Universe, you were wrong! Odin and his Prehistoric Avengers represent a period of Marvel history that’s never been explored. That exploration begins this issue with the origin of the very first Ghost Rider, one who rides a flaming woolly mammoth and battles a savage and familiar foe!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

AVENGERS #8
JASON AARON (W) • DAVID MARQUEZ (A/C)
VARIANT COVER BY PHILIP TAN
COSMIC GHOST RIDER VS VARIANT COVER BY MIKE MCKONE
“WORLD TOUR” PART ONE
In the aftermath of their world-shaking battle against the Dark Celestials, the new Avengers team is officially formed, complete with a startling new headquarters at the top of the world. Behold the wonders of Avengers Mountain. But someone who doesn’t seem impressed is Namor, the ferocious lord of Atlantis, whose rage may turn the oceans red with blood!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

COSMIC GHOST RIDER #3 (of 5)
DONNY CATES (W) • DYLAN BURNETT (A)
Cover by GEOFF SHAW
VARIANT COVER BY DECLAN SHALVEY
VARIANT COVER BY IVAN SHAVRIN
COSMIC GHOST RIDER VS. THE FUTURE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY FOR THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE! ’NUFF SAID!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

AVENGERS BY JASON AARON VOL. 1: THE FINAL HOST TPB
Written by JASON AARON
Penciled by SARA PICHELLI, ED MCGUINNESS & PACO MEDINA
Cover by ED MCGUINNESS
A new era for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! Steve Rogers. Tony Stark. Thor Odinson. The big three are reunited at last — and just in time to save the world from the 2,000-foot-tall space gods known as the Celestials! Behold the coming of the Final Host! But who will answer the call as a new team of Avengers assembles? As Black Panther and Doctor Strange battle for their lives deep within the earth, Captain Marvel faces death and destruction raining down from the skies. And what about the Savage She-Hulk and the all-new Ghost Rider? Plus: No gathering of Avengers would be complete without a certain Prince of Lies! But what world-shaking connection exists between the Dark Celestials and Odin’s ancient band of Prehistoric Avengers? Collecting AVENGERS (2018) #1-6 and material from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2018 (AVENGERS/CAPTAIN AMERICA).
152 PGS./Rated T+ …$17.99

DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION TPB
Written by DONNY CATES & NICK SPENCER
Penciled by ROD REIS & SZYMON KUDRANSKI
Cover by ROD REIS
ON SALE OCTOBER 2018
The City of Sin gets its biggest sinner yet. When Doctor Strange raises up Las Vegas from its destruction during “Secret Empire,” he inadvertently opens the door for the embodiment of evil: Mephisto! The devilish villain takes the city for himself and sets his sights on the rest of the world. It’s going to take heroes from throughout the Marvel Universe to defeat Mephisto, but there’s nothing simple about fighting the lord of Hell. Soon, Wong’s makeshift band of Midnight Sons — Iron Fist, Blade, Moon Knight and Scarlet Spider — find themselves facing off against a whole platoon of Ghost Riders! But where does Johnny Blaze stand? Who escapes alive, who escapes undead and who doesn’t escape at all? Collecting DOCTOR STRANGE: DAMNATION #1-4.
136 PGS./Rated T+ …$15.99

DARKHOLD: PAGES FROM THE BOOK OF SINS — THE COMPLETE COLLECTION TPB
Written by CHRIS COOPER, J.M. DEMATTEIS & MORT TODD
Penciled by RICHARD CASE, TONY HARRIS, NORMAN FELCHE, AL BIGLEY, RURIK TYLER, MARK BUCKINGHAM & MORE
Cover by RICHARD CASE
Once you get your hands on the Darkhold, you’ll be dying to read what’s inside! And when long-lost pages of the Book of Sins begin to resurface, cursing those who read them with vicious twists on their greatest desires, it’s up to Victoria Montesi and her Darkhold Redeemers, Sam Buchanan and Louise Hastings, to keep them out of the wrong hands! As the mysterious Darkhold Dwarf spreads chaos and the powerful pages wreak havoc, the Redeemers get a little help from Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider and their fellow Midnight Sons — but whose side is Modred the Mystic on? With demonic forces on the rise, can the Redeemers prevent the rebirth of Chthon? Collecting DARKHOLD: PAGES FROM THE BOOK OF SINS #1-16, DOCTOR STRANGE, SORCERER SUPREME #90 and material from MIDNIGHT SONS UNLIMITED #1-2 and MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS (1988) #145.
464 PGS./Rated T …$39.99








September's Cosmic Ghost Rider variant cover list:

1.       AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #5 by NICK BRADSHAW
2.       AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #6 by PAUL RENAUD
3.       ASTONISHING X-MEN #15 by AKCHO
4.       AVENGERS #7 by EMA LUPACCHINO
5.       AVENGERS #8 by MIKE MCKONE
6.       BLACK PANTHER #4 by PASQUAL FERRY
7.       CAPTAIN AMERICA #3 by PATRICK ZIRCHER
8.       DEADPOOL #4 by TODD NAUCK
9.       DOCTOR STRANGE #5 by JULIAN TOTINO TEDESCO
10.   FANTASTIC FOUR #2 by TOM RANEY
11.   IMMORTAL HULK #5 by RAHZZAH
12.   IMMORTAL HULK #6 by BRENT SCHOONOVER
13.   SENTRY #4 by VANESA DEL REY
14.   THANOS LEGACY #1 by DAVE JOHNSON
15.   THOR #5 by EMA LUPACCHINO
16.   TONY STARK: IRON MAN #4 by DAVID NAKAYAMA
17.   Venom #6 by HUMBERTO RAMOS and EDGAR DELGADO
18.   WEAPON H #7 by CHRIS STEVENS
19.   X-23 #4 by YASMINE PUTRI
20.   X-MEN RED #8 by JAMAL CAMPBELL

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ghost Rider (1973) # 29

Cover Artist: Rich Buckler
Published: April 1978
Original Price: $0.35

Title: "Deadly Pawn!"
Writer: Roger McKenzie
Artist: Don Perlin
Inker: "N.Y. Tribe" (Owen McCarron, Tony DeZuniga, & Alfredo Alcala)
Letterer: Gaspar Saldino, Peter Iro, & Jean Simek
Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Archie Goodwin

SYNOPSIS
Desperate to prove himself as the world's greatest stunt rider, and to forget that he has lost Roxanne Simpson for good, Johnny Blaze attempts to jump over a massive gorge in front of a large audience as the Ghost Rider.  When he makes the jump, however, he disappears and finds himself blacking out as he is transformed back into his human form.  When he awakens, he's being held captive by Dr. Strange, who swears to kill Blaze.  Johnny transforms into the Ghost Rider to fight back against Strange, unaware that the battle is being observed by Strange's enemy Dormammu.  After a brief period lost in darkness, Ghost Rider busts his way out of Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, only to find a twisted and transformed New York City.  On the street, Dr. Strange commands his demonic servants to ready the screaming Roxanne for death by burning her at the stake.  The Ghost Rider flies into a rage and destroys the demons, freeing Roxanne as he speeds away.  Roxanne herself then transforms into a demon, which allows Dr. Strange to get the upper hand.  Meanwhile, a shadowy bounty hunter on horseback guns down his target in an alley, then produces a new wanted poster with Johnny Blaze's face that states "Wanted Dead or Alive".

Back in the twisted New York, Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange continue their battle, with Strange acting very out of character.  Dormammu continues to observe, pontificating about how this "Dr. Strange" is actually just a magical construct created by him to drive the Ghost Rider into a demonic rage.  When the battle causes the construct Strange to flee, Blaze gives chase on his hellfire cycle.  Dormammu comments that the Ghost Rider's demonic side is now fully in control and he teleports him back to the real New York City right in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum.  The Ghost Rider busts through the wall of the Sanctum, ready to kill a very surprised Dr. Strange, who has no idea why this demon has come to destroy him.

ANNOTATIONS 
The Bounty Hunter will locate Blaze in Ghost Rider (1973) # 31 and his origin will be revealed in Ghost Rider (1973) # 32.

