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CSBG Archive

Into the back issue box #18

As usual, check out the ground rules here.  If that’s your thing.

Today: a very special movie tie-in, plus Secrets of Into The Back Issue Box Revealed!  Oh, it’s going to be wild!

Ghost Rider #23 (“Death Drive”) by Howard Mackie and Mark Texeira.  Published by Marvel, March, 1992.

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I must admit that this was just a little less random than usual, because it’s all about the tie-ins with the movies these days.  You see, good readers, I don’t buy one comic at the store every weekend.  What I do is go into the store and buy a bunch of comics, still as randomly as I can.  Then I take them home, and each weekend, I shuffle them and, without looking at them, select one to check out.  It saves me from going to the comic book shoppe every week and just buying one comic, and if the store is having a sale (like Atomic Comics is this weekend*), I can get the books cheaper.  So I bought this issue randomly, but decided to specifically review it this week.  If I hadn’t bought it a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have sought it out, but I happened to get it, so I kept it for this weekend.  Just so you know – it was bought randomly, but I didn’t read it randomly!

So there’s Ghost Rider – Danny Ketch, remember – on the cover.  Boy, he looks like he’s out for vengeance!  Will he get it?  Will he tame his restless spirit?!?!?!?

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We begin with that bit at the top of the first page.  Innocent blood spilled, spirit of vengeance, Danny Ketch transformed … it’s not as good as the one in She-Hulk from last week, but it gives us a bit of information.  The issue starts off fine: a reporter (it sounds reporter-ish, even though it’s a voiceover) is mentioning that a building exploded in midtown Manhattan and the structure collapsed upon itself.  The voice continues: “We can only hope that this also means the end of … the Ghost Rider.”  Of course, this dialogue is over a panel of Ghost Rider, still alive, supporting part of the collapsed building.  This reporter’s animosity toward GR will come back again.  On the next page we see the reporter – Linda Wei.  She says that the explosion is the result of a GR “rampage,” that there’s a homeless shelter in the basement of the building that was filled to capacity, and that people can be relieved that Ghost Rider was destroyed “by his own hand.”  Of course, GR is crawling through the wreckage, and we see his thoughts, ringed by fire, which is a nice little effect.  Of course, the thoughts are pretty inane, so the fact that they’re ringed with fire helps distract us.  What he thinks is weird: “So much death.  It seeps through the rock and debris.  The innocent.  Deathwatch’s killers.  All buried together.  All dead.”  What we don’t get is that “Deathwatch’s killers” does not refer to the people who killed Deathwatch, but the killers that Deathwatch hired.  We don’t figure this out for a while.  Ghost Rider hears the cries of people still trapped in the rubble, and as he manages to stand up tall (even though he’s trapped under piles of wreckage), he asks himself if he’s the cause of all this.  Of course not – it was DEATHWATCH!

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That’s our villain’s cue.  He sits at a desk, “feeding” on the death of the people in the building somehow.  It’s not explained in this issue.  An underling, Beck, shows up, not to sing Devils Haircut to him, but to ask what he plans to do about the loose ends that could lead back to them, specifically, the “assassin trainees” that were captured by the police.  Now that’s a corporate program I can get behind – the assassin trainee program!  Deathwatch, who is wearing a nice suit with his costume on the desk in front of him, tells Beck that he has called in two associates to help with the loose ends – Hag and Troll.  Beck realizes too late that he’s a loose end, and he drops dead on the desk.  Deathwatch thanks Hag and Troll for taking care of his business for him, and Hag asks him if they have to use the “silly code names.”  Deathwatch says they have to for the time being.  Hag and Troll should worry about their outfits:

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They would fit right into Doom Force, which made a mockery of outfits like this.  Except this is serious.  Focus on Troll’s groin, which is seriously weird.  You can do it!

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Okay, after that disturbing image, we return to Ghost Rider, who finds a woman in the rubble.  Before she dies, she tells him that her children are still trapped and still, presumably, alive, and that he needs to save them.  Of course they’re alive – this is a mainstream Marvel comic book from 1992, not a Geoff Johns comic from 2007!  After this brief interlude with the, you know, title freakin’ character, we head back to check in on Deathwatch, who has put his costume back on and is heading to the police station to clean up the assassin trainees.  He and Hag and Troll sneak into the station, because “now is not the time” to reveal themselves, says Deathwatch.  Inside the station, Lieutenant Michael Badilino is interrogating a prisoner, who’s not talking.  He asks the punk why he was after “the girl,” and the ever-helpful Bobbie Chase lets us know it was last issue, but we have no idea who “the girl” is, nor do we ever find out.  Just then the lights go out.  It’s Assault on Precinct 75!

