Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ghost Rider (1973) # 16

Cover Artist: Bob Brown
Published: February, 1976
Original Price: $0.25

Title: "Blood in the Waters"
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: George Tuska
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Karen Mantlo
Colorist: Janice Cohen
Editor: Marv Wolfman

Johnny Blaze is cruising down to Mexico for a few days' downtime away from Los Angeles, his stuntman career, and (presumably, though never mentioned) The Champions. After one illicit payoff of a border patrol officer, he is on his way, until a shot fired from a beachside property blows out his tire. Unhurt, Johnny charges the house and decks the rifleman, a man named Frank Phillips, partly as payback and partly to save Frank's daughter, Nancy, from being hit. Blaze learns he was not Frank's target: in fact, the man was taking aim at a school of dolphins and Nancy had yanked his rifle as he fired, sending the shot wild.

As Blaze walks his damaged skull-cycle across the beach, he comes across Nancy, who had run off after stopping Johnny from beating her father to a pulp. She explains to Johnny that her father was not always the deranged, angry man he just encountered. Frank and his wife (Nancy's mother) were stationed in Baja Mexico by the US Government, and Frank was working on a project for the CIA training dolphins to carry explosives, turning them into intelligent torpedoes. One day while Frank was training a school of dolphins, Nancy - 7 at the time - fell overboard. In his panic for his daughter, Frank mistook the fins of the dolphins swimming to the girl's aid for shark fins, and fired away with his rifle. One bullet detonated the explosive pack Frank had strapped to a dolphin's back, and Nancy's mother was killed in the explosion. Unable to accept responsibility, Frank blamed the dolphins, and has been on a revenge quest ever since.

No sooner has Nancy finished her tale, and the sound of gunshots echoes down the beach. Frank is back at it, and Johnny jumps on his crippled bike (commenting that a flat tire won't affect traction on sand) taking off towards the dock where Frank's boat (his new shooting position) is moored. Jumping the skull-cycle over a dune, Johnny crashes onto the boat's deck, transforming into Ghost Rider as he lands. The impact causes the boat to tear free of the dock, and as Johnny struggles unsuccessfully to stop Frank from firing on the dolphins, a wave overtakes the vessel, sending both men overboard.

Frank is quickly surrounded by the dolphins, but much to his surprise it's not to attack, but to protect. Because since this book was written and penciled in 1975, a great white shark arrives. Ghost Rider tries blasting the big fish with Soulfire, but to no effect. The danger quickly passes, though, when the dolphins converge on the shark and beat it into retreat. Blaze surfaces and starts to bring an unconscious Frank back to shore, and a dolphin surfaces directly beneath Ghost Rider, allowing him to ride back to the beach. Following Ghost Rider's reversion to the form of Johnny Blaze (which disturbs Nancy and her father not at all) Frank recovers and repents for his murderous ways, actually asking forgiveness to the dolphins in the sea. With a synchronized leap, the sea creatures indicate that they hold no grudge. The end.

Ghost Rider appears next in The Champions (1975) #4

This is the only issue of Ghost Rider written by Bill Mantlo

This issue shares almost all its creative team (plot and color are the exceptions) with Champions (1975) #3, released the same month.

Well, this issue has a cool cover, I'll say that. Bob Brown has drawn an iconic looking GR - unfortunately, we get more of the zombie-faced rider Tuska provided in Champions inside the book. This story makes no logical sense. Frank's vendetta against the dolphins itself makes Jaws The Revenge sensible by comparison, and considering (based on Nancy's apparent age) his wife died about 15 years ago, are we to assume Frank takes up position daily for move than a decade? Dolphins being intelligent creatures, I think they would have stopped swimming to that cove after at most a couple weeks of being shot at.

I'm also bothered by the fact that, for the 2nd Ghost Rider appearance in a row, he is completely ineffectual. Even accepting that at this point the whole shtick of Ghost Rider was that (as opposed to demonic body-sharing) under certain circumstances (night, presence of evil, danger, etc) Johnny's face melts off and he can make fire, apparently that's not enough for Blaze to be able to win the day. Not only doesn't his soulfire (again, I can only assume that hellfire was a bridge too far at this point) not have ANY effect on the attacking shark, but he can't even pull off hand-to-hand against a crazy man easily 20 years older than Johnny himself.

Frankly (no pun intended), the cover is a cheat. I would have LOVED for a GR story "in the tradition of Jaws" because it would have ended with Ghost Rider blasting hellfire at a tank of compressed air and turning a bloodthirsty sea monster into chum... But as the kids say, "You get what you get and you don't get upset." It's a fill-in, it reads like a fill-in, and it affects the overall narrative in the exactly 0% way that most fill-ins do.

That said, a buddy of mine saw me reading this book as I was prepping the review and remembered owning it, and remembered enjoying the issue. So, maybe there's something there. Probably just the cover, but still.