Saturday, December 7, 2019

Into the Sunset...

This isn't a hard goodbye, not yet anyway. I've been working in Vengeance Unbound in one form or another since 2001, its been a part of my life for a very long time. Now, though, certain responsibilities necessitate me walking away, at least for a long while, with hopes that one day I can return to it. Thank you to every single fan, reader, and fellow Flamehead that got something out of VU, I appreciate all the feedback I've received over the years. Thank you to Brian Biggie, my podcast co-host and friend, with whom I've worked for the last two years plus. Inner Demons will hopefully continue with Brian and someone new, with my blessing, because it would be a damn shame for it to disappear along with me.

I'll be checking in on Ghost Rider from time to time. And like unsaid, hopefully one day I'll be able to return to the blog. For now, please enjoy the near 600 reviews here and countless articles, all of it will remain up for posterity.

Adios, amigos,

Monday, November 25, 2019

Inner Demons Episode 47 - "My Big Fat Olympian Wedding"

Inner Demons is holding its own "Challenge of the Ghost Riders" as Brian and Chris judge which of our four comic reviews will win the race for the throne of Hell!  Ghost Rider (2019) # 2 is the early favorite, will its Damnation Stare give it the edge it needs to pull ahead or will Johnny Blaze's hellfire hammer from Avengers (2018) # 25 knock the opponents out of commission?  Can Pluto's plot from The Champions (1975) # 2 secure its racing dominance or will Suicide and Zodiak ensure an easy victory for Ghost Rider (1990) # 19?  If you want to keep up on all the pole positions be sure to give this episode your full attention, or don't and forfeit your soul!

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Upcoming Comics: February 2020

It's a busy month for Ghost Rider in February according to Marvel Comics' newly-released solicitations!  Along with Ed Brisson and Juan Frigeri presenting "Hearts of Darkness II" there's also the launch of the Spirits of Ghost Rider companion series, focusing on Lilith!  Revenge of the Cosmic Ghost Rider continues with a new issue and Ghost Rider makes an appearance in the new Marvels X limited series!


Just when Dan Ketch thought he was out, he finds himself in way over his head, with strange new abilities to boot! Guest starring Wolverine and the Punisher!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Variant cover by STEPHANIE HANS
Design variant cover by AARON KUDER
Since the dawn of man, she has birthed the worst of humanity’s ills... Her kin call her mama while men curse her name: LILITH! And when all the thrones of every netherworld are united, they shall call her by a new name: QUEEN. With art by definitive GHOST RIDER artist ROLAND BOSCHI!
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99

variant cover by Ozgur Yildirim
Solar systems quake as the Cosmic Ghost Rider goes toe-to-toe with the mysterious head of the galaxy’s biggest crime syndicates! With nothing left to lose, will Cosmic Ghost Rider be able to come out on top or will his fire go out in a final brutal blaze of glory?  Plus, all-new secrets of the Cosmic Ghost Rider’s origin revealed!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Cover by ALEX ROSS
David’s arrival in New York doesn’t bring the safety he had hoped it would. And while he does indeed find some heroes, he also finds that they don’t know what to do in a world where everyone they ever fought to protect now wants only to blame them for the hell the world has transformed into. Alex Ross, Jim Krueger and Well-Bee continue the amazing prequel to the EARTH X trilogy.
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Marvel Treasury Edition # 18

Cover Art: Bob Budiansky
Published: 1978
Original Price: $2.00

Title: "If An Eye Offend Thee..."
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Ross Andru
Inker: Don Perlin
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roy Thomas

At Madison Square Garden in New York City, Peter Parker (also known as the amazing Spider-Man) and Mary Jane Watson attend a show called "The Ghost Rider's Motorcycle Extravaganza." The show begins just as the couple take their seats, and Johnny Blaze, the flaming skulled Ghost Rider, roars into the open floor on his motorcycle, causing the crowd to go wild with excitement. The cyclist performs an amazing stunt with four other riders, one of which is Roxanne Simpson, Blaze's girlfriend and the daughter of Crash Simpson, former owner of the cycle show. Suddenly, a group of bikers bust into the arena, and ride past the security guards. The leader of the group has a helmet shaped like a giant eyeball and calls himself the Orb. The gang rides in circles around the arena, the Orb's eye hypnotizing the crowd. Only Parker evades being mesmerized, his spider-sense warning him to look away at the last moment. Peter shoots his web onto the rafters, where he climbs up and changes into his Spider-Man costume. On the arena floor, the Orb grabs Roxanne by the waist and rides off with her, leaving the Ghost Rider to be dealt with by his men. Spider-Man swings down and assists in defeating a few of the gang, but their pursuit of the Orb is stopped when he commands the hypnotized crowd to form a barrier between him and the heroes. The mesmerized crowd then deliver Blaze a message in one unified voice, saying that the Orb will return Roxanne to him in exchange for ownership of the cycle show.

