Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ghost Rider (2006) # 18

Cover Artist: Tony Moore
Published: Feb. 2008
Original Price: $2.99

Title: "Revelations", Part 5
Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Javier Saltares
Inker: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Dan Brown
Editor: Aubrey Sitterson
Executive Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada

"Jack Daniels", one of the two remaining Lucifer hosts, calls the phone of a third host to inform him that he has received the explosives he plans to use in the football stadium, unaware that the third host is dead.  The Ghost Rider has answered the phone, stating that he would see Daniels "soon".  The two angels, Vraniel and the extremely weakened Emmael, beg to join the Ghost Rider in his fight against Lucifer, to which the Rider begrudgingly agrees.

Daniels plans to blow up the bus full of explosives beneath the building to kill as many people as he can, but a fire alarm sounds and all of the people evacuate.  Ghost Rider approaches from behind and whips Daniels with his chain, then informs him that he is one of only two hosts left.  Daniels threatens to blow them both up with the explosives, but Ghost Rider explains that he can't, because it would be a suicidal act that would send him straight back to Hell.  The angels approach, despite being told by the Rider to stay back.  Lucifer jokes that the Ghost Rider has so much in common with the angels, which enrages Emmael.  Wanting answers, Ghost Rider chains the angels and Lucifer together, then uses his Penance Stare on Emmael, reducing the angel to a charred skeleton.  Ghost Rider has just learned the truth, that he is in fact an angel.  Lucifer explains that Roxanne Simpson prayed for Johnny's soul, but her prayers were answered not by God but by the angel Zadkiel, who in conjunction with Lucifer cursed Blaze to become the Ghost Rider.  While Johnny's soul belongs to Lucifer, Zadkiel interfered by bonding him with the Spirit of Vengeance, an entity of Heaven, which he can't take to Hell to keep.  Lucifer knew that the Ghost Rider would eventually escape Hell and used him to hitch a ride to Earth.  Vraniel begs the Ghost Rider for forgiveness and kills himself with his own sword, while Lucifer transforms in his demonic form and breaks free from the chains.  Lucifer explains that Zadkiel and his minions control the Spirit of Vengeance "off the books" as part of Heaven's "black ops squad", and that they never gave Blaze a choice.  Lucifer offers up a partnership with the Ghost Rider to conquer Heaven and get revenge, to which the Rider replies "I have to make a phone call".  He calls Dixie and tells her to "do it" in one hour.  The Rider then triggers the explosives in the bus, destroying the basement level of the building.
The Ghost Rider escaped from Hell, unknowingly bringing Lucifer to Earth with him, in Ghost Rider (2006) # 1. Lucifer's plan to invade Earth by inhabiting the bodies of the recently deceased was revealed in Ghost Rider (2006) # 4.

Zadkiel will make his first on-screen appearance in Ghost Rider (2006) # 27.

The history of the Spirits of Vengeance as part of Heaven's army will be revealed in Ghost Rider (2006) # 33.

This is not the first time that the Ghost Rider has been connected to angels and Heaven, as it was revealed in Ghost Rider (1990) # 92 that the Noble Kale incarnation of the Spirit of Vengeance was actually the "angel of death".  That pronouncement was, of course, highly suspect due to it coming from the angel Uriel, who was likely just as in the dark about Zadkiel and the true origins of the Ghost Riders as everyone else outside of God himself.
"The most important issue of Ghost Rider since Marvel Spotlight # 5" (as Marvel so lovingly hyped this issue before its release) is a mixed bag of nonsense that reads a lot better with the benefit of hindsight.

So, this is the big "revelation" that warranted the title of the arc, and I'm of two minds about the whole "Ghost Rider is an angel from Heaven" retcon.  It's nearly impossible to separate out my feelings about the subject without taking into account what Jason Aaron did in his run immediately following this, because he took what was admittedly a really flawed concept and spun absolute gold out of it.  There's also the fact that if you really wanted to shake up the character's status quo, the Heaven angle is a logical progression and it's a twist that not many readers saw coming.  It even has precedent of a sort, with the whole "Noble Kale is the angel of death" thing from the end of the 1990 series. 

Taken completely by itself and at face value, though, this issue is a pretty egregious example of retroactive continuity at its worst.  If there's one area that I really wish writers would just stay the hell away from, it's the Ghost Rider's origin story.  It's already a confusing tangle of false histories, retcons, and mysterious beings providing "the TRUTH!", so attempting to add or change things about it just leaves readers with a migraine headache.  This issue is one of the worst offenders, up there with the Medallion of Power from the 1990s, for taking what was so simple a concept and making it needlessly convoluted.  It's not enough that Johnny Blaze sold his soul to the Devil, reneged on the deal, and was then bound with a demon that transformed him into the Ghost Rider.  I suppose Daniel Way felt this was his way of making a lasting mark on the character, but adding stuff behind the scenes to the origin story was a lazy way to do so, especially when the reveal wasn't all that mind-blowing to begin with.  Again, the fact that Jason Aaron was able to do what he did with this set-up is proof of how great a writer he is, because this wrinkle to the Rider's history does no one any favors.

What makes matters worse is the info-dump nature of the revelation itself, which is exactly how Way revealed Lucifer's plan in issue # 4.  Instead of having the character be an active participant in discovering his own origin, he stumbles upon it by accident and is then given page after page of another character narrating to him.  This approach is so boring and it takes away any of the dramatic punch that this issue so desperately needed to sell the angel idea.  It was so boring, in fact, that when I first read this issue I couldn't even muster up the energy to be upset about what was being revealed (though I understand a lot of fans were).  It was tossed out in such a half-hearted way that all it revealed in myself was a hearty shrug of the shoulders.

As far as the art team, Saltares and Palmer certainly mesh better than they did last issue.  While the artwork is still quality stuff, the problem is that absence of Mark Texeira has sucked away all of the dark atmosphere from the series.   The book now looks like any other Marvel superhero title, which is a huge mountain that the series needed to climb over to remain as individualized as it was.  The artwork, again, is perfectly serviceable and at times really great (I loved the shot of Lucifer being whipped from behind by Ghost Rider's chain), but it all looks so standard that it's hard to muster any excitement about it.

This issue strikes me as a desperate attempt to make this arc memorable but falls in on itself with barely a thought about what's happening.
Grade: D+