[WARNING: Contains SPOILERS for Ghost Rider #1.]
Ghost Rider means a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, he's a flaming skull in a leather jacket on a motorcycle, while others see him as a guy in a leather jump suit with a fiery crash helmet driving a souped up Charger-like ride. For many, the character was tainted by a pair of mediocre Nicholas Cage movies. However, with a new Gabriel Luna-assayed character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the blazing hero is back in the saddle (or bucket seat or whatever) again. No matter what your take on Ghost Rider, one thing's for certain: he'll always be one of the most interesting supernatural heroes to grace the pages of Marvel comics.
Kicking off in Marvel Spotlight #5 (1972), daredevil stunt-biker Johnny Blaze first bore the helm after selling his soul to Mephisto in exchange for his father’s life. The second Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch was infused with the Spirit of Vengeance and picked up the mantle after his sister’s death (by ninja gangsters, no less). Most recently, East LA resident Roberto “Robbie” Reyes adopted the fiery helmet after being killed by thugs and resurrected by his demonic uncle’s car (yeah, it’s kind of complicated).
Robbie’s been on AWOL since Secret Wars, but with his character making a few laps around the track on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s time to put the pedal to the floor once again in the comic book world. The paranormal champion makes his four-colored comeback in a new ongoing series, Ghost Rider #1.
Ghost Rider Rides Again
The latest Ghost Rider book, at least since the Ghost Racers miniseries during Secret Wars, finds Robbie and Gabe back at business as usual – fixing up cars and trying to live their lives. Unfortunately, in Hillrock Heights, trouble isn't too hard to find. After stopping to grab Gabe some ice cream on the way home, the Ghost Rider-mobile is caught behind a sketchy-looking rental truck, and subsequently menaced by a pistol-toting gang-banger whose trigger-finger seems rather itchy.
Although Robbie manages to defuse the situation, clearly his Uncle Eli is still very active inside his head (and doesn't take well to the hoodlum kicking his prize muscle car). As before, the dynamic between Robbie and his serial killer uncle – who is both the source of his powers and responsible for his brother’s developmental disability – has a great deal of potential within the story. Robbie’s desire to look after his home and family hinges upon a bond he shares with a psychopath and his ability to maintain control of his own actions, as well as sculpt them to beneficial ends – something which helped elevate the first run of All-New Ghost Rider above what could have easily become a Fast and Furious outing with supernatural twist.
Later on, Robbie allows Uncle Eli to reassert himself (in the name of heroics), and they clean up some local scumbags. But the book feels a little bipolar, since it's divided between its main protagonist and his very big Marvel colleague.
Ghost Rider and ‘Friends’
While the book is called Ghost Rider, it could easily fall into the crossover category. Two pages after we’re reintroduced to Reyes and his kid brother, the action shifts to the Totally Awesome Hulk. It seems Amadeus Cho is in the Los Angeles area to help out a friend with some very curious scientific business. His colleague, Professor Debose, calls him in to investigate a “previously unrecorded chemical element.”
Unfortunately for the researchers, this newly uncovered goo has a few symbiotic designs of its own. Failing to thrust its pink tendrils through Amadeus’ hazmat suit, it instead bonds with a lab rat. All seems cutely disturbing until the creature bites down on Cho’s tongue and begins to mutate rapidly thanks to his gamma irradiated form. The Hulk scuffles with the creature for a time, finding it surprisingly agile and predictive, before the gooey critter burrows into the ground, only to reappear in the sewer systems next to a food truck.
It just so happens that this particular taco stand was recently visited by Robbie and Gabe. After their departure, another ‘Gabe’ of sorts, Gabby Kinney, sits down to a steaming plate of carnitas with her big ‘sister,’ Laura. It doesn’t look like they’ll get to enjoy their meal for long, though, as All-New Wolverine’s hyper-keen senses detect something rotten in the state of California and lurking beneath their feet.
Monstrous Mutations and New Villains
Although it's unfortunate that the star of the show takes a back seat in his own vehicle, watching the slow collision of three of All-New Marvel’s young stars could offer a fun payout. Still, the first issue comes up a little short due to setting up the future interaction between GR, Hulk, and Wolvy. Hopefully, writer Felipe Smith (one of All-New Ghost Rider’s co-creators) will be able to implement more Ghost Rider-based action in #2, as well as execute a satisfying team-up between the guest stars, Reyes, and the monster(s) and imbue the next issue with a more dynamic story.
While Danilo Beyruth’s art doesn't have a lot to do yet, his character expressions and action sequences, when there, are impressive. The book also contains a short story introducing new villain, Pyston Nitro, which re-teams Smith and original All-New Ghost Rider artist Tradd Moore. While fairly a relatively-shallow character at this point, Nitro has potential as a zippy, skateboarding-speedster capable of out-pacing the Ghost Rider car. Because, let's face it, a villain who Reyes can run circles around would be way too easy. Ironically, the intro story also showcases more kinetic artwork than the overall first issue itself.
Future issues of Ghost Rider will need to balance the characterization and guest star-heavy dynamic, while also establishing Robbie Reyes as a comic book force to be reckoned with – as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has in the live-action realm. The second issue will also, apparently, culminate in a "Monster Squad" like team-up between the unlikely triad, as they battle at least one titanic critter. One thing's for sure, with January’s Monsters Unleashed event coming ever closer, it’s getting pretty damn exciting to see all these massive menaces popping up across the Marvel Universe.
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Ghost Rider #1 is currently available in print and online. Ghost Rider #2 hits stores on December 28.