Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ghost Rider (2011) # 4

Cover Artist: Adam Kubert
Published: Dec. 2011
Original Price: $2.99

Title: "Give Up the Ghost", Part 5
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

Alejandra, the newest Ghost Rider, is aboard a NASA space-station with her mentor, Adam, and a pair of lobotomized astronauts.  Adam explains that the satellite is actually a giant telescope used to take photographs of distant stars, and now they will use the giant lens to turn the Ghost Rider's power on the Earth to wipe it free of sin.  While Adam speaks, Alejandra hears the whispers in her head from the demon Zarathos, barely able to keep in control of her newfound power.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Johnny Blaze returns to the devil Mephisto and demands a "space bike" to reach the satellite before Adam can end the world.  Mephisto claims that his power comes from making deals with people and asks Blaze what he would trade for the bike, making a soul contract appear before the man.  Blaze sells his soul to the Devil once again and launches into space on a futuristic motorcycle with the zombie-like Seeker accompanying him.  When the Seeker tells Blaze that he's there to ensure Alejandra becomes Heaven's Spirit of Vengeance, Johnny jettisons him into space to keep him from trying to claim the Ghost Rider for himself.  Using missiles fired from the bike, Blaze blows his way into the space-station, forcing Adam to accelerate his plan.  Adam activates the Ghost Rider's power in front of the telescope while Blaze makes his way through the satellite, losing his hellfire shotgun along the way.  Johnny puts the two zombie-like astronauts into an escape hatch, then finds Alejandra in front of the telescope.  Alejandra is unable to control her power, but Johnny talks her down by saying the power is hers to do with as she chooses.  Johnny is then shot in the chest by Adam, who is wielding the hellfire shotgun.  Adam admits that he is the one who created original sin, cursed by God for his curiosity, and he has been waiting for this moment ever since.  However, when Alejandra realizes what Adam has admitted, the Ghost Rider turns on him and fries him with hellfire, blowing up the station in the process.  Alejandra rides down to Earth atop the space-bike, which carries the dying Blaze.

Johnny wakes up in Nicaragua, in the village that Alejandra erased of sin.  Alejandra tells Johnny that she was able to save his life by removing the hellfire shot into him by Adam, and that now she is dedicating herself to finding a way to reverse what she did to the village.  Johnny offers to help train her in use of her power, but Alejandra refuses, knocking him down.  She rides away, saying "The Ghost Rider found me.  Now I'm going to put things right".

This issue is a tie-in to the "Fear Itself" crossover and takes place during the events of Fear Itself # 3.

This issue reveals that the Spirit of Vengeance inside Alejandra is Zarathos, which means that Zarathos has been the Ghost Rider possessing Johnny Blaze since Ghost Rider (2001) # 1.  Prior to that, Zarathos had last been seen in Ghost Riders: Crossroads # 1.

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

The first arc of the Williams/Clark series comes to a close with one of the most ridiculous climaxes I've ever read in a Ghost Rider comic.

This issue was where I "gave up the ghost" on this series.  I was extremely skeptical already, given my previously mentioned problems with the series so far.  Things like inconsistent artwork, terrible dialogue, and a grave misunderstanding of Johnny Blaze's character had subtracted away any interest or excitement I had going into the series (and I was very excited going into the 0.1 issue).  The plot for the first arc muddied the water surrounding the Ghost Rider's origin that Jason Aaron had worked so carefully to piece together just a year or two before, adding nonsense like the Seeker to what was already a massively-convoluted backstory.  I just don't get the point of this series, other than to make the Ghost Rider into a new character, though even that was flawed since the issues so far had focused so much on Blaze instead of the aforementioned new character.

Which brings us to Alejandra, who finally gets some characterization in this issue via an inner monologue.  The captions aren't just welcome, at this point they're an absolute necessity.  Why should I care about a character who has had all of the personality of a cinder block for three issues?  Make her a scared little girl who is suddenly fighting a war not just against the people trying to use her (re: everybody around her) but against the voice in her head whispering vengeful things. This was the first time I even registered Alejandra as a character instead of a plot device, which is a shame given that she's the supposed lead character.  I will admit a huge thrill, though, when Williams finally came out and revealed the Spirit of Vengeance to be Zarathos, confirming something readers had been wondering about since 2001.  Thumbs up, Rob Williams!

Thumbs down, however, for every-single-thing else in this issue.  From Johnny Blaze's still-atrocious dialogue to the appallingly irritating Seeker to Mephisto's ridiculous plot maneuvering to the fact that it hinges on the idea of a goddamn "space bike", this plot suffers from a huge problem.  Williams seems to be trying to take the same approach as Jason Aaron by diffusing the horror elements with over-the-top ridiculousness, but Williams is just trying way too hard.  With Aaron, the "what the hell?" elements fit in seamlessly, but here it's just big dumb idea after big dumb idea.  I was leery at the end of last issue and the shuttle mission, but when I got to the "space bike" page I nearly threw the comic across the room.

The artwork by returning "regular artist" Matthew Clark is a big disappointment as well, which is a shame given how much I enjoyed his work in the first two issues.  It doesn't appear that his time away last issue gave him much to work with, because things looked rushed.  Johnny Blaze has shrunk down to an anorexic (look at his legs on the page when he demands his, sigh, "space bike") while the Ghost Rider's skull head has doubled in size.  There is no way that skull on Alejandra's shoulders is proportionate to the rest of the body.  I showed the climax page of Alejandra escaping the exploding space station to my wife and asked if she thought the skull was too big, to which she replied "yeah, maybe it's because of the boobs?"  I don't think I could come up with a better explanation, either.

This was a story that started off on unsteady legs and quickly threw itself down a fucking mountain.  Thankfully, this series does get better over the next two issues, though it also goes right back to terrible immediately after. 

Grade: F