Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears (2007) # 5

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

Title: "Trail of Tears", Part 5
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Clayton Crain
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Clayton Crain
Editors: Warren Simons & Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada

During a massive snowfall, Travis Parham arrives at the small town of Pike's Reach, where he finds all but one of the townspeople slaughtered.  The survivor tells Parham that five riders came out of a red mist and nothing could kill them.  Parham puts the survivor out of his misery and starts the two day ride to the next settlement, unaware that he's being watched by the demonic riders from a nearby hill.
When Parham reaches the town of Snyder he finds that the sheriff refuses to believe what he's seen in Pike's Reach, dismissing him as a crazy drunk.  Parham goes to the local bar and pays for the company of a prostitute named Jenny Sunderland.  After they have sex, Travis wonders aloud if his friend Caleb sold his soul to the Devil for vengeance, and wonders if revenge is so attractive it has a god of its own.  Jenny asks Travis to take her with him to California, both of them unaware that the red mist has descended upon the town.  The dark riders, revealed as George Reagan and his recently deceased men, attack the townspeople, while Nightshade goes to round up Parham.  He finds Parham and Jenny in their room, and Travis finds that Nightshade is indeed immune to his bullets.  Nightshade rips off Parham's arm at the shoulder and drags him and Jenny outside to face Reagan. 

Outside, Reagan explains to Travis that when they died they arrived in Hell, but due to what he learned from the Indian witch Reagan knew what to tell the creatures there.  Hell has a hatred for the Ghost Rider and all they had to do to be set free was to agree to deliver the Rider to the demons.  Their plan is to use Travis himself as bait for the Rider, who as expected arrives at the town border.  When Reagan threatens to kill the rounded up townspeople, starting with Parham, the Ghost Rider screams "do I look like the spirit of mercy to you" as he rips off his hood, revealing his flaming skull.  He says that if the people die they will be avenged, but if any do die "so be it".
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. 
Despite Reagan's statement that the Spirit of Vengeance "is no agent of Heaven above", the power of the Ghost Rider does in fact come from Heaven, as revealed in Ghost Rider (2006) # 18 and Ghost Rider (2006) # 33.  The Spirit's angelic origin was kept hidden by the angel Zadkiel, who fed misinformation about the Ghost Riders throughout history, which explains how not even the denizens of Hell (excluding Lucifer) knew the truth.
The Ghost Rider takes a back seat while Reagan and his gang show off their new demonic power in the penultimate chapter of "Trail of Tears".

Usually, when an issue of Ghost Rider doesn't feature Ghost Rider himself, I look down on it with a frown and sad heart.  That's not a problem here, though, mainly because throughout this series the Ghost Rider hasn't really been the protagonist.  Travis Parham is the lens through which the readers are viewing all of these events, while the Ghost Rider is just sort of this scary shadow that comes in to darken things up before vanishing again.  So allowing Travis to have the spotlight as someone trying to make sense of a world he can't understand is a welcome turn, because honestly this is Travis' story.  Ennis, who is always a writer who layers deeper meanings into his stories when he's not going for gross-out comedy, uses Travis' unique point-of-view to flag up some interesting notions regarding the Spirit of Vengeance.  Travis is obviously more intellectual than most, just look at his formal speech patterns in comparison to everyone around him, and even he has trouble coming to terms with the things he's seen.  His musings on vengeance and how it must come from Hell, despite being something which receives God's blessing is a great exploration of "the right thing done the wrong way", for lack of a better phrase. 

The real show-stopper for this issue, however, continues to be the artwork by Clayton Crain, who makes this one of the scariest Ghost Rider comics I think I've ever seen.  This is due to his fantastically grotesque depiction of Reagan and his gang, who have taken on the characteristics of their mortal deaths (such as Holly and his Boy becoming two men in one after being smashed together by the Ghost Rider's chains).  Not sure why Sargent Billy can now shoot hot oil or whatever that's supposed to be out of his mouth, but it's an amazingly disgusting visual.  Likewise, Crain's choice of color and shading remains impeccable, going from the frozen town of Pike's Reach to the warm colors of the bar in Snyder, not to mention the striking contrast of the red mist descending upon the town.  This continues to just be a beautifully illustrated series, and the muddiness in Crain's art that cropped up in issue # 2 has smoothed out nicely.

This was a great set-up for the final confrontation next issue, which promises to be something truly special. 
Grade: A+