VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 3

SYNOPSIS
At a Brooklyn police station, Paulie Stratton, one of the Cypress Pool Jokers, is interrogated on the whereabouts of the last canister. The police have recovered two of the three, but Paulie honestly doesn't remember where she hid the third one. Suddenly, all the lights unexplainably go out, and the cops are murdered by several ninjas. Deathwatch, Blackout, and their men have come for Paulie, certain that she will lead them to the last canister. The next morning, at the hospital, Dan sits in the room with his comatose sister. Captain Dolan bursts in and orders several uniformed policeman to stand guard on both the inside and outside of the room. Dan asks what's going on, and Dolan tells him that somebody broke into a local precinct, murdered over a dozen policeman, and took the two recovered canisters. If Barbara wakes up, she can identify Deathwatch, which is why he ordered the extra police protection. Dan runs out of the hospital, saying he won't sit by and watch more people be killed.

That night, in their cemetery hangout, the rest of the Cypress Pool Jokers argue about what they should do about Paulie being kidnapped. Before they can reach a decision, the doors to the mausoleum break open, revealing Deathwatch and Blackout, holding the kidnapped Paulie. Meanwhile, at the Fisk building, the Kingpin tells his aide to personally make sure that the canisters are returned to him, and that the girl they kidnapped is released. She can identify Deathwatch, and the Kingpin wants to take care of him himself.

Back at the cemetery, Dan watches as Deathwatches men search for the last canister. When Paulie still claims not to remember where she hid it, Blackout murders one of her friends. Immediately after, Dan notices the gas cap on his motorcycle start to glow. Deathwatch explains to Paulie why the canisters are so important: when all three are opened simultaneously, a mutated biotoxin will be released into the air, killing and maiming everybody in the country within weeks. With his unique sensitivity to death, Deathwatch will be in ecstasy over the mass murder. Suddenly, the Kingpin's aide arrives, demanding that Deathwatch hand the canisters and the girl over to him. When Deathwatch refuses to comply, a virtual army of armed men emerge from the shadows, completely surrounding the ninjas. Not willing to experience death himself, Deathwatch orders Blackout to hand over the canisters. Not sticking around to see the end of the confrontation, Deathwatch and several of his men back away and leave the cemetery. Blackout, on the other hand, murders the Kingpin's aide and runs into the cemetery, determined to keep and release the canisters himself. Suddenly, as they walk past a crypt, Paulie remembers that that is where she hid the last canister. Blackout finds it, but before he can release it, the Ghost Rider appears and tackles him. As Paulie watches on, she is grabbed from behind and dragged into one of the mausoleums.

Still holding onto the canisters during their struggle, Blackout manages to get free of the Ghost Rider's hold. He manages to open one of the canisters, but is again tackled by the demon biker. Blackout digs his mechanical fangs into the Ghost Rider's neck, but is immediately set aflame by mystical hellfire, which also fuses the three canisters together, making them worthless. His face hideously scarred, Blackout escapes into the darkness of the cemetery, vowing revenge on the Ghost Rider for what has happened to him.

At dawn, the Kingpin says that he has saved the city from terrorists, and that his enemies the Punisher and Daredevil would be amused by that thought. Having learned of the Ghost Rider's involvement in stopping the plot, the Kingpin decides that he should keep an eye on the vigilante. Meanwhile, at the hospital, Dan tells his unconscious sister that he's beginning to believe the Ghost Rider to be a force of good, and asks who is he to deprive the innocents of justice.

ANNOTATIONS
Despite his later statements that he will not kill a mortal enemy, the Ghost Rider does indeed kill one of Deathwatch's ninjas by stabbing him in the gut with his own blade. This ninja will return to life as the Death Ninja in Ghost Rider (1990) # 34, and reveal that he had infiltrated Deathwatch's group under orders from his "Master", Centurious.

Paulie's mysterious abduction into the shadows of the mausoleum is but the first of such kidnappings. Several other young people, from teenagers to babies, will be taken over the next several issues until finally coming to a resolution in Ghost Rider (1990) # 9.

This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: Resurrected and Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic vol. 1 trade paperbacks.

REVIEW
The first story arc to the second series comes to a close and the secret behind the mysterious canisters are revealed while Blackout undergoes a big change. The most surprising part of this conclusion, though, comes in the fact that the Ghost Rider himself only appears for five pages. It's nice to see the main plot tied up so neatly in this opening story, especially considering how badly the plotlines will meander as the series grows older.

Howard Mackie spends a lot of time in this issue with the various villains of the story - Deathwatch, Blackout, and the Kingpin - and the various double crosses between the three of them. When he kept things simple, like he did in this opening arc, Mackie was good at writing villains and making them truly fearsome and horrific. Deathwatch's easy assault on the police station at the beginning is a perfect example, which shows that - while he prefers to work through aides and underlings - Deathwatch himself is a man to be feared. Blackout is obviously the stand-out character here, though, as this is the issue that completely changed his motivations following his disastrous attempt to kill the Ghost Rider. Mackie's follow-through with Blackout over the next few years (up through # 25) was a great illustration of character evolution. From this point on, Blackout grew to be the Ghost Rider's true arch-nemesis, even more so than Deathwatch, and the things the villain does in later issues all spring from the climactic moment here.

My favorite part of this issue comes during the cemetery stand-off between Deathwatch, Blackout, and the Kingpin's men. The way the Kingpin's representative outmaneuvered Deathwatch was great, and Deathwatch's subsequent departure and willingness to accept defeat gracefully helped to further his characterization. He's ruthless and evil, yes, but he's not stupid - unlike Blackout, who paid the price for not backing down like his employer.

Dan's character continues to grow and change as the series progresses, as well. Compare the Dan in issue # 1, who needed protection from his sister when the Cypress Pool Jokers ambushed them in the cemetery, to the Dan that's showed here. The Ghost Rider is already starting to influence him, causing him to rush off to the cemetery while saying "I can't stand by and do nothing!". The dramatic changes in his life obviously have Danny scared out of his mind, but it's also instilling in him more courage than he had before.

Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira continue their excellent job as the series' artistic duo, and each issue they never fail to deliver at least one "whoa" moment that makes you sit up and take notice while reading. In this issue, that moment is when Blackout feels the fury of the Ghost Rider's hellfire, causing an explosion that is rendered beautifully by the pencil and ink team. Another part of the book's stellar look comes with the colors of Gregory Wright, who adds the great little touch of stark darkness whenever Blackout appears on panel.

All in all, the first storyarc, and it's conclusion in this issue, are a raging success. This is the prime example of why the Ghost Rider series became such a smash hit in its first year.

Grade: A


Ghost Rider # 3
Published: July, 1990
Original Price: $1.50
Cover: Javier Saltares

Title: "Deathwatch"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Javier Saltares
Inker: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Michael Heisler
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco