Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ghost Rider (1990) # 30

Cover Artist: Andy Kubert
Published: October 1992
Original Price: $1.75

Title: "Nightmares of Truth"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Andy Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco

Danny Ketch finds himself in the realm of Nightmare alongside an unconscious Ghost Rider, surrounded by Lilith and her Lilin.  Nightmare appears and tell Danny that his wanderings through the afterlife have allowed him to be pulled into the dream realm, and through him Ghost Rider was brought as well.  Nightmare then transforms the images of the Lilin into Danny's friends and family, including his dead sister Barbara.  He screams, and in the realm world Mrs. Ketch, Stacy Dolan, her father Gerry Dolan, and Jack D'Auria all wake up from the same nightmare about Danny.  They all get up and start getting ready for their day, each of them thinking about Danny and his disappearance after Blackout kidnapped them all.

In Nightmare's realm, Ghost Rider awakens and attacks both Nightmare and Danny, who thinks is a demonic illusion.  He quickly realizes his mistake and talks with Danny about what happened with Blackout and the vision of Lilith.  Nightmare interrupts them and says that he's learned the Ghost Rider may not be Zarathos after all, and the fear generated by Lilith and her brood will cause Nightmare to grow even more powerful if left unchecked.  Therefore, he's decided that he has to kill Ghost Rider and Danny.  That night in Brooklyn, Mrs. Ketch has called together Jack, Stacy, and Captain Dolan to her house to talk about what happened to Danny.  Jack takes note that the night looks particularly dark tonight, but doesn't see that the darkness is beginning to ooze through the windows.  In the Nightmare realm, Ghost Rider and Danny flee on the Rider's motorcycle toward a floating house, pursued by Nightmare.  Back in the real world, Danny's friends are attacked by Lilith and the Lilin, including Blackout.

When they approach the floating house, Danny recognizes his mother's scream.  When they crash through the ceiling, they find his four loved ones encased in mystical bubbles.  Ghost Rider quickly finds that the Lilin are mere illusions, and when Lilith transforms into Nightmare he easily overpowers the Rider.  Nightmare explains that he has captured the souls of their friends and will not relinquish them unless Ghost Rider and Dan allow themselves to die at his hands.  He attacks them, claiming to know the Ghost Rider's origin, telling him that he should have searched out the Soul Crystal.  He also notes that Danny knows nothing about his father or his sibling. Danny and Ghost Rider are able to merge once more to defeat Nightmare, but the two quickly separate and tell the defeated demon that he will no longer hold dominion over them.  Danny frees the souls of his loved ones, who will wake up on Earth with  no memory of what's happened.  Dan and Ghost Rider leave the Nightmare realm and come to a crossroads, and while Dan continues to search for a way back to life Ghost Rider will continue his fight against Lilith.

This issue falls between chapters two and three of the "Rise of the Midnight Sons" crossover, Morbius the Living Vampire (1992) # 1 and Darkhold: Pages From the Book of Sins (1992) # 1.
This story happens concurrently with Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance (1992) # 2.  In that issue, Ghost Rider loses consciousness for several pages to travel to Nightmare's realm and awakens after this issue's end.

Blackout kidnapped Danny's friends and family, then ripped out his throat, in Ghost Rider (1990) # 25.

Ghost Rider and Dan first encountered Nightmare in Ghost Rider (1990) # 11.  Ghost Rider has had subsequent encounters with Nightmare in Marvel Comics Presents (1988) # 100 and Deathlok (1991) # 9-10.

Nightmare mentions the Soul Crystal, which was last seen in Mephisto's possession in The Mighty Thor (1966) # 430.  He also mentions Danny's father and "sibling"; while the father is a red herring that Mackie never followed up on, the "sibling" comment could refer to one of two things: a) that Barbara Ketch was meant to be the host of the Ghost Rider instead of Danny or b) that Johnny Blaze is actually Danny's long lost brother.

Ghost Rider has another interlude story falling between crossover chapters, yet while the last issue was entertaining this one is ultimately pointless.

I think we've turned a corner with this series, because while I really hate to admit it I think this is the first truly bad issue of Howard Mackie's Ghost Rider series.  It's one that lots of fans remember fondly, mainly due to that awesome cover and the fact that the series was at its sales pinnacle during the "Rise of the Midnight Sons" crossover, but this is not a very good comic.  That may be judging it too harshly, though, because it's not so much "bad" as it is an issue of the creative team spinning its wheels and going nowhere.  I also really hate Nightmare as a villain under Mackie's pen, who comes off as a one-note fiend that dishes out vague hints and comments in place of having a personality.  He's the "master manipulator" cliche that Mackie trots out from time to time, though his other ones like Mephisto and Deathwatch at least have something else that makes them stand apart.  Nightmare is generic evil for evil's sake, and that's a motivation I really despise in a villain.

The most frustrating thing about this issue, though, is that it does nothing to move the series' plots forward.  We're treated to the aforementioned hints and teases about the character's origin, though even those are going to be ultimately meaningless once Mackie drops the Soul Crystal angle in favor of the Medallion of Power nonsense.  There's also the stock solution to every story where Ghost Rider and Danny are separated in the dream realm, they combine their powers to make themselves whole again and easily trounce the villain (usually Nightmare, come to think of it).  It happened in the dream realm in issue # 8 and again when they fought Nightmare for the first time in issue # 11.  It's a forced resolution that has no originality anymore, and when Danny tells Nightmare that he "no longer holds dominion over them" and he "caused his own defeat", I can't for the life of me figure out that cognitive leap.

Now, that's not to say this issue is devoid of good stuff, because I'm a fan of any inclusion of Dan's supporting cast.  Sure, characters like Mrs. Ketch and Captain Dolan change first names every time they appear, but they (and Jack and Stacy) are what grounded the series in the first two years.  They remind the reader that Dan has a real life divorced from all this supernatural mumbo jumbo that's flooded the title in recent issues, and it's a shame that most of them are making their last appearance for quite a while after this, at least until the Midnight Sons era is over.  I like the attempt at following up on Blackout's attack in issue # 25, too, because for all anyone knows Blackout just disappeared and took Danny with him.

This issue treats us to more artwork from the Kubert family, specifically Andy Kubert and his legendary father Joe.  I'm not a big fan of Andy's work, but coupled with Joe's finishes the end product looks perfectly decent.  The storytelling gets a bit wonky near the end, particularly with how exactly Nightmare gets defeated (it's just "explosion, then on his back in defeat").  The anatomy can be a bit off in places, too, with Danny suddenly looking like a body builder in the last few pages.  It's certainly not as good as Adam Kubert over on Spirits of Vengeance, but it's serviceable.

This, I think, is the where the bloom finally came off the rose for this series, at least for the next year or so.  If you really want to read it, go read issue # 11 instead, because it's much better and essentially the exact same story.

Grade: C-