Halloween Scene: The Supernaturals

I’m sure like me, a lot of my fellow comic fans out there love stumbling across a book you’ve never heard of, but that feels right up your alley. I had that when I saw a book from 1998-1999 called The Supernaturals. From the cover I could see that this four issue mini included some of Marvel’s great mystical characters like Brother Voodoo, Ghost Rider and Satana. Cool. I love those guys and gals. I’m in! So, on the MyComicShop wish list it went and recently I grabbed them. How’d it go? Hmm…let’s find out.

Entre, if you dare…

Jason Aaron Is Awesome

GhostRiderOmnibusJasonAaron Jason Aaron’s one of those comic writers whose career has interestingly intersected with my career as a writer about comics. When I first started at Wizard one of my buddies and an editor at the magazine was huge on his Vertigo series The Other Side. I didn’t read that one, but I did check out the Ripclaw one-shot he did as part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season not too long after that and the first few books in his Scalped series.

The first of his works that really captivated me, though was Ghost Rider. But it wasn’t until my second attempt at reading it. As I’ve written, I love the down-and-dirty, grindhouse-y tone of that book and the wild places he took it. I assumed for a while that that was pretty much his wheelhouse, but as I’ve learned recently from branching out into X-Men: Schism, Wolverine & The X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Thanos Rising, Incredible Hulk, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine and Thor: God Of Thunder, this guy has more tricks up his sleeve than all the magicians in Vegas. Continue reading Jason Aaron Is Awesome

Trade Post: Ghost Rider By Jason Aaron Omnibus

GhostRiderOmnibusJasonAaron Ghost Rider The Jason Aaron Omnibus (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Roland Boschi, Tan Eng Huat & Tony Moore
Collects Ghost Rider #20-35, Ghost Rider: Heaven’s On Fire #1-6

I’m still not quite sure why I decided to buy the Ghost Rider Jason Aaron omnibus a few years back. It was in the heyday of Thwipster and the deal must have been pretty killer. I’d read the first trade of this comic that my pal Jim Gibbons was a super-fan of during our Wizard days together, but wasn’t sold. And yet, I still got the hardcover collection of his entire run along with the icing-on-the-top Heaven’s On Fire miniseries that concluded Aaron’s run. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did because reading the whole thing, altogether framed it and these characters in my head a lot better.

The key to enjoying this series for me was understanding that it wasn’t just inspired by 70s horror, exploitation, motorcycle and grindhouse fair, but acts as an actual synthesis of those existing pieces of fiction with the comic book format. I think my initial negative reaction to this book came from the fact that I was expecting it to rise above the dirtiness when, instead, the whole point is to dive in with both feet and feel the muck surround you and the characters. A big part of that feel comes from the art by Roland Boschi and Tan Eng Huat (I’ll get to Tony Moore’s stuff in a few graphs). These artists have a style that is exaggerated and maybe a little muddy, the comic book equivalent of screen scratches and over exposed film stock (but clearly done with more intent and skill than using the cheapest film stock you can get your hands on for a three day shoot). Basically, what I’m saying is that Aaron’s Ghost Rider is what I wanted Quentin Tarantino’s disappointing Death Proof to be.

The basic gist is that original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze has discovered that, as a Spirit of Vengeance, he was actually created by an angel instead of a devil like he’s previously thought. He doesn’t appreciate being lied to and wants revenge for his crummy life, so he’s trying to find his way to heaven in an attempt to kill Zadkiel. In the first arc, Johnny finds a kid who died for a few minutes while being resuscitated and explains that Zadkiel’s waging war on heaven. In the process, Johnny runs afoul of an army of warrior nurses — the angel’s agents on earth — as well as a down-on-his-luck cop and a haunted road.

That general tone continues throughout the rest of the run as Johnny keeps hitting roadblocks on his road to heaven and revenge. One of the biggest happens to be former Ghost Rider Danny Ketch (who’s also Blaze’s brother we’re told). Danny’s lost his marbles as well as his powers and all he wants to do is get them back so he made a deal with Zadkiel. He gets powers as long as he helps kill the other Spirits of Vengeance from around the world.

