Sunday, 29 May 2016

Ghost Rider #18 (October 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 #18

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Mark Texeira (artist/inker), Gregory Wright (colourist).

Overview: Mrs Ketch continues to be brainwashed by a doomsday cult believing they can bring back her daughter.

"Good evening." - chauffer   

Review: Horror upon horror piled on me today as I realised I was running out of things to say about this comic. I had to begin doing more than praising the villains, pointing out how fond I was becoming of Johnny Blaze - who leaves this issue - or decrying the completely pointless build up to an origins story. Yes, all three happened again but just because the comic was continuing its same notes that doesn't me I should as a reviewer. So I simply stared at a blank page trying to think my way out of the box I had dug for myself and, I have to admit, I stared a long time.

There are more mysteries this issue. It turns out the sinister cult is back and has a secret, basement dwelling, tall leader whose motives for running the cult are left unexplained and all we know or seemingly need to know is that Styrge is scared of him.

Back at the Ketch home, Mrs Ketch is still involving herself in the basket case cult in the vain hopes that they will bring her daughter back even though she knows their methods are violent and was almost killed herself in the last issue. And if that comic didn't imply it enough and this issue has Dan literally spell it out in a thought bubble "with all the drugs, senseless violence and killings is it any wonder that people like my mom are turning to phony preachers like Styrge for comfort?"

Dan finds her mourning in Barbra’s room going through some of her daughters old things. Though he tries to comfort her and talk her out of involving herself with the sect she is willing to do anything and risk any possibility to see her daughter returned. We do not look down at Mrs Ketch for her desperation and irrationality. We see her as a strong character mortified by grief and losing touch with reality.

The creepy chauffer from last issue shows up again, this time at Dan's home and when he tries to resist his mother leaving he gets a knuckle sandwich from the sasquatch for his troubles. Mrs Ketch is so brainwashed she barely even flinches, she simply tells Dan to stay out of it and leaves.

I like when the comic is dealing with real world issues like manipulative revolutionaries and cults: social threats that still to this day are extremely poignant. But, I especially love reading comics that handle it well. Here the parasites that televangelists and cult leaders really are is made overt by the character Styrge who literally is a cannibal feeding off the grief stricken people who follow him.

The comic maintains some of its knife edge, tense humour when Styrge takes a mourner into a mausoleum and all the followers hear outside are screams. He finally emerges and invites another to pray with him in the mausoleum, but not the one he has just emerged from as "Mr Edleman...has been reunited with his loved ones and couldn't possibly be disturbed."

Though it is pretty obvious to us as readers what is going on and the art clearly shows how disturbed his followers are as Styrge callously throws a napkin smothered in blood to the ground, they unbelievably still continue to follow him as he lines them up to feed on them. Fortunately, Ghost Rider turns up to save Dan's mother from being sucked dry

When Styrge returns to the farmhouse having been defeated his unknown boss removes his eye as a punishment and we are lead into believing he/she/it is an old villain from the rogue gallery. I'm guessing it is Centaurious as we already know both of them were trapped inside the crystal before Ghost Rider was freed. If it is, I hope this will be the means we discover that the daemon is a new character or Zarathos so the origin can be wrapped up.

This was perhaps the comics best criticism of religion so far even though it was playing off obvious metaphors and it successfully managed to end the Barbra sub plot as Dan's mother finally comes to terms with her daughter’s death. But once again the quality of the story is undermined by Ghost Rider's pining that he doesn't know who he is. He even at one point reflects that at least Styrge has conviction in his evil, cannibalistic ways because he knows what he is and why he battles.  Does he really need to go that far? Why can't he simply be fighting to save Dan's mother? Why does every single point need to be a blunt faced sale for the origin story?

I guess I'll have to wait to find out what further depths Ghost Rider will sink to plug his origin story next month. I just hope they don't put a competition in the comic to dial in the prefered outcome or have him receiving a flashback that he was shot in the head by an adamantium bullet.

Week 4 Summary: One and a half years into the comic and hints at a grandeous, soon to be uncovered backstory are seriously undermining the quality of the story telling. At best these are annoying and at worst they reduce entire events, social comments and villain apperances down to slight distractions that Ghost Rider is being pestered with to prevent him from uncovering this mysery. The secret origins story is gradually killing this book off.

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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