Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Marvel Comics Presents (1988) # 149

Cover Artist: Colin MacNeil
Published: March 1994
Original Price: $1.50

Title: "The Price"
Writer: Chris Cooper
Artist: Fred Harper
Letterer: Ul Higgins
Colorist: Joe Andreani
Editor: Richard Ashford
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

A robbery of a store has turned into murder, and Vengeance has arrived to deal with the killer. After wasting his bullets, the criminal says that he's heard of the Ghost Rider, and begs him not to kill him. Vengeance replies that his hand shoots hellfire, then asks if he knows what it would do to his head. Vengeance blows the criminals head off, answering "now you know".
Two days later, Michael Badilino walks the streets, having just learned that the criminal he killed was a cop - one gone bad. Stopping in front of an electronics store, Badilino watches a news report on the cop's murder. David Johnson apparently spent his off-duty hours involved in armed robbery and murder, linking him to six different crimes. Hardly anyone attended Johnson's funeral, and the report closes with a shot of Johnson's son, Billy. Badilino tries to convince himself that the kid will get over it, but eventually decides that it won't be that easy.
Soon, Michael goes to the Johnson home to speak to his wife. She tells him that David was a good man until Billy came down with a tragic heart condition. The insurance company wouldn't pay for the experimental treatment, so David took to robbery to pay the bills. When Badilino asks to speak to Billy, his mother realizes that the locked cabinet where David kept his gone is open and empty. The two rush to Billy's room, only to find him gone - they then hear him on the roof, shouting for Vengeance to come to him. Badilino climbs onto the building's rooftop, where he finds Billy waving the gun around, yelling that he'll kill innocent people below until the Ghost Rider comes to him. Michael approaches the kid and tells him to start by shooting him, to pretend that he's the Ghost Rider and that maybe he did have something to do with his dad's death. Finally, Billy hands the gun to Badilino, who tells him that vengeance consumes humanity without considering the high price of the lives it ruins. Billy asks Michael if the Ghost Rider is happy having killed his dad. Badilino replies that he's not sure what the Ghost Rider feels, but he thinks he's in a cold, hard place right now.
Vengeance assumed the mantle of the "new" Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider (1990) # 46. The original Ghost Rider and his human host, Dan Ketch, died in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance (1992) # 18.
This issue of Marvel Comics Presents also contained stories featuring the Daughters of the Dragon, Namor, and the Starjammers.
In a sharp contrast to the mediocre-at-best story from the previous two issues, Chris Cooper's ongoing Vengeance serial for MCP provides a story that's actually quite good, if a bit standard.
As I've said before, I have respect for any writer who can craft a full story into the meager 8 pages that Marvel Comics Presents allowed. Most writers failed horribly with this, but sometimes creators got it right, and this is one of the shining examples. Instead of producing yet another "lame villain fights hero" story, Cooper delves into more ambiguous territory, showing the ramifications of vigilantism. Finally we're seeing signs of the Chris Cooper that created the excellent Darkhold series, and it's not a moment too soon.
This story also toys around with a different aspect of Vengeance, that the demon is the darker, more violent side of Badilino. This was a concept originally conceived for the original Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, before the Zarathos story was adopted, and it's interesting to see the idea revisited here. As Vengeance, Michael has no mercy nor remorse for those he strikes down - but as a normal man, he finds himself wracked with guilt over the fate of Billy's father and what he ultimately did to the boy himself. Of course, I'm never one for a happy ending - so I'd have preferred to see poor Billy kill himself instead of the slightly cliched ending we see here. But I'm also a bit of a sadist, so I won't deduct any points for it (ha ha). Also, in a roundabout way, this story alludes to the ultimate fate awaiting Vengeance and Badilino a few years from now - though that obviously is just a coincidence.
Jones and Harper turn in a much better job with the artistic chores this issue, and in fact only slip into their bad habits during the panels with (the unrecognizable) Linda Wei and her news broadcast.
In effect, this issue shows to the readers that even a Spirit of Vengeance can feel the burning, numbing pain of hellfire - and the Vengeance serial begins to improve.
Grade: B-