Thirteen years ago, a young woman named Naomi Kale arrives at the Quentin Carnival, all the while telling herself that she shouldn't be there. She gasps when she finally lays eyes on her son, a young Johnny Blaze. She allows herself a few minutes to look at the son she never knew, but is interrupted when a carnival worker named Wolf, who tells Johnny to go take a break. Naomi ducks into the crowd, afraid that Wolf will recognize her, and ends up following Johnny. The teenage Blaze runs across a young Roxanne Simpson, who manages to rile two carnival-goers. When the two men try to assault Johnny, Naomi steps in and nearly beats one of them into unconsciousness. She is finally pulled away by Crash Simpson, who drags her back to her motorcycle. He tells her to leave, threatening to get his gun and make her. After she rides off, Crash tells Johnny that the woman was nobody worth worrying about.

Later, a very drunk Naomi rambles on about her family curse to an uninterested bartender. Her ancestor, Noble Kale, was tricked by Mephisto into betraying his wife and child, resulting in her being burned at the stake. Noble gets damned to Hell, but was saved from his fate by an angel, who demanded that the Devil relinquish the soul. The two beings compromised, transforming Noble into a Spirit of Vengeance, a creature that would roam the Earth avenging the spilling of innocent blood. This Ghost Rider would take possession of his descendants, the first born of each generation. Naomi refused to subject her children to that fate, so she left her family in order to save them. Later, after being kicked out of the bar, Naomi gets violently ill outside. The spells cast in order to spare Johnny the fate of becoming the Ghost Rider have taken their toll on her body, and she knows she is dying.

She then heads to Cypress Hills, a section of Brooklyn, where her other two children are being raised. The oldest of the children, Barbara, is celebrating her ninth birthday with her foster mother, Francis Ketch, and a few family friends. Barbara's brother, Daniel, looks across the street and sees Naomi watching them. The two smile at each other, bringing a tear to the mother's eye. She is then interrupted by a police officer, who notices her excessive coughing. She rides off, leaving the policeman, one Officer Dolan, to spend the afternoon with his daughter Stacy and the Ketch family.

Naomi rides through the city, and in her thoughts she says that she just wants to die. Suddenly, the demonic face of Mephisto rips through the ground, unleashing a horde of demons onto the street. Naomi attempts to lose the demons on her bike, but is eventually chased and captured by the monsters in Cypress Hills Cemetery. As the demons hold her, a tree twists into a monstrous face and speaks in the voice of Mephisto, who tells her that she cannot avoid her destiny...that she will transform into the Ghost Rider, even if it kills her. He knows as well as she, that one more change into the Ghost Rider will surely kill her. Mephisto threatens to send a group of demons to the Ketch home, and though he cannot harm her children, he can most certainly murder every friend they have. Reluctantly, Naomi gives into the change and transforms into the Ghost Rider, who quickly throws the demons away. The Rider is then wracked with pain, caused by his host body dying in the void. The Ghost Rider realizes that the power he exerts is slowly killing his host body, and sadly triggers the transformation back into Naomi. The woman collapses on the ground, content that her family is finally safe from the curse, and that she can now die in peace. At that moment, a mysterious man approaches her, a shovel in hand. He is Pastor Kale, Noble's father, who gained immortality by making a deal with Mephisto. He carries Naomi to a freshly dug grave, telling her that her spells worked, that Johnny will not become the Ghost Rider. He then reverses that statement, by saying "Doesn't mean he can't be A Ghost Rider."

Upon hearing this, Naomi Kale passes away, and is thrown into the grave by her ancestor. He continues speaking, saying that the curse will move to the next available host, meaning Barbara is destined to become the Ghost Rider. Mephisto's plans will continue, despite everything Naomi had sacrificed.

This issue was part of the "Flashback" event that happened in July of 1997. Every series was replaced for the month by a "minus 1" issue, most of which taking place before the respective series began. It was published between Ghost Rider (1990) # 86 and Ghost Rider (1990) # 87.

Several points in this issue, which takes place years before Marvel Spotlight # 5, were retcons/contradictions of events in the Ghost Rider's life. These included:

--- Johnny Blaze, Crash Simpson, and Roxanne Simpson as workers at the Quentin Carnival. In the origin story in Marvel Spotlight # 5, it seemed that Crash Simpson's cycle show had been in operation for several years, and that Barton Blaze had been a part of it. According to Marvel Team-Up # 15, Simpson started the cycle show a few years before Roxanne was born, as told by The Orb, Crash's partner in founding it. Also, according to Marvel Spotlight # 10, Crash Simpson was a police officer that saved Linda Littletrees from being hit by a truck. According to Littletrees, Crash quit the force to start his cycle show. Where his time at the Quentin Carnival fits is unknown, and should be looked at as a retcon.

