Sometimes you find Awesomeness in the places you least expect. If there’s anything else I turn to comics for, it’s finding bits of pure bliss that you can’t get anywhere else. It doesn’t always come in the same form; they’re all Awesome, but Michael Kupperman is different from Silver Age Batman is different from Ghost Rider.
Yeah, I said it: Ghost Rider. Johnny Blaze, Danny Ketch, all that. You’d think a guy who made a deal with the Devil (excuse me, MEPHISTO) and rides a motorcycle around with a flaming skull would be Awesome by default, but it’s more hit or miss than you might think. Having just finished reading all the way through the latest volume, it’s definite proof that Ol’ Flamehead can go both ways.
Let me get the bad out of the way first: the initial 19 issues are terrible. There’s solid art by Mark Texiera, who I (and apparently MANY others) consider to be THE Ghost Rider artist, but the story is straight out of “13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo,” wherein our hero must recapture escaped souls and send them back to Hell, a story so generic and dull that the writer skipped through about 90% of them and jumped straight to the big (anti-) climax.
Once issue 20 rolls up, though, that ALLLL changes (minor Awesome SPOILERS are ahead, but probably none for real plot). When Jason Aaron takes over, the entire tone (right down to the lettercol) gets darker, more epic and much funnier. This is the Ghost Rider book I expected Garth Ennis to write!
We start off with psycho cycle nurses, throw in some cannibal disfigurements, a prison story, and The Orb, then wind up with a war in Heaven, kung-fu nuns, U.S. 1 villains and the Ghost Riders of the future. Oh, and did I mention there’s also a couple guys with flaming skulls riding motorcycles around???
On paper, none of it should work. Establishing a lineage of Ghost Riders out of nowhere screams out as hackery to me (as seen in the movie). Wars in Heaven have been done to death. The “everything you know is wrong!” conceit is usually when you know that the idea well has run dry. And yet here it all makes sense and — most importantly — is fun.
I’ve read a few Johnny Blaze stories, but Ghost Rider in the 70’s never really seemed to know if he was a monster or a superhero (The Champions? Really?). I got most of my exposure to GR through the first couple years of the 90’s Danny Ketch series, though I completely missed out on the Noble Kale/Vengeance/family relation business. Aaron weaves all of this together so well…I’ll just say it: He’s the Geoff Johns of Ghost Rider. Without necessarily being beholden to previous continuity, he definitely knows it and incorporates more than he has to in order to keep the diehard fans happy without (and this is the most important part) losing the casual readers like me.
If there’s anything that showcases how good this run is, it’s issue #31, part of Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance. After explaining how it’s ridiculous that God would only send His spirits to America and OF COURSE other countries would have Ghost Riders, we get one of the top 10 splash pages of all time: Spirits of Vengenance Through the Ages.
Russian Ghost Rider on a bear? Check. Shiva GR on a flaming elephant? Absolutely. Dog Sled Ghost rider? Naturally! Ghost Rider on a shark? Fuck Yeah! I don’t care how his flame works underwater, I just need to read more about the adventures of Shark Rider (and thankfully the responses on the letter page show I’m not alone).
Volume 7 of Ghost Rider never really concluded, it’s wrapping up in the pages of Ghost Rider: Heaven’s On Fire and then that’s it for Jason Aaron on Ghost Rider, at least for now. But the sheer Awesomeness of his run there will keep me checking out his work on Wolverine and Punisher. I can’t wait: assuming this was no fluke, I see him putting out some company owned books for a while to build a name for himself, and then we’re going to get a career-defining book out of him. His Preacher*, to make another comparison to Garth Ennis.
* Assuming I didn’t just “predict the obvious” because it’s already out and called Scalped.