Johnny believes Roxanne to be back in Los Angeles, where he left her with her new boyfriend Roger Cross in Ghost Rider (1973) # 26.  He is unaware that Roxanne followed him when he left L.A. and was hypnotized into an amnesiac state by the Orb in Ghost Rider (1973) # 28.  Johnny and Roxanne will not see one another again until Ghost Rider (1973) # 79.

This issue is reprinted in the Essential Ghost Rider vol. 2 trade paperback.

REVIEW
Roger McKenzie starts his run in earnest following his first issue, which was spent tying up some loose ends from previous writers.  This issue starts a story that really hammers home the point that Ghost Rider is growing up as a series.

The first thing you notice about this comic is the sense that Roger McKenzie has no interest in the superhero elements that had bogged this series for the last 20 issues or so.  It was only a few issues ago that we had the Manticore and the Water Wizard running around being all goofy and super villainy, and even McKenzie's first issue had the Orb as the antagonist.  Here, though, things have gotten a lot darker and definitely a lot more serious.  Sure, we're still dealing with Dr. Strange and Dormammu, staples of Marvel's superhero universe, but things just feel different.  Maybe it's the harsher artwork of Perlin and his inkers or maybe (no, certainly) it's the liberal use of light profanity peppered throughout the comic.  It may seem tame now, but I can only imagine how the Ghost Rider shouting "DAMN YOU TO HELL!" every third page must have shocked readers, especially if they were kids.

That is the biggest sign, to me at least, that McKenzie was interested in writing this series on a more mature level than Tony Isabella or Gerry Conway in past runs.  There's some elements carried over from Jim Shooter's brief turn as writer, but this is mostly a real back-to-basics approach to the character.  The supernatural and horror elements are dialed back up to the extent that this wouldn't have felt out of place during Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog's initial run on the character.  Most telling, though, is the characterization of the Ghost Rider himself.  While Johnny Blaze remains the same consistent person he's always been, this version of the Ghost Rider has become wildly brutal and certainly more demonic than ever before.  Shooter, of course, started this trend in this issues, but McKenzie is dialing things up to eleven.

The plot is the only thing that I really have any trouble with, honestly, and it's the small bait-and-switch involving Dr. Strange that is both the comic's hook and biggest flaw.  The conflict with Dr. Strange, which is revealed to be a magical hoax halfway through, feels like filler to get the two heroes to have their REAL battle in the next issue.  Marvel heroes have always had the long-standing tradition of fighting one another over misunderstandings or villainous manipulations, but taking an entire issue to set up said fight is a big too much.  Still, you can't fault McKenzie for trying his best to make the motivations ring true, and it does allow the promise of the cliffhanger to really feel like a big deal.

The best part of the comic, though, had to be Don Perlin's artwork.  He had taken over the art chores only three issues before, and it was obvious that he was finding his legs on the book in that time.  With this issue, though, he's absolutely locked in on the tone this series needs; it's like now that he's not having to draw Dr. Druid and Hawkeye in a superhero series he can really let loose with the darker imagery.  That opening splash page of Ghost Rider, facing directly at the reader on his motorcycle, is almost like an artistic statement of intent.  This Ghost Rider is emphatically NOT a superhero anymore, so get ready for something much scarier.

The McKenzie/Perlin run is exceedingly brief, but it manages to take the character back to his roots as a supernatural series with light superhero overtones instead of the happy Spider-Man caricature it had become.  Recommended reading. 

Grade: A

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Inner Demons Episode 26: "Unreliable Narrator"



Turn your hellevisions to Channel 666, where Inner Demons is proud to present "Let's Make a Deal...with the DEVIL"!  Each player will receive the consolation prize of a Thanos Annual # 1 review along with a chance to win reviews of Avengers (2018) # 1 & 2!  Of course, they can choose to risk it all and go for the grand prize: a review of Ghost Rider (1973) # 8!  Which damned souls will go home with the gold and the glory?  Tune in to find out!