Meanwhile, the Orb and his gang arrive at his lair, where he awakens the hypnotized Roxanne. he tells her that his name is Drake Shannon, and that he used to be her father's partner in starting the cycle show. Shannon was a reckless person, and when he realized he couldn't get along with Crash, he challenged him to a cross-country race, the winner of which would get sole ownership of the show. During the race, Shannon attempted to run his former partner off the road, but instead caused himself to wreck, his cycle flipping at 95 miles an hour, throwing him into a skid across the tarmac for more than 25 yards...on his face. He's wanted nothing but revenge ever since, and he was approached by an organization called "They", who gave him his hypnotic helmet. He then removes the helmet and shows Roxanne his hideously disfigured face. Blaze then enters the lair with the ownership papers to the cycle show, demanding that he and Roxanne be allowed to leave. The Orb instead commands his men to open fire on the two, but the gang is stopped by the entrance of Spider-Man. The Orb jumps on his cycle and again kidnaps Roxanne, forcing the Ghost Rider and Spider-Man to jump on cycles of their own and give chase. The chase leads them out of the lair, which is the power room to an abandoned subway rail, and into Grand Central Station. Spider-Man shoots a strand of web that grabs hold of Roxanne, freeing the girl from the Orb's grasp. With Spider-Man making sure the girl is safe, Blaze chases the Orb back onto the subway rails, but the villain fails to see an oncoming train. The subway train crushes the villain, and Blaze narrowly avoids the same fate by grabbing onto a railing attached to the ceiling. He then returns to the platform, the ownership papers in his hand. He sets the papers afire with his hellfire, saying that he's almost glad the Orb didn't live long enough to find that the papers were worthless forgeries. Blaze and Roxanne then part company with Spider-Man, saying that perhaps they will meet again.

This over-sized Treasury Edition, subtitled "The Astonishing Spider-Man", contained selected reprints showcasing Spider-Man's team-ups with other characters, including the X-Men (Marvel Team-Up # 4), Werewolf by Night (Marvel Team-Up # 12), Ghost Rider (Marvel Team-Up # 15), and Iron Fist (Marvel Team-Up # 31).

This story was originally printed in Marvel Team-Up # 15 and has been reprinted in Marvel Tales # 254 and Marvel Tales: Ghost Rider # 1.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Avengers (2018) # 17

Cover Art: David Marquez
Published: June 2019
Original Price: $3.99

Title: "The Kingdom of the Vampires"
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: David Marquez
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Erick Arciniega
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Associate Editor: Alanna Smith
Editor-in-Chief: C.B. Cebulski

While Dracula is deposited at Chernobyl to live out his remaining days, a Russian prison has been transformed into a new vampire army by the Shadow Colonel. The Legion of the Unliving have defeated the Winter Guard and are seeking Dracula's location. The Avengers arrive with Thor's Asgardian dog Thori, who attacks the hellhound Sarge. Blade fights the Shadow Colonel and is nearly killed when Ghost Rider arrives to rescue him. Blade decapitated the Shadow Colonel, but the Legion of the Unloving escape with his body when She-Hulk explodes with gamma energy. Only Sarge is left behind to be imprisoned in Avengers Mountain. Blade decides to stay with the Avengers and Robbie Reyes asks him to help exorcise his car. This makes Johnny Blaze, the King of Hell, laugh on his throne, stating that he'll be seeing Robbie soon. Finally, at Chernobyl, the Legion of the Unloving bring the Colonel's body to Dracula, who set the vampire war in motion in order to gain a new homeland for his people.

