Thursday, January 13, 2011

'Ghost Rider' reprint book ablaze with quality

Essential Ghost Rider, Vol. 2 (Marvel Comics, 2007)
Writers: Michael Fleisher, Roger MacKenzie, Don Glut, Jim Shooter, and Gerry Conway
Atists: Don Perlin, Carmine Infantino, Tom Sutton,
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The adventures of Johnny Blaze, a stunt motorcyclist cursed by Satan to be the vessel of a mysterious vengeance demon continue. At the start of this collection, Johnny's (relatively) peaceful life as a stuntman at Zelazny Studios is destroyed as he once again finds himself losing control of his transformation from human to fiery demon. As time progresses, the demonic spirit within him grows wilder and wilder, and Johnny finds himself constantly on the move, with no opportunity to ever settle down.

"Essential Ghost Rider, Vol. 2" reprints issues 21-50 of the original "Ghost Rider" comics from the late 1970s and early 1980s. As I mentioned in my review of "Essential Ghost Rider, Vol 1", this is a series that followed a curve opposite of what most comic books do... it got better as time wore on.

While this volume doesn't contain the best of "Ghost Rider"--that doesn't come until the tales that originally appeared starting with the issues in the mid-60s and running through the series end with #81--the stories steadily improve, moving from an almost straight superhero phase, into a pulp-action horror phase, and then drifting back in the direction of superhero-flavored horror, as the Ghost Rider crosses paths with Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, and other Marvel heroes.

A great contributing factor to the "Ghost Rider" stories getting better is that the creative teams stabilized--with Don Perlin serving as the artist on most of the tales collected here, and Michael Fleisher writing more than half of them. Another is that a pair of editors who turned everything they touched to gold took turns at the book's helm--Archie Goodwin and Denny O'Neil.

To move the title in the right direction, the creators tore down the world that had been built up around Johnny Blaze--having a confrontation with Dr. Druid (the goofiest of Marvel's mystical characters) force him to unleash his demon in front of everyone, and then have his on-again, off-again true love Roxy Simpson be brainwashed into forgetting him by a shadowy figure (in a subplot that isn't resolved in this volume), stripping him of his Stunt Cycling World Championship title, and ultimately starting to morph his curse again, preventing him from ever feeling secure enough to settle down.

While the constant changing of Johnny Blaze's curse and his relationship with the demon inside him was a detriment to the first 20 or so issues of "Ghost Rider", here the shift takes place over many issues and it becomes an asset to the title. Rather than seeming like the product of editors and creators who has no clue what to do with a character, here it seems like the subplot is moving along toward a planned point. (And, as we discover a little later in the title--beyond what is reprinted here--it was.)

The art throughout the book is serviceable--with the two-part tale where a mad wizard separates Johnny and the demon he is host to pencilled by Carmine Infantino being the strongest--and competent, but it is nothing to rave about. The stories are another matter--the writing is top-notch and the tales are mostly timeless action/horror stories that carry very little of the painful "hipness" that caused so many of the tales in the first volume to be embarrassingly stuck in the decade that produced them.

The only complaint I have with the writing in this book is that when the creators are pushing Ghost Rider hard in the direction of ever-increasing quality, they don't take time to look back--the book is almost entirely continuity free for the final ten or so reprinted tales, except for the growing strength of Johnny's demon. The book closes out with Johnny once again become embroiled with Native American mysticism and curses... I would have loved to see a return of the Witch Woman (hot-pants and all) for those tales.


  1. Good stuff indeed. I own all of these Essentials, and also the original comics. Ghost Rider was where I first found the names of Jim Mooney, Don Perlin, Tony Isabella, J.M. DeMatties, Bob Budiansky and Dave Simons - the latter three especially.

    It's a bit sad that Dave isn't here to see Essential Ghost Rider #3, but I did finally finish an article on the classic run that he, Budiansky, Stern and DeMatties did - you can read it here:

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I've been reading and enjoying your "20th Century Danny Boy" blog for some time now.

    And that article about Budiansky and Simon was one I was intending to link to when I get around to posting a review of Essential GR Vol 3. It was a great read.