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Back to our hero, who’s still crawling through the wreckage.  Sheesh!  Get the lead out, Ghost Rider!  The “death” is still “seeping through everything” – lots of seeping in this book – but GR ignores it and finally finds the survivors.  They are initially terrified of him, naturally, but before he can do anything, we switch scenes again!  We’re in the basement of the precinct, and Lt. Badilino and the cops are still in the dark.  The three assassin trainees think they’re about to get sprung, but then Deathwatch kills them.  Badilino leads his men to the cells, and through his night vision goggles, he sees Deathwatch, Hag, and Troll killing the inmates.  He fires without hesitating, and manages to hit Deathwatch in the shoulder.  Instead of killing every policeman there, Deathwatch and his allies beat a hasty retreat.  Wait, this guy is going to take down Ghost Rider and he can’t handle a round in his shoulder?  That’s pretty weak, Deathwatch!

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Finally, we get back to Ghost Rider, who’s about to actually do something.  He rescues a girl in the wreckage and calls his motorcycle to him.  How all this is happening under the ground on which a building collapsed is not actually explained.  He makes reference to another girl who he failed to save in the first issue of the series, but promises that won’t happen here.  On the surface, Linda Wei continues her so-far-unexplained Ghost Rider rant, saying that the only solace anyone can take from this tragedy is the end of the Ghost Rider.  That sounds like a good dramatic place for our hero to emerge, and emerge he does, carrying the injured girl.  The cops train their guns on him, but he ignores them and hands the girl off to the EMTs.  Following behind him are all the other survivors, who all flock to Flame Head and thank him.  Linda wants the cameraman to cut the live feed, but he tells her the studio wants to keep it coming.  Take that, Linda!  Ghost Rider drives away, and the cops let him.  He’s a hero!

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Deathwatch, who’s about to board a private plane for the Middle East (he’s retreating? what a wuss!) hears that Ghost Rider survived.  He tells Hag and Troll that there’s one more loose end, and that “the target [Ghost Rider, one presumes] may have found some link to our old friend Zarathos.”  With that, we switch back to GR, who is thinking that although he’s never killed before, he has to kill Deathwatch.  First, he has to find him, and he drives his motorcycle into a hospital, causing some major property damage, brushes some cops easily out of the way, and confronts a man wrapped in bandages whom he calls “Snowblind.”  Snowblind says he’ll tell him where Deathwatch is, but warns him: Deathwatch isn’t human!  On that weirdly not-ominous-at-all note (Ghost Rider doesn’t look particularly human, after all), the issue ends with a promise that next issue will see the final showdown between the two foes.  Oooh, the excitement!

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This is a lousy comic book, but more egregious than that is that it’s not very first-time-comic-book-reader-friendly at all.  We learn that Ghost Rider is all about avenging the innocent, but we learn nothing about how on earth he cruises around with a flaming skull.  Yes, it’s something supernatural, but Mackie doesn’t even try to explain it.  He probably could have fit it into the thought balloons among all that seeping death – you know, something along the lines of “When the Spirit of Vengeance chose me to be its vessel” – these comic book people are always thinking stuff like that!  But we get nothing like that.  Similarly, we have no idea why Deathwatch destroyed the building – he “feeds” on death, so that could be it, but it also seems he might have done it to kill Ghost Rider.  I assume it was explained in an earlier issue, but it’s not summarized here.  We don’t have any idea about the relationship between Ghost Rider and Deathwatch, and why GR wants to kill him so badly.  Is it just because the building blew up, or is it something more personal?  We have no idea why Linda Wei hates Ghost Rider so much, either.  Again, I assume this is a long-running relationship between the two, but there’s no effort made to bring us up to speed.  Linda’s news report could be used as a vehicle for this – “Viewers will recall that Ghost Rider blew up a bus carrying one-legged Bosnian orphans and a group of nuns a few months ago,” and then a footnote could explain that it wasn’t him, it was his arch-nemesis TerrorShark!  But Linda, in this issue, just comes off as a ridiculously biased reporter with no reason to hate our hero that much.  And, of course, Ghost Rider doesn’t really do much in this comic, which might put off a first-time reader.  “I wanted to see Ghost Rider, man!  But all I’m getting is this Deathwatch guy!”  I guess Mackie is doing some sort of tribute to that Amazing Spider-Man issue in which Spidey lifts up all that rubble (don’t make me drag my Essential volumes out to find the number!), but it gets kind of dull watching our hero drag his sorry ass through all the rubble while Deathwatch terrorizes the cops.

