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!