Friday, 3 June 2016

Ghost Rider #24 (April 1992)

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 #24

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

Overview: Ghost Rider faces Deathwatch.

1 DAY UNTIL Beemageddon!

There seems to be a strange form of politics over at Marvel which I can’t fully say I appreciate or understand. The rules go like this: the villains can do anything they want in our comics, kill anyone, rape anyone, break anyone but the heroes may never kill back. Unless, of course, it turns out they are fighting a daemon or a robot. 

That’s exactly what happens in this issue. As Deathwatch and his two servants tie up everyone in the hospital housing Snowblind in a Wickerman like sacrificial ritual, and casually go through them breaking their necks. Luckily for anyone wanting to see retribution upon him – people with eyes – it turns out he is an interdimensional daemon or an interdimensional demon alien or something that the Marvel lawyers can all agree is wonderfully unbefitting of their rights to life policy. 

The reason I say “Marvel lawyers” is because, of course, we have seen Ghost Rider kill before Way back in the first three issues…you know, when Stan Lee didn’t present the comic. Nobody at the company expected Ghost Rider as a series to become such a runaway success. It was practically laughed at as B grade material and given over to the writers and artists to practically do what they wanted with it. By the time it was published, Ghost Rider #1 had stormed the top ten comics lists of the  90s and flew off the shelves, and, to prove this was no cult of comic book collectors wanting to be millionaires, continued to stay in the top ten even with the publication of the next two issues. Something Mackie, Ward and Texeira had done was resonating with the times and they had brought attention that way. By issue four, Stan Lee was presenting the comic just as he would X-men and Spider-man and would have his soapbox page placed in the back along with the fan mail. 

Suddenly, Ghost Rider is on his best behaviour and telling the Punisher not to shoot unarmed men. Of course, I can’t prove any of this, but it was pretty jarring given how in issue three he had rammed a Sai through a ninja’s spleen and breaking had squeezed the life from another by chocking him with his chains. Even Ghost Rider himself seemed to be complaining about this in many of the issues particularly with the last one where he finally went "sod the vow, where is he?" only to be told Deathwatch was a doom teddy or crab person, or whatever he is.

The reason I say “whatever he is” is because we are never told. The comic attitude is we don’t need to be told. All we need to know is that Deathwatch can die. And boy, does he: as Ghost Rider rams his chain into his torso so hard that he explodes. And he explodes so hard that it takes the entire top section of the hospital with him. 

Maybe it’s anticlimactic to divulge this halfway through a review, but this  really was an anticlimactic issue. Given how well paced the last issue was which ended in Ghost Rider being vindicated after an incredible media build up or how fun and exciting issue twenty two was with a ninja attack and smaller characters being involved, this one is a little underwhelming.

To be fair to it, it does tie up the villain story quite well, but I really wanted more information on the villain and not just a battle. I had expected some sort of explanation. The last quote on the matter is “he’s not human.” The opportune questions seems to be, so, what is he? We never get that answer because when this issue has opened, Ghost Rider has already left the hospital and Deathwatch is now there. What is this comic’s phobia of the origin story?

When Ghost Rider arrives back at the hospital because he senses death it is to find everybody dead – of course – and to make Deathwatch explode. Maybe Deathwatch was a bomb? It’s not ever fully described in the imagery or text, but, from what I guess, he is channelling his hellfire through his chain which is turning the villain into a living explosive like in that movie Live Wire. But even this doesn’t make sense, because we’ve been told before that Ghost Rider’s fire is magical which is why he doesn’t set fire to every building he enters.

The fight is befitting a final showdown. Ghost Rider pulls what I like to call a Joss Whedon move by anti-climactically knocking out Hag and Troll with one punch before walking over them to get to Deathwatch. The battle rages inside and outside the hospital and Deathwatch beats the Rider with his own hellfire imbued rib whilst jeering at him. ”What a cruel, yet fair, joke has been played on you.” He gloats, “you have been given the visage of death itself and yet you won’t take a life. Whereas I have taken on that form which humans consider attractive and I revel in death.”
Year two ends with everyone dead and Ghost Rider is left wondering what he’s going to do now. I can’t help but wonder the same thing.

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