Friday, February 17, 2012
On February 17th, 2012 the feature-length film sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance will premiere. In honor of the new film from Columbia Pictures, I'll be doing a list of my top ten favorite comic book stories featuring the Spirit of Vengeance himself, Ghost Rider!
10. Werewolf By Night (1998) #6
While "Love Is Colder Than Death, Part One" only features a brief cameo by Ghost Rider, it is actually one of my favorite depictions of Ghost Rider as the Lord of Hell.
The timeframe the comic falls into last saw Ghost Rider as the ruler of the realm. While this turn of events within the actual run of Ghost Rider's own title wasn't all that great, I enjoy lead protagonist Jack Russell, also known as Werewolf by Night, having a sit-down with the now lord of hell in an Underworld Club like it's just another piece of Crime Fiction.
The piece also has the distinction of being one of the few things from writer Paul Jenkins that I actually like and the art from Lenardo Manco has the feel and tone of the Vertigo line from DC Comics. Of course it isn't really much of a surprise that he later went on to provide art for Hellblazer.
9. Ghost Rider (2007) #8-11 Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Illinois
A relatively recent pick, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Illinois", while a practitioner of non-condensed storytelling, features too much of a great hook by writer Daniel Way to ignore. Since the Ghost Rider's escape from Hell, the Devil himself has been split up into the bodies of 666 deceased individuals and it is up to Johnny Blaze aka The Ghost Rider to take them all down.
So even though "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Illinois" has been "written for the trade", the wonderful visualization of the recently killed super-villain Jack O' Lantern and Ghost Rider fighting one another is truly a wonder to behold. This features the classic Ghost Rider art team from his rebirth in the early 1990's, Javier Saltares and Mark Texiera. Nothing says Ghost Rider more to me than these two gentleman providing the artwork. It's also easy to see how the supporting characters in the small town could confuse two scary ass dudes with their heads on fire.
8. Ghost Rider (1994) Ann #2
"Wish For Pain" is the lead story from Warren Ellis that features an epic confrontation between the Ghost Rider and the appropriated Captain America villain, The Scarecrow. Essentially Ellis gives us a character study of the psychotic perspective of Ebenezer Laughton who is the depraved super-villain called the Scarecrow.
This issue does go to show how an inker can make or break the artwork on a particular issue. Again we have pencils from Javier Saltares, however the inks from Mike Witherby don't really do them a whole lot of justice in my opinion.
By the time the Scarecrow is added to the Ghost Rider mythos, his abilities became somewhat supernatural in nature and grew in direct proportion to the fear of those around him. The more people feared the Scarecrow, the quicker he could heal from any damage done to his person. Naturally since the Ghost Rider does not fear him, they are natural antagonists.
The way Scarecrow seeks to circumvent the Ghost Rider's natural immunity to his gifts is to surround himself with a House of 1,000 (albeit living, but potential) Corpses, if you will. This not only stays the Ghost Rider's violent hand in vengeance, but provides Laughton with an unlimited source of fear-power. Ghost Rider eventually uses the Scarecrow's own machinations against him so he receives his just deserts.
7. Ghost Rider (1990) #2
"Do Be Afraid of The Dark", by long time Ghost Rider scribe Howard Mackie, is probably better read as the second part of the first three issues of the 1990's Ghost Rider comic series. However, this comic has the virtue of being my first ever exposure to the Spirit of Vengeance,so it will always have a special place in my heart.
The new Ghost Rider's alter ego is a young kid from Brooklyn named Danny Ketch. Since I was born in Brooklyn and my grandmother lived there for many years, this adds another layer to the affinity I have for the character.
The art team on the story is once again the classic pair of Javier Saltares and Mark Texiera. Even though there would be more story to come, the issue climaxes with Ghost Rider's first confrontation with the character Blackout (who would go on to be his arch-nemesis for many years to come).
6. Ghost Rider / Wolverine / Punisher: Hearts of Darkness
Writer of the current Ghost Rider book of the day, Howard Mackie, would tackle this prestige format one-shot. Hearts of Darkness probably has the highest concentration of grim and gritty fan-favorite characters all in one place. Team-Ups are always fun fair, and this one is certainly no exception!
John Romita Jr. lends his pencils to the piece, giving a stamp of authenticity to a character he helped create, Blackheart. Blackheart is the villainous spawn of Mephisto who is looking to turn all three characters to his side in overthrowing his father's realm.
The vigilantes instead have come together to protect a little girl named Lucy from Blackheart. The juxtaposition between Lucy's innocent nature and the hard and rough edges of "Mr. Frank" and "Mr. Logan" is a welcome amusement and brings out the more compassionate sides of all the protagonists involved.
