Friday, 27 May 2016

Ghost Rider #14 (June 1991)

J-Max was challenged to review 30 issues of Ghost Rider in (roughly) 30 days. Should J-Max succeed he shall earn his freedom (probably not). However should he fail in this task then he shall be subjected to an attack by Bees...DEADLY BEES.

So let's join him for his review of Ghost Rider #14

Happily Ever After?

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Javier Saltares (artist), Gregory Wright (colourist), Mark Texeira (inker)

Overview: Dan is held captive by Johnny Blaze while an old enemy returns from deep beneath the earth.

Review: Ghost Rider is not about one character's pursuit of vengeance whilst battling his daemons. At least that's the sense this issue brings when past and present title characters come face to face. Johnny Blaze has been Ghost Rider previously. He knows the perils that come with battling the forces of darkness, he knows how manipulative the power can be and he knows Dan is the same naive young man he once was.

Johnny Blaze is in complete control of the story having kidnapped Dan and tied him to a chair in a rented New York apartment. As he sits on his crummy motel bed, cigarette in mouth and brandishing a shotgun the art provides that rare glimpse of historicity that this comic had never before grasped. Time as Ghost rider has changed Johnny Blaze, now an angry middle aged man ravaged by revenge and a desire of preventing the Ghost Rider cycle from starting a new. He knows Dan believes the powers granted to him can be used for good. He himself used to think exactly the same thing and claims he is not beyond killing Dan if it means he can prevent the demon from continuing its quest to penance stare the harshest and darkest elements of Manhattan. After all: Zarathos feeds on souls.

A phone call comes through from Blaze's family who have managed to track his location down again and beg him to come home. Johnny Blaze cares about his family, his own safety and little else. Removing Ghost Rider is a risk because it exposes his inner circle but he is willing to take that risk if it means sealing away Zarathos for good. He feels responsible for it and is convinced through experience the demon is a far worse threat than anything it hunts during its revenge cycles.
 Dan only began to learn recently to put his and his families personal safety as the main priority and still uses the monster as a means of solving problems in the city that are unrelated to him.

Under the earth, Blackout is still alive and has been murdering untold numbers of the cities residence to the point where the sheer number of corpses is beginning to cause a blockage in the sewer pipes. I find it hard to accept this going unoticed. Perhaps the missing peoples report has simply been skipped over in the comic. Regardles, a news report detailing the discovery is aired and Dan begins to plead with Blaze to be freed in order to track down the killer. Blaze unsympathetically says "It's too late to help those people. So shut up." In some ways Blaze is right but he is obviously unaware of the history between Dan and Blackout. Perhaps he would have been understanding if Dan told him Blackout was after his family and knew his identity. Maybe we would have had a "save martha" moment here. Either way, Dan doesn't get this far as he is simply gagged.

Death Watch once again retains his title as the big bad. Blackout enters his office barking threats and leering into his face to intimidate him only for Death Watch to press a dagger to his neck. He promises Blackout a new face should he toe the line and succeed in removing the threat of Ghost Rider. Blackout is much more than a loyal, albeit angry lacky. He tells Death Watch to ensure his "tramps" leave Dan for him and provides "a gift" to his boss - tossing a sack onto his desk containing severed heads. It is obvious both characters are still significant threats regardless of their ties to one another.

Just like in issue four, Dan's bike - which had been left in the graveyard - eventually comes for him and within moments Zarathos is free of the bonds. Blaze reacts by summoning an occult symbol on the ground, trapping the creature while exposition detials his past as Ghost Rider -and advertising the new Ghost Rider Rides Again series reprinting this - before he does the obvious thing and shoots him in the face.

Of course the mandatory "I will explain my plan and past history before I kille you!" scene is not complete without an absolute failure to follow up on the "kill you" part of that plan.

Ghost Rider touches Blaze's shotgun which burn him with hellfire and apparently referencing a strange power he suddenly realized he had in a recent issue of Fantastic Four. Why does something like this need to be strange? Let along a mystery crossing over into other comics?  He is a daemon soul eater. I buy him having inexplicable hell powers. Do we really need a strange backtracking origin story that stems off into the far future detailing every single special hell based thing he can do?

Unfortunately for our bemused demon, he has somehow upgraded Johnny Blaze's shotgun to a super-hellfire shotgun and given the man a chance to blast half a dozen holes in him with even more ease than H.E.A.R.T. did with their "special" cased bullets. Then, Johnny Blaze does something he never thought he would do. He hesitates. He can't go through with killing Dan. In a split second, Zarathos punches him aside and escapes. It is interesting how the daemon refutes the claims that it is Zarathos and its monologues of "I have learned nothing about myself." go hand in hand. Johnny Blaze even at one point seems unsureif the creature even is Zarathos.

It is ultimatly left to reader interpretation if the creature is the same one that possessed Blaze in the 70s; somehow found itself trapped in the bike with amnesia or if it is an entierly new creature picking up the reigns. I say interesting, but my concern is that something grandiose like this simply won’t be explained to the reader and is simply there to rake in interest month in month out.

Ghost Rider doesn't need to do this when it can focus on a competent crime and corruption plot with a few fantasy elements thrown in, and that's the main reason I continue to read it. Beyond the threat of bees stininging my eyes that is.
Editor Note: Hey Guys hope you're enjoyed J-Max's review, Why not drop him an encouraging message below (he REALLY doesn't like bees), Please check out the rest of the reviews HERE or if you're feeling brave why not join in his adventure HERE

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