Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Marvel Comics Presents (1988) # 159

Cover Artist: Malcolm Davis
Published: July 1994
Original Price: $1.75

Title: Altered Spirits, Part 4: "True Spirit"
Writer: Chris Cooper
Artist: Reggie Jones
Inker: Fred Harper
Letterer: Ul Higgins
Colorist: Joe Andreani
Editor: Richard Ashford
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

Vengeance has confronted Phantome at the Brooklyn docks, which she has set on fire during her rampage. Phantome realizes that she didn't steal Vengeance's power at all, but that her own mutant ability allowed her to copy his abilities, making her a false Spirit of Vengeance. Badilino pleads with her to take responsibility for her power and actions, a lesson he himself learned when he believed himself to be powerless. He leaves her to wallow in her self-pity when he sees people trapped in the burning buildings. Phantome finds her partner, Gargantua, barely alive and trapped under collapsed rubble, which she rescues him from. Vengeance enters the building and saves a group of trapped children, but on his way out he finds a large number of metal drums containing illegally dumped toxic waste. If the heat should rupture the drums, toxic fumes would spread over the city. Phantome arrives and tells him to save the children while she disposes of the toxic waste, having finally accepted the responsibility for the destruction she caused. She begins tossing the drums out a window into the water of the harbor, and Vengeance returns to help her finish. Suddenly, she grabs Vengeance by the neck and throws him out the window as well, letting him be caught on the ground by Gargantua. Phantome realizes that they can't know how much more toxic waste could be hidden in the burning buildings, so she ignites a number of propane tanks and blows the dock away from the mainline, sinking the entire burning section into the harbor. When Gargantua realizes that Phantome as killed herself, he dives into the water to find her, but sinks and drowns due to the weight of his armor. Only Vengeance remains, saddened by Phantome's desire for power and how she accepted the right to use it responsibly just in time to lose her life.

Vengeance appears next in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme # 65.

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 # 18.

This issue of Marvel Comics Presents also contained stories featuring the New Warriors, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury.

The Vengeance serial for MCP keeps chugging along, providing stories that on the surface seen inconsequential but actually do more to develop the character than the regular Ghost Rider series.

It's been quite a long time since I last reviewed a Vengeance issue of Marvel Comics Presents, so I picked one out at random tonight and decided to jump in head first. I hadn't read these comics in years, and I struggled to remember which story happened in what issues, and it figures that I'd accidentally grab the last chapter of a 4-part arc. Still, it will allow me to voice some opinions on the Vengeance series as a whole while talking about the "Altered Spirits" storyline.

Chris Cooper is a writer I had a lot of time for after reading his wonderful Darkhold series, which was my favorite of the non-Ghost Rider "Midnight Sons" titles. But as I've said in other reviews, Cooper had a pretty thankless job with the Vengeance serial in MCP since the character had been shoe-horned in as the "new" Ghost Rider in the main series. So while Mackie was advancing the character's storylines, Cooper was forced into a holding pattern, unable to really do anything of consequence. As bad as the early Vengeance issues were, Cooper had found his footing by the time this story started, and it actually DID feel like it meant something for the character. The idea that Badilino not only lost his powers but that they were stolen by someone who had since gone on a murderous rampage is a good hook for the story, and Cooper really sold it in the middle chapters. We're reviewing the end of the story, though, so I'll focus on that - and its not really satisfying, is it?

Phantome was an interesting character at the beginning of this arc, a woman who stole the Ghost Rider's power without knowing just how it would change her mentally and physically. She provided a nice parallel to the personal demons that Badilino was struggling with at the time, but it seemed like it was all thrown away for the lazy explanation that she was just a mutant with copycat abilities. If it wasn't the "Spirit of Vengeance" influencing and corrupting her, instead it simply being her own loss of sanity, it shatters the comparison to Badilino. Vengeance was the host to a power outside of his control, and while I get where Cooper was coming from (the old "absolute power corrupts absolutely" cliche) I still think it made for a poor ending. Phantome's change of heart and sudden willingness to sacrifice herself came without much to establish it, and the story really needed an extra chapter to get to this point. Vengeance really doesn't come off looking very good in the end either, does he? What hero stands there and yells at Gargantua to stop because he'll drown...and then does nothing to save him? That's the pitfalls of working on this series, everything feels rushed all the time.

Something else that consistently looks rushed is the artwork by Jones and Harper. When those guys first came on board with the Ghost Rider/Masters of Silence arc, they were pretty damn impressive. Rough around the edges, sure, but the energy in their artwork was physical and intense. As they progressed on the Vengeance stories, however, most of the visceral attributes that so attracted me to their work all but disappeared. Working on a bi-weekly comic couldn't have been easy, but then again they only had to produce eight pages an issue. They also have a definite weakness on the character design front as well, because Phantome frankly looks ridiculous. Jones and Harper still turn in some great work on this series (the arc with Diabolique is awesome!), but this one just didn't play to their strengths I'm afraid.

These issues of MCP are really on the outer edges of Ghost Rider material, and I wouldn't recommend them to anyone unless they're just determined to have every Ghost Rider related comic that was published. The series isn't necessarily bad, but this issue wasn't one of the high points.

Grade: C