“OTHER Spirits of Vengeance?” you ask. Why, yes. In a move somewhat similar to the one Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction took with Immortal Iron Fist, Aaron reveals that the world had many Riders, each reflecting the culture they were sworn to protect. Ketch is being played, though as Zadkiel’s using the power let loose by the Riders to fuel his war against heaven. This leads to a huge clash between Johnny, the handful of remaining Spirits of Vengeance and the new Caretaker and an army of evil angels lead by Danny. It’s pretty epic and, at the end of the day, the good guys don’t exactly come out on top.

This leads to a trio of issues that have a different feel than the others. First and foremost, they’re drawn by Tony Moore whose style is a lot cleaner and crisper than Boschi and Huat’s. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get grimy and gross when it makes sense, just that it’s got a much different feel to it. These three stories also have more of a one-off feel as the leads have individual adventures with more of an EC Comics feel that pits the individuals against a supernatural threat that, in turn, shows them that they need to get back out there fighting the good fight. There’s a bit of a disconnect from these issues, maybe it’s because the previous arc ends with the bad guy winning and then we just see these guys kind of hanging out, not worrying too much about an evil angel talking over heaven and dealing with other threats. Still, it’s so rad to see Moore draw these characters!

The festivities end with the two Ghost Riders and Caretaker teaming up with a group of other supernatural Marvel characters like Daimon Hellstrom and Jaine Cutter to not only keep the antichrist alive (if he dies, Zadkiel disproves the Bible and ensures his place as heaven’s ruler) while also fighting off an army of Ghost Rider villains old and new. It’s another epic show down with a good deal of twists and turns that I won’t spoil, but felt like a very satisfying conclusion to this epic story.

As a whole, Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider reminds me of how good corporate owned comics can be if the right creative team with a unified vision is in place. It seems like Aaron was basically able to do whatever he wanted with these characters and the result is a story that, like Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, fits in perfectly with the existing universe and also  brings new elements to the table. You can tell from reading these issues that this story came about because someone had a great idea and a solid vision instead of a need to fill pages. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way to go with these comics.

By now you’ve probably figured out that I’m a fan of this book. You can get it either as the full omnibus or in individual trades. Either one is cool. The omnibus has some cool sketch stuff in the back, but it might be pretty expensive at this point. If you’re worried that you need to be a Ghost Rider expert to get into the series, don’t. I’ve read the first five issues of the 90s Danny Ketch series, the Rise Of The Midnight Sons crossover and a few of the earliest appearances thanks to the Ghost Ride GIT DVD I picked up, but other than that, I’m pretty far from a die hard Spirit of Vengeance fan and I was still able to enjoy this book thoroughly. Aaron has a way of explaining things in quick bites that are easy to swallow and digest while you’re also enjoying demons fighting angels and ghosts ripping a cannibal apart. Basically, what I’m saying is get off your butt and read this run or, if you’re like me and already have it, give it another look!

Tuesday Toy Commercial: Ghost Rider

I love the random times when adult-themed comics somehow spawn cartoons aimed at kids. Punisher appeared on Spider-Man in the 90s and got his own Toy Biz action figure, Swamp Thing had his own cartoon and media empire and even Savage Dragon scored his own toon. And then there’s Ghost Rider. Before he starred in his own movies, everyone’s favorite motorcycle-riding DEMON appeared on the Hulk cartoon and got two series’ worth of action figures and vehicles from Toy Biz. And, if this commercial is any indicator, it’s not like they tried to downplay the character’s comic book roots. That thing’s pretty intense and yet weirdly awesome. Kudos, Toy Biz!

