Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Ghost Rider #20 (December 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 #20

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

Overview: The battle continues into the subway with Suicide in hot pursuit.

Cultural References: A cinema is showing the movie Enter the Dragon

Review: If I was to ever sell my collection of Ghost Rider comics, the two suicide editions would be keepers 

Maybe it is just my love of gloomy, sulky, overly pessimistic characters which I really can’t explain. But there’s something about someone, with the strength and endurance of suicide, sulking like a child whilst bashing people out of the way who are all incredibly concerned about his welfare after he is struck by a train. 
I have to hand it to Mackie, he really knows how to create a fight. Here the battle between the characters is played out in the melodramatic and over planned style of a wrestling federation match. They stand apart from each other shouting out intimidations and taunts while horrified and excited on lookers remain in the background. Occasionally Suicide jumps in just at the right moment to receive a hit before melodramatically diving out of the way in the hopes that somehow the hit will lead to a fatal accident for him.

Zodiak even joins in trying to kill Suicide, the aforementioned train accident being one of those occasions, and his astrology themed weapons show up again here as he charges at Ghost Rider with bull horns or pulls out his poisoned scorpion whip. The two are once again bickering at each other with Zodiak tries to flee the scene while ghost rider chases after him shouting “No escape” over and over to the point where the villain tells him to stop because it is irritating. He even begins imitating Ghost Rider himself at one point and asks him why he doesn't say something different for a change.

The humour really brings this comic to life. Whether it’s the self-referential humour of the villain insulting Ghost Rider’s monotony, the dark humour of suicides accidents and over the top death wish and both bounce of Ghost Rider so well in his single minded pursuit of revenge even that element of the comic becomes framed in the joke. The fact that Mackie is able to take the characters he has created and craft something so wonderfully crazy just shows what a great writer he ca be when he isn't overburdening and overcomplicating a simple premise.

When Zodiak is finally caught, he is unmasked Scooby doo villain style which uncovers a weird dozen or so eyes insect like man. The villain breaks free again and escapes to the surface where a nearby cinema is showing enter the Dragon and the brawl continues.

I like how even a slight touch like this crafts an entirely new elements to the character as he runs around in the night armoured like a 60s Bruce lee character and some of his weapons even appear to now be Bruce Lee homages. If I was reading this for the first time I might even be able to consider him more of a nod to 60s kung fu cinema many elements. Unfortunately, unlike Ghost Rider I don't have the luxury of amnesia in these reviews.

If there’s a scene that exemplifies everything you need to know about this comic it’s this street battle. The fighters enter the cinema with the usual hostage situation taking place and Zodiak trying to barter his freedom. Ghost Rider stares and says no escape. Zodiak tries for sympathy via an exposition dump explaining how demon masters possess him and force him to kill. Ghost Rider stares and says no escape. So Zodiak throws a person at him. Meanwhile, Suicide impatiently watches them wondering why they are not killing him. 

There are so many ideas and elements being thrown in here and it is all played as a joke. It reminds me of that Monty Python scene in Life of Brian where a chained up John Cleese accuses Graham Chapman of being given preferential treatment by The Romans.

The tone quickly shifts back to the dark side of the comic when the villain kidnaps a pregnant lady and this is played as the turning point for the battle to move from comedic violence to real threat which it does almost entirely naturally. Suicide saves the woman and Ghost Rider faces Zodiak on the precipice. 

At the climax of the brawl, Ghost Rider is literally written into a corner. He can't kill Zodiak as, ever since a retcon in issue six, he can't kill a human. He also can’t penance stare Zodiak seemingly as he has too many eyes to focus on. Instead he simply stands there staring Zodiak out. It almost seems like Mackie is protesting his own comic.

Suicide complains that he is being useless and finally, in a rage at the rider’s inactivity, rugby tackles Zodiak off the bridge impaling them both on the refuse of an outgoing scrap ship.

There are other moments at here that seem to be the writer nodding at the industry itself. On recovering Suicide and Ghost Rider take Zodiak's body after checking his pulse and verifying that he is "really, really really dead" and place it in an over to burn to ashes comic as Suicide is very familiar with people coming back from the dead.   

Finally, just to rub it in, Suicide is declared a hero for saving the pregnant lady everyone respects and admires him. Of course his reaction: "I just want to die..." And of course origin plug. 

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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