Monday, 16 May 2016

Ghost Rider #7 (November 1990)

JMax 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 #7

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

Overview: A psychotically ill man breaks free from confinement and begins hunting for Captain America. Meanwhile, Blackout has learned Dan's identity and pays a visit to the hospital housing an immobile Barbra.

Cultural references: Scarecrow quotes Walt Whitman's poem O Captain! My Captain! As he seeks Captain America - a poem penned to capture the social mourning that fell in the wake of the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Review: The title of this issue is Obsession. It begins in the cell of a man –his postures demonstrates he is perhaps more animal - longingly staring toward a barred window from within a psychiatric centre, his hands pulled desperately downwards on a cloth sacked mask as if shutting the world out. He says nothing. The narrative captions provide fleeting thoughts “They’re not afraid. They should be.” A doctor and steward check in on him and remove the mask, they question where he keeps getting them from. We learn he has recently been transferred from “that other” place due to the efforts of his lawyers. They leave; large crows arrive at the window carrying a spare mask, some string and a pocket knife.

We are now in the present; Ebenezer Laughton – The Scarecrow – has escaped and is still at large. We are informed by Linda Wei, the same reporter who smeared Ghost Rider in the last arc, the killer has been murdering at random; leaving his modus operandi of stuffing his victims with straw after disembowelling them. This is precisely what has happened to one victim left strung up and dangling from a street lamp. The character freaks me out. Beyond the backstory, I think, it’s his empty, ecliptic, drooping eyes. Mark Texeira, who moved from inker to artist in this issue, really intensifies the unending nihilism of both this character and the city around him. This is amplified by narration boxes placing us inside the character's head as he stalks the rooftops hunting for a Captain America who isn’t there and killing at random with puncturing weapons.

Out of interest I researched into The Scarecrows backstory - this issue focuses sole on the present. It seems Ebenezer Laughton’s mother was an alcoholic who viciously beat him during her frequent drunken rages, but would reward him with presents afterwards due to sobered guilt. His one source of escapism, naturally outside of the house, was a travelling carnival that housed freaks. Laughton became fascinated with a rubber man and began to train himself to develop this ability allowing him to naturally sift through crevices. Eventually, Laughton grew into an introverted and damaged individual who associated pleasure and reward with punishment. Beginning his career as a thief, he quickly moved on to murder. Eventually, he was defeated by Captain America and locked in solitary confinement, presumably, being driven insane when no reward came.

While this violence continues in the present, the sole humanity offered to the reader is by Stacy who finally forces Dan on a date night with the aim of him finally coming to terms with the attack on his sister. Stacy is a lot like Barbra in her personality. She is fearless, determined and strong minded. While Dan has been focusing on fighting evil and injustice in society has been neglecting his family and home life. He has spent issue after issue justifying it to himself the nightly escapades as necessary actions, but deep down we are presented with his doubts that this is less noble action and more him running away from his own inability to help his sister by taking up the plight of others as a distraction. Eventually, his aggression subsides and he begins to come out of his shell, finally agreeing to visit his sister again.

We see forces at work trying to rob Dan of his humanity. Be it the bike, which is now acting as a parasite – not just figuratively – as it follows him to the date night after violent crimes are committed; he feels physically pulled towards it by insatiable desires even though he wants to allow the police to handle the situation, or Blackout. Blackout returns in this issue and, seeking revenge for his scarred face, wanders into the intensive care unit where Barbra is being houses. At this time, Dan is battling the scarecrow who effortlessly escapes his chains and disappears into the sewers.

The violence in this issue is sickening. Blackout savagely murders Dan’s sister in the intensive care unit because his life has become really horrible lately due to how her daemon brother scarred his face. The Scarecrow murders a mother and he young infant child with a pitchfork for no other reason than to inspire fear and hatred. In his world view everyone is as vicious as he is.  Neither characters show any remorse. No compassion or guilt over any of the actions they are undertaking. These villains think nothing of the lives of those around them and everything of their own selfish troubles and experiences. They contrast entirely with the human and close personal relationships that Dan has with those around him, and reflect the dangers he faces by pushing all of that away in a bid to loose himself in the role of Ghost Rider. 

Naturally, when he discovers what has happened, Dan seeks immediate revenge. Taking the bike, he races out into the night but never finds Blackout. Instead, he encounters The Scarecrow, and beats the man so severely he dives backwards onto his own pitchfork taking his life. The comic ends with Daniel finally visiting his sister again – in a box as it is lowered into the earth. His thoughts remain on revenge, his failures and his family. We are left with the flicker of hope amidst the tragedy. Dan is still human and still has a chance to change and end the cycles of violence and chaos going on in his own life before he himself becomes an animal.

This issue was a difficult read. I left it feeling numb, shaken and disturbed. I care about Dan’s character more than ever. I can only hope a dark event such as this, happening so early on in the series, will be marked as a point of growth for his character. Anything less would be an insult to the readers who have just made it through one of the bleakest and most vicious comics imaginable.

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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