Friday Fisticuffs: Ghost Rider Spirit Of Vengeance (2011)

Guys, this should come as no surprise considering I love Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor-directed flicks (Crank, Crank 2 and Gamer), but I really dug their first comic movie effort Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. They brought their trademark super-kinetic, down-and-dirty directing style to a character who rides around on a flaming motorcycle and fries bad guys with his eyes. I love that Marvel allowed one of their weirder characters to be treated how he should have been on film. Ghost Rider is essentially a pretty goofy idea (remember, flaming face and motorcycle)  so creators really need to just embrace that and run with it. That’s what Jason Aaron did on his wonderful run of GR a few years back (I read the omnibus of his stuff last year, but didn’t get around to reviewing).

I remember very little of the first Ghost Rider movie, almost nothing in fact. This time around, Idris Elba finds Nic Cage (Ghost Rider) and makes him a deal: help his religious order find this mystically important kid  and get severed from the Rider. So, Cage unleashes the beast (both the Ghost Rider and the maniac that lives inside that man in the real world) and all kinds of fun unravels. The kid starts off with this one hood who winds up turning into the villain I believe is based on Blackout. I’m not sure familiar with Ghost Rider’s world, but I do have one of those GIT DVDs, so I kind of want to catch up.

If you can’t get behind the idea of the devil having a kid with a woman just so he can then take over that half human/half demon body and a man who turns into a fiery demon and pees like a flamethrower, do not apply, this movie is not for you. If you dig that kind of stuff and Cage’s wackiness, this movie is pretty fantastic. Neveldine and Taylor were the prefect guys for this project and really brought a realness to it, which is difficult when you’re dealing with so much inherent CGI. The chase scenes look great as do the fights, even when moving between the real world and Blackout’s weird dark-inducing one. That expert use of effects combined with some of the lowest tech ways of filming (holding onto the back of a motorcycle wearing rollerblades and holding a camera) make for something that feels real most of the time (Blackout’s disintegration powers didn’t always look great on our TV).

At the end of the day, I had a ton of fun with this movie. It was exactly what I wanted from both the directing duo and Cage. I have a feeling I’ll have a better time remember SOV than the original flick too. I have no idea what Neveldine and Taylor are working on next, but I will definitely see it…probably on DVD well after it comes out, as is my lot in life.

Halloween Scene: Rise Of The Midnight Sons

As longtime readers might remember, I read the first five issues of this Ghost Rider volume for the first installment of The Box last year. To be honest, I haven’t gone through the boxes much until somewhat recently when I discovered a plethora of not just GR books, but also the first six issues or so of Morbius, Ghost Rider & Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance and Nightstalkers, the first issues of which along with Darkhold make up a crossover called “Rise Of The Midnight Sons” along with a few non consecutive issues of Ghost Rider (not sure how that worked). I had Parts 1-3, 5 and 6 all from the boxes, put together a vast Midnight Sons list and tracked down Darkhold #1 which I was missing at this weekend’s Big Apple Con.

I haven’t done a lot of research side from putting together the checklist, but it seems like Midnight Sons was the umbrella Marvel created under which to produce a series of horror based comics. You probably know what Ghost Rider is, Spirits of Vengeance teamed the current Ghost Rider (Danny Ketch) up with the previous one (Johnny Blaze) who was running around with a gun that could shoot hellfire, Darkhold seems to be about a group of people trying to keep a mystical book safe, Morbius is a scientist who accidentally turned himself into a vampire and now has demon blood mixed in and Nightstalkers reteams Blade, Hannibal King and Frank Drake (a vampire) as killers of supernatural things. Considering the crossover launched all these books except Ghost Rider, I’m just going by what those first issues told me, but I would assume they took off on these subjects after “Rise” wrapped.

