Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #3 (October – 1992 – Marvel)

Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #3

Ghost Rider and John Blaze are still on the hunt for Lilith, but she has plans to unleash some of her children on them in an effort to wipe them out.  As they hunt she uses Pilgrim’s ability to travel instantly in space to arrive on the door step of her child Skinner.  Skinner has moved on in his life, he no longer hunts humans and monsters, and he wants nothing to do with what he thinks is a dead religion.  Now he has a family; he has a wife and kids.  There is a deeper familial obligation at work when Lilith shows up on his door step.

Lilith commands him to go and hunt Ghosty and Blaze.  He eliminates his old family by killing them, and then the hunt is on.  Skinner, as far as horror villains go, is pretty interesting. He has a kind of bone spur thing going that allows giant blades to come out of his arms (sort of like Wolverine’s claws), the flesh on his body is another matter though.  The whole of his being is his bones, all of his flesh is gathered from the corpses of his victims, with his family being the last bits that he has placed on himself (and his only memento of them).  So when John Blaze burns all of the flesh off of Skinner, though Skinner lives he is even more enraged than he was before.  The last bits of his murdered family are gone.

Writer Howard Mackie paints a really bleak story here.  One that is punctuated by two fathers.  Blaze who is trying to save the world and thereby endangering his family, and Skinner who is torn between the Lilin and his new family.  Blaze contemplates that maybe the risk that he is putting his family in makes him no different than Skinner.  Something that Ghost Rider, in a rare moment of humanity, assures him he is not.

Artist Adam Kubert makes this story pop off of the page.  The bones that sprout from Skinner look painful and raw.  the rage on Blaze’s face when he realizes that Skinner murdered his own family is palpable.  This cover also happens to be one of my favorite Spirits of Vengeance covers.  I remember the first time I saw it at the newsstand that I was actually horrified that maybe Ghost Rider and Blaze were defeated in a battle with this new and bulky foe.  I really dig the whited out cover look too.

Next Time:  Whistling Skull #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

Ghost Rider: Team Up (TPB – 2007 – Marvel)

Cover

Ghost Rider: Team Up

Collecting:  Marvel Team-Up #91, Marvel Two-in-One #80, Marvel Premier #28, Avengers #214, Ghost Rider #27 & #50

The Ghost Rider title is near and dear to my heart.  In the 90’s when the Spirits of Vengeance title was starting, I was starting to read comics regularly, and all of the Midnight Sons titles really got me going.  I would trundle my way up to the grocery store (before I even knew there was such a thing as comic book shops) and pick up the new issues every week.  Typically spending my whole allowance on it.

The progression of Ghost Rider’s character from the 70’s into the 90’s when I picked it up is pretty drastic.  Here the John Blaze version of Ghost Rider isn’t beholden to the Satanic powers inside of him (not clearly stated as possession by the demon Zarathos), he has a better grasp on how to control the spirit inside of him.  In this collection there is a remarkably self possessed John Blaze as he fights along side some of Marvel’s best and brightest.

Starting out with a Marvel Premier that features The Legion of Monsters, a kind of monster super group that has reared its head up a couple of times since.  Consisting of Ghost Rider, Morbius, Man Thing and Werewolf by Night they are featured in a pretty disjointed story that involves a volcano erupting in the middle of Los Angeles at the behest of Starseed.  Starseed is a misunderstood god like creature that wants only to bring peace and healing to the Earth.

Because of his mode of arrival the Legion of Monsters turns on him.  Not willing to hear his story they attack and destroy, but not before Starseed reveals that he could cure them each of their affliction (which is the most confusing to Man Thing).  So they end up eliminating their potential savior in typical anti-hero fashion.  No wonder Legion of Monsters didn’t really catch on as a title.  The stand alone is really pretty silly.

Not quite as silly as the next issue Ghost Rider #27 features a duke out between Ghost Rider and Manticore (a throw away villain if ever there was one), but with the aide of Hawkeye and Two-Gun Kid.  Clearly trying to tie in some kind of cowboy and indian theme to the outlaw biker image of Ghost Rider.  All three heroes lament their solitude and loneliness despite having to work together to defeat a common foe.  It just proves that throwing a semi big hero name into a different semi beg hero title doesn’t work that great.

Marvel Team-Up #91 pulls the typical Team Up tactic of having two heroes fight each other before they align against the evil that plagues the both.  This Team Up features Spider Man attending a circus side show that features Ghost Rider as a flaming man.  Ghost Rider is under the influence of the evil Moon Dark the Magician.  He is on a quest to steal souls to help convince Satan to give him eternal life.  Moon Dark has control of Ghost Rider and forces the two heroes to go head to head, until the secret ring that holds Ghost Rider’s soul is broken, releasing him from the spell.  Ass kicking on the part of Spidey and the Rider commences.  The quips and attitude of the Web Slinger make him a perfect team up character, and in this issue of the collection it shows.  The interplay between villains and heroes is spot on for a really fun, one shot.

Issue #50 of Ghost Rider comes next and it is hands down the best in this collection.  The Rider travels back to the old west where he teams up with Night Rider (a wild west prototype of the Ghost Rider).  Fighting the manifest spirit of Manitou the two face down bandits and ancient Native American spirits.  It is a romp and a great stand alone issue (though it obviously connects to the issues of Ghost Rider that surround it) that has all the tropes of a wild west showdown and the kind of supernatural shenanigans that Ghost Rider fans (old and new) expect.  This is my favorite issue in the collection.

Marvel Two-in-One #80 is tale about monsters and coming to terms with being a monster.  Featuring The Thing in one of his many Two-In-One appearances both heroes spend time coming to terms with the separation that being a creature of frighting visage causes.  It is pretty standard fare for both Ghost Rider and the Thing.  Contrary to typical team up style comics there is is no common foe for The Thing to fight with Ghost Rider to defeat.  Instead the issue has Thing fighting Ghost Rider to bring John Blaze back to the fore.  Ben Grimm appeals to the humanity within the inhuman, other wise The Spirit of Vengeance is hell bent on rendering two young joy riders  obsolete via the penance stare.  In the end Blaze’s humanity wins out and the Ghost Rider is brought back under control.  Leaving Blaze to ride off into the sunset lamenting his solitude and The Thing to return to The Baxter Building to appreciate that at least he has someone to go home too.

The final issue in the collection, Avengers #214, is the most modern in the collection.  Dealing with many of the same issues that the previous issue in the collection dealt with.  Coinciding with Yellowjacket’s removal from the Avengers, it tells how poorly things can go when those who are overwhelmed don’t ask for help.  The chaos that spiral out of Yellowjacket’s screw ups are mirrored by John Blaze losing control of Ghost Rider and attacking one of the Avengers.  As all of the Avenger’s pile up on Ghost Rider we learn that the cult of heroism isn’t all it is cracked up to be, and that in the long run, no many how much your rage and depression are out of control you have a choice.  As well as having a bit of an Ayn Randian nod to laws and regulations being less powerful than self.

The collection is a great look at the Ghost Rider of the past, but over all is about half good.  The reality is that there is only so much that you can do to advance ideas in one off team up style comics.  There is a standard format that is hard to break out from and as a consequence really limits the format.  I love Ghost Rider though, so reading some old issues in full color is great (a part of me with the Essential collections were in color too).  Decent collection but nothing overwhelming.

Next Time:  Crawling Sky #1