VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 14

SYNOPSIS
Held at gunpoint, Dan is the captive of John Blaze, who says he wants to kill Zarathos, not him. He knows Dan doesn't believe its Zarathos that's possessing him, and that he's sure he thinks the Ghost Rider is a force for good, but Blaze says he doesn't know the type of forces that the kid is playing with. The telephone in the hotel room rings, which Blaze answers in disappointment. He tells the person that he loves them, but he can't come home yet. He hangs up and tells Danny that he's risking his happiness and his family by making sure the evil of Zarathos isn't unleashed again. He says he should just kill Dan and get it over with, but he can't do it because he was a stupid kid once, too.

Meanwhile, in the sewers beneath Central Park, two workers investigate a backed up sewage line that's needing cleaned. The two men discover a mountain of dead bodies, and then their flashlights blink off. The two men are then attacked by Blackout, who kills them.

Back in the hotel room, Blaze watches a news report about the the police officer that the Ghost Rider was framed for killing. Following that, a report comes in about a gruesome murder in Central Park, where several people have disappeared throughout the day. Dan begins to yell that Blackout is the one killing people, and that they've got to stop him. Not wanting to listen, Blaze gags the kid again. At that moment, in Salem Fields Cemetery, Dan's motorcycle revs to life. Minutes later, the bike busts through the wall of the hotel room, and as it passes Danny it transforms him into the Ghost Rider. Blaze turns the lights off in the room, and recites a spell of binding, trapping the Rider in a pentagram. Elsewhere, in Deathwatch's Manhattan office, Blackout agrees to do a job for his former employer, but that Danny is to be left for him. When Blackout leaves, Deathwatch telephones Tyler Meagher and tells her that the bait has been set and the Ghost Rider will come to her.

At the hotel, Blaze tells the Ghost Rider about his life as the original host for Zarathos. He explains that after Zarathos and Centurious were trapped in the Soul Crystal, he married his love, Roxanne Simpson, and had two children. He bought the Quentin Carnival and the family was happy...until the Ghost Rider returned. Blaze knew he couldn't let his children grow up in a world in which the Ghost Rider ran free. He points his shotgun at the Rider, and the demon grabs the barrel of the gun. Hellfire flows from the Ghost Rider, through the gun and into Blaze, breaking the containment spell. As the Rider goes to leave, Blaze commands him to stop. He raises his shotgun and fires, blasting the biker through the window and onto the street below. John realizes that his gun shot hellfire, with which he continues to shoot the Rider, blowing large chunks out of his body. The Ghost Rider says that he is not Zarathos, and that he cannot leave his mission unfinished. Blaze prepares to finish the Rider off with a shot to the skull, but hesitates when he thinks about what will happen to Danny if he kills the demon. The Ghost Rider uses the opportunity to knock John away, and then climbs on his bike and rides away. Blaze watches the demon ride away, realizing that he now has the means to kill him.

ANNOTATIONS
John Blaze began his hunt for the Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider (1990) # 10.

Zarathos and Centurious were trapped within the Soul Crystal in Ghost Rider (1973) # 81. John bought the Quentin Carnival using money borrowed from his old friend, Warren Worthington III (AKA the Angel) in Defenders # 145.

The hellfire flames had only left the Ghost Rider's body one time before his encounter with Blaze, in Fantastic Four # 349. The flames pass from Ghost Rider to Blaze due to John's connection to the Spirit of Vengeance and it is revealed in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 15 that Blaze's body is totally saturated with hellfire.

This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic vol. 2 trade paperback.

REVIEW
This is the issue that every fan of the original Ghost Rider series has been waiting for: the return of Johnny Blaze. Since the start of the new series, readers had been wondering what had happened to Blaze, last seen riding off into the sunset following his separation from the demon Zarathos. And after several months of teases, John has finally reappeared...and understandably, he wants the new Ghost Rider dead.

With Blaze's return, the series is set up for the eventual introduction of the Spirits of Vengeance title, as the character's revamp by Mackie and Texeira proved to be quite popular amongst the fans - so much so that readers were clamoring for his return after his departure from the pages of Ghost Rider in a few issues after this one. But regardless of his popularity, the John Blaze that we're introduced to here is much, much different than he was throughout the original Ghost Rider series.

At this time, comics were becoming heavy with the "anti-hero" type of character. Usually depicted with long hair, a beard, and a trench coat, these "heroes" were generally vigilantes with little respect for the law and a greater tendency to kill or seriously injure their enemies. The Punisher, Gambit, Cable, and a slew of others were burning up the racks, and it's obvious that the same approach was used for Blaze. The 1990s were known for the oft-ridiculed "grim 'n gritty" style, which Ghost Rider most certainly fell into, and Blaze's revamp fit into this niche almost stereotypically. But Johnny had an edge over most of these other cookie-cutter characters, as he had a long-established history that made his eventual re-imagining make sense. Years had gone by since Blaze was the host for the Ghost Rider, and as he grew older he also grew tougher. Gone was the happy-go-lucky stunt biker, replaced with a surly and cynical carnival owner, complete with shotgun and ponytail. This worked for Blaze because, due to the near-decade he spent in limbo, no one could predict just how much he would have changed. Had he been the same character as he was in 1982, much of the suspense could possibly have been lost. We're given a John Blaze that is consumed by the need to see dead the demon that essentially destroyed the first half of his life, and his obsession and paranoia is partnered with a darker attitude that made him both immediately interesting and shockingly different at the same time.

Blaze also works well when played against the naive and young Daniel Ketch, who quite literally sits in the same place as John himself years before. Blaze wants the Ghost Rider dead, but he can't force himself to hurt Dan in order to succeed. It's a good bit that shows that Blaze is still a hero who is trying to do what he thinks is right without condemning an innocent boy to a fate that's not his fault. What's also surprising is how close Blaze DOES come to killing the Ghost Rider after his shotgun begins firing hellfire. He knows that he could very well be damning his own soul by once again wielding the hellfire, but he also knows that his own life is forfeit if it means Zarathos will be killed once and for all.

Mark Texeira also continues to impress the hell out of everyone with his artwork on this series, the heavy inks and harsh angles used to perfection to show just how dark and distorted the Ghost Rider's world really is. Despite being much older and more road-hard, Texeira still lets the old Johnny Blaze show through in his art - from the side-parted red hair to the old blue cycle leathers beneath John's coat.

At this time, readers were still wondering whether or not the new Ghost Rider was really Zarathos, and bringing Blaze back in the second year was a good move. Had Mackie brought Johnny back in the first year, it would have been difficult for the series to establish its own identity separate from the original series. But the mystery had been building for over a year, and Blaze's return was timed perfectly. This issue continues the excellence that the series maintained through to the end of the second year.

Grade: A+


Ghost Rider # 14
Published: June 1991
Original Price: $1.50
Cover: Mark Texeira

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