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VENGEANCE UNBOUND'S TOP TEN GHOST RIDER COMICS!

There are a lot of really good Ghost Rider stories out there, produced by top-notch creative teams from every era of the character's nearly 40 year history. However, there are only a handful of those comics that could truly be called great. Nay, not just great, these comics are legendary! Agree or disagree with the comics we've chosen, it matters not...for these are Vengeance Unbound's Top Ten Ghost Rider Comics of All Time!

# 10 - GHOST RIDER ANNUAL (1993) # 2

Published: Sept. 1994
Title: "Wish For Pain"
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Javier Saltares

Back in 1994, before he became a superstar in the field, Warren Ellis was just starting his career at Marvel - and during that time, he penned this fill-in Annual on Ghost Rider. Little did anyone suspect that it would become a defining story for the Scarecrow, filled with insights into his psychopathy and some truly memorable scenes. Add in the long-awaited return of artist Javier Saltares to Ghost Rider, and you've got the makings of a classic.

What put this issue over the top to ensure its inclusion on this list? The ending, where Ghost Rider breaks every bone in Scarecrow's body then holds them in place so his rapid healing factor would heal the bones incorrectly. That, my friends, is just vicious!

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider Annual (1993) # 2]

# 09 - GHOST RIDER (1973) # 35

Published: April, 1979
Title: "Deathrace!"
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Jim Starlin

By the end of the 1970s, writer/artist Jim Starlin had already proven himself to be an incredible creative force due to his work on Marvel's cosmic titles, such as Captain Marvel and Warlock. So it came as a bit of a surprise when he turned up on a fill-in issue of Ghost Rider, where he unleashed a story about Johnny Blaze literally racing Death itself through the desert.

In the hands of a lesser creator, such an idea could have come off as horribly cliched. Starlin's concept, however, proved to be an incredible look into Blaze's lifestyle. Here was a character who literally "raced death" every time he performed a stunt on his cycle, and now he was being forced to perform such an act in the most literal way possible. In the end, Johnny did what he does best - he cheated Death at the finish line. And "Deathrace!" instantly became a classic issue of the original Ghost Rider series.

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider (1973) # 35]

# 08 - GHOST RIDER (2006) # 33

Published: May 2009
Title: Trials & Tribulations, Part 1: "Once Were Ghost Riders"
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Tony Moore

Of all the subjects for a new writer to take on, I can't think of any more daunting than the Ghost Rider's origin. But that's just what Jason Aaron did, crafting a new origin for the character while along the way trying his best to fit in all of the previous incarnations from other writers. With this issue, Aaron and artist Tony Moore took their ideas to the ultimate step and created an entire lineage of Ghost Riders from the beginning of time to the present day.

The sheer volume of great ideas contained in this issue is mind-boggling. Every single one of the Ghost Riders glimpsed in their 1-2 panel cameos are so deftly realized in their short lifespan that they're just begging to have whole comics created for them alone. From the Penance Fist to the Devil Rig to the Undead G-Man, Aaron and Moore give the readers an unprecedented look back at the history of the Ghost Rider. This comic is the perfect example of where the character stands in the 21st century while giving some highly clever nods to the past. Noble Kale as a Puritan witch hunter, anyone?

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider (2006) # 33]

# 07 - GHOST RIDER 2099 # 1

Published: May 1994
Title: "Burning Chrome"
Writer: Len Kaminski
Artist: Chris Bachalo

I can picture some fans crying foul about the inclusion of Ghost Rider 2099, saying that it's not really a Ghost Rider comic due to the lack of supernatural or demonic aspects so closely affiliated with the character. And to that, I say "wrong!" - Ghost Rider 2099 may be more about technology than magic, but Zero Cochrane is every bit a Spirit of Vengeance as his predecessors.

In the span of just one issue, Len Kaminski and Chris Bachalo introduced not just the book's main character but also the entire world that surrounded him. The 2099 universe had existed for a while by this point, but with Transverse City so brilliantly realized by the creators, readers were given not only a Ghost Rider that any persecuted teenager could identity with but also a fully realized environment that made the worst present day slum look like a utopian society. It would have been easy to do Ghost Rider 2099 as a future version of Johnny Blaze, and I applaud the creators for doing something daringly original. It was a brilliant series from beginning to end, but here at the start Chris Bachalo on art gave it the launch of a guided missle. He may not be a demon, but Ghost Rider 2099 is nevertheless one of the shining highlights of the Spirit of Vengeance's long history.