You can listen to the episode at the Vengeance Unbound page on blogspot, or you can download it from either Stitcher or iTunes .  You can also find us on Facebook, just search  for "Vengeance Unbound" and on Twitter under @InnerDemonsGR.  Thanks for listening!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Marvel Collector's Edition (1992) # 1

Cover Artist: Sam Keith
Published: 1992
Original Price: $1.50

Title: "You've Got to Have Friends"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: John Hebert
Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti
Letterer: Rick Parker
Colorist: Ariane Lenshoek
Editor: Glenn Herdling
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco

SYNOPSIS
Young teen Mike "Mouse" McCormick is running for this life, bleeding from a wound in his side while thinking to himself that all he wanted to do was impress people and have friends.  He runs into Cypress Hills Cemetery and collides into Danny Ketch, who is visiting his sister's grave while sitting atop his motorcycle.  Mouse apologizes and runs away, but when Dan notices the blood smeared onto his shirt from the boy he finds himself transforming into Ghost Rider.  Mike collapses and is found by Devil Grip, who is angry that Mike didn't do the job he had paid him to do, and now that he's seen too much of the criminals operations he's going to have to be killed.  Ghost Rider stops Devil Grip, and after a brief fight gives the villain the Penance Stare.  Ghost Rider picks up Mike and takes him on a ride through the neighborhood to the hospital; Mike is finally content that he has a friend and the respect he desired when everyone, including his mother, sees him with Ghost Rider.

ANNOTATIONS 
This comic was a special promotional giveaway by Marvel and Charleston Chew candy bars, which could be obtained through the mail by redeeming packages of the candy.

The other stories in this feature featured Wolverine, Spider-Man, and the Silver Surfer.

Ghost Rider last appeared in Marvel Comics Presents (1988) # 118 and he appears next in Amazing Spider-Man: Hit and Run # 3.

Podcast Review: Inner Demons Episode 16 - "Hellfireface" (Click to Listen)

REVIEW
Marvel released a promotional issue of Marvel Comics Presents through a candy bar company of all things, available only through a mail away offer on the candy wrapper.  It served as a short spotlight for the company's biggest characters (though one can understand why the Punisher wasn't included, what with the whole mass murder thing not jiving with a marketing campaign aimed at kids), one of which at the time was, naturally, Ghost Rider.

It's great that they got Howard Mackie to write this thing, back when he was still serving as the de facto controller over everything Ghost Rider, even candy bar tie-ins.  It's also great that they got John Hebert to reunite with Mackie for this extremely short story after their highly entertaining Christmas story about the blind kid mistaking Ghost Rider for Santa Claus.  Unfortunately, this story misses the high marks of that earlier collaboration, though I can certainly see what Mackie was aiming for and how difficult it must have been to convey in a 6 page story.  This had to tell new kid readers who Ghost Rider was and give him a conflict to resolve while keeping things as simple as possible, and that's not an easy thing to accomplish.  Wrapping the story hook around the idea of friendship and falling in with a bad crowd is a perfectly appropriate idea for something like this, and it's certainly sound in theory. 

Where it falls apart is the "villain" of the piece, the absolutely ridiculous Devil Grip.  Never mind the ludicrous consequences of a name like fucking DEVIL GRIP, the guy isn't given any kind of motivation other than "bad" and "crush you".  It makes you wonder why Mouse even wanted to impress this guy to begin with, if he's one to kill any random kid who doesn't fall in line with whatever his "organization" may be.  His laughable character design just underscores what a waste this character was, he looks like Hagrid from Harry Potter posing as a leather daddy.  Hebert is a quality artist, he's turned out a few other Ghost Rider stories that looked fantastic, but this one just doesn't work on any level. 

Mackie tries to hit you in the feels with the last panel, like he did with the blind kid in the Christmas special, but it just doesn't have the same punch.  This is an interesting curio but ultimately inconsequential and definitely not worth tracking down.

Grade: D

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Spirits of Vengeance (2017) # 3

Cover Artist: Dan Mora
Published: February 2018
Original Price: $3.99

Title: "War at the Gates of Hell, Part 3"
Writer: Victor Gischler
Artist: David Baldeon
Letterer: Cory Petit
Colorist: Andres Mossa
Editor: Chris Robinson
Editor-in-Chief: Axel Alonso

SYNOPSIS
The sorcerer Necrodamus explains to Hell's emissary how he located the silver coins of Judas, which are possessed by the traitor's malevolent spirit and thus have great power inside them.  Having been locked up by humans for centuries, one of the guardians gave the coins to Necrodamus in exchange for a book, and using them he is going to forge a weapon to kill the archangel Michael during the Covenant.  The demon tells Necrodamus that he'll only have one shot to kill Michael.  Later, in a Mexican volcano, the dark dwarf Ragnar tells Necrodamus that he needs to retrieve the 30th piece of silver before the weapon can be completed.

Cover Artist: Francesco Mattina
On a rooftop garden in Manhattan, Daimon Hellstrom's friend Edwin has hidden himself after several of their acquaintances were murdered.  He tells Hellstrom that he's being hunted by Razan the Night Jackal, a goddess bound to serve the sorcerer who freed her from imprisonment.  Edwin suggests they try to get information at Port Brimstone, and Hellstrom dispatches his sister Satana and Blade to investigate the Port.  Razan is watching from a nearby rooftop, communicating to Necrodamus that she used Edwin as bait.  She and her demons attack the garden, managing to get the silver bullet from Hellstrom before fleeing on her flying demon.  Johnny Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider and chases her on his motorcycle through the city, but she is able to escape him.  Meanwhile, at Port Brimstone, Satana and Blade question a demonic bartender about the silver.  Blade kills some vampires and the bartender directs them to someone in a back room wishing to speak with them: the human who bartered away the Judas coins to Necrodamus.  Back at the volcano, Ragnar uses the last piece of silver to forge a gun, which Necrodamus calls "the archangel killer".

ANNOTATIONS
This issue was released with a Phoenix variant cover by Francesco Mattina.

Podcast Review: Inner Demons Episode 17 - "Hanging Out in a Bookstore With Blade" (Click to Listen)

REVIEW
Enjoy the beautiful scenery of a rooftop garden in Manhattan while the creative team drums you over the head with flashbacks and so much fucking exposition, my god people!

Much like last issue, the saving grace of this comic is the artwork by David Baldeon, who may not be to every fan's taste (especially with that questionable Ghost Rider design) but damn if he doesn't draw action scenes well.  I wish he had more opportunities to strut his stuff in this series, because the pages where Razan attacks and gets chased by Ghost Rider look incredible, his sense of motion and energy is amazingly kinetic. The eye gets drawn along nicely in his panels, the characters react with an overly exaggerated style, but it adds to the chaos and energy of the scenes.  Baldeon gets saddled with way too many talking head panels, and though he does his best to make them interesting there's only so much you can do with the umpteenth smarmy Hellstorm or befuddled Blaze headshot.  When he does get to stretch his legs the work looks amazing.  I do think the linework gets buried at times by the colorist, though, particularly when it involves anything with fire such as the volcano scenes or Ghost Rider's motorcycle.  It's hard to tell what's going on with all of the Photoshop effects layered on top of the art.

The storyline is still crawling by, parsing out information bit by bit while drowning the issue with flashback montages.  I don't get the pace of this series, it's a whole lot of waiting around for shit to happen, but there's also a deadline involved that should naturally make the pace quicken instead of slow down to a creeping meander.  The characters move like sloths from conversation piece to conversation piece; Necrodamus has cordial talks with two different co-conspirators, there's the rooftop garden talk, then even MORE talking at the bar with Satana and Blade.  All of this is adding up to an incredibly frustrating experience, but at the same time I have to admit that when the book does get around to doing something exciting it explodes off the page.

Another thing that frustrates me is the decision to include all of these characters when they're serving no point to the story.  Had this just been a Ghost Rider mini-series with Hellstrom serving in a mentor/guide capacity, I could almost forgive all of this, they're at least the two that seem to serve some kind of function to the story.  Blade and Satana are afterthoughts, farmed out to a fetch quest while Daimon and Johnny get the action bits.  Why bring those two into the plot at all when they're given nothing to do?

So far, Spirits of Vengeance has been nothing but a slow disappointment peppered with some occasionally brilliant bits of artwork.