As I mentioned, the crossover kicks off in Ghost Rider #28 which kind catches he reader up on what’s going on in the book: Blaze is back with his hellfire gun and Danny Ketch is floating around in some kind of demon realm. The issue is written by Howard Mackie, drawn by Andy Kubert and inked by Joe Kubert (which makes it look like it was drawn by pops) and mostly involves GR and Blaze holing up in a mausoleum that Ghost Rider keeps guys he used his penance stare on and have gone crazy. I’ll be honest, this issue was a little befuddling. If you’re not familiar with what’s been going on in the book, it’s hard to follow, but then again, this IS a Ghost Rider themed crossover, so who else would be reading it? There’s a guy named Caretaker who pops up and Doctor Strange is there too, but there is a fold out spread showing off all the new characters and who’s involved that’s pretty cool. All in all, it’s not a great issue, but it’s drawn awesomely and, if you’re willing to just jump in and thrash around a little blindly, the rest can be a fun ride. We also get the basics on what’s going on in the crossover: a demon called Lilith is returning and they need to stop her.

The action carries over into the first issue of Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits Of Vengeance which Mackie also wrote and Adam Kubert drew with a non-dad inker. I liked this issue because it helped to explain what Blaze had been up to: he’s married with kids and owns a carnival. He goes there with GR to see how things are with his family and to decide if he wants to go on this crusade against Lilith. Meanwhile, Lilith tracks down some more of her demon spawn to help her rule the world or something. As you might expect, the two stories cross with Lilith bringing some of her kids to the carnival, threatening Blaze’s family. As they say in the flicks, now it’s personal. As the kids might say, now it’s on.

Which brings us around to Morbius #1 which takes the down-and-out Spider-Man villain, throws in some demon blood and produces an S&M vampire who seems more focused and less ravenous. Written by Len Kaminski and drawn by Ron Wagner, this issue, more than any other, made me really curious about the ongoing series. The first page is written incredibly well, but there’s a lot of confusing stuff later on in the issue, like why one of Lilith’s kids drops some of his blood in Morbius’ blood. I think it was supposed to kill him, but it would up giving him powers. Why not just throw him out in the sun or something? Anyway, Blaze and GR wind up hanging out with Morbius’ girlfriend which leads them to the vamp in question, but they disappear for a large chunk of the issue. Of all the issues, this is the one that works best as both the kick off to a new series and a part of the crossover.

Darkhold on the other hand doesn’t work so well as both. It’s an interesting introduction to the characters written by Christian Cooper and drawn by Richard Case, but it definitely feels like more of a first issue than part of a crossover. The weird thing about “Rise of the Midnight Sons” is that it’s so different than the crossovers you’d come to expect nowadays. Instead of tying in with a lot of books, it launches new ones (now that I think about it, Marvel still does this, just look at all of the “Shadowland” spin-offs, but most of those seem to be minis if I’m not mistaken). If you’re a horror fan, you’ve probably seen the basic idea behind Darkhold: the last in a long line of mystic somethigorothers doesn’t like the gig, but finds herself confronted with it. Some cop joins her, they go to the US and run into an older mystic woman which also tangentially puts them on the path to meeting Ghost Rider and Lilth.

I also dug Nightstalkers which did a somewhat better job of tying things in to the larger story, but mostly just caught readers up on who Blade, Frank Drake and Hannibal King are and why they’re together. This time, they’re told thye need to go after Ghost Rider and Blaze because they’re demons and open their previously vampire-specific site up to a wider supernatural spectrum. This D.G. Chichester and Ron Garney jam sounds like a lot of fun, has some pretty good art and a story that makes me want to check out more of this book. It’s got kind of latter-season Buffy vibe because of it’s mix of remorseful vampires (not emo) and tech.

And everything comes to a head in Ghost Rider #31 (again, I’m not sure what happens in issues #29 and 30), but here’s the thing about this crossover: not a lot happened. Sure a lot of new characters were introduced, both heroes and villains, but as I’ve mentioned regarding the books launched from “Sons” they felt much more like new series’ as opposed to parts of a larger whole. By the time Lilith attacks our heroes (who are all transported from wherever they were to where she is, the land of the midnight sun, of course) we’re not quite sure why she’s doing it. Then, there’s a big fight between heroes and villains that’s kind of hard to follow, Ketch comes back, Lilth gets blasted and then the Nighstalkers try to attack GR and Blaze, but something happens. I don’t want to call the art sloppy, because that’s not really the case, but it’s not good storytelling. I had to keep flipping around and re-reading panels to try and understand what’s happening. I’m the last person to support the long winded, decompressed storytelling that has taken over comics today, but I also can’t really get behind this superfast kind that leaves the reader mostly confused.

