Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ghost Rider (2011) # 0.1

Cover Artist: Arturo Lozzi
Published: Aug. 2011
Original Price: $2.99

Title: "Give Up the Ghost", Part 1
Writer: Rob Williams
Artist: Matthew Clark
Inker: Sean Parsons
Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles
Colorist: Robert Schwager
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Editor In Chief: Axel Alonso

While drowning his sorrows at a Mexican bar, Johnny Blaze tells the story of how he defeated a fire demon and its vampire mistress while explaining to no one in particular just how he became cursed as the Ghost Rider. A man enters who introduces himself as Adam, and he offers Blaze the opportunity to be free from his curse. Johnny declines Adam's offer, guessing that there will be a catch. He and Adam walk outside, where people are rioting due to what they believe is the end of the world. Blaze sees a man attacking a woman, and when he intervenes the man savagely beats him into unconsciousness.

Johnny wakes up in the house of the woman he rescued, who says that her attacker is her ex-husband. Blaze meets the woman's young son, and the two offer him food as thanks. Johnny believes that the woman wants something from him, and when she denies it he transforms into the Ghost Rider and leaves. He rides thousands of miles into the desert, and when he eventually stops he calls out to Adam, saying he's ready to accept his offer. Adam appears and teleports them both to Los Angeles, where he tells Johnny there is in fact a price to pay for the offer. Someone that Blaze has never met will become the next Ghost Rider, the curse passing from him to a stranger. When Johnny asks what Adam gets out of this deal, he says that he wants to save humanity before the world tears itself apart through fear and sin. Blaze swallows a tree root given to him by Adam, and is instructed to drive so fast that he rips the Rider from his bones. Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider and starts driving through Los Angeles, finally opening a portal through Hell where demons tear away the Spirit of Vengeance from his soul. Blaze reappears on Earth in the desert, finally free from the Ghost Rider. Adam's war on sin is ready to begin...

Ghost Rider last appeared in Amazing Spider-Man/Ghost Rider: Motorstorm # 1. This issue marks Johnny Blaze's last story as the host for the Spirit of Vengeance until Ghost Rider (2011) # 9.

This issue takes place during the events of Fear Itself (2011) # 2.

Adam's identity as the first sinner from the Garden of Eden is revealed in Ghost Rider (2011) # 3.

The recap page features artwork by Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira from Ghost Rider (2006) # 11.

The final page contains previews of upcoming issues with the caption: "Hell. On Wheels. This Year in Ghost Rider." The events shown will occur in Ghost Rider (2011) # 3, Ghost Rider (2011) # 4, and Venom (2011) # 13.

This issue was reprinted in the Fear Itself: Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: The Complete Series by Rob Williams trade paperbacks

Rob Williams begins his extraordinarily brief run as the writer on Ghost Rider with a prelude issue that features Johnny Blaze's last ride as the Ghost Rider (or, well, for less than a year, anyway).

This was a series that had a lot stacked against from the word "go". It was by a relatively unknown creative team, it was coming on the heels of the critically acclaimed run by Jason Aaron, and it was promising a Ghost Rider that wasn't Johnny Blaze. I'll be talking more about Alejandra when I review the next issue, but I'll go ahead and say now that I am in no way against a new character being introduced to be the Ghost Rider. It worked extremely well for Danny Ketch in the early 1990s, and I honestly believed that we would never see a Rider that wasn't Blaze in the lead of a series ever again. So the idea had promise, and I had high hopes for Williams as the new ongoing writer. His last two stories (the "Shadowland" and "Motorstorm" one-shots) were perfectly decent; nothing spectacular, but absolutely acceptable for a writer just finding his feet with the character. All in all, I was hesitantly optimistic about this series being a success.

However, it was apparent with this prelude issue that Williams had one big flaw: he didn't write a convincing Johnny Blaze. The first problem is the dialogue, which I flagged up in reviews of Williams' previous work on Ghost Rider. It really hits a low point here, and while I get where he's coming from - Johnny is a cowboy and has an informal speech pattern - he just goes way too over the top with it. For example, on the first page during Johnny's narration, he says "I didn't get given no powers." Johnny may not be a recipient of a higher education, but come on, the guy does at least know proper grammar! All the uses of words like "sumbitch", "cuss", and "y'all" in this issue could possibly be forgiven as Blaze talking like an idiot because he spends a lot of his time drunk. Okay, fair enough. But things get worse as the series progresses, to the point where Johnny could stand in for Yosemite Sam. It gets that cartoonish, and it pains me every time I read it. Jason Aaron's use of a similar speech pattern worked because he kept it realistic, and all I can wonder while reading this issue is "does this how the English Rob Williams thinks people from the southwestern United States actually talk?"

Okay, problem number two: Johnny Blaze may make stupid decisions, that's what Daniel Way's entire run was based around. But the Johnny Blaze that's existed since 1972 would never, ever willingly damn another person to shoulder his curse. Blaze made a stupid decision out of love and found himself cursed, and while he's always wanted to be free from Zarathos (Devin Grayson's "Hammer Lane" be damned!) he's not a man that would shirk the consequences of his actions. Blaze may be desperate, I get that, but agreeing to damn the soul of a potentially innocent person to the hellish life he's lived? No, no way. Johnny may be an idiot at times, but he's also a hero - an unconventional one, sure, but not one to value his own freedom over that of another innocent person. Not to mention that Adam is so ominously evil from the onset, it makes Johnny into a man that's giving up an immense power that he knows can easily be used for evil based on the word of a sinister due he's just met. It just doesn't work, it immediately gave me some grave misgivings on where this series was going.

Matthew Clark isn't an artist I'm very familiar with outside of a few random images I've seen from his recent Doom Patrol run. I like his art style, and I particularly like how he draws Johnny and the Ghost Rider. In particular, I love how he has the Ghost Rider wearing whatever outfit Johnny happen to has on, which is a great call-back to how the transformation worked in the 1970s. Clark has a bit of a problem with over-reference, though; nothing takes me out of a comic more than seeing Danny Trejo and Stone Cold Steve Austin suddenly making appearances. So far, though, Clark gets a thumbs-up from me, the guy draws a great Ghost Rider.

So, there's some obvious problems with this comic - and, in turn, the premise of the entire series - that I'm having trouble with. Sadly, I can't really say that things get better from here...

Grade: C