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As part of a bigger storyline, this might work okay.  It’s not a good comic, but maybe the preceding one and the following one make this worthwhile.  But if this were the first comic you ever bought, there would be very little reason to make you come back for more.  Why should you care about Ghost Rider and Deathwatch’s final showdown when you have no idea why they hate each other so much?  Texeira’s art is fine, but it’s nothing that makes you think “I MUST see more of this!”  Even the action isn’t all that impressive, which would make up for the lack of knowledge about the characters.  This comic, unfortunately, fails the test.  It’s probably not going to get any who’s never read one before to pick up more comic books.

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(There are some interesting things in this book.  In the Bullpen Bulletins – remember them? – there’s a mention of Peter David’s wife giving birth to his daughter Ariel.  Considering that David blogs occasionally about his now-fifteen-year-old daughter, it’s odd to see an announcement about her birth.  On the Coolometer – what a concept! – “non-sexual harassment” is at the top, meaning it’s the coolest thing in January 1992.  What the hell does “non-sexual harassment” mean?  When it harassment ever cool? Anyway, Squirrel Girl was toward to bottom, meaning she was uncool.  Dan Slott saw that and grew angry, leading to a mini-series years later!  In the letters column, the first letter writer mentions how annoying Danny’s mother is.  He writes, “She’s been on my nerves for some time now, but after reading this issue I was longing to smack her around a bit.”  He’s advocating smacking old women around?  WTF?  Okay, I’m done.  Remember when comics were fun for other reasons than the actual story?)

* Jake did that flyer.  It’s pretty neat-o, ain’t it?

10 Comments

I don’t think Howard Mackie _ever_ explained Ghost Rider’s origin. I know it has something to do with one of his ancestors, and a family crypt, and Johnny Blaze is his long-lost brother, and he’s not Zarathos…but I’ll be danged if I can get it all straight. Anyone know the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider’s origin, and can sum it up in a paragraph?

Wow! This was from right around the time I was heavily getting into comics. GR didn’t get readable until the Kubert bros. came onboard; Tex’s art is the definition of scratchy and malproportioned, though at least it was unique for Marvel at the time and worked well with the flat pre-computer colors.

Erik Larsen doing an excellent Sinister Six storyline in Spider-Man, Jim Lee on the incoherent Omega Red origin in X-Men, the early non-slick Wizard–the memories! Superman had yet to die, and Cable’s mysterious identity was still actually interesting. What fun!

I went through a very short phase where I was into Ghost Rider comics. This issue wasn’t one of them, but I had one from around there. The art isn’t so bad. And I miss Janice Chiang’s lettering.

That comics sale flyer is awesome.

In a medium full of stupid characters, Ghost Rider must be one of the stupidest by quite some distance.

Take my word for this: No, Ghost Rider isn’t one of the stupidest characters in his medium. In fact, I think you could quite successfully argue that he’s not even the stupidest character in his own series.

Yeah. Nothing TOO wrong with Ghost Rider. Sure, his appeal is primarilly visual. (His Head. Is. On. Freaking. Fire! AIIIIIE!!!!)

But as long as th’ creative team knows this and doesn’t take him too seriously, it’s cool.

Sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case here.

Fred Durst keeps your vault?

John/Mark: Fair enough. To be honest, I wasn’t really aware of Ghost Rider until the hype for the film started.

Well, it wasn’t so much a spirited defense of Ghost Rider as it was pointing out that any medium that has “Clock King” and “The Ten-Eyed Man”, not to mention “Turner D. Century” and “Doctor Demonicus” (a supervillain who exposed himself to gamma radiation and got painful skin cancer) automatically gets a pass on “Ghost Rider”. :)

As I recall, the reason Linda Wei was always going on these extreme anti-Ghost Rider rants when she was on the air was because she was sleeping with Deathwatch, who had used his influence to get her a job on the network news, so she was bad-mouthing GR to pay back her debt to Deathwatch.

She was also involved with another GR villain, Blackout, who eventually killed her, on the air no less. Yeah, she had really bad taste in men.

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