Darkhold #4 (January – 1993 – Marvel)

Darkhold #4

When last we left the Darkhold Redeemers they were jumping out of the frying pan and into the fryer.  Deep in the south of Perfection, South Carolina, Sam Buchanan was just about to get eaten by demons, when he is saved by a not so nice benefactor, Sabretooth.  Fortunately the demon that Sabertooth thought he killed isn’t dead, and has a grip of friends to back him up, giving Buchanan a chance to get away and try to find his partners.

Meanwhile Aurora, the woman who unleashed The Other on this unsuspecting little town, gets to witness firsthand what her foray into black magic has caused. Demons that she let loose tear apart her only friend in the town.  While those same demons were surrounding Vicki Montesi they passed her by like she was invisible.  Sitting in the basement of the local school in shock she is found by Louise Hastings and Buchanan just in time for Sabertooth to catch up with them.  Who in spite of his mutant healing factor is just about dead.

Buchanan talks Sabertooth down, and everybody takes a second to catch their breath which is when Louise figures out where the demons are coming from.  They are the N’Garai and they come from a portal that is located in the rock quarry.  Vicki, who is invisible to the N’Garai, and Sabertooth decide to make a run for the portal to destroy it, but upon arriving find Modred there already.  He has no plans to close the portal, all he wants to do is test if humans can go through it so he can get into Chthon’s realm.  Throwing someone that is caught up in the battle against the demons into the portal he finds that he will not be able to cross over into that realm, at the cost of innocent life.  Only one person can stop them, so with a belt of grenades Aurora (the woman who used the Darkhold page in the first place) pitches herself into the portal, blowing it to smithereens.  The Darkholders save the day again, but just in time for the Dwarf to show up with another black envelope.  This time for a man named Styge.

Chris Cooper hits the plot line of Darkhold full stride in this issue.  At this point it has moved forward from episodic to ongoing, and it becomes the kind of title that, at the time, I had to pick up month to month.  I was always wondering what was going to come up next.  The art from Nick Felchle seems less chunky and bold than previous issues, but he has no problem conveying different kinds of N’Garai.  Nothing to crazy though, everything seems to be cut from a superhero with a cray head or body mold.  Overall this is a decent issue that keeps me coming back for more.

Next Time:  Ghost Rider: Fear Itself #2

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Darkhold #3 (December – 1992 – Marvel)

Darkhold #3

As the Darkhold Redeemers are saved by a mysterious benefactor, one Modred the Mystic, and he has a tale to tell.  A tale all about his journey with the Darkhold, lost love and the birth of his enormous magical powers.  So in the wake of their previous escapade with a gamma bomb and one of the pages of the dark hold, Modred whisks the away from the ground zero of that battle to safety of Louise Hasting’s office, where Vicki Montesi has another premonition about the location of a Darkhold page that is about to be used.

Meanwhile across the country, Wanda Maximoff, AKA The Scarlet Witch has opened a portal to something dark, something that chooses to posses her.  A dark god named Chthon, the deity behind the Darkhold itself.  Things are moving forward and the Darkhold Redeemers have to get to the page before it is used.

Unfortunately they are to late.  In Perfection, South Carolina Aurora Poule is give a choice, by The Other, between being beautiful and having her revenge on those that have hurt her.  She chooses to be beautiful, to move forward, but the people of the town won’t let her.  Soon they are taunting her she again becomes the victim of rape at the hands of town jocks.  Returning to her home she tells The Other that she would like her revenge.  Creatures are released upon the town.

Right around that time the Darkhold Redemers arrive to find the page and search the town to find out what is going on.  Sam fights off monsters but still seems to think that there is no such thing as the paranormal, but then is confronted by an old enemy returned, Sabertooth.

This is a decent one off issue, and it starts to really move the over arching story of the Darkhold forward by digging into Modred’s saga and giving a little more page time the Darkhold cult that seems to be working behind the scenes either controlling the dwarf who is handing out the pages or tracking him.

The art in this issue maintains that dark and heavy black tone of the first two issues (this time worked out with a little more fine detail by Tony Harris who went on to do Whistling Skull).  This is a pretty bleak issue, and like a lot of the issues of Darkhold it isn’t afraid to deal with some pretty serious subject matter.  Rape and cover up in a small town, pretty serious shit, and this doesn’t have any “Mature Content” tags anywhere on it.

This is still one of my favorite titles from the 90’s and the Midnight Sons, and it is really fun re-reading them.

Next Time:  Morbius: The Living Vampire #2

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Ghost Rider & Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #2 (September – 1992 – Marvel)

Spirits of Vengeance #2

Taking place between Morbius #1 and Darkhold #1 the second issue of Spirits of Vengeance is a bit of a one off.  Returning to the Quinten Carnival for a bit of a break.  When you are John Blaze you don’t get a break though, and on the way back they pick up a follower.  At the behest of her master, Styge, Steel Wind is on a mission to have her vengeance on Ghost Rider and Blaze.

She is going to look silly while enacting that vengeance too.  Looking like she walked right out of an issue of Youngblood she was clearly a nod to the idea that Image was putting out comics that scared Marvel to death.  At the time those Image titles looked so fresh and cutting edge, and there were some serious missteps in the Marvel Universe where they overcompensated to try and keep up.

