VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 7

SYNOPSIS
At a psychiatric hospital in Queens, Ebeneezer Laughton, also known as the super-villain Scarecrow, covers his face with a mask. A doctor and two orderlies enter and take the mask, but are unable to figure out where he keeps getting them. After they leave, a group of crows land on the window, another mask and a straight razor held in their beaks. Two months later, reporter Linda Wei talks about the Scarecrow's escape, and that he is believed to be behind the disappearances of Brooklyn children over the past several weeks. Police sources have said that the Scarecrow is also responsible for the murder of a man found hanging from a lamppost, disemboweled and stuffed with straw. The Ghost Rider watches the early morning newscast through a store window, and then rides to Cypress Hills Cemetery, where he transforms back into Danny Ketch. That night, Dan goes on a date with his girlfriend, Stacy Dolan, who tries to convince him to get rid of his new motorcycle.

At the NYU Medical Center, a repairman goes into the basement to figure out why the hospital's lights aren't working. When he reaches the bottom of the steps, his flashlight goes out for no reason. He is then grabbed and killed by Blackout. While on their date, Stacy tries to talk to Dan about his sister, despite his attempts at changing the topic. Finally, she convinces him to go see her in the hospital later that night. Meanwhile, the Scarecrow waits atop a building, wondering why his arch-enemy, Captain America, has yet to come stop his murders. He decides that if the Captain won't stop him that night, then another example must be made. He jumps off the building and lands in front of a young woman pushing her baby in a stroller.

An hour later, Dan and Stacy walk past a crime scene, where they see the chalk outlines of the woman and her baby. Danny overhears a police transmission that says the cops have the Scarecrow trapped on a nearby rooftop, and then is surprised to see the mystical motorcycle parked across the street. Dan runs over to the bike and rides away, leaving Stacy behind. Back at NYU, the nurses are still trying to figure out why their lights aren't working, while Blackout strolls through the halls of the hospital unnoticed. He enters the room of the comatose Barbara Ketch, and asks her what she thinks of her brother's handiwork.

The Ghost Rider speeds toward the building that the Scarecrow is trapped upon, easily evading the police barricades in front of him. Spouting the same phrases since his rebirth, he questions the meaning of the words to himself, admitting that though he has no idea who he is, he knows he must act. The demon rides up the side of the building and confronts the killer, wrapping his chain around him. As the police bust onto the roof, the Rider jumps across several buildings, taking the Scarecrow with him. When they finally stop, the killer uses his contortionist abilities to slip free of the chain and run away. He dives into the sewer, leaving the Ghost Rider to wonder what is the force that drives him toward vengeance. At the hospital, Blackout continues his conversation with the comatose Barbara, telling her that he followed her brother to the cemetery and watched him undergo the transformation into the Ghost Rider. Blaming Danny and the Rider for the mutilation of his face, Blackout states that he shall turn the boy's life into a reeking wound, and that everything he loves will be taken from him. he then bares his mechanical fangs and rips Barbara's throat out. When Danny gets home that morning, he gets the news that his sister is dead.

That night, the Scarecrow again waits for Captain America. The Ghost Rider roars onto the rooftop, filled with more rage than he's felt since his rebirth. During the fight, the Scarecrow says that the only way to stop him is to kill him, which the Ghost Rider refuses to do. He gives the killer his penance stare, but the Scarecrow's insanity makes him immune. As the Ghost Rider is lost in thought over his quest for answers, the Scarecrow breaks free and flies backwards, impaling himself on his own pitchfork. The Ghost Rider decides that vengeance has been served and rides off, leaving the criminal on the rooftop. Several minutes later, two mysterious individuals come and remove the Scarecrow's body, taking it away. Two days later, Danny and his mother attend Barbara's funeral, where he says his final goodbyes to his sister.

ANNOTATIONS
Ghost Rider appears next in Marvel Comics Presents # 64.

Barbara Ketch was critically injured in Ghost Rider (1990) # 1, and has been in a coma ever since. Blackout's face was destroyed in Ghost Rider (1990) # 3.

The identity of the men that take the Scarecrow's body away will be revealed in the Ghost Rider/Captain America: Fear graphic novel.

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

This issue came in at # 2 on the Top Ten Ghost Rider Comics of All-Time list!

REVIEW
Series inker Mark Texeira steps up for the full artistic chores for the first time to help Howard Mackie tell one of the creepiest and most emotionally powerful stories in the first year of Ghost Rider.

Up until this issue, the Ghost Rider had been severely...hrm, repetitive? The demon's dialogue had consisted mainly of such phrases as "I am the Spirit of Vengeance", "vengeance is served", "innocent blood has been spilled", etc. But now we readers are finally given a glimpse at the Rider's own thoughts, providing a much-needed insight into the character's motivations and desires. That's actually not very accurate, on second thought, since the Ghost Rider's thoughts are frequently filled with ponderings on those very same things. But this does serve to show that the Ghost Rider DOES have his own personality separate from Danny's, and that the amnesia he suffers could mean that he actually is Zarathos. The Ghost Rider's questions mirror our own, and it's obvious that he is being driven to act by an unseen force - he questions the same words he mutters over and over, seemingly unable to stop himself. It's an interesting avenue to explore, the uncertainty in the hero himself about why he acts as a protector and avenger.

The second big event in this issue is the death of poor Barbara Ketch, finally shuffled off the mortal coil after six issues of being in a coma. It's a relief to finally see this plot thread tied up, and there was really only two ways to resolve it: either Barb lives or dies. Of course, her death adds a sense of tragic pathos to Dan's life, and the book is all the better for it - especially given the way she dies.

Before this, Blackout could simply have been seen as a typical villain destined to come back for revenge on the hero (in this case, for the ruination of Blackout's face). But his scene with Barbara, before he tears out her throat, elevates the vampire to a new level - no longer is he "just another villain". He's the nemesis now, the arch-enemy that's all the more deadly because of his knowledge of Danny's secret. "His life will become a reeking wound surrounding him", Blackout says before he kills her, and with Barbara's death Mackie shows that he's certainly not kidding around.

It's also a credit to Mackie that Blackout doesn't completely steal the show from the story's other villain, the Scarecrow. In his appearances in Captain America, the Scarecrow had been one of those typical C-list villains mentioned above. But here, Mackie takes the character and naturally transforms him into something much scarier. He's the monster that actually exists in the world, a man turned into a killer by an abusive family and apathetic society. Unlike Blackout, the Scarecrow doesn't view the Ghost Rider as his nemesis - he wants Captain America, and the Rider is nothing but an obstacle in his way. Like Mr. Hyde a few issues before, the Scarecrow is naturally inserted into the harsh, dark world of the Ghost Rider, and the character shines like never before. With that said, it's all the more shocking that the Scarecrow seemingly dies at the end - had fan response not guaranteed his return, the villain could very well have been left in death's embrace following this story.

And how can I not mention Mark Texeira's artwork? Having worked on the book since issue # 1 as Javier Saltares' inker and embellisher, Texeira shows that is just as adept at drawing the characters as his artistic partner. The artist's heavy black inks submerge the comic in darkness, giving it the perfect feel that the series demands. I also would be remiss in not mentioning Gregory Wright's colors, particularly during Blackout's scene in the hospital.

While this issue marks the end to a major point of the series with Barbara's death, we also get a glimpse of what's ahead in the future for the Ghost Rider and his search for answers to his existence. It's as if the first six issues of the series were merely a prelude to this, the best issue of the series so far.

Grade: A+


Ghost Rider # 7
Published: Nov. 1990
Original Price: $1.50
Cover: Mark Texeira

Title: "Obsession"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco