Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ghost Rider X-Mas Special # 1

Cover Artist: Jamal Campbell
Published: Dec. 2016
Original Price: $1.99

Title: "The Christmas Spirit of Vengeance"
Writer: Method Man & Anthony Piper
Artist: Anthony Piper & Balak
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Colorist: Andres Mossa & Anthony Piper
Editor: Chris Robinson
Supervising Editors: Nick Lowe & Jordan B. White
Editor In Chief: Axel Alonso

At a developmental school in East Los Angeles, Gabe Reyes is being teased by his classmates for still believing in Santa Claus.  When his brother, Robbie, picks him up from school the spirit of Eli Morrow inside Robbie tells him that he senses an evil presence.  On the drive home, Robbie tells Gabe that Santa is real, no matter what the other kids say.  Later that night, a little boy is preparing to torture a cat in his bedroom.  He hears a noise and thinks it could be Santa, but when he opens the window sees a horrible monster.  When his parents hear his screams and enter the room, they see a hole in the wall and their son gone.

At their home, Gabe is busy drawing and singing Christmas songs, while Robbie tells him he's going to step out for a while.  Eli tells him that the evil presence he sensed earlier has gotten stronger, and Robbie transforms into Ghost Rider as he leaves.  They pass by the house where they boy was kidnapped, then immediately spot the monster riding on a sleigh, pulled by skeletal reindeer.  On the sleigh is a large sack containing several kidnapped children.  Robbie takes chase, but is unable to catch up to the sleigh, which then flies into the sky.  Using his chain, Robbie attaches the Hell Charger to the sleigh and is pulled along behind.  As they fly through the air, Gabe sees the sleigh and reindeer in the sky and is amazed to see that Santa Claus is in fact real.

When they finally crash down, Robbie realizes they've been transported to the North Pole.  The monster goes into a nearby cave and sends his goblin-like "elves" out to attack.  Ghost Rider is quickly overwhelmed by the small creatures, until he finally gives in to rage and incinerates them all.  Robbie enters the cave and realizes that the monster is the Krampus, the counterpart to Santa Claus from folklore who kidnaps "bad kids" to cook and eat.  The Krampus quickly defeats Robbie, kicking his skull into the ground several times until he reverts back to his human form.  Before the Krampus can finish Robbie off, they hear sleigh-bells outside.  At the window is Santa Claus, who all the captive children cheer, and he tells Robbie that anything is possible as long as he believes.  Robbie transforms back into Ghost Rider and burns the Krampus to ashes with his hellfire. 

Later, after Robbie has returned all of the children to their homes, he goes to his own home to find a very excited Gabe.  His little brother tells him that he saw Santa last night, and has drawn a picture of the sleigh, the reindeer, and the Hell Charger being pulled along behind it.  That night, the little boy goes back to torture his cat, but instead finds the Ghost Rider holding the animal, telling him that he's going to keep his own "naughty list" from now on.

Marvel's Holiday themed line of digital-only Infinite Comics turns the Christmas spotlight on Robbie Reyes, providing an extremely fun story.

When one thinks of things like Christmas and Santa Claus, Ghost Rider is not the character that immediately springs to mind as "appropriate".  Sure, there have been a couple of really great Christmas-themed Ghost Rider stories over the years (such as Steve Gerber's team-up with the Thing where the two heroes disguise themselves as two of the Three Wise Men or Howard Mackie's short story with the blind kid who mistakes Ghost Rider for Santa), but the character usually tends to skew a lot darker and less family friendly.  Even Robbie Reyes, who tends to be a lighter character than either Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch, has things like Satanic serial killers and drug addict mad scientists in his back story.  Not so much "ho ho ho" or "jingle bells", I'm afraid.

This story,, this story is pretty amazing on a lot of levels, and it captures Ghost Rider in such a way that I couldn't really picture any other character working as well.  It's written (or nominally "written" with a heavy assist from writer/artist Anthony Piper) by the rapper Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan, who has long been a Ghost Rider fan, even appropriating "Johnny Blaze" as one of his stage names.  Who knew the guy could plot such a great comic, one with so much heart and sentimentality?  Consider me impressed, even if I suspect Piper did a lot of the heavy lifting with the pacing and dialogue.  The story isn't that inspired, it has the Krampus in it for god's sake, but it's the way the story is told and the optimism it displays that makes it so damn endearing.  As usual, the relationship between Robbie and Gabe is what drives the comic (though I wish they'd nail down just how old Gabe is supposed to be, because his age level is all over the place lately), and the simple "kid believing in Santa" trope is used to great effect within that relationship. 

Anthony Piper is a creator I'm not at all familiar with, but he does a fantastic job on this comic.  His artwork is the appropriate level of clean, very fluid in an almost animation-style that fits both as a lighter-hearted Christmas story and with the art previously established for Robbie Reyes.  I found myself enjoying Piper's rendition of Ghost Rider far more than Danilo Beyruth, I have to admit, and I would love to see Piper return to the character.  This was also an Infinite Comic, which utilizes the "Guided View" setting on Comixology to allow for animated panel transitions, and as such needed a very clear level of art pacing to work correctly.  A lot of times the Infinite Comics come off as digital comics with lots of repeated panels and not much else, but the technique works well on this story. 

Right now, this comic is only available for purchase digitally through Comixology, though I imagine a print version will be released eventually.  I do highly recommend picking it up, because it's well worth a read.  I was highly cynical that a Christmas comic written by Method Man of all people would be any good at all, so consider me pleasantly surprised.

Grade: A+

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