GHOST RIDER: HIGHWAY TO HELL
Johnny's father, Barton Blaze, died in a motorcycle accident when his son was very young. Johnny was then adopted by Crash Simpson, another stunt rider that ran his own cycle show with his wife Mona and daughter Roxanne. Johnny grew into adolescence, and had followed his step-father's footsteps by taking up cycle riding. When he was fifteen, his motorcycle caught fire during a practice session. Though he attempted to save his family, Mona Simpson is killed in the bike's explosion. Before she dies, she makes Johnny promise her that he'll never ride in the show due to the danger, which he agrees to. Five years later, Johnny is discovered riding in secret by Roxanne, who tells him that she is in love with him. Later on, Crash tells the two that he has cancer,and that the show's performance at Madison Square Garden will be his last, if he lives to even see that.
Determined to keep his step-father from dying, Johnny researches some occult books, finally using them to summon "Satan" (actually the demon lord Mephisto, in one of his many forms). In exchange for Johnny's soul, the devil will spare Crash Simpson from the cancer that's killing him. Three weeks later, Crash tells Johnny that he plans to try and break the world's cycle jump record at the Garden. Johnny knows he'll be fine, due to the deal he made with Satan. When Crash attempts to jump it, he doesn't make it, and dies in the resulting accident. Furious at what happened, Blaze suits up, mounts a bike, and does the same stunt...and makes it, breaking the world record. That night, Satan returns to claim Johnny's soul, claiming that he only said he'd spare Crash from the disease and nothing else. As Mephisto prepares to take Johnny to Hell, Roxanne enters and banishes the demon with the pure essence of her soul. She tells Johnny that she read his books behind his back, and learned how to send the devil away. The next night, however, Johnny begins to burn with fever, until his head suddenly transforms into a flaming skull. Every night since, he has undergone the transformation into...the Ghost Rider!
"Deathrace!": As he rides down a Utah highway, the Ghost Rider thinks back to a time when his curse was less consuming; back to a time when Johnny Blaze was a newly-hired stuntman for the Stuntmaster television show...
Johnny rides through the desert, only to find himself transforming into the Ghost Rider. He questions why, since he only transforms when danger is near, but then sees a storm forming rapidly overhead. He then sees a man standing directly in the middle of the road, causing Blaze to brake as hard as he can to keep from running him over. The skull-headed biker in black greets the Ghost Rider, saying that he is the reason he rides that absurd motorcycle, the reason he risks his life in insane stunts...he is Death, who tells him that he has devised an appropriate challenge for the Ghost Rider. The two shall race three times, with three prizes for the winner. Slowly it dawns on Johnny that the creature in front of him truly is the specter of death, and that all of this really is happening.
Death's first challenge is a street race; five miles down the road is a lone cyclist named Richie Petrillo, both the destination and prize. If Blaze reaches him first, he will live...if not, then the innocent man will die. The two inhuman bikers race toward the unsuspecting man, but Death pulls ahead at the last minute to touch Petrillo as he passes. Within moments, the man is dead and Death is the victor. Blaze declares that "Death Ryder" has cheated the man out of his entire life, but Death replies that there is no cheating in their game and that anything goes. Johnny then tries to quit the contest, but Death explains that if he does so then he will forfeit his life.
The second race is a cross-country drive, where Death's extra power will matter little. The goal is a little girl named Anna Devere, four miles north and lost, searching for her parents. The two cyclists start their race, and neither gains an inch on the other as they approach the doomed girl. At the last moment, Johnny tries a daring stunt where he jumps over Death and dives to save the girl, sparing her life but wrecking his bike.
Once his bike is checked out and ready to ride, Death tells him the final race is for Blaze's own life. If he reaches the distant mountain peak first without Death touching him, he will win and live. Blaze decides he's had enough of the game and blasts Death with hellfire, only to find that it didn't affect his foe at all. Blaze takes off with Death close behind, unable to shake his pursuer. Finally, Johnny realizes that Death himself said "anything goes" in the race, and does something he would never do against a human...he cheats and kicks the "Death Ryder's" front tire, causing him to crash all the way down the jagged mountain cliffs. Blaze watches the fire consume his foe, content that the challenge is over...for now. He knows, however, that Death will continue to dog his tracks in one form or another.
"The End of the Ghost Rider!": Johnny Blaze's soul has been trapped inside Centurious' Soul Crystal, leaving his body a mindless husk. Centurious, the Sin-Eater, and their zombie followers leave the church, allowing Roxanne Simpson to take Johnny back to her aunt's house in hopes of helping him. In the void, Zarathos realizes that Blaze's soul is gone, so the demon is able to take possession of the body. The Ghost Rider is free from Blaze's influence, so he creates a hellfire cycle and leaves Roxanne to gain his vengeance on Centurious. Meanwhile, Blaze finds his soul being devoured slowly by the Soul Crystal.
Zarathos finds Centurious and attacks, quickly overpowering his foe. Just as quickly, however, the Ghost Rider finds his power fading away and Centurious (who was feigning defeat) easily beats down on the demon. Centurious explains that without Blaze's soul, Zarathos will grow weaker and weaker until he finally dies - that is the revenge that Centurious has planned for his greatest enemy. Centurious buries Zarathos under the collapsed church, then explains to Roxanne that he will let her live out of remorse for her lost love. After the villain departs, Roxanne sees Zarathos painfully dig himself free from the wreckage. She tells him that they need to reunite him with Johnny, which Zarathos hates but ultimately accepts.
Elsewhere, in the cave that serves as Centurious' new headquarters, Pastor Domblue turns against his master now that he sees how evil he truly is. In response, Centurious mortally injures his Sin-Eater and declares that he will find another to wield the Soul Crystal. Roxanne and Zarathos arrive, only to be swarmed upon by the soulless townspeople of Holly. The Ghost Rider manages to crawl to his enemy, and with the last vestige of hellfire he can muster, Zarathos splits the Soul Crystal in half, sucking Centurious inside it and freeing all of the souls it had taken throughout the centuries. However, this means that Zarathos has been denied his vengeance on Centurious, and he no longer has the strength to split the Crystal again. The Sin-Eater, barely alive from his wounds, tells Zarathos that he can use his power to send him into the Soul Crystal to gain his revenge. However, Blaze has awoken in the void and begins to struggle for control of his body. Roxanne realizes the mistake that Johnny is making, and she begs him to relinquish control to the Ghost Rider. Blaze agrees, trusting in Roxanne's love for him, and gives up the fight - which allows the Sin-Eater to send Zarathos into the Soul Crystal after Centurious. Roxanne rushes to Johnny's side, and the two realize that the Ghost Rider is gone and their curse has finally ended.
Later, Johnny and Roxanne discuss their future now that the Ghost Rider curse has been broken. They're finally free after so many years, and they decide that they have all the time in the world to plan their future. However, the Soul Crystal still lays on the ground, which splits open and allows the Crystal to fall down into Hell - and into the clutches of a laughing Mephisto. Zarathos and Centurious are trapped within the Crystal for all eternity, their struggle never to end...
This issue was published as a tie-in to Ghost Rider (2001) # 1.
The cover to this one-shot had been used once before as the cover for 1992's The Original Ghost Rider # 1, which was also a reprint series.
Read the Review of Ghost Rider (1973) # 35.
Read the Review of Ghost Rider (1973) # 81.
Grade: B+ (MS # 5), A+ (GR # 35), A+ (GR # 81)
Ghost Rider: Highway to Hell
Title: "Ghost Rider"
Title: "The End of the Ghost Rider!"