Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ghost Rider (1990) # 83

Cover Artist: Pop Mhan
Published: March 1997
Original Price: $1.95

Title: "House of Burning Souls"
Writer: Ivan Velez Jr.
Artist: Pop Mhan
Inkers: John Lowe & Jason Martin
Letterers: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Brian Buccellato
Editor: James Felder
Editor In Chief: Bob Harras

The Ghost Rider laughs as he chases down a mugger, telling him to do no more evil after catching him.  Ghost Rider stops in an alley and ponders the unfairness of his curse and if he should relinquish his body, but then reconsiders when he remembers what it would do to his human host.  He transforms back into Danny Ketch, who realizes he is near his mother's house.  When he goes to see her, however, he finds her on the floor in tears with a strange package.  She had been visited by her daughter, Danny's dead sister Barbara, who left them a rotted human heart in a box with a note promising to return.

Meanwhile, in an abandoned auto junkyard, Brother Voodoo and the vampire Lilith investigate the disappearance of seven corpses from Cypress Hills Cemetery.  They find six of the bodies, which have been partially eaten, unaware that the seventh missing corpse is Barbara Ketch who is watching them from afar.  With her makeshift pitchfork, Barbara sends a flock of crows to attack Voodoo and Lilith, prompting the vampire to call forth her own army of rats to fight.  Elsewhere, Jennifer Kale returns to her destroyed apartment with John Blaze close behind, nagging her about helping him find his missing kids.  She kicks him out of the apartment but tells him to call her tomorrow.

Back in Cypress Hills, Danny takes his distraught mother to stay with Stacy Dolan, who tries to get Danny to call the police.  He tells her that it's a family problem and has to deal with it himself.  On the way back to his mother's house he's confronted by Barbara, who attempts to kill him with her pitchfork.  He realizes quickly that the Scarecrow, who he last saw in Hell, has taken over his sister's body.  When Danny threatens to transform into Ghost Rider, Scarecrow plants the seed of doubt that any harm he does to him may harm her as well.  Blaze drives by and grabs Danny, saving him from Scarecrow's flock of birds, and the two brothers take refuge inside Mrs. Ketch's home.  While Danny goes to check the back door, he notices something odd.  Blaze, then, is knocked unconscious from behind by Danny, whose body is now possessed by the Scarecrow.  In Hell, Blackheart and Black Rose watch and laugh, confident that their plan is working.

Ghost Rider last appeared in Marvel Fanfare (1997) # 3.

Danny Ketch last faced the Scarecrow in Ghost Riders: Crossroads # 1; in that same issue he was reunited with his dead sister Barbara and was forced to leave her behind in Hell along with the Scarecrow.  Scarecrow was sent to Earth by Blackheart to reanimate Barbara's corpse in Ghost Rider (1990) # 77 and in Ghost Rider (1990) # 81 he sent a flock of crows to attack Francis Ketch.

The Lilith in this issue is the daughter of Dracula that first appeared in 1974's Giant-Size Chillers # 1; not to be confused with Lilith, Mother of Demons, who first appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) # 28.

Brother Voodoo met Danny Ketch and the Ghost Rider once before in Midnight Sons Unlimited (1993) # 7.

Jennifer Kale learned that she was a cousin to Dan Ketch and John Blaze in Ghost Rider (1990) # 78 and she agreed to help Blaze find his missing children in Ghost Rider (1990) # 81.

The Scarecrow makes a truly horrific return as Velez starts to pay off a lot of his simmering subplots from the last few months.

I have a confession to make: there was a period in the mid-1990s that I actually stopped reading Ghost Rider.  When Howard Mackie left the book it was coupled with my waning interest in comics as a whole, so I dropped everything I was reading (which by that point wasn't much) and walked away from my favorite character.  Fast forward about two years later and I find myself wandering into a comic shop while out with some friends.  I wandered over to the new comic shelf to see what Ghost Rider was up to, checking in on my old buddy, and I found two issues on the shelf.  One was issue # 79, the debut of the yellow and red costume, and this one, issue # 83.  I couldn't resist the temptation and picked up both to take home and read.  Issue # 79 wasn't that big a departure from what I was used, it still had Salvador Larroca on artwork, and though I was a little put off by the garish costume I was digging the story.  It did not prepare me for what I was going to find in THIS issue, though.

I hated this comic when I first read it, mainly as a reaction to Pop Mhan's artwork.  A lot of fans STILL hate this brief run of issues due to the art, and I totally get why readers used to Texeira and Larroca would have that opinion.  Looking at them now, though, I think I've come around to appreciating Mhan's work on the series more than I did back in the day.  The previous issue, the infamous one with Devil Dinosaur, is still uniformly terrible, don't get me wrong.  But this one, when paired with the really suitable inks of John Lowe, perfectly captures what is actually an extremely disturbing and scary storyline.  Everything is really exaggerated and stylized, of course, but look past that to some of the individual panels.  The shot of Scarecrow unleashing his crows in the junkyard, with the lightning flashing behind him, is amazingly terrifying.  The way Mhan draws Ghost Rider himself, with his cartoonishly grotesque skull, is offset by the amazing way he conveys the flames of his head and motorcycle.  I LOVE how Mhan draws fire, it has such motion and energy to it.  The artwork trails off again for the back 1/4th of the issue, when Jason Martin takes over the inks and makes things a lot more sketchy and blocky, but those first 16 or so pages look really, really nice.

The story, too, takes a real sharp turn with this issue.  Velez had given us two pretty long arcs in his run so far, the Vengeance story and the Noble Kale/Furies saga, and both had been pretty standard vigilante/supernatural superhero fare.  Instead of keeping that "par for the course" mentality, Velez drives the metaphorical motorcycle right over the edge into psychological horror for this third arc.  The Scarecrow suffers a bit from a wild characterization inconsistency, but I can deal with that when you've got the villain reanimating the corpse of Danny's dead sister, which makes for some really disturbing implications.  Velez makes an unfortunate decision to clutter up the story with two 1970s horror comic castoffs, Brother Voodoo and Lilith, which flags up an issue with his plots for the last few months.  He littered the previous issues with Valkyrie, Devil Dinosaur, and Howard the Duck, the former of which offered absolutely nothing to the story she was in.  Maybe editorial forced these characters on Velez to try and drum up interest in them?  I know the guest-stars stopped appearing once the book's editorship changed from Felder to Brevoort.

Regardless, "House of Burning Souls" sticks out in my memory as the comic that brought me back to Ghost Rider for the remainder of Velez's run.  I think it's a pretty great comic with only a couple of unfortunate creative decisions. 

Grade: B+

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