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DEFENDERS # 96

SYNOPSIS
At a Detroit music arena, controversial singer Asmodeus Jones - the so-called "King of Devil-Rock" - is performing his song "Send In the Demons" to a crowd of 16,000 fans. During the song, Jones summons forth the demon Fashima, who appears as an image above the stage to temporarily mesmerize the crowd. Standing on the edge of the stage, recently-hired stage hand Johnny Blaze recognizes the forces as being demonic in nature.

In New York, Dr. Strange is searching for any evidence of the Six-Fingered Hand via his Cauldron of the Cosmos. He is provided only a seemingly random assortment of images - a Detroit welcome sign, a guitar, a demon's face, and a flaming skull. Strange reaches out with his magic and teleports the other Defenders, who had been out taking care of other business, to his home. When Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, sees the images in the Cauldron he immediately recognizes the Ghost Rider. Deciding that Detroit is where they must go, Strange teleports himself, Hellstrom, Valkyrie, Hellcat, and the Gargoyle across the country.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, Johnny Blaze rides through the city on his way to Jones' mansion to find out what was up with the demon manifestation at the concert. He suddenly crashes his bike into an invisible wall, causing him to wreck but remain unhurt. Blaze looks up to see the Son of Satan and the other Defenders, who say they needed his attention to ask him some questions. Johnny immediately transforms into the Ghost Rider, who recognizes Hellstrom from their first meeting. The demon explains that he has changed since they last met, he is Johnny Blaze no longer. He creates his motorcycle out of hellfire and rides up the building to attack the heroes. Through teamwork, however, the Defenders easily subdue the raging Ghost Rider and Hellstrom is able to force the demon to submerge and allow Blaze control over his body once again. Dr. Strange explains to Johnny what they're looking for, which Blaze recognizes as what he saw at Asmodeus Jones' concert.

At his Detroit mansion, Jones and his manager Felix Palmer finish a sexual ceremony to worship Fashima. Palmer is concerned that things may go wrong at the next concert, when Jones and Fashima are going to merge into one being in order to turn 16,000 music fans into slaves of the Six-Fingered Hand. Jones strikes out at Palmer, which causes the manager to threaten the singer - it was he that made the deal with Fashima, and he can break that deal just easily. Unnoticed by the two men, Dr. Strange has heard all via his astral form.

That night, the Defenders are in attendance at the concert behind an invisibility shield. Jones begins his act, which slowly turns the crowd into zombies who are chanting Fashima's name over and over. Suddenly, the Ghost Rider roars onto the stage and attacks Jones, who interrupts Fashima's materialization in order to fight back. At that moment, the Defenders attack en masse, causing Jones to absorb too much power - power that forces Fashima to retreat back to her own dimension. Once the chaos is over, Palmer cradles a powerless Jones in his arms while Hellstrom explains what happened to Fashima. Felix tells the group that he made the deal with the Hand and it's he who must pay the price for failure - and like that, he's gone, disappeared. Asmodeus breaks down and admits that Felix Palmer was his brother, which brings out shocked reactions from the Defenders...all but Hellcat, who simply laughs maniacally due to her being influenced by the Hand.

ANNOTATIONS
Ghost Rider last appeared in Ghost Rider (1973) # 57 and he makes his next appearance in Ghost Rider (1973) # 58.

Daimon Hellstrom references his first meeting with the Ghost Rider in Marvel Spotlight on the Son of Satan # 12, but seems to have forgotten that he and Johnny Blaze reunited as friends in Ghost Rider (1973) # 17.

Dr. Strange also seems to have selective amnesia, as he was nearly killed by the Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider (1973) # 30.

The Defenders have been battling the Six Fingered Hand since Defenders # 94. The "Six-Fingered Hand" story-arc brought together many of Marvel's horror characters, such as Dracula, the Son of Satan, Devil-Slayer, Man-Thing, and of course, Ghost Rider.

REVIEW
Writer J.M. DeMatteis has his first crack at writing Ghost Rider in this precursor to his takeover of the Ghost Rider series a year later. Unfortunately, "The Rock and Roll Conspiracy!" is absolutely ridiculous and nowhere near as disturbing as the writer seems to think it is.

DeMatteis was still a relatively new writer when this issue was released, the third issue of his run on Defenders (which I believe was his first ongoing assignment). While he would go on to be one of the best writers in the Marvel stable in the late 80s and early 90s, his work here is definitely that of a writer new to the game. I have really fond memories of the "Six-Fingered Hand" storyline, especially in the way it brought a whole host of horror characters into the series. The Gargoyle was introduced in the first chapter, and the previous issue guest-starred Dracula (with future issues having guest-appearances by Man-Thing and Devil-Slayer), so Ghost Rider was a natural fit as the next guest-member of the team. DeMatteis really took the Defenders title into a more horror-oriented status quo, which was a great direction for a title that floundered for a few years. I especially enjoyed the spotlight on Daimon Hellstrom, who was one of Marvel's most underrated horror characters.

However, the plot of this issue is nothing short of ludicrous as it panders to moralist people who viewed rock music as "noise of the Devil". Asmodeus Jones isn't a character, he's a cardboard cut-out meant to represent the rock music scene; even his nick-name is wince-enducing, "the King of Devil Rock". Just what the hell is "Devil Rock" supposed to be, anyway? While so-called "shock rock" artists are certainly a part of musical reality (see Alice Cooper, KISS, Marilyn Manson, etc...), none of them went to the extremes that Jones does in this issue. He dresses like an Incan drag queen and worships the Devil - he's "rock n' roll", baby! It's not a bad concept, DeMatteis just takes it way too far into the realm of absurdity.

The main selling point though, of course, is Ghost Rider's appearance. Blaze had history with two of the Defenders, but neither Hellstrom nor Strange had run afoul of the Ghost Rider in years. Ghost Rider was understandably overpowered by the likes of Strange and Hellstrom, but I thought his brief battle with the heroes was a spectacularly poor showing considering he's only a few months away from trouncing the Avengers in their own mag. In fact, it seems like the entire story was way short, like the resolution was rushed in order to fit into a single issue.

Artist Don Perlin was the long-time penciler on not only the Defenders title, but the Ghost Rider title as well. That should have meant the artwork would have a smooth transition between his work on the two different books, but there's one huge difference between the two. On Ghost Rider, Perlin inked his own work, while in this issue he's inked by one of my least favorite finishers, Joe Sinnot. Perlin's normally moody, dark artwork is stripped of its tone by Sinnot, who simplifies the lines so much that it totally sucks the life out of it.

I love DeMatteis and Perlin, both on Ghost Rider and on the Defenders, but things just didn't click with this issue.

Grade: C+


Defenders # 96
Published: June 1981
Original Price: $.50
Cover: Michael Golden

Title: "The Rock and Roll Conspiracy!"
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Don Perlin
Inker: Joe Sinnot
Letterer: Diana Albers
Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Al Milgrom
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter