GHOST RIDER # 12
Meanwhile, in Hoboken, a mysterious individual stares off into the night sky, thinking about how he's come a long way to kill the Ghost Rider. Two men come from behind him, brandishing guns, demanding any money the biker may have. The man easily takes down one of the attackers, and when the other comes at him with a knife he pulls a shotgun from his trenchcoat (revealing a very familiar set of racing leathers). Holding the hoodlum at gunpoint, he considers shooting him, but decides instead to just ride off and let him live.
Elsewhere, sitting in a car, Zodiak's personal chauffeur complains that he's twice the hitman his boss his. However, when he sees the Ghost Rider approaching in his rear-view mirror, he runs inside for help. The Rider descends into the basement of the building, taking out guards along the way (including the frightened driver). The biker busts through a steel door, determined to finally catch Zodiak, but instead finds a group of cloaked men sitting under a huge machine, a device that has captured several young children in a mystical prison. This enrages the Rider, who turns around to find Zodiak and several men standing behind him. The murderer states that his employers would be very upset if he allowed the hero to interfere with their "crossing over", and orders his men to fire their weapons. To the Ghost Rider's surprise, the weapons actually cause him pain, as they're powered by magic. Luckily, Dr. Strange and his followers arrive, rescuing the Rider and giving him assistance against the men. Zodiak uses the opportunity to fly away, but mentions as he escapes that the battle has disturbed the cloaked men's concentration. The mystical prison holding the children explodes, and a group of fearsome demons emerge from the disrupted portal. Strange and the Rider both attack the demons, rescuing the children that Zodiak had imprisoned. Eventually, using his mystical knowledge, Strange is able to force the demons back through to their own dimension. Determined to never let this happen again, the Rider wraps his chain around the machines that powered the gateway, destroying them with one downward pull. Before the heroes leave, the Rider looks into a dark corner, then snaps his chain wrapping it around the hiding Zodiak. The killer just smiles, saying that he's yet another mechanical doppelganger. Enraged, the Ghost Rider destroys the robot's head with one punch. Strange then places his hand on the Rider's shoulder, telling him that he needs his assistance to help save the innocent life of his friend.
Doctor Strange first encountered the original Ghost Rider, Zarathos, in Ghost Rider (1973) # 29.
The mysterious man on the motorcycle, later revealed to be John Blaze, has been traveling to New York since Ghost Rider (1990) # 10.
This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic vol. 2 trade paperback.
Doctor Strange is one of the few Marvel characters that could easily be imported into the Ghost Rider's world (along with, arguably, the Punisher from a few issues before), and not just because he's the greatest sorcerer in the Marvel Universe. Strange is one of the few characters to have encountered the Blaze/Zarathos - in fact, he was nearly killed by that incarnation of the Ghost Rider - so him investigating the return of the Rider is a story that, frankly, demanded to be told. Of course, this brings us a repeat of last issue's Nightmare story, with Strange constantly referring to the new Ghost Rider as Zarathos...and frankly, I'm surprised this didn't happen more often than it did in the early issues, considering how unique a flaming skull is in the Marvel Universe.
Around this time, in his own series, Dr. Strange (along with his apprentice Rintrah and aide Topaz) was doing a sort of Magical Mystery Tour of the supernatural parts of the Marvel Universe. Previous stories involved vampires and Werewolf by Night, but this was the major stopping point on the journey - obviously, as Ghost Rider was the only character involved to have his own series. Of course, Strange immediately treats the Rider as a hostile entity, and - which comes as no surprise - the good Doctor promptly gets his ass handed to him, just as he does in every other instance he's come up against the Ghost Rider. But with Dr. Strange must inevitably come a story involving demons and magic, topics that this series has wisely steered clear of up to this point. It's forgivable, considering the nature of the story and guest-star, but it's certainly not something I'd want to see on a regular basis (and which is what we'd unfortunately get later on in the book's third year).
We're also given some advancements in the Zodiak storyline, and it's starting to become obvious that Mackie really has no idea where he's taking the character. When he first appeared, Zodiak seemed to be just a serial killer/mercenary with an astrological gimmick...and now he's here consorting with magic and demons. It smacks of the writer just throwing any and all ideas against the wall to see if he can eventually make sense of it. Luckily, the story itself is strong enough to gloss over the inconsistency in Zodiak's motivation. One bit that's amusing is the ending, with yet another robotic doppelganger of Zodiak allowing the real villain's escape...it's intentionally frustrating, not just for the reader but for the Ghost Rider himself (who releases said frustration by punching off the robot's head).
The artwork, thankfully, is still looking as fantastic as ever - even with an inking assist by James Palmiotti. From the pencils on down to the colors and lettering, this book was easily the best looking series on the stands in the early 90s, with darkness permeating the backgrounds so much that - for once in comics - scenes taking place at night actually look like they're taking place at night.
Overall, this is yet another strong issue that caps off the book's first year quite nicely. It's just unfortunate that the conclusion to this story over in Dr. Strange didn't live up to this issue's standards.
Ghost Rider # 12
Title: "Strange Tales"