Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ghost Rider (1973) # 17

Cover Artist: Rich Buckler
Published: April, 1976
Original Price: $0.25

Title: "Prelude to a Private Armageddon!"
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Frank Robbins
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Ray Holloway
Colorist: Janice Cohen
Editor: Marv Wolfman

SYNOPSIS
After a succinct recap panel (telling us every issue I've reviewed of GR *and* Champions took place in one weekend), Johnny Blaze says "later" to his Champions teammates and heads back to work at the Stunt Master Show.

Upon arrival, Johnny is shocked to be told that production has been halted. The studio is looking into the records-tampering that's been hinted at in earlier issues, and stuntwoman Katy Milner is still in the hospital listed as "seriously injured" - hardly the report Johnny would expect from a bullet-graze. Blaze rushes to the hospital to check on Katy, only to find that she has been possessed! After Katy wrecks her room, trounces the medical staff, her friends, and Ghost Rider himself, and threatens suicide, her doctor suggests they contact Daimon Hellstrom.

To Johnny's surprise, the Son of Satan drops everything to help - seeing it as a way to further go against his father's interests. As he contemplates his continued good fortune with friends, allies, and love interests, Johnny once again finds a way to wallow in misery - focusing on how, despite all his friends and love interests, none can compare to Roxanne Simpson. We check in briefly with Karen Page, who finds herself likewise morose about her romantic prospects, and Delazny Studios accountant Cosgrove, whose continuing investigations reveal that the person responsible for the bounty on Karen Page is more dangerous than he'd thought.

Hellstrom arrives at the hospital, and within moments he and Johnny have rushed to confront Katy, whose possession - while pronounced enough that she's affecting the very environment around her - is dismissed by the Son of Satan as being overly flamboyant in its presentation, but otherwise typical. He commands the possessing spirit to identify itself, and Katy declares, "Call me Legion --- for we are many!" With that, the demons afflicting Katy emerge to attack Ghost Rider and the Son of Statan, but are defeated quickly through the heroes' combined powers of Hellfire and Soulfire.

But the victory is short-lived. Ghost Rider and Hellstrom find an invisible shield around Katy's unconscious body, and a costumed giant calling himself The Challenger appears and claims responsibility. The Challenger tasks Johnny with riding the deadliest race ever devised, the prize to be Katy's life - and Johnny's. Ghost Rider's Skull-Cycle appears and Blaze climbs on without hesitation and rides off, leaving Daimon Hellstrom to contemplate the mortal man's bravery.

ANNOTATIONS
Ghost Rider appears next in Ghost Rider (1973) #18

In her reverie, Karen Page thinks of Matt Murdock, the secret identity of Daredevil.

At this point in continuity, Daimon Hellstrom's father is the same demon who cursed Johnny Blaze (Satan).

The line "Call me Legion --- for we are many!" is taken from the New Testament of the Bible - Gospel of Mark, Chapter 5, Verse 9. It is also referenced in the climax of the 2007 Ghost Rider movie, delivered by Wes Bentley's Blackheart. Interestingly, whereas Katy says this and releases the demons within, allowing them to be defeated by Hellfire & Soulfire, in the film it's the fact that this line signals that Blackheart has taken the souls of San Venganza INTO himself - which allows HIM to be defeated by the Penance Stare.

Traditionally, Ghost Rider wielded Hellfire and Daimon Hellstrom used Soulfire. However, Ghost Rider (1973) #16 referenced GR using Soulfire against the shark, making it a bit of conjecture which of the heroes is using which flame.

REVIEW
Finally, I get to review an issue that feels like a Ghost Rider book! I'm still not crazy about the look of the title character, but even though a skull wouldn't have cheeks, at least we're not at the full Tuska zombie GR look (The fact that Colletta inked this issue too makes me comfortable laying that rendition at Tuska's feet). Isabella hits the ground running here and fires on all cylinders. Johnny reads like Johnny - high strung, depressed, out of his depth, but charging ever-forward. Hellstrom strikes a great balance of being over the top but being self-aware enough to make it work, and the fact that he's so underwhelmed by the possession itself is a great touch.

I find it really interesting that, according to Hellstrom, Ghost Rider is less powerful than members of the Fantastic Four, but then I remind myself that at this point, Ghost Rider's nature was not yet established as possession by an elder demon. GR was just Johnny Blaze with some (apparently minor) flame powers and a vaguely frightening look. That said, perhaps unintentionally, Daimon's confusion at how Johnny has retained his power now free of Satan's influence - and Blaze's vague avoidance of explanation - hint that Isabella may have been thinking of evolving that situation.

But as it stands, from a story standpoint everything works in this issue. Isabella does a great job of name-checking Blaze's other, more superheroic circumstances while allowing this solo book to get back to the supernatural thriller vibe where the character thrives. It feels appropriate that bringing the Son of Satan into the story gets Ghost Rider back to his roots, and as we finally have a story resolved through Ghost Rider's direct action, I'm hoping that we're beginning a solid run of the title.

GRADE: B-