GHOST RIDER # 90
Meanwhile, in Hell, Black Rose stares at the lifeless body of Noble Kale. Blackheart addresses his four Spirits of Vengeance (Pao Fu, Wallow, Doghead, and Verminous Rex), and tells them that they are to bring him the soul of the Ghost Rider. Back on Earth, Dan enjoys his date with Stacy, but startles her when he brings up the idea of the two eventually getting married. They share a kiss in the rain, but are interrupted when a nearby tree is struck by lightning.
In Chinatown, a group of slave traders talk about how the Ghost Rider has been ruining their operations ever since the girl Lian was killed. A few minutes later, Pao Fu busts into the room and kills all but one of the men. She raises her mask, and the slaver is shocked to see that it is Lian. She then decapitates the man and disappears. Elsewhere, at Dan's apartment, his and Stacy's date is ended abruptly when she receives a police call. Dan watches her leave through his window, convinced that she would never want to spend her life with a loser like him.
In a nearby park, the woman that caused Chio and Chupi to be struck by the bus is attacked by Doghead, who demands vengeance for what the woman did to him and his dog. Before the creature can kill her, the woman is rescued by the Ghost Rider, who immediately notices the symbol of the Medallion on Doghead's collar. The two briefly battle, but Ghost Rider is soon overwhelmed by the other three Spirits of Vengeance. Pao Fu, having tangled the Rider in her tendril-like hair, offers him the position of their leader. Ghost Rider refuses, and in return Pao Fu shoves her arm into his chest. When she removes her hand, the Ghost Rider's demonic heart is clasped between her fingers.
Blackheart has been gathering his own Spirits of Vengeance over the past several issues: Wallow in Ghost Rider (1990) # 87, Pau Fu in Ghost Rider (1990) # 88, and both Verminous Rex and Doghead in Ghost Rider (1990) # 89. It is revealed in Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch # 3 that Blackheart's "Spirits of Vengeance" had no official claim on that name or the power of the Spirits; even as lord of Hell, Blackheart didn't have the power to claim his own Spirits of Vengeance.
The Ghost Rider returns to his original, black leather outfit in this issue, which he hasn't worn since Ghost Rider (1990) # 78.
The identity of the ghostly woman that speaks to the Ghost Rider will be revealed in Ghost Rider (1990) # 93.
By the end of 1997, the Ghost Rider series had fallen on some pretty dire times. What had once been one of Marvel's top-selling titles had become one of the worst, hovering on the verge of cancellation with plunging sales and rapidly disappearing readers. Original series writer Howard Mackie had left a couple of years before, followed a year or so later by long-time artist Salvador Larroca. While new writer Ivan Velez was turning out some rather enjoyable stories, fans didn't appreciate the way the writer had stomped all over Mackie's plotlines, going so far as to introduce a contradictory origin story for the character. The final nail in the coffin for the fans was the arrival of artist Pop Mhan, whose stylized and cartoonish artwork completely failed to mesh with the series, causing fans to abandon the character they'd followed for so many years. I'd also be neglectful if I didn't mention the truly awful costume that appeared during Velez's run - designed by X-Force artist Adam Pollina, the new outfit was a garish eyesore colored in red and yellow, eventually being dubbed the "Speed Racer" costume by angry fans.
So when editor Tom Brevoort took over the reigns of the series, he obviously had his work cut out for him. What could he possible do to turn around the nose-dive in sales on Ghost Rider? His final decisions, though too little and too late to save the series, were certainly large steps in the right direction, resulting in one of the finer stories by Velez to be the closing opus of the book.
Right off the bat, Brevoort and Velez grant the readers their biggest request: a return to the original black leather outfit. After twelve or so issues of the red and yellow jumpsuit atrocity, this was but the first of the last-ditch efforts to reclaim the lost readership of the series, and the remaining fans jumped up in joy upon seeing the cover to this issue. THIS was the Ghost Rider that we loved, he was finally back!
As if that wasn't enough for Brevoort to say "look, we don't suck anymore!", the series - two issues before - saw the return of half of its original artistic team. Javier Saltares, along with inker Mark Texeira, was a BIG part of what made the book so successful at its onset, and Saltares' return in the late 90's was another example of the "back to basics" approach. While Texeira wouldn't return for another two issues, finally snapping into place what had been missing on the book for so long, Saltares and Andrew Pepoy still turned in an excellent issue.
But let's talk for a moment about the storyline. Since Velez's beginning on the series, the book had started down a slippery slope of oft-times confusing plotting and vague mutterings of new origins for the Rider. Now, the Ghost Rider demon was a man named Noble Kale, cursed to possess the bodies of his descendants as the Spirit of Vengeance. This origin had been frustratingly handed out a bit at a time as Velez's run went on, and "The Last Temptation" was where all the cards were being laid on the table. A new status quo was set to emerge once this arc was finished, bringing to a close the plotlines teased and drawn out by Velez over the last two years. It's obvious that this was yet another attempt to bring the book back to what it was like at the beginning, and it was a welcome change. You can tell by reading that the creative team felt energized on this storyline, almost as if they knew that the truly great stuff was coming along after it. Unfortunately, we never got to see this great stuff, but that's a discussion for another time.
Though this is certainly a step in the right direction for the series, there are a few stumbles along the path in this issue. A lot of time is given over to Blackheart's four Spirits of Vengeance, tying up their plotlines from the last three issues, and it's a little unclear why they were given such screen time considering their lack of true importance in the later issues of the arc. There's also the big head-scratching moment at the issue's end, when Pao Fu rips the Ghost Rider's "heart" from his chest. We've seen multiple times that the Rider is nothing more than a flaming skeleton, so where did this mechanical-looking heart suddenly come from? Why does it look mechanical at all, for that matter?
One thing that made me chuckle: during the Rider's fight with the evil Spirits of Vengeance, you can see Kale's frustration and anger growing with each panel. This culminates with Doghead, barking hilariously, trying to start the Rider's bike. Noble freaks out at this, yelling at the demon to get off his cycle, and it's really pretty funny (though is it intentional? who knows).
In a lot of ways, "The Last Temptation" was the last desperate move by Marvel to resuscitate the Ghost Rider series...it just wasn't done quickly enough.
Ghost Rider # 90
Title: The Last Temptation, Part 1: "Rain"