Luckily John Blaze saves the shit out of this issue.  A midst a brutally pedestrian monologue from Steel Wind about vengeance and justice and the wrongs done to her and her sister.  Blaze, ever the tough guy biker bashes her up side the head and holds her to the ground with a boot knife.  There is something to be said about how awesome a guy can look in a trench coat with a giant knife standing next to a motorcycle.  This verges on a lot of the same problems that I have with Nightstalkers, but reigns itself in right when I think I’m going to get really irritate with it.

After Steel Wind gets put in her place and Blaze tells us about how much he loves his family (not just wife and kids but the carnival as well).  The Rider (who is in a coma for a lot of the book) tells Blaze that he knows what he needs to do to save Dan Ketch (who is trapped inside the Ghost Rider with mortal wounds), and that next step is finding the Darkhold Redeemers.  The interweaving of story lines was my favorite part of the Midnight Sons in the 90’s and it is still one of the coolest parts of all the books.  The issues stand up just fine on their own, but if you want to read the full scope of it, you have to pick up the other titles.  Pretty great marketing scheme now that I think on it for a little bit, and Marvel got the bulk of my allowance for my middle school years so it worked.

I feel like a lot of the issues of Spirits of Vengeance that are time lined between the other Midnight Sons issues feel like they are just there to tread water.  They are place holders while a bigger story is going on.  Good for fleshing out the back stories and personalities of the main characters.  Bad for becoming a place where stupid villains go to die.  Unfortunately Steel Wind is one of those stupid villains that thankfully is gone, for now.

Next Time:  Witch Doctor Volume 1: Under the Knife

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Darkhold #2 (November -1992 – Marvel)

Darkhold #2

Outside of the Spirits of Vengeance title, Darkhold was my favorite of the Midnight Sons books.  There was something about its angular art work and heavy black shading style that always appealed to me.  For some reason (which in retrospect has a lot to do with me being a kid and not knowing better) I felt that the book looked modern and hip, and to this day it looks different from pretty much any book that I have been into over the years.

So the second issue of Darkhold takes place after the Rise of the Midnight Sons series and the defeat of Lilith by the Midnight Sons.  Vicki Montesi, Sam Buchanan, and Louise Hastings are hot on the heels of another black envelope, this time tracking down an arsonist who has been given a Gamma bomb by the mysterious Other.  This time they have little help in finding the page that is on the loose by way of a hell hound whose only job is to track down the page and destroy it.

All the while they are being badgered by not only the Darkholders who seek the release of whatever evil the Darkhold has in store for the world, but also of government agents who are just trying to keep intruders away from the already compromised Gamma bomb.  The three fighters just can’t seem to catch a break, leading up to the final panels.  Modred the Mystic’s appearance to screw things up, and the evil Darkhold dwarf handing out yet another of the Darkhold’s pages to an unsuspecting victim.

While the issues of Darkhold are part of an ongoing series, it was one of the best for stand alone issues.  While the whole of the series made a great overall story, the creature feature narrative made it so you could miss an issue or two know the basics of what was going on, but get a great thriller in just on issue.  A real testament to writer Chris Cooper’s ability to put together a great book.

The art by Richard Case, who also drew for Doom Patrol and Doctor Strange, is quirky and angular, and still remains one of my all time favorite styles (to the point where I’m thinking of hunting down other things that he has done) and made Darkhold a must have every month for me when I was in middle school.  Overall Darkhold is a solid comic, and while this issue is part of the world, and character building that every title needs, it is a really solid issue with tie ins all over the place with the rest of the Marvel Universe.

Next Time:  Essential: Marvel Horror Vol. 1

Rise of the Midnight Sons (TPB – 2000 – Marvel)

Rise of the Midnight Sons TPB

Rise of the Midnight Sons TPB

Collecting Ghost Rider #28 & #31, Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #1, Darkhold #1, Morbius #1, and Nightstalkers #1.

When I was 12 I desperately wanted this collection.  I would pick up my copy of Wizard every month and see how much my poly-bagged collectors issues of the Rise of the Midnight Sons series was up to.  Because like most everyone else in the 90’s there was a brief moment when I thought all of those first issue collectors editions would be worth thousands of dollars soon, and I would be able to buy all the comics that I ever wanted ever when I traded them in.  In the mean time I wanted to have this collection so I could read the books that were trapped in those collectors poly-bags over and over again.  What better way to do that than with a collection in book form that would never be worth as much as my single issues would ever be.

I never got it, because it was twenty dollars, and while my middle school allowance would cover a couple of books that were $2.50 a week, I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to just save up for a month to pick it up.  I had to have the books that were on the stands that week.  If I waited to pick up the graphic novel, how would I ever keep up with the current titles.  Oh the mind of a 12 year old geek!

Now I’m an adult, and there is ebay, and this little gem allowed me to pick up all those old poly-bagged comics and this guy so that I could reread the titles, without taking them out of their precious bags.  (though the giant poster that they all make is a huge temptation to open them).  I have to tell you, having these in a collection isn’t a let down at all.  These comics are just as fun as I remember them being.

The entire saga begins with Ghost Rider #28.  John Blaze is following around the newly minted Ghost Rider, Dan Ketch as he goes on a vengeance spree.  He is collecting common criminals and piling their inert Penance Stared out bodies in a crypt in a cemetery.  The cops are catching on to the action in the cemetery and soon Blaze and the Ghost rider find themselves trapped.  Enter The Caretaker another enigmatic motorcycle riding man who shows them a back way out of the crypt.  They escape, but stranger and more important things are afoot, as Lilith mother of demons has returned to the Earth, and her Lillin including her child Blackout are out to help her conquer the world.

Spirits of Vengeance #1 continues the tale, Blaze and Ghosty are still on the run from the cops, making their way back to the carnival that Blaze runs with his family.  Blaze isn’t sure why Ghost Rider is going so mad with rage until the Rider shares the vision of Lilith that he has had with Blaze.  The rush back to the carnival intensifies.  Meanwhile Lilith is reborn and her children gather to her in the Antarctic, including the teleporter Pilgrim.  Soon Blaze and Ghost Rider are back in the carnival and Lilith is is “getting the band back together,” by soliciting the help of Creed, and evil priest that can shoot his limbs from his body.  A showdown at the carnival is imminent, and the title doesn’t disappoint.  The Lillin and the carnies battle it out, with Blaze and The Rider coming out on top.

With Lilith on retreat, Blaze and The Ghost Rider go in search of other creatures that are a part of Ghost Rider’s vision of Lilith.  Thinking that all who were revealed to him will be enemies.  Enter Michael Morbius in Morbius #1.  Ghost Rider and Blaze arrive looking for him, ready to destroy him, not realizing that though he suffers from an insatiable lust for blood, it is tempered by his humanity.  He is a vampire through infection, and longs for nothing but to be free from his disease.  With that in mind he solicits help from another doctor friend who has helped him develop a serum that keeps him normal.  Everything is fine until one of Lilith’s children sneaks in and adds a little bit of demon blood to the serum.  Morbius goes mad and Blaze and Ghosty think they are going to have to put him down.  Instead Morbius gets control of himself, and vows to Ghost Rider to only feed on the blood of the corrupt.  Problem solved, time for Blaze and Ghost Rider to move on.

I feel obligated to point out here the vast superiority that this comic has to the current Marvel Now Morbius title.  Everything about it is better.  The art is darker, the plot is thicker, Morbius is way more serious about healing himself, and taking out some baddies on the way to recovery.  I’m still going to read the new Morbius title, but revisiting this one just reminds me of how far the new one falls short.

Darkhold #1 introduces us to a new villain.  The Darkhold, a book full of the most evil of spells, and the hideous little dwarf that is handing pages of it out to unsuspecting citizens.  Meanwhile a cabal of evil men called The Darkholders is busy trying to enable the dwarf to spread his vile darkness.  Blaze and the Ghost Rider come to put an end to the latest creature that The Darkhold has release, just in time for Lilith and her brood to fight against them as well.  Also arrives Vicki Montesi, daughter of one of the men sworn to keep the Darkhold in check, Sam Buchanan an agent from Interpol that has no belief in the mystical but has been charge with protecting Vicki and Louise Hastings an occultist that is driven to fight the Darkholders as well.  Soon the Darkholders, teamed up with Lilith go on the attack but with the aid of Ghost Rider and John Blaze they are able to thwart not only the two cults, but also the worm creature that threatens to consume all of humanity.  Lilith is on the run again.

The Nightstalkers are also a team, and their vow is to literally purge the earth of all supernatural creatures.  That includes Ghost Rider.   So when Ghosty comes knocking on the door of Blade, Frank Drake and Hannibal King, they are ready for a fight.  The same basic misunderstanding that happens between Blaze and the Rider with Morbius occurs here.  Soon though the Spirits of Vengeance and the Nightstalkers are Teaming up to defeat a common enemy, Lilith and her children.  There is one exception though, aside from teaming up to defeat Lilith the Nightstalkers make it clear that Ghost Rider is not safe with them.  There is no tentative agreement, only their desire to see all supernatural creatures eradicated from the Earth.

Which brings us to Ghost Rider #31, the Midnight Sons have all met.  The lines have been drawn and the time for the Midnight Sons to confront Lilith has come.  Pilgrim draws all the players to Antarctica and the battle begins, drawing to the logical conclusion.  Semi-good triumphs over ultimate evil.

As a whole this series stands the test of time.  It is dark and bold.  The evil is really evil and the good guys aren’t really a whole lot better.  The art is strong and the writing isn’t nearly as cheesy as this kind of horror vigilante super hero stuff can be (seriously check out some of the Punisher stuff from the 90’s the writing in them is so weak it is nearly painful).  For me it is hard to go wrong with these titles, I’m sure as I dig into the subsequent issues of them I will regret saying that but for now they are great.  If you haven’t dug into this branch of the Marvel Universe, it is worth a little trip to visit the Midnight Sons.

Next time: Revival #1