VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 20

SYNOPSIS
Ghost Rider and Zodiak are at a stand-off on a subway platform. Thinking that perhaps the Rider will kill him if he takes out Zodiak himself, Chris Daniels (Suicide) attacks the murderer. Zodiak extends his claws, gutting Suicide with one swipe. Realizing that the injury won't kill him, Jenkins rushes again, only to be picked up and thrown in front of an incoming subway train. Zodiak leaps onto the train, but the Ghost Rider refuses to let him escape. The biker extends his chain, which latches onto the back of the train, dragging him down the tunnels behind it. Daniels, meanwhile, climbs from the tracks, mangled but still alive. He pushes his way through to the street, where his wounds begin to heal themselves. He chances across a crowd that surrounds the Rider's bike, giving him the idea to watch and wait. Suddenly, the cycle comes alive, and as it races off, Suicide jumps on for the ride.

Back on the train, Zodiak bails off and heads into a side-tunnel, followed closely by the Ghost Rider. Nothing the killer does seems capable of stopping the Spirit of Vengeance, who finally gets his hands around Zodiak's neck. The Rider removes the man's mask, revealing a face covered with a dozen demonic eyes. Zodiak uses the distraction to break free, and climbs up to the street. The motorcycle approaches, and Daniels bails off as the Ghost Rider emerges. Zodiak enters a movie theater and takes two hostages, telling the Rider that he'll let them go if he's allowed to walk away. He tells his story, saying how he was once an occult bookstore owner, who one day was visited by twelve demons. The demons offered him power, which he accepted, only to become grafted to the demons instead, acting as their puppet. Zodiak throws the hostages and runs, taking a woman in a car hostage in a fit to escape. They make it onto a bridge, where the Ghost Rider finally catches up to them. Suicide jumps the killer, but the woman goes over the side of the bridge. Instead of using the chance to kill Zodiak, Daniels saves the woman. Zodiak stands defeated, but still claims victory since the Ghost Rider will not take a human life. Suicide decides to take matters into his own hands, pushing both Zodiak and himself off the bride and onto a garbage barge below them. The two are impaled on wooden spikes as they hit, but as the Ghost Rider discovers when he makes his way down, only Suicide has survived. Chris Daniels is now a hero, but despite this he still wants nothing more than to die.

ANNOTATIONS
Ghost Rider appears next in Slapstick # 4.

Zodiak's demon masters first appeared in Ghost Rider (1990) # 12.

Suicide makes a return appearance in Ghost Rider (1990) # 35.

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

REVIEW
Zodiak gets his grand send-off with this issue while artist Mark Texeira takes a short break from full art duties. Ron Wagner makes his first appearance as the series' artist with inking by Tex, a potent combination that just swathes the story in darkness.

Zodiak was a character that I wanted so badly to like, but it was so abundantly obvious that Howard Mackie had no idea what to do with the guy. His first story was very strong, he had a great gimmick and a pretty decent costume. It was his motivation and backstory, which literally changed every time he appeared, that caused the problem. When he first appeared, Zodiak was presented as an assassin-for-hire with technological abilities (such as robotic "Gemini" doppelgangers). When he next appeared, he was a drug dealer; after that, he was consorting with demons and sacrificing children to his "masters"; and then we got the Dr. Strange crossover issue that showed Zodiak as a servant of other-dimensional demons called the Fomors. When this story started in the last issue, Zodiak was back as a drug dealer who's demonic "masters" provided him with a high-tech gun to kill the Ghost Rider. Er, what now? Just what was this guy intended to be, and why couldn't Mackie decide on a simple motivation for him? A mystery for the ages.

Thankfully, none of that really comes into play in this issue, even though it does finally give us Zodiak's demonic origin, where twelve demons possessed him and gave him twelve eyeballs on his face (though actually, shouldn't he have twenty-four eyes instead of twelve?). The focus of this issue is a thrilling chase sequence between Zodiak and Ghost Rider, where the Rider's single-mindedness really goes up to 11 with him repeating the mantra "No escape!" at least once a page. I loved this, it showed just how unrelenting a force the Ghost Rider could be when he gets really pissed off. It also gives us a pretty fantastic chase throughout the issue with all of the various changes in locale from the sewer to the subway, from a movie theater to a bridge.

The one foul element of this issue was the ill-conceived character Suicide, who I just absolutely detest. I understand where Mackie was coming from here, and in theory its a good idea - a guy who wants to die but can't, other than by the Ghost Rider's hands (or so he thinks). Unfortunately, it translates horribly into a whiny, unattractive character whose frantic wish to die comes off as ridiculous given the events of the issue. He's effectively immortal, he's powerful, and his old life is essentially over - so why does he still want to die despite being hailed as a hero by story's end? He's a character that makes no sense to me, and it was unfortunate that he sticks around while we lose Zodiak.

Ron Wagner comes on as penciller for this issue with Texeira providing finishes, and it looks great. Wagner draws a good Ghost Rider, and though he did several issues in the year after this, this issue was easily his strongest due to the vivid inks by Texeira and the colors by Greg Wright. Sadly, the editors I assume must have backed off at the brutality of the issue when it came time to do the colors, giving us pages of blue/black "blood" during the many sequences with Suicide. Make no mistake, this was a gruesome issue, but it just looks bad when they weren't willing to color blood red.

This issue was the start of Mackie going wild and eliminating all of the Ghost Rider's enemies to date (Snowblind, Deathwatch, and Blackout all get similar treatment as Zodiak in the following issues). This one had a lot of bad stuff surrounding it, but the well-constructed chase sequences rescue and boost it up to a higher quality than one would expect.

Grade: B+


Ghost Rider # 20
Published: Dec. 1991
Original Price: $1.75
Cover: Ron Wagner

Title: "Sign of Death"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Ron Wagner
Inker: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco