Friday, February 12, 2016

Ultimate Avengers 2 (2010) # 4

Cover Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Published: Sept. 2010
Original Price: $3.99

Title: "Crime & Punishment", Part 4
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Assistant Editor: Sana Amanat
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Editor-In-Chief: Joe Quesada

Having halted the Ghost Rider's escape with billionaire Bill Warren from Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Hawkeye sends the Punisher in to finish the job. Using his new Stark Industries suit, Castle quickly catches up to the Rider and attacks, hitting him several times before firing his weapon point blank. The attack does nothing to the Ghost Rider, who incapacitates Punisher with a chain strike that splits open his suit. However, when he sees the cross hanging from Castle's neck, the Ghost Rider throws him to the ground and delivers Castle a message from "the other side". Later, Castle returns badly injured to the rest of the team, having failed to stop the Rider from crucifying Warren on a tree. Castle tells him that while he has no idea who the Ghost Rider is, he doesn't think he's a mutant. Meanwhile, back at the airport a mysterious man with white and red hair finishes a crossword puzzle with the word "crucified".
Much later, at the New York headquarters of the Ultimates, the Triskelion, Nick Fury and Gregory Stark inform Ultimates director Carol Danvers that they will be using the base until the Ghost Rider situation has been resolved. While they're there, they plan on using the Spider (a psychic prisoner dressed in a Spider-Man costume) for information. The Spider's interrogation is being handled by the "Nerd Hulk", a clone of Bruce Banner, and Monica Chang, the newest Black Widow and Nick Fury's ex-wife. In order to gain the Spider's help, Chang tells him about her relationship with Fury and how he slept with every female friend and family she had, and how despite all of that she's still in love with him. Satisfied, the Spider tells Black Widow the story of a biker named Johnny Blaze and his fiance Roxanne Simpson. Twenty years ago, Blaze and Roxanne were murdered by a group of bikers as a sacrifice to Satan, led by a man named Bobby Blackthorne. The rich men that have been the Ghost Rider's victims were these bikers, granted power and wealth by their deal with the Devil. The Spider explains that Satan offered Blaze a deal as well, a chance for revenge, and spent twenty years turning him into the Ghost Rider. In return for Blaze's servitude, Satan resurrected Roxanne, who now lives a normal life in Illinois. Only two of the bikers remain, one of which has just slit his wrists in a bathtub moments before James Rhodes and Tyrone Case could get to him. The last, Robert Blackthorne, is now the Vice-President of the United States, the man who gave the Presidential kill order for the Ghost Rider to the Avengers.

Though the cover says "Ultimate Avengers 2 # 4", the indicia labels it as "Ultimate Avengers # 10".

The Punisher's message from the Ghost Rider is revealed at the end of Ultimate Avengers 2 # 6.

Ultimate Ghost Rider gets an origin story in an issue that's one big info-dump with some breathtaking artwork.

The two big additions to Mark Millar's Ultimate Avengers series for this arc have been the Punisher and Ghost Rider, and while one gets handled appallingly bad the other comes out with a rather intriguing origin. Frank Castle is here for the obvious parallels between his origin and the Ghost Rider's, the loss of their loved ones driving them to extreme acts in the name of revenge (punishment? vengeance? pick one, I suppose). However, in order to force the Punisher to fit into this series, Millar has taken away everything interesting about the character. Frank Castle as a Captain America stand-in, complete with super-soldier suits and big sci-fi guns (not to mention that stupid costume design with the mask and glasses), just doesn't work. It makes the character look ridiculous, visually and as a character, and it really is a case of pounding a square peg into a round hole.

Ghost Rider, thankfully, gets much better treatment, not so much changed as streamlined down to a core idea: selling your soul for revenge, no matter what the cost to yourself. I like the idea that Satan set everything up, manipulating each event to get what he wanted even though it took twenty years to come to fruition. Blaze sold his soul to get revenge on Blackthorne and his gang, when it was Satan who orchestrated it all. Not too shabby on the plotting, Mr. Millar. Unfortunately, the very cool origin sequence is handled in such an oblivious manner, spelled out to not only the readers but the characters by a deus ex machina. I don't remember what the deal was with the Spider (I think he wound up being just some Korean guy with psychic powers?), or why he felt the need to dress like a zombie Spider-Man, but having him spell things out for the Avengers looked like a writer in desperate need of exposition but no organic way to make it happen. How would even a psychic know about events that transpired in Hell? Whose mind did he read to make these connections? It bothers me, it's weak and uninspired writing. Thankfully, the treatment of Ghost Rider and Johnny Blaze is very strong, otherwise this issue would be a waste of pages.

The huge saving grace for this series is the art team of Leinil Yu, Gary Alanguilan, and Dave McCaig. Yes, my usual problems with Yu's artwork are still there, specifically the stiff characters and poorly laid-out action sequences. When Yu gets to just draw the Ghost Rider, however, something truly awesome takes place. I LOVE this rendition of the Rider, from the way the flames are shaped to the way his bike looks, to the colors used on him. He looks incredible, and I can happily suffer through the shaky storytelling to get images like pages 18 and 19.

This is a strange series to review, because there's as many positive elements as there are negative. The artwork truly is the selling point, though, and I recommend it for that alone.

Grade: B+