All in all, I think my enjoyment of “Sons” will depend on how much I like the other series’. I do like the horror themes involved though. Demon hunters, super-vampires, evil book protectors and demons riding motorcycles all have a lot of potential and I’m excited to move on to those other issues I’ve got waiting for me in the box.

Halloween Scene: Ghost Rider/Captain America FEAR (1992)

I haven’t talked about it much on the blog here, but I’m a huge fan of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America. I think it’s one of those runs that people will (and some already do) look back on with the same awe as Frank Miller’s Daredevil or Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s X-Men (but, unlike those runs, I actually like reading this one). Outside of Brubaker’s Cap and his appearances in the Avengers, I don’t have a lot of experience with the Sentinel of Liberty so I’m always look for new trades read. And, after just reading those first five issues of the 90s Ghost Rider, I’m now also looking for Ghost Rider books. So, when I saw a book on Sequential Swap called Ghost Rider/Captain America FEAR, I was sold. Well, as it turned out, it’s not really a trade, it’s a 48-page prestige format book with a fold-out cover (I wish Swap was a little more discerning in what they consider trades, but I also should have done a little research). When I opened the package, I thought it was actually a bonus comic thrown in for good measure along with Walking Dead Vol. 10 until I went back and realized I swapped for it. No big deal, just a cautionary tale to do your research.

Anyway, I had a good time reading this book. The story, written by Howard Mackie and drawn by Lee Weeks, teams Ghost Rider and Captain America up against an enhanced Scarecrow. The one and only interaction I’ve had with Marvel’s Scarecrow is an appearance in DC Vs. Marvel when he appeared with the real Scarecrow, so I don’t know what he was like before, but after a series of surgeries he now has enhanced strength and he makes anyone within 20 feet of him feel scared. It’s a hormone thing. Oh, he also talks about his mommy a lot.

The story is pretty much a Ghost Rider one with Cap thrown in to make Ghost Rider feel like a hero and track down Scarecrow who’s obsessed with him. You’ve probably seen the moment before when a young/new hero talks to Cap, Cap says he’s doing a good job and they feel honored or vindicated. Well, Danny Ketch here has been Ghost Rider for roughly 25 issues (according to an editor’s note, I miss those things) and he’s feeling like everyone hates and is afraid of his alter ego (it’s probably the flaming skull), but Cap doesn’t judge him harshly. Cap says he’s doing a good job by only going after bad guys and that being a hero isn’t easy. Then they pretty easily go after Scarecrow and fight him and win.

I will admit, I’m still not clear on all of Ghost Riders abilities or how they work. I get that his bike can fly/jump/ride up walls, he’s strong and pretty much every part of his jacket can be used as a weapon, but what I don’t get is the Penance Stare. There’s a moment where he tries to give Scarecrow the Stare but he can’t because Scarecrow’s brain is so screwed up. Shouldn’t Hell trump craziness? I dunno, maybe it’s explained somewhere.

It might sound like this is just a stretched-out single issue, but Mackie handles the 48 pages really well without much drag. It’s like one of those rare annuals that is actually enjoyable and well-paced (I know you’ve got one or two in mind). And even though this is a Ghost Rider story mainly, it reminds me of how much fun Marvel’s NYC must have been in the 90s. Both Captain America and Ghost Rider were hanging out, fighting bad guys and occasionally crossing paths. I would hope that the Ghost Rider issues after this helped Danny get a little bit more comfortable in his vengeance-seeking skin and that the weird Scarecrow ending came back somewhere. I probably won’t be keeping this book in my collection but hope that when every comic book ever finally gets collected, this is included in it’s correct chronological order with the rest of the Ghost Rider books. Those I would keep.