Monday, March 7, 2016

Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears (2007) # 3

Cover Artist: Clayton Crain
Published: April 2007
Original Price: $2.99

Title: "Trail of Tears", Part 3
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Clayton Crain
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Clayton Crain
Editors: Warren Simons & Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada

George Reagan and his crew of outlaws (Nightshade, Banjo, Holly, Boy, and Sergeant Billy) have paused in their flight from US Marshals to massacre a tribe of Native American women and children. One of the dead women comes back to life, naming each of the men in turn to deliver a message: "I's comin' soon. For the lives you took, for the evil you done." The outlaws shoot the woman until she is once again dead. Elsewhere, Travis Parham has stopped in a town in search of Reagan, and after getting information he purchases a buffalo rifle.
That night, Reagan and his band have stopped to make camp, their nerves on edge by the message delivered to them by the dead woman. When Sergeant Billy goes to check on their horses, the other men hear him screaming. He has been taken by a rider in a black cloak, who tramples through their camp as he drags Billy behind him in chains. Nightshade fires a bullet, which passes through the rider's head with no effect; in return, the rider shoots bolts of fire from his eyes that set aflame the tree that their horses are tied to. While the men free their horses, the Ghost Rider disappears with Billy.
That morning, Reagan leads his group to a nearby indian tribe and requests to speak with their shaman. The holy man tells Reagan that he and his men are soon to die, and using whiskey to barter with Reagan asks the shaman for assistance. Later, the five men have again made camp at sunset, when a bullet fired from a nearby ridge blows a hole through Banjo. While they attempt to find cover from the shooter, Parham, they hear Sergeant Billy screaming from across the field. Billy has had each of his four limbs tied to horses; when the Ghost Rider appears, he shoots a blast of fire into the sky, scaring the horses into running. Sergeant Billy is drawn and quartered, literally pulled apart by the horses. Realizing that they're standing in a killing ground, the other four men get on their horses and ride away while both Parham and the Ghost Rider watch.
This series is a prequel to the Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation series by Garth Ennis and Clayton Crain.
Past incarnations of the Ghost Rider throughout history, including Caleb, were shown in detail in Ghost Rider (2006) # 33.
The third chapter of "Trail of Tears" finally introduces not only the villainous Reagan and his gang of killers but also the story's version of Ghost Rider.
I decided to take some time away from reviewing the Way/Saltares/Texeira Ghost Rider run to check back in with "Trail of Tears", a series I've been meaning to finish up reviews on for years now. With the first two issues being pure set-up for the plot, chapter three finally allows Ennis and Crain to get to some righteous Ghost Rider action against the story's bad guys. One thing (of many) that this series does well is that it gives each of the villains with just enough personality to make them distinct. These are some evil sons of bitches, but none of them are like one another (save for Holly and his Boy, which is just cringe-worthy by nature). Reagan and Nightshade are the natural leaders, and it would have been easy to just label the rest of the outlaws as "canon fodder" and leave it at that. Ennis is a much better writer than that, though, and he's always been solid when it comes to giving believable motivations and personalities to his characters, both good and bad.
Likewise, I've really taken to Travis Parham as the book's true protagonist. The Ghost Rider is more of a plot device at this point instead of a genuine character, so Travis is the stand-in for the reader. This puts Reagan and his crew in a crossfire of vengeance, with both Travis and the Rider out to get them, though they're actually working at cross purposes. The Rider wants to interference, while Travis can only stare dumb-founded at what he's seeing. I enjoy reading about Parham, I love the voice that Ennis has given to him, that of an educated man returned from a life of killing to avenge his friend. Ennis always excels when it comes to western stories, and this one is by far superior to his previous Ghost Rider mini-series, "The Road to Damnation".
Clayton Crain continues to produce some impressive artwork for the series as well, and a lot of the problems I had with his work in the second issue have gone away. His work no longer looks blurry in places, and he's stopped with the absent panel borders. The book looks sharper, crisper, and way more readable. The big selling point of this issue, though, is the full reveal of the era's Ghost Rider; we never see the flaming skull, of course, but all of the elements are there. The horse, with its skin flayed away to reveal flame seeping from the breaks in muscle, is grotesquely awesome, and the Rider's look is perfectly appropriate for the story that's being told. Crain pulls off a really strange fisheye perspective shot with the panel showing Billy tied to the horses, and it doesn't quite look right; but honestly, I can't think of a more dynamic way to draw such a panel, it had to have been tricky to get right.
I admit, I'm a sucker for a well-told Garth Ennis story, and this one has so far not been a disappointment.
Grade: A