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider 2099 # 1]

# 06 - AVENGERS # 214

Published: Dec. 1981
Title: "Three Angels Fallen!"
Writer: Jim Shooter
Artist: Bob Hall

Ghost Rider's guest-appearances in other titles don't tend to be very memorable. Heroes meet, fight, then team-up against the villain. During the time when Jim Shooter elected to use the Ghost Rider as a guest-star in an issue of Avengers, however, Johnny Blaze's demonic alter-ego had evolved to the point of almost being a villain himself. So when he encounters the Avengers, there's no inevitible team-up in store - it's just an all-out brawl!

This comic proved two things to Marvel readers: a) that the Ghost Rider is absolutely vicious, as shown during his unprovoked attack on the Angel, and b) the Ghost Rider can feasibly defeat any hero in the Marvel Universe. I'm sure it came as a shock to Avengers readers when Shooter had the Ghost Rider stomp into the heroes' own book and just utterly trounce them. This was Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor getting their heads handed to them by a B-list character! With this one solitary guest-spot, Jim Shooter and artist Bob Hall firmly established the Ghost Rider's place in the Marvel Universe: unrelenting bad-ass!

[Read the original review for Avengers # 214]

# 05 - GHOST RIDER/BLAZE: SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE # 10

Published: May 1993
Title: "A Storm of Vengeance"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Adam Kubert

As it neared the end of its first year, Spirits of Vengeance had long proven itself to be far superior to its big sister title, Ghost Rider, due to Howard Mackie's stories and some brilliant artwork by Adam Kubert. So it didn't really come as a surprise that it was in this series that the Ghost Rider's next major villain was introduced - and amidst the chaos of the siege on the Quentin Carnival, Vengeance was born!

Creating an antithesis of the hero as a major villain was a well-established comic trope by this point - see the success of Venom a few years earlier - and when it came to creating a supernatural juggernaut that would be more fearsome than the Ghost Rider himself neither Mackie nor Kubert pulled any punches. From his first appearance on screen Vengeance brought an air of mystery and doom to an already bleak series. This issue in particular, his first extended appearance and first fight with Ghost Rider, quickly established that Vengeance was an unrelenting force of nature. Sure, the character was quickly neutered when they tried to turn him into a hero and replacement for Ghost Rider, but in his first appearance Vengeance was one of the most exciting new creations to come along in years.

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 10]

# 04 - GHOST RIDER (1990) # 1

Published: May 1990
Title: "Life's Blood"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Javier Saltares

At the beginning of the 1990s, Ghost Rider hadn't been seen on the stands for seven years and for all intents and purposes was considered a dead property. This just made things even more surprising when Howard Mackie, Javier Saltares, and Mark Texeira successfully launched their updated take on the character that immediately exploded into a realm of undeniable popularity. Gone was Johnny Blaze and in the driver's seat was a new character named Danny Ketch along with a new look and new locale. Soon, every writer at Marvel wanted to use the new Ghost Rider as a guest-star in their titles, and each time he appeared sales on the books went through the roof.

It all started here with what is possibly one of the best relaunches of a character ever produced. The book was dark, gritty, and immediately engaging as we were given front row seats to the birth of the new Ghost Rider and a legion of fans voted for it with their wallets. It was a book that had been thought of as a failure before it launched, and Mackie, Saltares, and Texeira proved everyone wrong. Outside of Johnny Blaze's first appearance, this is easily the most important comic in Ghost Rider history.

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider (1990) # 1]

# 03 - GHOST RIDER (1973) # 36

Published: June 1979
Title: "A Demon In Denver!"
Writer: Michael Fleisher
Artist: Don Perlin

In the summer of 1979, Michael Fleisher made his debut as the new writer on Ghost Rider with the impact of an atom bomb. Before his arrival, the book had floundered through a long list of writers who wavered uneasily between straight-up superheroics and demonic horror. Fleisher's first issue, "A Demon In Denver", chose a third approach - and for the first time, readers are shown not only what it would be like for normal people to encounter the Ghost Rider but just how costly this curse is for Johnny Blaze.

