Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Dr Strange and the worst drug story imaginable

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.


Seventy two years ago, Frederick Weltham wrote Seduction of the Innocent, a novel damming the comic book industry as one of the leading causes of juvenile delinquency in America. So fierce were his words. So damming was his criticism. That The Comics Code Authority was formed that year to dampen the seering flames of moral outrage that had burst from the usually laidback and conservative 50’s suburban America.  

The Code functioned on the principle of monitoring the level of sex, violence and drug use in the industry and was a necessary seal of approval to boost sales. Unfortunately, the code did not govern bad writing. Because if it did, Dr Strange #28 and Ghost Rider #12 would be banned from sale forever and our planet would have been a much healthier; wholesome place for it. 

Comics such as these are not just bad because they are boring, stupid, inexcusable brain sedatives that have actually served to reduce the earth’s oxygen a fraction through mass tree waste. They are bad because they degrade every comic that came before and after it in series by mere association. And that’s a lot of dead trees and homeless squirrels to have on your conscience. As this is the conclusion to a Ghost Rider story, I will be reviewing it as continuation of that Ghost Rider story.

Opinions are like arseholes and everyone has them but for me what made Ghost Rider cool as a kid was his minimalism. He would act loud and say very little; often just the bare essentials in two to three word sentences usually informing a villain how completely screwed they were.
It’s not a hard and fast rule but it’s what I and many other fans have come to expect. 

What they perhaps might not expect would be for him to say “Hitteth spawned fiend!” or “You would stay my avenging hand?” whilst shaking his fist and continuing “it is not my aim to harm the blameless” amid other awkward archaic quips  that sound like an actor trying to recite Henry V from memory whilst chocking a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Dr Strange sounds exactly the same. I struggled through the pages looking for that nod or wink of an eye indicating the characters were poking fun at each other. Unfortunately, they were not. This is played straight folks.

Another nit-pick would be the art which has that cheesy and light Saturday morning cartoon joy running through it that I found deeply patronising and offensive from age seven, let alone now. I would be willing to gamble this comic was losing sales each month through art alone. This is not the way comics looked during the Silver Age. It is not the way comics should have looked during the 90s.

At the very least, it is a huge step back for Ghost Rider and the immense personality crafted in him by artists such as Javier Saltares. He end up losing the small fraction of identity he retained whilst not speaking in Shakespearian verse. Put simply he can’t even stand still and be inoffensive in this comic. 

But even this does not compare to the story.
The story is the worst part for me to layout for you here. I honestly feel like I’m breaking bad news to anyone who reads it. To put it plainly the story is Scientology OT3 equivalent. That’s the stage that causes your head to explode should you reach it unprepared; you will never be prepared for what Strange Tales part 1 and 2 did to the narrative. 

I can’t do it justice. Instead I can only offer my account of it just as Jack Black could only tribute the greatest song in the world, but is cursed to never be able to repeat it in full again. So too can I never truly divulge how shocking this story is.

But, I will try.

(Act 1) Zodiak first appears as a covert assassin who masqueraded as a serial killer in order to hide his marks and escape conviction as a contract killer. He leaves astrological marking at the crime scenes in blood and has a variety of odd weapons- all astrology based. His victims are all drug dealers owned by some ? or a group of ? who also employed him and had him commit the crime for a ? reason. 

(Act 2)  Nothing’s changed but apparently he smokes cigars and has his own chauffer along with additional employees

(Act 3) His weapons are supplied by a satisfied customer from another dimension who also share his boss. It turns out his boss(es) is/are from another dimension. Therefore, the drug dealers are employed by inter-dimensional people and the drugs are from another dimension.  He sacrifices children in a basement lab with strange cultists who summon dragons
(Act 4/this issue) It turns out his boss(es) were actually daemons called dyktors who feed on suffering and pain and grow in strength with each kill he makes. Also, now, he’s not killing drug dealers he’s killing everyone.

(Act 5) It turns out he is a drug baron. He has always been a drug baron. Maybe the drugs were so powerful he could see into other realms and that’s how demons influenced him? Unexplained.

(Act 6) The means the dykors approached and hired him was literally by knocking on the door of his book store during some X men comic in the Inferno arc. It turns out he is a shop keeper.


Demons from another dimension came to earth and got everybody dealing demon drugs – which for the sake of argument we’ll call Brand X. 

One day, they inexplicably decide to kill everyone peddeling Brand X in order to cover up their existence and hired a book store owner; also dealing Brand X, to become an astrological themed con artist in order to disguise the fact that he was actually a covert assassin killing Brand X sellers

He smoked occasionally and enjoyed the luxury of having a chauffeur named Louie. 

In order to appease them, he would offer children periodically in underground ceremonies conducted by basement dwelling warlocks. 

Sometimes, they sent him a dragon. 

The man eventually started killing everyone only to be killed by being knocked onto a tow boat by a man dressed in a fishnet tank top.

And so ends the Zodiak Killer aka Norman. R.I.P.

What happened…?

I actually don’t blame Howard Mackie for this, and it would be unfair to do so. He has proven he can craft a fun, silly and entertaining action story with fleshed out characters or even a dark and sombre one. The real problem the series was running into was a seeming behind the scenes chaos – it was a little suspect that no sooner was Stan Lee presenting the comic Ghost Rider had a no killing retcon – coupled with a company desire to prop up a sinking assets–Dr Strange was massively underselling at the time – by tying a more successful character into it. 

I believe Mackie originally intended for Zodiak to tie in with Deathwatch. As soon as the arc was over we had another drug dealer character – Snowblind – who also worked for Deathwatch. Perhaps Zodiak was intended to bump off small time dealers to provice Snowblind the monopoly on the cities drug market. In some way maybe the minor dealers of the city are employed by Deathwatch or at the very least owned by gangs affiliated with him. I’m sure fans have their own theories. 

Mine is that one, faithful cold afternoon the writer was instructed to finish his story in the Dr Strange comic and link everything in with the Inferno cross over; then rushed this two parter to meet his contracted deadline. 

Nothing speaks rushed more than the awkward way Ghost Rider talks.

We forgive you Mackie, you gave it your best. 

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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