Grade: C-

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ghost Rider (2011) # 9

Cover Artist: Blankas
Published: May 2012
Original Price: $2.99

Title: untitled
Writer: Rob Williams
Artists: Lee Garbett & Emanuela Lupacchino
Inker: Guillermo Ortego
Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles
Colorist: Robert Schwager
Editors: Sebastian Girner & Ellie Pyle
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
Editor In Chief: Axel Alonso

SYNOPSIS
Alejandra, the Ghost Rider, bursts into a strip club and decapitates the Seeker, the zombie that was responsible for giving her the Spirit of Vengeance (though he's quick to point out that Zarathos chooses his host, not him).  She is determined to go to Hell and rescue the souls of the Nicaraguan village that she was responsible for damning, and the Seeker tells her to find Adam for the power boost she needs.  She teleports to the desert and pulls Adam through a portal, positioning him high above a building.  He agrees to give her the power she needs, happy that it will allow her to spread vengeance to Hell.  Meanwhile, Johnny Blaze is having a conversation with Doctor Strange about the Ghost Rider, with Blaze agreeing that Alejandra needs to be stopped after she turned against them to side with Blackheart.  Strange opens a portal to Hell, but Blaze shoots him in the foot and rides into the portal alone, saying that the Ghost Rider is his responsibility only.

In Hell, an armored Alejandra storms the gates of Mephisto's realm, slaying her way through an army of demons.  Blaze follows her trail and is besieged by more demons, who are forced to back off when he produces the contract he has with Mephisto, which the demons claim is a "great weapon".  He continues on through Hell and finds a giant-sized Alejandra fighting Mephisto in a lake of fire.  While the two fight, Blaze transforms the contract into a shotgun shell.  Mephisto gains the upper hand against the Ghost Rider, but before he can claim victory Alejandra punches her hand into his chest and rips out of his heart.  She threatens to destroy his heart, which will consequently destroy Hell and all of creation, if he does not return the Nicaraguan souls.  He does so, but Alejandra decides to destroy his heart anyway, and is only stopped when Blaze fires his shotgun through her skull.  She shrinks down and falls, grabbing onto a ledge above the lake of fire.  When Blaze tries to save her, she lets herself fall while the Spirit of Vengeance returns to Johnny.  He plunges into the fire after her, and as the Ghost Rider he pulls her burnt body to safety and makes his way back to Earth.  In Nicaragua, Blaze as the Ghost Rider explains that while Alejandra is no longer the Spirit of Vengeance she has retained some of its power.  He shows her that she was successful in her gambit against Mephisto, the souls have been returned to the people she wiped the sin from, but that's not good enough for her.  She claims that she is due revenge on Blaze for what he helped do to her, and the two part ways, with him telling her to come find him when she's ready.

ANNOTATIONS
Alejandra and Blaze both appeared last in Venom (2011) # 14, which was the conclusion to the "Circle of Four" crossover.  During that storyline Alejandra turned against the other heroes and joined with Blackheart, who promised to return the souls of the Nicaraguan town that she sent to Hell in Ghost Rider (2011) # 3.

The Seeker and Adam both last appeared in Ghost Rider (2011) # 7, where Adam mystically teleported Alejandra to Japan for a fight with Steel Wind and Steel Vengeance.

Blaze made his contract with Mephisto in Ghost Rider (2011) # 4, where he sold his soul for a "space bike" that would allow him to travel to an orbital space station commandeered by Adam and Alejandra.

Alejandra was killed by Blackheart in Venom (2011) # 13.2.  She was sent to Hell and made a deal with Mephisto be resurrected in Venom (2011) # 13.3.

Blaze appears next as the Ghost Rider in a one-panel cameo in Wolverine and the X-Men (2011) # 19 then makes his next full appearance in Uncanny Avengers Annual # 1. 

Alejandra has yet to appear again outside of an alternate reality version in Ghost Racers (2015) # 1 and as a cameo in a crowd of Ghost Riders in Hell at the conclusion of Doctor Strange: Damnation (2018) # 4.

This issue contains an afterward text piece written by Rob Williams addressing the title's cancellation.
This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: The Complete Series by Rob Williams trade paperback.

REVIEW
Alejandra ends her brief time as the Ghost Rider by way of a bullet to the head and a mercy killing cancellation of her title, just when things were finally getting interesting.