Fleisher enjoyed a long run as the title's writer, and his debut issue perfectly set the tone for what he wanted to accomplish during his term. The characters, and the consequences of their actions, were suddenly very shocking and very, very real. Blaze wasn't a superhero anymore, he was a victim that suddenly became the most tragic lead character in Marvel's stable. Coupled with the artwork of Don Perlin, whose simple yet gritty line work provided the perfect down-to-earth qualities needed to tell the story, Fleisher came out of the gate like demon from Hell - and the Ghost Rider has never been as frightening as he was right here.

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider (1973) # 36]

# 02 - GHOST RIDER (1990) # 7

Published: Nov. 1990
Title: "Obsession"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Mark Texeira

Only six months into its wildly successful first year, writer Howard Mackie took the status quo of his new Ghost Rider series and completely smashed it against the wall with "Obsession". This comic is an incredible piece of work for four reasons. Firstly, it revamped the Scarecrow from a silly Silver Age villain to a deadly psychopath. Secondly, it elevated the villain Blackout from simple foe to nemesis with the grisly deed he performs. Thirdly, we get to see the first full-on artwork of Mark Texeira, who unleashed some of the darkest artwork ever seen in a Marvel title.

But it was the fourth reason that truly makes this book stand out amongst its peers: the murder of Barbara Ketch. By this point, readers were expecting Barb to either die from her injuries or get better to become Danny's confidant. Instead, Mackie and Texeira give us an absolutely chilling scene where Barbara meets her end at the fangs of Blackout. She didn't die heroically nor did she die in the hero's arms. No, she died with her throat ripped out in a hospital bed while the villain got away to kill again and again and again. Every one of Blackout's victims was a reminder to Danny and Ghost Rider that the blood of his sister had been spilled needlessly, as a direct consequence of their double life. It was shocking and yes, even sad - the rare comic book that could quite possibly lead the reader to shedding a tear.

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider (1990) # 7]

# 01 - GHOST RIDER (1973) # 68

Published: May 1982
Title: "The Curse of Jonathan Blaze!"
Writer: Roger Stern
Artist: Bob Budiansky

People, it doesn't get any better than this comic right here. This issue marked the beginning of Ghost Rider's radical overhaul by editor Tom DeFalco, who installed writer Roger Stern and long-time GR cover artist Bob Budiansky as the new creative team. To signal that this was truly a fresh start, Stern and Budiansky gave readers their re-telling of Johnny Blaze's origin that actually managed to surpass the original Friedrich/Ploog comic that inspired it. It was an update that the origin most definitely needed, while still holding in reverance the work done by the character's creators (with many of Budiansky's panels direct homages of Ploog's work).

This origin tale was framed by an all-new story of Blaze confessing his sins (and telling his origin) to a priest, and page by page we begin to get hints that things are not what they seem. It all culminates with one of the all-time greatest Ghost Rider panels, with the flaming skeletal hand bursting through the confessional gate, to the horror and shock of the murdering false priest. While the Stern/Budiansky team would only enjoy a brief run, their work was certainly the highlight of the first Ghost Rider volume - and this issue itself is the masterpiece.

[Read the original review for Ghost Rider (1973) # 68]

 

Creator Reactions

Tony Moore:
"I'm truly honored. Ghost Rider is one of the characters closest to my heart, so for a story I worked on to be held up as one of the greatest really means a lot to me. The 12 year old fanboy inside me is blown away by it all."

Bob Budiansky:
"I'm shocked! As for whether that issue I drew deserves that ranking, I really can't say. There have been many other very talented artists who have drawn Ghost Rider over the years. "

Javier Saltares:
"Thank you to all of you who shared the fun and vision of the character. And thank you all for the kind compliment of my work and contribution for the book."

Don Perlin:
"Gee only #3, shucks! Only kidding!! I am flattered and awed."