Johnny Blaze became the King of Hell in Damnation: Johnny Blaze - Ghost Rider # 1 and was last seen in Doctor Strange: Damnation (2018) # 4.

Robbie Reyes met Johnny Blaze in All-New Ghost Rider (2014) # 8 and they last spent time together in Iceman (2017) # 6.

Robbie Reyes makes his next appearance as a cameo in War of the Realms # 1.

Podcast Review: Inner Demons Episode 40 - "Bladestreet Boys" (Click to Listen)

Avengers finishes off the war of the vampires in a way that seems to lose its focus.

I don't dislike this comic, its actually a fine conclusion to the vampire arc. It has spectacular action sequences, great artwork, and some solid character work. However, the flaws are showing hard with this one, and I think its biggest sin is dropping the Ghost Rider part of the story like a hot potato. Instead the focus is given over to Blade, which is fine since he's both the newest Avenger and the only actual vampire hunter in the cast. But he's not what this arc has been focusing on over the last three issues, which had at its core Robbie Reyes and his struggle to contain the Ghost Rider. He's an afterthought here and I think it pays that plot a great disservice. He does at least get a punch in on the Shadow Colonel, but its not the cathartic resolution that was needed.

There's other problems here as well, particularly all of the stuff with Dracula. Aaron really overplayed his hand with Dracula, having the character break down in tears before his inevitably inevitable twist reveal as the mastermind behind the war. There's timeline issues, with the Dracula scene at the beginning taking place in some nebulous time before the prison attack, which makes for a jarring transition from the end of the last issue to this one. Its unfortunate that so much seemed to go wrong with this issue, because it does have those aforementioned strengths.

The strongest of those elements has to be Davis Marquez, who turns in his final work for the series. His action scenes are so crisp and easy to follow, the characters move fluidly from panel to panel and it looks amazing. This may be the forest, most brutal fight ever for an issue of Avengers, Marquez soaks the Blade/Shadow Colonel fight with blood and severed limbs.

This has certainly been the strongest arc so far for this series, and that's mainly due to the Ghost Rider elements in the first three chapters. With all of that pushed to the background, this one suffers in comparison.

Grade: B-

Friday, November 15, 2019

Ghost Rider (1973) # 30

Cover Art: Ernie Chan
Published: June 1978
Original Price: $0.35

Title: "The Mage and the Monster!"
Writer: Roger McKenzie
Artist: Don Perlin
Inker: Jim Mooney
Letterer: J. Genovese
Colorist: M. Beveridge
Editor: Jim Shooter

Having been manipulated by Dormammu, the Ghost Rider attacks Doctor Strange in his Sanctum Sanctorum.  Believing that Strange had already tried to kill him, unaware that Dormammu was responsible, Johnny Blaze is determined to murder Doctor Strange.  Fighting for his life, Strange opens a flaming pit beneath the Ghost Rider, but not even that stops Blaze's attack.  Meanwhile, Strange's apprentice Clea senses the danger and flies back toward the Sanctum, which has been sealed off from the outside world by a mystical barrier.  Clea passes through the barrier and arrives just in time to stop the Ghost Rider from killing the unconscious Strange.

Outside, two police officers confront a man on a horse in an alley, but they quickly back off when they see his face.  The mysterious bounty hunter holds up a wanted poster for Johnny Blaze that reads "Wanted: Dead or Alive".  Back inside the Sanctum, Strange releases his astral form and enters the Ghost Rider's mind, where he finds the soul of Johnny Blaze and learns his origin from his memories.  Dormammu appears to confront Strange, who sends Blaze's soul away to protect it.  Johnny wakes up inside the body of Dr. Strange, who is about to be attacked yet again by the now soulless Ghost Rider.

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

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

Roger McKenzie's Ghost Rider gets vicious as he goes all out against Doctor Strange, producing one of the best fight sequences in the title's history so far.

Even though the gradual darkening of the Ghost Rider identity began under Jim Shooter's run, particularly in the issue where he left Las Angeles, Roger McKenzie's continuation of that plot ramps up even more in this issue.  Gone are the days where Johnny Blaze was quipping like Spider-Man while he fought the Trapster, this is a brutal and frankly quite frightening version of the Ghost Rider.  The series has never really been a horror comic despite its supernatural trappings, except for maybe way back when Mike Ploog was drawing it, and it always seemed to enjoy its ill-fitting superhero status quo even while it actively railed against it.  McKenzie has sucked away all of the camp and goofy charm from this series and replaced it with something far more interesting and radical.  He actually dares to take a flaming skeletal biker at face value and recognize how inherently horrific that would be.

For all that this comic is essentially a Marvel standard trope of two heroes pounding on each other over a misunderstanding, there's something about this Dr. Strange fight that just sucks you in as the reader.  Actually, it doesn't so much suck you in as it grabs you and rips your throat out.  Ghost Rider has been shown as scary to other heroes before, there was Hawkeye a few issues ago and the entirety of the Champions, but Dr. Strange really gets the fear put into him by Blaze.  It's an amazing fight sequence between the two, and it's validation for anyone who ever took Ghost Rider as a joke in a fight before, he's beating Dr. Strange here!

Then there's the artwork by Dandy Don Perlin, who even when placed with the less than flattering inks of Jim Mooney doesn't fail to produce some fantastic visuals.  I can only assume it's Mooney who is responsible for giving Ghost Rider the silly eyeballs in the skull look again, because Perlin had already ditched that design by this point.  Perlin's choreography of the comic's action sequences are fantastic, though, especially the splash page of Strange opening the chasm beneath Ghost Rider's motorcycle.  Perlin's work helps to get across the Ghost Rider's new terrifying nature, further differentiating him from his superhero past.

This is a very strong comic in a run that often gets overlooked, given how brief McKenzie's time on the series was.  It's definitely worth checking out.

Grade: A

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ghost Rider (2019) # 1

Cover Art: Aaron Kuder
Published: December 2019
Original Price: $4.99

Title: "The King of Hell, Part 1"
Writer: Ed Brisson
Artist: Aaron Kuder
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Jason Keith

Title: "The Caretaker Chronicles"
Writer: Ed Brisson
Artist: Juan Frigeri
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Jason Keith

Editor: Chris Robinson
Senior Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor-in-Chief: C.B. Cebulski

"The King of Hell, Part 1"
In Hell, a group of demons loyal to Mephisto open a portal to Earth. They are attacked by Johnny Blaze, the King of Hell, and his demon soldiers, but some of the escaping demons make it through the portal to possess new human bodies. Leaving his lieutenant D'Kay behind to guard the portal, Blaze travels to Earth himself to hunt down the escapees.

In Brooklyn, at the Fadeaway Pub, Danny Ketch gets in a fight with two men, which is interrupted by a visit from his ex girlfriend, police detective Stacy Dolan. Danny tells her not to worry about him, and after she leaves he goes out back and transforms into the Ghost Rider. He finds not only a giant rampaging demon but also his brother, Johnny Blaze. Danny kills the demon by riding down its throat and turning it inside out. Meanwhile, back in Hell, D'Kay is killed by Lilith.

At the Fadeaway, Johnny asks Danny to help him round up the escaped demons. Dannyvrefuses, saying he just wants to be left alone. Blaze notices one of the patrons leaving, then chides Danny before leaving the bar himself. While Danny goes to the cemetery to visit his mother's grave and get drunk, Blaze follows the man from the bar back to his apartment. Johnny attacks the man, revealing him to be a demon before sending him to He'll. Danny is visited by his mother's ghost, who tells her son that Johnny has been corrupted by Hell and must be stopped.

"The Caretaker Chronicles"
Sister Sara, the granddaughter of the Caretaker and inheritor of his mantle, rides through the desert, following a psychic summoning. She arrives at a cave, where she finds a library of books similar to her grandfather's.  She touches one of the books and experiences a vision of things to come involving the Ghost Riders.

Danny Ketch/Ghost Rider made his last appearance in Absolute Carnage: Symbiote of Vengeance # 1, when Johnny Blaze asked him to help Alejandra Jones.  Danny failed and Alejandra was killed by Carnage during the events of that issue.

Johnny Blaze became the King of Hell in Damnation: Johnny Blaze - Ghost Rider # 1 and has been making sporadic appearances in that role over the last year.  He last appeared in Avengers (2018) # 25.