5. Ghost Rider (1979) #35
In "Death Race" Johnny Blaze as the Ghost Rider literally has a bike race with the Grim Reaper for his very existence! Hopefully I don't need to go into anymore detail than this for you to check this wonderful done-in-one story.
However, you may be interested to know that this tale has story as well as layouts from Jim Starlin, who is responsible for creating the traditional Marvel Comic's abstract embodiment of the character Death. While that version of Death is usually presented as a hooded female, in this story Death is more of a rival skull-faced biker.
Jim Starlin's art and writing have always been favorites of mine, so between his work as well as the great premise, this issue was a no-brainer for this list!
4. Ghost Rider (1980) #50
For Ghost Rider's 50th issue during his first run, writer Michael Fleisher decided to do something truly special. The motorcycle riding Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, is sent into the past by way of Native American Mysticism in the story titled "Manitou's Anger...Tarantula's Sting!" There he encounters the western hero Night Rider. Also known as Carter Slade, the Night Rider uses showmanship rather than actual supernatural powers to frighten evildoers and rides a horse named Banshee. Previous to Johnny Blaze, Carter Slade was actually known as the "original" Marvel Comic's Ghost Rider.
I say "original" because Marvel basically reused the Ghost Rider concept that Magazine Enterprises created. At least Marvel managed to hire one of the key artists on the original-original version, Dick Ayers. Anyway, the horse was previously called Spectre and rather than Carter Slade, the Magazine Enterprises version went by the name Rex Fury. The Marvel "remake" wasn't quite the success the Magazine Enterprises version was and eventually got canceled.
However, by the year 1980 the character was being called Night Rider in reprints and guest appearances so as not to be confused with the motorcycle riding Johnny Blaze version. Later still the Slade version's name was altered again to Phantom Rider. Regardless of the character's name, it's still really cool to see the original Ghost Rider pass the torch onto Johnny and watch the two team-up against the outlaw called The Tarantula.
3. Ghost Rider: Crossroads (1995)
Crossroads is one of Howard Mackie's last Ghost Rider stories before saying goodbye to the book forever. While technically it isn't his very last story dealing with Ghost Rider, it does feel like a nice swan song from the writer. Johnny Blaze and Daniel Ketch have been revealed to be siblings by this point in the series, although they have been estranged since the death of Johnny's wife Roxanne. Also the artwork from Cary Nord is wonderfully expressive and a real pleasure to behold.
The last time we saw Blackheart, he finally succeeded in patricide and now rules his father Mephisto's realm. Blackheart conscripts the Scarecrow to attack Danny, while he draws out the demon Zarathos so that Johnny once again takes the form of the original Ghost Rider.
While previous mega-events had the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider facing off against the demon Zarathos, his character design was drastically altered. Whereas in this comic, we have the pleasure of seeing both Ghost Riders in the very same story.
2. Ghost Rider (1974) #9
"The Hell-Bound Hero" by Tony Isabella and Jim Mooney is my runner-up to the number one slot for one simple reason. In a dramatic wrap up to one of the first big arcs of the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, just when it looks like all hope is lost and that the Devil he sold his soul to has won...
...plain clothes Jesus shows up and literally dues ex machinas everything away! I don't care what anybody says, this is friggin' awesome! Johnny Blaze gets saved by Jesus! It doesn't get much better than that! I love this comic!!!!
1. Ghost Rider (1982) #68
"The Terrible Curse of Johnathan Blaze!" is an expertly written re-telling of the origin of the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider that I would first encounter in the pages of the reprint magazine The Original Ghost Rider Rides Again.
Johnny comes to a chapel seeking shelter from a stormy night, when the local priest takes him in to hear his confession. In seeking confession for his sins,Blaze has nowhere to start but from the very beginning.
We learn about his pact with the Devil to save his adoptive Father Crash Simpson from Cancer, only to have him die in a motorcycle accident. As Simpson did not die from the disease the contract is considered fulfilled and as a result Blaze now would transform (thanks to the terrific pencils of Bob Budiansky) into the fearful visage of the Ghost Rider!
The best part of the story is the horrific Twilight Zone twist, that sets the story
apart from any other standard superhero fair at the time. The Priest listening to Blaze's heartfelt confession this entire time actually is a gold thief who clobbered the real priest and was just dressing as one to cover his tracks when Johnny walked through the front door.
I swear to God, no matter how many times I see this money shot of Ghost Rider's fiery bony hand smashing through the confessional wall...I always get chills! Every single time! In fact beyond just being THE favorite of all Ghost Rider stories, I would also say this ranks right up there as one of my all-time favorite comic book stories period.