--- Mephisto's interest in the Ghost Rider has changed with each writer on the book. According to Ghost Rider (1973) # 77, Mephisto placed the spirit of Zarathos inside Johnny Blaze as a punishment for both Blaze and the demon. According to Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 16, Mephisto was interested only in the Medallion of Power shard that rested within Blaze, and used the boy to tap into Zarathos' power. The second Mephisto retcon came with Ghost Rider minus 1, which brought to light the fact that Mephisto was responsible for transforming Noble Kale into the first Ghost Rider. In this issue, Mephisto triggered the transformation that ultimately killed Naomi, in hopes that the Ghost Rider would remain in the void forever.

--- Wolf, who first appeared as a member of the Quentin Carnival in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 1, is seen in this flashback issue looking relatively the same age. As he was not seen working for the Carnival in the last eighteen issues of the first Ghost Rider series, when Johnny Blaze was an employee, this could be considered a retcon. Wolf, or one of his ancestors, also appeared in the flashback scene in Ghost Rider (1990) # 78.

--- Johnny Blaze, during his days as the Ghost Rider, took a job working for the Quentin Carnival in Ghost Rider (1973) # 63, and stayed long after he was freed from Mephisto's curse, eventually becoming the owner. It's safe to assume that had Blaze truly grown up in the Carnival, somebody (including the Carnival's founder and original owner, Ralph Quentin) would have recognized him upon his return. The same could be said for Roxanne Simpson when she arrived at the Carnival in Ghost Rider (1973) # 79.

--- At the end of this issue, Naomi Kale's motorcycle was fused with the emblem of the Medallion of Power by Pastor Kale, and then dumped in a nearby junkyard for Barbara Ketch to find years later. This was retconned away in Before the 4: The Storms # 3, which seemed to completely disregard the entire Noble Kale origin of the second Ghost Rider. In that issue, the spirit of Zarathos was brought to life by the Medallion of Power, causing a man named Max Parrish to become the Ghost Rider. The Medallion was ripped from Zarathos' motorcycle, reversing the transformation, and the scrapped bike and medallion were tossed into the Cypress Hills junkyard. If taken as canon, this implies that the second Ghost Rider was perhaps Zarathos all along.

Due to Naomi Kale's spells of protection, Johnny Blaze was spared the fate of hosting the Noble Kale Ghost Rider. However, Mephisto later tricked Johnny into being the host for another demon, Zarathos, in Marvel Spotlight # 5. The Kale curse passed to Barbara, who was mortally wounded in Ghost Rider (1990) # 1. This passed the curse along to the youngest sibling, Daniel.

Pastor Kale first appeared in flashback in Ghost Rider (1990) # 78. This was his only modern appearance, and it is unknown what happened to him after he buried Naomi in the unmarked grave.

Naomi Kale returns as a disembodied spirit in Ghost Rider (1990) # 89.

And here we are, destination Retcon City. Flashback Month was an ill-conceived gimmick that was spread across the entire line of Marvel books in 1997, and while some were better than others, they all were framed in the context of taking place before the beginning of the modern Marvel Age in Fantastic Four # 1.

The Flashback issue of Ghost Rider takes us back to Johnny and Dan's childhood, with their mother Naomi being the host for the Ghost Rider. I really want to like this issue, as it's very well written and the artwork is excellent...but my desire to enjoy it is marked by the way Ivan Velez stomped all over established points in the characters' histories.

I have always liked Velez's origin for Ghost Rider - Noble Kale and all that - but it's obvious, not just from this issue, that he simply did not understand the canon history of the characters. Every time he brought up events in the past, even recent ones, he got them wrong. From the status of Blaze's children to his use of Doctor Strange, it makes one wonder if Velez even read the previous 150+ issues of the series that came before his run. Regardless, the blame for this also falls on the shoulders of the book's editors, who really should have caught the numerous errors before they made print. But, I believe it also came from the fact that the editors of the book at this time were trying their best to make people forget that Howard Mackie's run on the book happened at all, and this was a lazy way of saying "all that stuff didn't matter".

What Velez DID succeed on, however, was making Naomi a fully rounded character in her first appearance. You feel sorry for her, but at the same time can't help but feel some degree of animosity toward her for abandoning her children (despite her reasonable excuses for doing so). Her tragic death at the issue's end was effectively depressing, and set up the cycle of misery that the Ghost Rider mythos so perfectly encapsulate.

This issue also marks the return of Javier Saltares as the regular artist for the first time since the book's first year (though he had made a few sporadic returns to the character over the years). His work is as wonderful as ever, but still fails to full recapture the magic of the Ghost Rider's early issues. I accredit this to the absence of inker Mark Texeira, who will make his return as well in a few issues' time.

While this is certainly a story with a good script and very nice, slick artwork, the revisionist attack on the characters' histories and lack of respect toward what has come before ultimately make this a disappointment. But, it's also definitely important to the ongoing story of the series' final year, so I do recommend readers to pick it up in order to understand later plot points.

Grade: C+

Ghost Rider # -1
Published: July, 1997
Original Price: $1.95
Cover: Javier Saltares

Title: "Ember"
Writer: Ivan Velez Jr.
Artist: Javier Saltares
Inker: Keith Aiken
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Brian Buccellato
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor In Chief: Bob Harras