Stacy Dolan, Danny's ex-girlfriend, first appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) # 1 and was a regular supporting character throughout that series.  She last appeared in Marvel Comics Presents (2007) # 12.  Danny's mother, Audra Ketch, also first appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) # 1 and she made her last appearance in Ghost Rider (1990) # 90.  She apparently died not long before this issue.

Blaze's lieutenant in Hell, D'Kay, first appeared in Marvel Comics Presents (1988) # 116.  He last appeared in Iron Fist (2017) # 80.  He is killed in this issue by Lilith, who first appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) # 28 and appeared last in Witches (2004) # 4.

Sister Sara first appeared in Ghost Rider (2006) # 26 and became the new Caretaker in Ghost Rider (2006) # 27 when she touched her grandfather's books about the history of the Spirits of Vengeance.  She last appeared in Ghost Riders: Heaven's On Fire (2009) # 6.

This issue also has a "Legacy Numbering" that factors in all previous issues of Ghost Rider through various reboots over the years, with this issue clocking in at # 237.

Podcast Review: Inner Demons Episode 45 - "Continuity Hug" (Click to Listen)

Danny Ketch rides back into his first ongoing series since the 1990s and it is a glorious sight to behold.

To say that this comic was eagerly anticipated by Ghost Rider fans is a bit of an understatement, and it's a rare case of Marvel hedging their bets and actually providing some excitement and buildup for Danny Ketch's return.  With all of the focus on Johnny Blaze over the last 20 years it seemed like Marvel had forgotten that Danny Ketch's 1990s series was the most successful that the Ghost Rider character has EVER been.  Now, I'm sure no one expects this series to sell like its predecessor, which was one of the most popular comics of its time, so allowing the creators to slowly build interest in the series over the last year was very smart.  With the Avengers series doing a concurrent Ghost Rider story and the previous appearances of Ketch throughout the Marvel Universe (Absolute Carnage, Punisher, etc...), it looks like Marvel is really serious about making this book a success.  It's a huge sea change from when Marvel cancelled the last Ghost Rider series after five issues, with its sixth already solicited and never published.  Marvel is confident about Ghost Rider, and specifically Danny Ketch, as a character again.

They also couldn't have picked a better writer to handle this series than Ed Brisson (other than Howard Mackie coming back, of course), who has guided Danny through his appearances this year and made him a compelling lead character.  Brisson's first issue of this series is brimming with nods to past Ghost Rider continuity, just as his previous stories were, and it's like a nod toward everyone else who grew up with the 1990s Ghost Rider.  He's also writing a Danny Ketch that's spot-on, updating him from his 90s personality by incorporating the slightly dodgy stuff that Jason Aaron and Simon Spurrier did with him in 2008.  Nothing has been disregarded, Brisson's Ketch is a fascinating integration of those two interpretations of the character.  He's put upon and downbeat, and in comparison to his more successful (I say in quotes) brother he's not really much of a Ghost Rider at all.

Which is where this newest look at Johnny Blaze comes into play as the King of Hell.  We've seen Johnny in this role over the last year, specifically in the "Challenge of the Ghost Riders" arc in Avengers that was eagerly painting him as a villain.  It's a natural consequence to ruling Hell, I'd assume, that he'd go just a little corrupt.  At least here he seems to have pure motives until the end, but his bullying toward Danny is pretty par for the course considering their tumultuous history as brothers.  In fact, it's an interest inversion of their last major encounter, when Danny was the one that had been corrupted and overpowered by Zadkiel.  So having Johnny be the one in power and looking down on Danny is a great role reversal that I'm sure Brisson will likely flag up in coming issues.

The artwork for this comic, oh sweet jesus the artwork, is by Aaron Kuder.  I'm familiar with Kuder's work in passing for his Guardians of the Galaxy and Action Comics run, but not because I read those titles, just from cover art alone.  I wasn't prepared for how much I enjoyed his art here, it is absolutely on point for every panel of every page.  His work reminds me a lot of a toned down Frank Quitely, with his lanky and haggard figures and texture of the environments.  His panel compositions and action staging is impeccable, especially the pages with Ghost Rider fighting the giant demon.

Overall, I could not be more satisfied with this comic. It absolutely lived up to my expectations and I cannot wait to see what happens next. Highest possible recommendation.

Grade: A+