Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Spirits of Vengeance (2017) # 1

Cover Artist: Dan Mora
Published: December 2017
Original Price: $3.99

Title: "War at the Gates of Hell, Part 1"
Writer: Victor Gischler
Artist: David Baldeon
Letterer: Cory Petit
Colorist: Andres Mossa
Editor: Chris Robinson
Editor-in-Chief: Axel Alonso

Title: "Marvel Primer Pages: Spirits of Vengeance"
Writer: Robbie Thompson
Artist: Anthony Piper
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Anthony Piper
Assistant Editor: Kathleen Wisneski
Editor: Darren Shan

SYNOPSIS
In a roadside diner off Route 66, Johnny Blaze is enjoying coffee and a chat with the owner when a stranger walks in and sits beside him, calling him by name.  He digs a bullet out of his side and drops it on Blaze's plate, telling him to take it to Hellstrom.  Then, the stranger explodes, leaving only fire and ash.  Blaze pockets the bullet and walks outside, where he's confronted by two police officers that he immediately recognizes as demons who want the bullet.  He transforms into the Ghost Rider and easily destroys the two demons.

Later, Blaze is sitting in Daimon Hellstrom's office, having identified the type of demons that attacked him and told the story of what happened.  Daimon agrees to investigate and takes Johnny to see some of his contacts.  The first is a grotesquely obese seer named Curtis, who tells him to visit another set of contacts on Wall Street.  Elsewhere, a sorcerer named Necrodamus is speaking with his aide, Razan, about the loss of his silver bullet while dispatching the spy they had discovered.  While he will locate the missing silver, he tasks her to tie up any loose ends by way of a demonic bloodhound he conjures with his magic.  On Wall Street, Hellstrom and Blaze meet with two other contacts who tell them that all of the otherworldly beings on Earth are fleeing the realm for unknown reasons.  Realizing they need more help, Hellstrom places a phone call to Blade the Vampire Hunter, leaving him a message as he kills some vampires that have just robbed a blood bank.

ANNOTATIONS
Johnny Blaze last appeared in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (2016) # 24.

Blaze last encountered Daimon Hellstrom in Wolverine (2010) # 3-6.

This issue also contained a 4-page back-up "Marvel Primer" feature that retold the origins of Ghost Rider, Blade, Hellstrom, and Satana.

This issue was released with variant covers by Mark Texeira, Ken Lashley, John Tyler Christopher, Mike McKone, and Chip Zdarsky.

Podcast Review: Inner Demons Episode 15 - "Canadian Bacon" (Click to Listen)

REVIEW
The new volume of Spirits of Vengeance kicks off "Marvel Legacy", but ultimately proves itself to be rather unsatisfying.

Something I talked about before during the podcast reviews of this series is the idea of "legacy", to borrow the term from Marvel, and cashing in on nostalgia.  This series is named "Spirits of Vengeance" in order to invoke a certain feeling from fans, just like when any old property is dusted off for a relaunch.  The whole "Legacy" initiative from Marvel hinged on that feeling, with them bringing back old titles like Darkhawk and Power Pack to try and get people's fond memories to translate into dollar signs.  It's a tried and true practice, and normally it works, because fans of those properties are eager to get new material.  I'm one of them, I pour through the solicitations each month with hopes that Ghost Rider will be back in his own series again.

The problem here is that this series is cashing in on that nostalgia without delivering on its implied promise.  This isn't Spirits of Vengeance, which was a Ghost Rider focused ongoing series from 1992, this is an unrelated concept with that old title bolted on.  Ghost Rider is here, yes, but he's not the main character.  He's sharing space with Hellstrom, Blade, and (eventually) Satana.  Don't get me wrong, Johnny Blaze is of course part of this series, which justifies at least part of the book's title.  Still, though, I can't hide the sting of disappointment.

Perhaps that disappointment would be blunted if what was happening in this comic was actually interesting to read.  A 2-page Ghost Rider sequence and a 2-page Blade sequence bookend what is essentially one big conversation told in "walk and talk" montage format.  Daimon Hellstrom leads the reader on a tour of his mystical contacts to further the plot, but it actually just amounts to a lot of vague hinting without telling the reader anything of real importance.  Sandwiched in the middle is the introduction of our two villains, Necrodamus and Razan, yet neither seemed to be immediately threatening due to there being no context to what they're talking about.  There's some stuff about silver, and an exploding guy that was shot by a bullet made from said silver, but it's all left so mysterious and nebulous that there's no story hook to hang it on.  It all reads like page filler, and when that's the majority of your first issue you've got a real problem.

Victor Gischler is a writer that I've enjoyed in the past, he did some decent work on X-Men and the Punisher several years back.  From those stories and especially this one, he seems to strike me as being more concerned with plot movement than characterization.  The two main characters in this issue, Blaze and Hellstrom, are written perfectly in character, but there's no attempt to do anything with them other than have them walk around and ask questions.  Blaze is the drifter and Hellstrom the socialite, but it's bare bones characterization at best.  The original creations fare a lot worse, because they're given no personality other than "generic stock prognosticators".  I'm assuming they're angels due to some of the dialogue, but why leave that up to guess work at this point?

The artwork by David Baldeon is at least interesting to look at, he handles the story beats well and his action scenes flow nicely.  It's just such a shame that he doesn't get more to do in this issue, outside of the aforementioned Ghost Rider and Blade pages he's stuck drawing a bunch of talking heads and tea sipping in fancy restaurants.  My only real complaint about his work is his design for Ghost Rider, who looks like he's gone back to Sam Keith's look from the mid 1990s.  Seriously, his shoulders are HUGE, while the rest of him looks like anorexic.  He is a skeleton, true, but he usually has more weight to him than this.  Baldeon draws the hell out of Ghost Rider's fire and chain, though, which provides the best looking pages of the issue.

I was really hoping to like Spirits of Vengeance much more than I did, but ultimately it just doesn't have the immediacy, momentum, or even purpose that it needed.

Grade: C-