VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 28

SYNOPSIS
After avenging the rape and death of a woman, a restless and enraged Ghost Rider returns to Cypress Hills Cemetery. John Blaze follows closely behind him, demanding to know what's happened to Danny after Blackout ripped out his throat. The two are interrupted by a strange man with a shovel, who introduces himself as the Caretaker. He says that he's kept an eye on the Rider since he locked Blackout and Stern in the mausoleum weeks before. Ghost Rider enters the crypt, and immediately after the police start shooting at Blaze and the Caretaker.

Inside, the Rider shares a vision with Danny's soul, who is floating in the void between worlds. Dan sees a light in the darkness, and when he reaches for it it turns into a hand. The hand pulls him through a portal, where he sees a vision of different individuals that will assemble to stop the coming of Lilith. The hand that guided him belongs to Lilith herself, who attempts to kill him. Dan escapes back to the void, barely avoiding another death.

Back in the mausoleum, the Ghost Rider is attacked by the newly free Blackout and Stern. The Rider collapses due to the power of Danny's vision, giving the two villains time to make their escape. Blackout opens the crypt door, only to find Lt. Badilino and a virtual army of police surrounding them. Blackout grabs Stern and runs out the door, using the man's invulnerable body as a shield. Badilino enters the mausoleum, wanting the Rider above all others. Before he makes it to the demon, the Caretaker smacks him in the face with his shovel. He and Blaze grab the Rider and carry him out through an underground tunnel.

When the Ghost Rider awakens, he rants about the vision he shared with Danny. He and Blaze go to the building that houses their motorcycles, only to see Blackout inside. Blaze shoots his gun, but instead hits the bike as Blackout escapes, transforming it into a hellfire cycle. John sits atop the bike and agrees to follow the Rider on his search to find the people in the vision. After they leave, the Caretaker has a chat with Dr. Strange, and the two agree that a great evil is coming.

ANNOTATIONS
"Rise of the Midnight Sons" continues with Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 1.

Blackout and Stern were locked in the mausoleum by the Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider (1990) # 25. Danny had his throat ripped out by Blackout in that same issue.

The people shown to Danny in his vision of Lilith were Michael Morbius, Hannibal King, Blade, Frank Drake, Louise Hastings, Sam Buchanan, and Vicki Montesi. Along with Ghost Rider and Blaze, these people made up the nine Midnight Sons.

This issue is the first appearance of the Caretaker, who remained a member of the supporting cast until Ghost Rider (1990) # 61. He was brought back only to be killed by Blackout and Dan Ketch in Ghost Rider (2006) # 27.

The hellfire cycle found by Blackout was first used by the Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness.

This issue came polybagged with a poster of Ghost Rider.

This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: Rise of the Midnight Sons trade paperback.

REVIEW
There's a term for television called "jumping the shark", which is the exact pinpointed moment that a once-great show has hit its peak and begins the downward slide to mediocrity (coined from the infamous episode of Happy Days, where the Fonz literally jumps over a shark on water skis). And it's sad to say that if the same term was applied to comics, this issue would ultimately be the point where Ghost Rider jumped the shark.

Before this, Ghost Rider was an undeniable smash hit for Marvel, a dark horse candidate that surprised everyone by becoming one of the company's highest-selling titles. Marvel, never one to pass on a trend, looked at the series in hopes of replicating its success - and the Midnight Sons line of comics were born. Of course, as Howard Mackie said when I spoke to him a few years ago, Marvel completely missed the boat when they "discovered" what made Ghost Rider so popular - it wasn't that he was a horror character, it was that his stories, while grounded in scary happenings, was as street-level as it gets. And when the editorial mandate for the Midnight Sons came down from upon high, Ghost Rider's premise changed - and not for the better. With the Midnight Sons came "plotting by group consensus", due to it being a "family" of titles that all had to be on the same page. This editorial pressure to make Ghost Rider a horror title like its sibling titles and a constant barrage of crossovers for the Midnight Sons line ultimately buried what was once a good book in a sea of sheer awfulness.

Naturally, this isn't to say that good stories didn't come out of the Midnight Sons era - some of the titles were rather good (and at least two, Spirits of Vengeance and Darkhold, were downright excellent). But the title that started it all, Ghost Rider, experienced a downslide in quality - so badly that it's remarkable that Mackie was able to pull the book out of its crash and return it close to its remarkable beginning once the Sons era had passed.

So, for all its faults, this issue is where the Midnight Sons experiment started, and you can tell immediately that the tone and feel for Ghost Rider had changed dramatically. We're introduced to Lilith, who gave the book a major supernatural enemy, and the Caretaker, whose mysterious nature would prove to be more of an annoyance than a benefit. This story arc began Mackie's run of stories that felt plotted on the fly, with no idea as to how to resolve all of the mysteries in the future. It makes me wonder if Mackie had a clear idea of how to take the Ghost Rider in his third year, but was then derailed by the mandate for the Midnight Sons. Would we have seen something completely different in the series had the editors not stepped in?

This issue is pure set-up for the crossover, though it does provide a continuance of Danny's death as a subplot that comes to the foreground more than in the previous X-Men crossover. It's also nice to see John Blaze back in the book, marking the precursor to Spirits of Vengeance # 1.

We also get a new art team starting this issue, and it's less than impressive. Joe Kubert is a legend, and his younger son Adam turns out some incredible work on Spirits of Vengeance...but I've never been a fan of Andy Kubert. His work bores me to this day, and his artwork on Ghost Rider is fairly mediocre. I have my suspicions that the only reason I enjoy it at all is because of his father's inks, but all that serves to do is make Andy's art look just like Joe's. Adam, at least, has his own style instead of simply aping his father's work, which is what Andy does here and on his future X-Men assignment.

Overall, this issue certainly isn't terrible...it just marks the start of a rapid downslide in quality for what was one of the best books produced by Marvel.

Grade: C+


Ghost Rider # 28
Published: Aug. 1994
Original Price: $2.50
Cover: Andy Kubert

Title: Rise of the Midnight Sons, Part 1: "Visions"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Andy Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco