Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Ghost Rider #8 (December 1990)

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 #8 

Living Nightmare!

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

Overview: Dan comes to terms with who he has become since his transformation. Meanwhile, Blackout still stalks the night.

Cultural references: Dan and Stacy come out of a screening for Die Hard 2, "I'd have prefered to have seen Robocop" says Stacy.

Review: I have never gotten around to discussing the letters page of this comic before, but, given how dark and empty the previous issue was, I was particularly curious as to what fans had to say. One letter that caught my eye even seemed to share some of my previous gripes with the series. It discussed how Dan Ketch "is displayed as slightly helpless and unidimensional, how we know very little about his personal life itself (one of the major qualities that has skyrocketed spider-man to super stardom)."

At the letters time of writing, this series was - approximatly - on its fourth issue, and I couldn't help but wonder what this fan now thought of the direction the story was taking. I was also glad to confirm it wasn't only myself that was invested in plot as well as art and that there were genuinely other readers out there who felt Dan had in the past been lacking as an interesting protagonist and had hopes for more than mere action which has a tendency to be "bland." The mail seemed to be handled by the comics’ editors but the one thing that struck me the most was the editor responses. Soundbites that were always brief and, when read aloud, sounded like the reactions of yes men.

One mentioned Johnny Blaze showing up. Good idea! Another Dan getting answers from Dr Strange. Good idea! I began thinking of the fan I first mentioned and how he wanted to see more of Dan's personal life, and how jaunting and random it seemed for Dan to suddenly need to go to work in issue 6 among other things never before mentioned. Suddenly, I was worried. Not for the readers or for myself, but for this Dan character. Trapped in his own never ending Truman Show. The Animal Man of our 90s.

Realising I had blabbered a good third of the review on a letterbox located somewhere in America twenty seven years ago, I began to read. We are now in pure, blood soaked horror territory. Dan sits atop a broken mound of refuse in a red filled landscape holding aloft the skull of the Ghost Rider. And, as we are going from a Hamlet angle, I suppose I should say the skull spaketh unto him. It tries to convince him that he is not a singular entity "there is no you"; that he and the Ghost Rider are the same thing; and that it didn't bring the sorrow and pain into Dan's existence as it was already there to begin with. It is hard to judge if this is an unreliable narrator or a guiding light. When Dan proclaims he can rid himself of the demon with the support of others it replies, rather ominously, "it's true that they'll help you rid yourself of me. But they'll take plenty more away from you if you let them."

Dan climbs toward a congregation held atop a mountain of writing bodies. He sees a vision of his sister, in tears, marrying Blackout with Deathwatch as some sort of ninja priest. When he reaches the objection clause, Dan interrupts only to be mocked by Blackout who informs him that his sister's blood will be "in my mouth and on your hands" every night, and promising that just as Blackout can no longer look at himself in the mirror anymore since all he sees is hideous; neither will Dan be able to as his life will be made an endless nightmare of guilt.

This dream sequence reaffirms the psychopathic Blackout as the primary antagonist of the series; the biggest threat to Dan and his family and, though it leaves many questions still to answer, I hope it also ends the character's resistance of his power and his previous two dimensional lamenting of how great power brings great irritability. The Rider approaches and asks Dan to join with him and suddenly, before he wakes, Dan sees a glimpse of his father - a shadow in the distance who compels him to obey the bike.

Back in the real world, Blackout shows himself as a man of his dream-word by doing an Angel from Buffy season 2 - before there was such a thing - and killing off all Dan comes into contact with in a bid to drive him over the edge into darkness. Dan has the power to stop this and, when news of the deaths of neighbours and friends reach him, immediately sets out into the night goading out Blackout to face him.

Ever since issue four, Dan has continued to progress as a character and we see here a heroic drive in his energy. He spends a great deal of time comforting his loved ones seeming nervous, protective and cautious as he watches over them even before Blackout has attacked. It is good to see him as a realistic character who reacts to the world around him rather than just a troubled and angry furnishing for the demon.

A kidnapped child storyline has been developing over the last few issues which I never mentioned before due to space; as it was hard to know if would unfold or remain a surface level, overt demonstration of the dark world of the comic. In this issue and the last, that slightness of subplot has been developed and now an all-female organization are being called in to save the day. H.E.A.R.T. which stands for Humans Engaging All Racial Terrorism - because that was the best backronym somebody could come up with to a time limit I guess - are a hi tech, superhero feminism pandering opportunity disguised as a plot device.

Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but I can only judge it by what's on offer in this one comic. In this issue, they show up to a meeting between desperate parents and angry townsfolk to point, walk around with a business briefcase; that they never open or use and declare things will be done on their terms. The reader first encounters the group halfway through a discussion so questions like what are these terms? Why are they here? And why all they do later is pose with guns like sophisticated pin up girls and sometimes shout their names is left to our own interpretation. Moving on.

The Rider finds a child in danger only to be attacked by a goliath like monster which believes he is behind the kidnappings. Unfortunately, this distraction allows Blackout to kill the child when she falls into an open grave. When it is bested, the creature turns to a liquid and seeps into the earth. The Ghost Rider then does something more unexpected: states crummily "I must go now. It is the time. But I will return to this place again." Is it the end of the issue? Yep. Can the writer not think of a more reasoned excuse to delay Ghost Rider? Even a more contrived one? This is the second time he has simply refused to do anything on the grounds that the page count won’t allow for it and here, he even seems to be looking at me. Was this an attempt to break the fourth wall?

In the words of Jim Carrey in Batman Forever "Too many questions."

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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