At the tail-end of last year, I posited the idea that reading Jason Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider when it came out had scratched my GR itch forever. By the Hoaching Hosts of Hoggoth, was I ever wrong. I immediately purchased the first Jason Aaron trade, remembered how much I completely fucking loved it, then bought the most expensive comic in my collection, the omnibus edition of his entire run.
Why, though? I mean, it’s just some stupid piece of boys’-own juvenalia with a shitey Nic Cage-of-Bees film about it, right?
PART 1: BLAZEY-WAZEY
The Omnibus begins with the Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, zooming about in the North American South, trying to find a portal to Heaven so he can get some sort of violence fighting going with Zadkiel, the angel who apparently created him.
This is a turnabout from pre-2000s GR, see, as the story was always that the Ghost Rider was created by Hell for some reason. It DOES make more sense that he’d be Doing Good for Heaven instead of Hell, and it’s a plot twist I can totally get behind, even though it’s not particularly exciting.
What IS exciting is everything that happens around this, which is basically just a way to set up Exciting Fun in the vein of one of those kind of films from the 80s and 90s that’d have scary-looking animatronics in them, like you might see on the wall at a corner shop video section. In the past.
Like that Tales From the Crypt ‘Demon Knight’ film, with motorbikes.
What a great film! The Cryptkeeper’s a dick, though, eh? Like if John Waters had died and come back as a Black Lantern.
Anyway, the opening chapters of this omnibus are basically about well-traveled carnival man stunt-biker Johnny Blaze, and I was never really that bothered about him, as he is not My Ghost Rider. To me, Blaze’ll always be this charmless gritty muscleman with a magic shotgun (which appears in this omnibus, actually):
When it comes to Comics Nostalgia, it’s the 90s for me. The internet is incredibly derisive of 90s Marvel/DC stuff, but it was my post-Transformers, post-Mitchroney Turtles Comics Formative Material.
Give me the Clone Saga, give me Knightfall, give me the Avengers in matching bomber jackets, give me…
PART 2: MIDNIGHT FUN
Oh, the Midnight Sons imprint, with the dagger symbol designed by the person that did the logo for the Keanu Dracliur film (as Marvel enjoyed telling us)…
In retrospect, the name ‘Midnight SONS’ sort of excludes all female characters, doesn’t it? And the main baddie was that evil demon mother, Lilith…
Anyway, The Midnight Sons was an imprint that basically included all of Marvel’s supernatural characters, many from the stylish-but-unreadable (to me) . It wasn’t exactly the ‘literary’ early-Vertigo thing, with modern and ‘adult’ horror takes on classic comic characters, like Swamp Thing and that and to be honest, it was better for it.
Well, it was different, anyway.
It was pure adolescent spurting, with the purple prose and chains-and-guns moodiness that I was completely primed for as a youngster. It wasn’t some weirdo Sandman thing (I was maybe a year or so away from a pal loaning me that), it was still recognisably a superhero comic (though with inkier art), and was a flexing, phallic, teeth-clenching JOY, like what I like.
On the back cover of the Ghost Rider trade I picked up last week, ‘Ghost Rider: Ressurection’ (an early-90s collection of the first Danny Ketch Ghost Rider stories), it says it contains:
“All the best elements from Marvel’s slam-bang super hero sagas with the suspense of a Stephen King or Clive Barker novel”
And that’s actually a pretty cool and valid premise for the Midnight Sons comics, even if they do tend, on reread, to not be particularly good reads, at least not to these jaded, used-up eyes. Back when I was young, though? THIS was MY Ghost Rider.
PART 3: DON’T GET TOO CLOSE, OR YOU’LL KETCH SOMETHING
Reading the early issues of 90s Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch (written by the much-maligned Howard Mackie, art by Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira), he does seem very much of his time. His origin involves a mish-mash of ninjas, street toughs and vampires fighting over some canisters, in a graveyard.
While this is all going on, Ketch finds a magic motorbike with an enchanted gas cap, that turns him into the Ghost Rider. It’s all kind of convoluted and not that compelling, and at this point, Ketch is basically just a moodier Peter Parker.
Ghost Rider’s whole ‘thing’ is really well summed up in the blurb at the start of every issue, though:
“WHEN INNOCENT BLOOD IS SPILLED, A SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE IS BORN, AND DANNY KETCH FINDS HIMSELF TRANSFORMED INTO GHOST RIDER“
(I wish there was a font I could use that wreathed the text in flames)
Also, up until recently, my knowledge of Ketch’s Ghost Rider origin came entirely from this excellent Bachalo page in the Ghost Rider annual #1:
It’s all you need, really. And you don’t even have to see too much of Death Watch, the corporate ninja prick who kind of ruins the atmosphere of the origin story!
