VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 10

SYNOPSIS
Police rope off a brutal crime scene, the latest victims of a killer known as the Zodiak, due to the astrological signs he paints with the victim's blood. From a nearby rooftop, the Ghost Rider watches, vowing that the killer must pay. The next day, Dan has dinner with Stacy and Jack. The three talk about the Zodiak slayings, and Stacy finds that Dan's attitude is changing drastically. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, a mysterious man watches a news report on Ghost Rider. He pulls a knife and tosses it at the wall, where it stabs through a newspaper photo of the Rider.

That night, Dan rides through New York, hoping to find any sign of Zodiak. He witnesses a street fight, which involuntarily transforms him into the Ghost Rider. The demon stops the fight, dragging one of the men away with his chain. After he tells him where to find Zodiak, he drops the man on top of a police car. Meanwhile, in the headquarters of the bounty hunting organization H.E.A.R.T., the group's leader, Tyler Meagher, accepts a contract from Deathwatch.

Elsewhere, the Ghost Rider confronts Zodiak, who starts a brief fight with the spirit of vengeance. He tells the Rider that he's a hired killer, and he figured the astrological signs would be a good way to cover up his assassinations by posing as a serial killer. The Rider attempts to give the penance stare, but finds that Zodiak is really a mechanical doppelganger. Ghost Rider destroys the robot while the real killer flies off from a nearby rooftop.

Traveling through the west, the mysterious man from New Mexico rides toward New York, his only concern being the death of the Ghost Rider.

ANNOTATIONS
Ghost Rider last appeared in The Mighty Thor # 430.

The man from New Mexico will continue to stalk the Ghost Rider over the next several issues, until he is finally revealed as John Blaze in Ghost Rider (1990) # 13.

The details of Deathwatch's deal with H.E.A.R.T. will be revealed in Ghost Rider (1990) # 15.

Zodiak's origins will be revealed in Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme # 28 and Ghost Rider (1990) # 20.

Johnny Blaze faced a similar astrology-themed villain, Aquarius the One-Man-Zodiac, way back in Ghost Rider (1973) # 7.

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

REVIEW
Howard Mackie continues the stellar first year of Ghost Rider by introducing the next major villain, who (whether on purpose or accidentally) pays homage to a villain from the first year of the original Ghost Rider series.

In his seventh issue, Johnny Blaze faced Aquarius, the One-Man Zodiac who possessed all of the abilities of the Zodiac Gang that had been long-running foes of the Avengers. With this issue, Mackie introduces us to a new Zodiak that continues the astrological motif, only with a much darker edge. Zodiak was a heavy presence in the second year of the series, and he had a very strong debut with his appearance in this issue. Unfortunately, Zodiak was also a character that Mackie apparently had no idea what to do with. In this issue, he was a hit-man that used the astrology aspect as a gimmick...but in his next appearance, he was seen consorting with demons and sacrificing children to a "dark god" of some sort. Wha huh?

But regardless of what the character eventually degenerated into, Zodiak comes off as a fairly creepy and menacing villain in his first appearance here. The first year of the series did well with the done-in-one stories like this one and the ones with Mr. Hyde and the Scarecrow, proving yet another reason why the book became less successful once each new issue was used to do nothing but drop vague hints at an overall origin arc. We do get some character development for Dan in this issue, with him taking an active role in "patrolling" for crime for the first time. Mackie gave Dan a lot of false starts with embracing and then rejecting the Ghost Rider curse in a seemingly endless loop, but here - still in the book's early days - the sign that Dan was progressing forward was a welcome one.

Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira turn in yet another fantastic job with the artwork, coupled with colorist Gregory Wright to bathe the pages with even more darkness than previous issues - not a mean feat, I assure you. The use of such heavy blacks in the inks and colors were a large part of what made this series so visually unique, and the opening page of the Zodiak's crime scene is a gripping portrait of violence in its gruesomely illustrated detail. The design for Zodiak looks good under the pens of Saltares and Texeira, but could easily - and does in later appearances - look goofy when rendered by a more traditional superhero styled artist.

So while Zodiak may have been an inadvertent throwback to the One-Man-Zodiac of yesteryear, he makes a much more impressive debut than his predecessor. Yet another hit for Mackie, Saltares, and Texeira, continuing their first year streak.

Grade: A


Ghost Rider # 10
Published: Feb. 1991
Original Price: $1.50
Cover: Javier Saltares

Title: "Stars of Blood"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Javier Saltares
Inker: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco