Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What If...? (1977) # 17

Cover Artist: Gene Colan
Published: Oct. 1979
Original Price: $.60
Title: "What If... Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman, and Captain Marvel Had Remained Villains?"
Writer: Steven Grant
Artist: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank Springer
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Roger Slifer
Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor-In-Chief: Jim Shooter
In the New Mexico desert, the Ghost Rider is confronted by Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, who has come to end the demon's destructive and murderous rampage. Hellstrom asks the Ghost Rider about the soul of Johnny Blaze, which prompts the demon to think back to how things began for him.
Johnny Blaze and Roxanne Simpson learn that Crash Simpson are dying of cancer, which prompts Johnny to turn to Satan - in exchange for his soul, Crash will be spared from the cancer. The next night, Crash successfully leaps his bike over 22 cars. Later, Johnny is visited again by Satan, who transforms him into the Ghost Rider for the first time. Crash enters the dressing room and finds Blaze, who kills his foster father with hellfire. Roxanne arrives and cradles her father's body while Blaze runs away.
Months later, Roxanne has tracked Blaze to New Mexico, following the Ghost Rider's murder spree. The demon is headed toward a nearby prison with the police unable to stop him. Two escaping convicts are murdered by the Ghost Rider, who is then confronted by the revenge-seeking Roxanne. Ghost Rider blasts the girl's bike with hellfire, causing it to explode and kill her.
Hellstrom sees the tear coming from the Ghost Rider's eye and remarks that part of Johnny Blaze must still exist. The demon denies this and attempts to flee on his motorcycle, but is stopped when Hellstrom uses his trident to draw the hellfire out of the Rider's body. Hellstrom leaves the Ghost Rider in the desert, unable to speak or move ever again while the sand swallows every last trace of him.
This story deviates from events in Marvel Spotlight on Ghost Rider # 5.
In normal continuity, Ghost Rider met the Son of Satan in Marvel Spotlight on the Son of Satan # 12.
Ghost Rider shouldn't have his skull cycle, as he didn't gain it until Ghost Rider (1973) # 11.
This issue also had stories featuring Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel becoming villains as well.
The original What If...? series turns its spotlight on Ghost Rider for the first time, and to no one's surprise things don't turn out so well for the characters.
You may be thinking to yourself that making Ghost Rider a villain isn't much of a stretch, considering the back story of the original Johnny Blaze incarnation of the character and his possession by the demon Zarathos. But in 1979, Ghost Rider was still considered a superhero, though that was slowly changing in his ongoing title. This story shows just how easily things could have gone even worse for Blaze at the start of his curse, though. All it took was the Devil changing his mind, giving Johnny the old "be careful what you wish for" cliche.
While the story unfolds pretty much as you'd expect, Grant does add in some nice touches. Using Daimon Hellstrom as the protagonist was inspired, and I'm really surprised that more writers didn't take advantage of the natural connection between Hellstrom and Ghost Rider. The rest of the story is fairly paint-by-numbers, with Crash dying by Johnny's hand and Roxanne hunting him down for revenge. The one part I really enjoyed was the ending, in its typical down beat What If...? style.
Something I'm not a fan of, though, is Carmine Infantino's artwork. I've always found him to be more of a DC house style artist instead of Marvel, and while you'd think his rough style would fit Ghost Rider it really doesn't. His characters badly overact in their panels, and he mistakenly draws the wrong motorcycle for Ghost Rider.
There wasn't much of anything special about this What If...? story, but Ghost Rider will get more chances in the format that are far more successful.
Grade: C