So, yeah, a lot of Ketch-era GR is totally forgettable/an actual chore to read (‘fond’ memories of the Slaughterboy issue, yes) , but his particluar blend of joyless angst and ‘badass’ violence obviously had an effect on me.
So how does Jason Aaron handle this character in the Omnibus? Well, Aaron’s Ketch is no longer the heroic protagonist, but he THINKS he is. Ketch is now a whining, entitled jerk, who does a bunch of morally-dubious things that he thinks are the Right Things to Do. While some terrible part of me was initally all “oh no it’s debasing a character I love”, the main part of my comics-brain recognised that this is a perfectly valid and sensible take on Ketch.
I mean, for fuck’s sake, Jason Aaron has finally made Ketch interesting!
The ‘feuding brothers’ interplay between Ketch and Blaze is a lot of fun, as is the fact that Danny Ketch looks more and more like Blaze as the storyline goes on until they are basically the same characters but with different motorbikes and hair colours.
Player 1/Player 2 palette swaps, I can totally get behind that.
Apart from Danny Ketch himself, Jason Aaron implements a lot of the features of the 90s Ghost Rider comic, which is totally the right way to go, as there were a lot of interesting concepts and characters introduced, that were not always dealt with as well as they could have been. Caretaker and Blackout get especially good treatment here, two solid character designs who get more effective scenes here than in probably their entire previous appearances combined.
Also, thankfully, there’s fuck-all in the Aaron stories to do with ‘Zarathos’, as even having read the wikipedia article about him, I have no idea how he fits into the whole Ghost Rider mythos, despite being an apparent big part of his backstory, from what I remember.
Aaron’s just really good at taking concepts from the past, and using them well, with a sense of fun and respect for the characters, even if they are fucking stupid. Even Big Wheel, of all people, gets a couple of nice scenes, helped along by some excellently kinetic Roland Boschi art, who excels at any scene involving vehicles. There’s some B+W sketches of his at the back of this collection, and they make me wish this comic was entirely monochrome, as their stark boldness is somewhat blanded out by the addition of colour.
Swooon! I love how Boschi makes the bike look huge and ridiculous, and there’s a feeling of the bike always writhing and expanding, almost as if it’s breathing and alive. I suspect this may just be down to inconsistencies in art and not an intentional thing, but it totally works in its favour. GHOST RIDER AND HIS BIKE WILL HURT YOU.
Ocht, here’s one in colour, actually, and it is great.
That’s another thing Jason Aaron totally gets right in this collection, and an aspect of the character people seem to forget: there’s a lot of Rad Motorbike Shit. Races, wheel-based violence, a storyline about a haunted freeway, a battle with an evil truck.
Oh, that truck issue! It’s one of the few that doesn’t concern Blaze, and is light on the actual ongoing Ghost Rider story, and is basically just an unbelievably enjoyable stupid action comic about Danny Ketch on his motorbike having a road-war with a demonic lorry (I didn’t even realise it’s an old villain, apparently, and this didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all). It’s disposable, self-contained and ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS thanks to Tony Moore’s art.
That’s just a tiny bit of it. I’d show more, but there’s no point as you’re going to go and buy this issue and see for yourself. Issue 34, folks! Jason Aaron, Tony Moore, and also some very nice colouring from Dave McCaig. And how often do I like modern, mainstream colouring?
Speaking of which, José Villarrubia makes an uncharacteristic colouring misstep in the issues he’s involved with, choosing to go for an almost washed-out look with the flaming skulls. I think he’s trying to create the effect of them being wreathed in fire, but it dimishes the impact of the strong visual concept of the flaming skull, I think?
(above art by Tan En Huat. Nice and bendy!)
But yeah, I love Tony Moore. Detailed without being ‘Imagey’, charismatic character work, and just jaw-droppingly entertaining cartooning to look at. Plus, he’s really good at the ‘weird’ stuff, for want of a better term?
The end-of-level boss in one of the issues is a demon which takes the form of, more-or-less, a Sailor Scout, with the proportions that entails (big eyes, long legs), but dropped right into a story with an art style where that looks out of place. It’s properly disconcerting, and could so easily not have worked in the hands of a lesser artist.
Ha, actually, for an artist I’ve just described as ‘not Imagey’, that’s quite a Liefeldian picture!
