Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ghost Rider (1973) # 22

Cover Artist: Jack Kirby
Published: February 1977
Original Price: $0.30

Title: "Nobody Beats the Enforcer!"
Story: Gerry Conway
Script: Don Glut
Artist: Don Heck
Inker: Keith Pollard
Letterer: Irv Watanabe
Colorist: Don Warfield
Editor: Archie Goodwin

Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, is being pursued by the police through Los Angeles, and after a harrowing chase he is finally able to lose them in an alley.  With the danger over, he transforms back into Blaze and returns to his parked motorcycle, thinking about his recent run-in with the Eel and the Gladiator. He goes to visit Karen Page, and despite proclaiming his love for her gets the cold shoulder, with her asking him to give her more time.

Meanwhile, the Enforcer meets with the scientist responsible for his technology, who provides him with a miniaturized medallion version of the device stolen from the Eel.  The Enforcer goes to a meeting of West Coast mob bosses and declares himself to be their new leader, and when one protests he uses the medallion to disintegrate him.  The other criminals quickly fall in line.  Meanwhile, Coot Collier gets a surprise visit from his son, Carson Collier Jr., who seems to be up to something sinister.  The next morning, while filming a scene for the Stunt-Master television show, Blaze is called up to the office Charles Delazny, head of the television studio.  Waiting in Delazny's office is a detective from the Los Angeles Police Department named Flannigan; Johnny's identity as the Ghost Rider is public knowledge from his cycle show days, and they want to question him down at the precinct about his antics endangering the city.  Blaze puts up a fight and escapes the police, turning himself into a fugitive.

Later that evening, Johnny calls Roxanne Simpson, who has dug up information on who hired the Eel as a consultant for the Stunt-Master show.  The hire was made from Delazny's office, but that doesn't mean that Delazny himself is involved.  Johnny laments that he can only transform into Ghost Rider when he's in danger, but after concentrating harder than ever before is able to force the change into his supernatural form for the first time.  Johnny goes to Delazny's mansion estate just in time to see the Enforcer and his men leaving in a car, which he follows all the way to the San Diego Naval Yards.  While Ghost Rider takes out the gangsters, the Enforcer turns his disintegration ray (now contained in a ring on his finger) on one of the parked battleship, declaring it proof that "no man can stop the Enforcer!"  Ghost Rider confronts him and chases him on and off of the battleship, with Enforcer making numerous comments about movies and the film industry while under duress, and eventually the fight takes both men into the water.  Enforcer loses his ring but is able to escape unharmed while Ghost Rider makes his way back to shore. 

The next morning, Johnny wanders into the police station to confront Flannigan, saying "if I'm Ghost Rider then who is that?" and pointing to an image of the Rider driving by outside.  The police are forced to drop their charges, with a smiling Blaze thinking to himself that he can create hellfire images of the Ghost Rider whenever he needs to protect his identity.  Still, though, he can't help but feel that disaster is right around the corner.

Ghost Rider appears next in The Champions (1975) # 14.

This issue is the first occurrence of Johnny being able to transform into the Ghost Rider at will.  Starting in Marvel Spotlight on Ghost Rider (1972) # 5 he would transform against his will every night.  That changed in Ghost Rider (1973) # 13, when his transformations began to occur whenever he sensed danger, in daytime or night.

This issue was reprinted in the Essential Ghost Rider vol. 2 trade paperback.

Gerry Conway is already walking out the door with his second issue, providing nothing but a plot for scripter Don Glut.  Similarly, Gil Kane has departed, replaced by Don Heck.  Things are not looking up for the "All-New" superheroic Ghost Rider series.

Hoo-boy, this is not a good comic, people.  It seems to take every tired cliche and problem from Silver Age Marvel and compacts into this perfect example of nonsense.  The plot hinges one some extremely shaky logic and the villain's motivations don't progress further than dick swinging.  The dialogue is a chore to slog through and the characterization of our hero is nearly insufferable.  Where to start, then, with this review? 

I suppose we can begin with Johnny Blaze himself, who is absolutely insufferable throughout the issue.  You have his "love triangle" with Karen Page (who seems like she could care less about his advances) and Roxanne Simpson (who here is just his "girl (space) friend" that helps him like he's in an episode of Scooby Doo).  Blaze is kind of a piece of shit in the way he treats Roxanne, who he had professed his love for numerous times in the past, but now he's all enthralled with movie star Karen.  It's soap opera romance that makes Johnny into a cad and Karen into a manipulator, shoving Roxanne into "poor damsel" status AGAIN.  Then there's Johnny's approach to dealing with the police, who know he's the Ghost Rider due to him having the worst secret identity ever, and their reasonable request for him to stop Ghost Riding all over Los Angeles before someone gets hurt.  Instead of going down to the police station as requested, he does an all-out assault on the cops that have come to get him.  At the end he tricks them with more Scooby Doo logic revolving around a Ghost Rider hologram, but then they let him go after he assaulted several police officers the day before?  The cops should have thrown his ass in the slammer just to put the punk in his place.

The Enforcer doesn't fare much better, as he's probably the least interesting villain this series has seen so far (and that's up against guys like Roulette and Big Daddy Dawson, which should tell you something).  His big plan is to take over the mob in LA, fair enough, then use his power ring to destroy some naval ships...apparently just to improve his reputation?  There's no blackmail or ransom involved, just his desire to prove that "no man can stop the Enforcer!"  Really, that's all the dude wants, some validation that he's the baddest dude in town?  I guess it kinda makes sense if you think real dumb, that he's in Hollywood and therefore has the most shallow motivation ever, but it doesn't make him interesting to read about.  He's posturing around, using the whole "nice flame thrower tricks" when fighting Ghost Rider, but he just doesn't come off as threatening, as a physical threat or a master planer type.  Unfortunately, the "Enforcer Saga" still has two more issues to go after this one.

The artwork has switched to Don Heck, who had previously been the launch artist for The Champions, and his work here hasn't seen much improvement.  His work is serviceable, I suppose, but it's very bland.  The characters are very stiff and posed, the action doesn't flow very well, and he commits the greatest sin of all on this title: his Ghost Rider looks bad.  Not just bad, but underwhelming, very much just a guy in a costume with a poorly-drawn skull up top.  Maybe Heck was rushed when tasked with this issue, he does do better work in an issue or two, but his style has never been one I've enjoyed.

This is probably the worst issue of the series so far and it's the absolute lowest period creatively in the book's history.  I'd say avoid it and come back with issue # 26, because that's when the series actually starts getting good again.

Grade: D-