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.