Moore also draws the best ‘transforming into GR’ sequences since John Romita Jr did, way back in excellent 90s zeitgeist-capturing gritty touchstone comic, ‘Hearts of Darkness’. Remember that? Once shit started getting real in that comic, JRJR’s art gave the thing one of the most effective woozy-on-Hell’s-fumes is-this-real atmospheres I can remember. Not sure I’ve read anything like it? It’s not a great comic, but the art is SO GOOD). JRJR:
and Mephisto during that period where I know him from Marvel Uk comics mainly, and he actually looked creepy instead of just being a red guy with pointy ears and a receding hairline:
I’m in love with Tony Moore just now, and his art’s making me buy books I’d otherwise ‘uhmm’ and ‘ahh’ over (MORE OF WHICH IN A LATER POST).
Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider run also introduces the concept of there being a whole bunch of other Ghost Riders around the world in various forms, something which has been the case throughout history. It’s a nice idea that opens up the mythos, and as the comic mentions, why would God/the Devil/Whatever confine their Spirit of Vengeance to North america? There are some nice character designs as a result of this, and there a couple of good throwaway jokes, too (Smokey and the Bandit Ghost Riders!).
It’s totally just the same idea as in Iron Fist comics around the same time, but I have no problem with that as this was implemented well in both comics, and was much more a reflection of the writers knowing what works well with the core concepts of the characters than it was any kind of suggested creative moribundity?
So yeah, that’s all some pretty Prismatic Age stuff, but where’s my favourite Ghost Rider Alternate Costume, Vengeance, a character I like so much I once converted a Khorne Bloodthirster Warhammer miniature into a terrible facsimilie of him?
Oh, he’s in here, don’t worry!
PART 4: OH RIIIGHT, THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE SAYING ‘SAN VENGANZA’
So, Vengeance. He’s really not a great character concept, and is totally of his time. “Like Ghost Rider but more violent” doesn’t exactly inspire one to heights of glorious poetry dedicated to him.
BUT HE LOOKS SO COOL MAN
Ron Garney drew this once, and made me love the character:
YEEEAHHHHH SPIKES AND A MOHAWK MADE OF BONES OR SOMETHING AND LOOK AT THAT MOTORBIKE
In the Jason Aaron comic, Vengeance is no longer Michael Badilino. The spiky mantle is passed onto another polis guy, called Kowalski, and Aaron knows his nerdy audience enough to remember to have Badilino show up briefly, anyway. CONTINUITY GEEK BUTTONS: PRESSED.
Kowalski makes for an even more ‘edgy’ Vengeance, with the simple addition of a HOOK HAND THAT SHOOTS FIRE.
I’m really having trouble writing about Vengeance without being all “YEAH MAN SO NEAT AND BADASS” but I think that perfectly fits the character. Vengeance is an adolescent’s idea of ‘cool’ and it works really well here, whereas it could so easily not (Aquaman with a trident and a scar, BORING).
Suggestion: if you want to make him seem even more 90s, pretend he’s called “FIREHOOK” or “PAINBIKE”. “Retributor”? No?
Vengeance. Fuck, I used to read the mainly-awful ‘Marvel Comics Presents’ anthology in the mid-90s, purely because of his grinning, purple face, meaning I’m more hardcore a fan than is in any way sensible.
Oh sweet jings I used ideas from that comic in an Advanced Dungeons and Dragon game/quest/adventure in high school. COOLEST DUDE. Seriously, converted Bloodthirster, and AD+D source material? I was totally one amazing kid.
The Vengeance stories WERE GOOD, though, right? I have absolutely no intention of revisiting them, just in case I am wrong, and some things should be left well enough alone. How I remember them is more important than any objective reality. Grimy jaunts into the more low-rent side of the supernatural parts of the Marvel Universe with inky, atmnospheric art by, I think, Reggie Cooper? Vengeance was, thankfully, less prone to wordy soul-searching than Danny Ketch, which is odd, given that he is totally purple.
Vengeance is pulpy enjoyment, the Ghost Rider concept pared down to “SKULL MAN FIGHT BAD THING”, as envisioned by an intense child, and is much better than Darkhawk or Night Thrasher or Thunderstrike. IS TOO.
Anyway, WHAT I AM SAYING is that his inclusion in Jason Aaron’s run is welcome and pleasing, even though he doesn’t do that much. What he does do is entertaining and that is what matters.
Really, the Jason Aaron Ghost Rider hits my nostalgic geek-bastard shitehawk buttons SO MUCH, and that makes me feel a biiit bad, as it’s kind of an easy, comfort-based route to enjoyment? I dunno, it definitely helps that the story and art are top-notch, but I can’t deny nostalgia and residual fondness plays a part, for my sins, like so many other manboy comics ‘fanboys’.