After the events of the "Circle of Four" crossover in Venom, Alejandra has crossed the line from morally grey anti-hero to outright villain.  Naturally she's wanting to do right by the people she harmed, but her way of doing so is actually making her into a fairly fascinating lead character.  She's the extreme opposite of the original Blaze/Zarathos duo, where instead of the demon being wild and out control it's the human host that allows her recklessness to endanger not just innocent lives but all of creation.  In his text piece at the back, writer Rob Williams laments that he didn't have Alejandra's character down from the beginning, and I agree with him when he says it took this many issues to make her fully fleshed out and interesting as a protagonist.  The early issues featured a lead character that was flat and static and ultimately boring as hell to read about.  This evolution of Alejandra, from innocent victim to supernatural juggernaut that keeps making just the worst choices possible, makes for a nice character arc. Naturally, it doesn't do much to make her likable, she was a horrid character during "Circle of Four" and that extends here as well.  Her attempt at atonement, her sacrifice that returns the Spirit of Vengeance to Blaze at the end, is even undercut by her blaming him for "taking away" the power that she gave up.  Alejandra sucks as a person, but I guess that's kind of the point?

Anyway, this series ends the only way it really could, with Alejandra kicked to the curb and Johnny Blaze back in the saddle again as the Ghost Rider (despite all the talk in the early issues about that could never ever ever EVER happen, naturally).  Alejandra becomes, at best, a footnote in Ghost Rider history that will only be brought up in crowd shots or whenever a writer wants to reference obscure continuity.  Felipe Smith got a lot of mileage out of her in Ghost Racers, though, which goes to show that Alejandra can be pretty badass in the right context.  This series was far from being that, though, and Alejandra's delayed characterization was a big part of that.

The most egregious part of this series, though, was the treatment of Johnny Blaze, who I don't feel Williams ever had a handle on.  He was just "weird redneck", which now that I think about it isn't too far off from the Nicholas Cage film portrayal.  Maybe that's the vibe Williams was going for with Blaze, but it hit way off the mark, making him a buffoonish cartoon instead of the southern badass that Jason Aaron wrote so well.  Blaze gets handled a little better in this issue, though, because he does at least acknowledge that this entire series was predicated by his bad decision to give up the Spirit of Vengeance (though it's a false sense of responsibility, since it was a near character-breaking mistake to have Johnny willingly condemn another person to his curse, but I've talked at length about that plot point in earlier reviews of this series). 

So Williams hits the big reset button after a confrontation with Mephisto, one which really just feels like the writer trying to make his character do something big and important before shuffling off to what will essentially be comic book limbo.  The Mephisto fight does at least feel somewhat earned, though, given everything that happened in the title's first arc and in the Venom crossover.  I still say it would have made much more sense to have "Circle of Four" be the crossover it was intended to be and allow this series it's own chapter, but instead we got what we got and this final issue came out two months after the one before.  It makes for a weird disconnect from what went before, like "Circle of Four" was the title's real end and this is just some strange epilogue or coda.  So much stuff was still left up in the air, even with the extended page count for this issue, like Adam and the Seeker both still being out there in the world.  I never much cared for those two and the way they were implanted into an already confusing mythology for the Spirit of Vengeance, but I'll be surprised if they ever get referenced again. 

The artwork for this issue is split between two artists: Lee Garbett, who had become the de factor lead artist on the series after Matt Clark left, and Emanuela Lupacchino, who I'd seen on some X-Factor stories around this time.  Garbett was the glue that really held this title together, his work was always a welcome sight and he does a great job on the opening and final pages of this issue.  I wish he'd got a chance to draw the male Ghost Rider more, because he does a great job on the design at the end.  I always appreciated that Garbett was able to make the Alejandra Rider look feminine without trying to make a flaming skeleton look sexy.  Lupacchino comes in to draw the middle section, which involves the big fight against Mephisto, and it's all okay I suppose.  Her work is very clean and soft, it lacks the edge for a story like this, but it tells the story perfectly well.

When all is said and done, Alejandra Jones and her time as Ghost Rider was a colossal failure.  Marvel seemed really keen on replacing Blaze with new characters, and though this first attempt didn't quite work they were able to use the formula to much greater success a few years later with Robbie Reyes.  I'll be very interested to see if Alejandra makes a comeback in a decade's time, much like Danny Ketch did during the mid 2000s.  Let's hope she's developed more of a personality by then.

Grade: C