Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ghost Rider (2005) # 4

Cover Artist: Clayton Crain
Published: Feb. 2006
Original Price: $2.99

Title: "The Road to Damnation", Part 4
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Clayton Crain
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Clayton Crain
Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada

Ghost Rider and Hoss dig themselves free from the wreckage of the bus that had been thrown on them by the angel Ruth.  While Hoss calls for his minion Buttview to bring around his car, Blaze realizes that his motorcycle is gone.  It has, in fact, been stolen by Ruth, who is using it to reach Earl Gustav's oil refinery.  At the refinery, Gustav and Kazaan, who is using the dismembered bodies of Gustav's employees as a monstrous body of his own, have started up their mystical drill to bore into Hell itself, operated by Gustav's secretary Ms. Catmint.

Hoss offers to make a deal with Blaze, wanting to team-up to stop Kazaan before Ruth can reach him.  Blaze reluctantly accepts, warning Hoss not to betray him.  Meanwhile, on a train, Father Adam is on his way to find the Ghost Rider in Dallas, reminiscing about the deal he made with Hell that has forced him into their service.  On the way to Gustav's factory, Hoss explains to Blaze that Kazaan has no body of his own, so no one really knows what he looks like, just that he's been able to offer Hell insight into Heaven's plans, allowing them to counter with plans of their own.

Ruth arrives at Gustav Petroleum and arms herself with machine guns, taking on the refinery's entire security force.  Inside, the drill hits magma from the Earth's core, which activates the mystical sigils inscribed on it, allowing to pierce the dimensional wall and bore straight into Hell.  This opens a gateway, allowing a horde of demons to burst out of the refinery just as Hoss and Ghost Rider arrive, noting that they're too late.

This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation trade paperback.

Podcast Review: Inner Demons Episode 12 - "Ghost Passenger" (Click to Listen)

"Road to Damnation" stalls out as it hits the mid-point of the story, making the title character take a back-seat to the plot.

For a comic titled "Ghost Rider", that character doesn't really have very much to do in this series.  After being almost totally absent from the first issue, this fourth chapter pushes him to the side to allow all of the other characters space to dominate.  Ruth, Kazaan, and Hoss all get more to do than poor Johnny Blaze, who is left as the questioning straight-man to Hoss's info-dump about Hell and Kazaan.  Unfortunately, all of the dialogue given to Hoss about Hell and Kazaan is unnecessary other than to perhaps give Hell's perspective on what Kazaan has been doing.  We've known since issue # 1 that Kazaan has been getting his info from the angel Malachi and vice versa, so what's the point of giving another (incomplete, I might add) rehash of this information?  It all feels like page-filler, to be honest, especially since it makes Johnny Blaze a bystander in his own story.

The other aspect of this is that it allows Garth Ennis to philosophize about his favorite subject: religion and the states of Heaven and Hell.  While it's interesting to a point what Ennis has Hoss relate about the nature of Hell and what demons really want, it's nothing new to those of us who have read any of Ennis' other comics from the decade before.  Preacher was a series that made Ennis' views on these topics very clear, and seeing those same attitudes brought up here feels like he's not taking this story seriously.  If all he can do is deliver the same message he gave in Preacher (and Hellblazer and True Faith and numerous other books), what is it that made him interested in doing this series to begin with?  I don't think he's much interested in Ghost Rider himself, given how little work Ennis has actually done with the character so far.  I have to admit, I'm disappointed, because I expect so much more from Garth Ennis.  This man wrote some of the best Punisher stories of all time, and this just isn't anywhere near what I expected.

What certainly isn't disappointment is the artwork by Clayton Crain, who continues to make this series look immaculate.  Even with an issue dominated by conversations, Crain makes it interesting to experience visually.  The battle sequence with Ruth and the soldiers is exciting and dramatic, I just wish he had the opportunity to draw Ghost Rider do something other than sit in the back of a Cadillac. 

Perhaps I'm being overly harsh on this issue, but it's only because I know this creative team is capable of doing so much more.  There's still two issues left, things are going to improve.

Grade: B-