Sadly (I SUPPOSE), Aaron doesn’t indulge me to the degree I demand, and though there is an amazing brief appearance of FUTURE GHOST RIDERS, I sort-of expected Ghost Rider 2099 to make an appearance, so that all the GR Prismatic boxes got ticked (with a pen using fire instead of ink).
Ghost Rider 2099? Who gives a shit about him, though?
PART 5: ISN’T ZERO COCHRANE THE GUY THAT INVENTED THE WARP DRIVE
I never really cared or knewa thing about GR2099 until a couple of years ago, when I found some back issues of his title in the cheapo bin at the local comics hole. It had Bachalo art, which was the main draw. I expected it to basically be a sack of bottom-of-the-barrel comics dreck with nice art, and I think I read it and looked at it and then left it in my old bedroom like a petulant teen (that loves Vengeance).
Anyway, on a visit to my parents’ recently, I found the issues of the comic again, and gave them another look, and oh man they are some ACTUAL GREAT COMICS that I am perilously close to making it my sick mission to track down all the back issues. What changed, me?
(SPOT THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THAT IMAGE AND THIS BLOG AND WIN A PRIZE MAYBE)
Well, basically I got into cyberpunk. I’ve developed a hideous liking for William Gibson and the like, to the extent that if it’s good I’ll love it, and if it’s shit, I’ll still enjoy it. I’m all about future-slang and antiquated ideas of future technology and stupid wraparound shades with technological displays in them. I respect the cybergoths, I envy the way they live, carefree and jacked in, so far beyond saturation point that they’re just phree radikal pixels in the cosmic hyperdot pleximatrix.
Their music’s shite, though.
Ghost Rider 2099 is cyberpunk as fuck (or whatever the cyber equivalent is. Fruck? PhUkx?) . It follows the snazilly-named ‘ Zero Cochrane’, who is an edgy hacker that gets iced, but luckily his consciousness gets trapped in some sort of mainframe, and then he makes his new robot body go for sweet revenge on the corporate world that killed him, or something? ON A SPACE MOTORBIKE
Has the combination of Bachalo and Buckingham ever been as GNARLY?!?
Bachalo really knows what he likes at this point in his career, doesn’t he? Flaming heads and leather straps and bandages, mainly.
(Not complaining! Chamber and Penance are two great designs).
Really though, it’s written by Len Kaminski, and the issues I read of it are intense pulp magic, joyfully over-the-top cyberpunk cliché but WITH GHOST RIDER. It doesn’t feel like a mainstream Marvel comic, certainly, and there’s a doodly, personal-vision, almost ‘Deadline’ quality to it. Pop. POP COMICS.
A nice touch that shows Kaminski totally gets the appeal of Ghost Rider is that GR2099 added the flames as a hologram to his metal skull. JUST BECAUSE IT LOOKS COOL.
Know what else looks cool?
FUCKIN’ A. Love that logo.
(Are the 2099 comics fondly remembered, incidentally? From what I recall, Spider-man 2099 at least was pretty ace, with Rick Leonardi providing some of the best Spidey action art ever? And Punisher 2099 was called ‘Jake Gallows’ which is a great superhero name, and was written by Pat Mills so must have at least been interesting?)
This article’s pretty cyberpunk in itself, as it is SPRAWLING. Fnnnnrrrrrghghghghghgh. I think it’ll be 2099 before I finish it, also.
PART INFINITY: PURGATORIOUS
As you may be able to tell, I am incredibly taken with Jason Aaron’s run on Ghost rider, collected in this omnibus.
The main storyline itself, ‘find and fight the rogue angel’, isn’t based on too interesting a concept, and I didn’t really care about the showdown with the End of Game Boss, Zadkiel, who I remember from Grant Morrison’s run on JLA (ahaha), but, like a nice freeway cruise on a sweet hog, this comic is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And the journey is A REALLY GOOD COMIC.
I didn’t quite land that, did I?
LIKE ONE OF JOHNNY BLAZE’S TRICKS GONE WRONG?!?!?
I don’t know how to finish this other than to wonder when the Ghost Riders will learn that the Penance Stare is like a status effect spell in Final Fantasy, in that it rarely works on bosses, and also: “if you can get this omnibus, do so as it is very good, it understand the core appeal of Ghost Rider and caters to the kind of people that’ll care about that, but doesn’t pander to them. The collection also smells nice, and here is a picture of The Orb, who is in it and is great, and an alternate take on Ghost Rider by Glenn Fabry, who isn’t in it but is also great”: