Tuesday, April 19, 2016

X-Force (2008) # 10

Cover Artist: Mike Choi
Published: Jan. 2009
Original Price: $2.99

Title: "Old Ghosts", Part 4 of 4
Writers: Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost
Artist: Mike Choi
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Sonia Oback
Editor: John Barber
Executive Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada

Seven miles outside of Camp Verde, the Ghost Rider explains to James Proudstar the history of his native people, who knew about the threat they face before they were all killed. Proudstar's birthright connects him to the spirit forces, but because he is no shaman he doesn't know how to access his power. Ghost Rider offers to show Proudstar how to touch the dead and fight spirits such as the Demon Bear. The Bear is filled with darkness so thick that Ghost Rider admits even he does not truly understand it, but they can still kill it. As he paints marks on Proudstar's face, Ghost Rider tells him that he will become the monster slayer, and that other tribes had a name for this religion - they called it the Ghost Dance.
Later, Warpath and Ghost Rider confront the Demon Bear, who is mad with rage. The two heroes attack, and Proudstar finds that he is finally able to strike the Bear, unlike during his previous fight with the monster. The Demon Bear knocks the two heroes aside, and Ghost Rider comments that the beast fights like it is insane or in great pain. As the Bear attempts to devour Proudstar with its jaws, Ghost Rider sees a skull-headed demon blade stabbed into the Bear's hide - it has been wounded and poisoned by dark magic. While Ghost Rider binds the Bear with his chain, Warpath grabs the demon blade and pulls it free. The Demon Bear transforms into its true form, the Spirit Guides, Gods of the Apache. The knife had corrupted them, driving them mad with magic. The spirit gods rush forward and show Proudstar a vision of their suffering and the face of their enemy.
Later, Proudstar reunites with his X-Force teammates at the Angel's home in Colorado. He tells them that Eli Bard is responsible for digging up and taking his tribe, including the body of his brother. James doesn't want to be a killer, but now he has no choice...
Ghost Rider appears next in Ghost Rider (2006) # 26.
This issue also included a parallel story-arc featuring X-Force attempting to recover a sample of the Legacy Virus, which began in X-Force # 7.
The Demon Bear first appeared in New Mutants # 18.
While X-Force takes care of business with the Marauders and the Legacy Virus, the co-featured story of Warpath and the Demon Bear comes to its conclusion with the help of Ghost Rider as special guest-star!
I went on at length about my love for X-Force in the review for the previous issue, and this is simply another chapter of what has quickly become one of my favorite monthly titles produced today. Seeing my favorite character, Ghost Rider, included in the fun is just icing on the cake for me, I admit. The nice thing about this story-arc is that Ghost Rider really doesn't get to make many guest-appearances in other titles these days; the days of the early 1990s when Ghost Rider was a sales juggernaut making multiple appearances all over the Marvel line of books are long gone. X-Force is already a popular, high-selling title, so its obvious to me that Kyle and Yost must have included Ghost Rider in this arc not as a sales gimmick but because they must genuinely like the character.
Ghost Rider's appearance here isn't much more than "generic mystical guide", a role that's usually reserved for the likes of Doctor Strange. While it could be easy to write this off as a token excuse to include a name guest-star, I think there's more to it than that. Despite having long had areas of its history that dealt with supernatural elements (Magik, Limbo, the Crimson Dawn, etc..), none of the characters in X-Force have had much experience with magic or demons. So bringing in a familiar character to guide Warpath in his fight with the Demon Bear is a wise decision, and I think using Ghost Rider was a fairly inspired choice. X-Force is not your typical superhero book, its much darker and grittier than the normal X-Men fare, and using the similarly dark and gritty Ghost Rider in place of the normal stand-in Doctor Strange was a much more appropriate choice for this book's tone.
Characterization-wise, though, is where Yost and Kyle stumble a bit with Ghost Rider. The Rider that appears in these pages bears little resemblance to the one currently appearing in his own series, which features Johnny Blaze in control of the Spirit of Vengeance's power. The Ghost Rider here, with his knowledge and way of speaking, brings to mind the Noble Kale/Dan Ketch incarnation of the character - and that was perhaps the writers' intentions, I can't hazard a guess as to their motives. Its certainly obvious that the Blaze controlled Ghost Rider would not have fit the "spirit guide" aspect that the character needed for this story.
As I mentioned in the previous issue's review, I have a strong suspicion that Ghost Rider was included in this arc to give artist Clayton Crain an opportunity to draw the character once again (Crain was the artist on the Ghost Rider mini-series "Road to Damnation" and "Trail of Tears" and was the artist on the first six issues of X-Force). But due to the rotating artistic chores, this arc was instead drawn by Mike Choi and Sonia Oback, who have a much clearer and cleaner style than Crain. I've loved the work Choi and Oback have done on this series, and their rendition of Ghost Rider is breathtaking. Here's hoping the duo get a chance to work on Ghost Rider again, maybe in a fill-in issue of the regular series. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing that after being wowed by their work on ol' Flamehead in these past two issues.
If you're not already reading X-Force, I hope that Ghost Rider fans would have at least picked up these two issues due to his guest-appearance. It really is a wonderful series that's transcended its frankly ridiculous "X-Men with claws!" premise. Recommended.
Grade: A