GHOST RIDER # 1
Later that evening, Johnny wakes up outside of a rundown highway bar, the motorcycle lying in the grass beside him. As he comes to, he begins to remember what happened, saying to himself "Oh no...not again." He picks up the motorcycle and looks over, then props it up and walks into the bar. The bikers inside hassle him about being in the wrong place, but he just ignores them and orders a beer. A moment later, a woman named Cristi burst through the door, tears streaming down her face as she tries to explain what happened to her husband, Dave. The other bikers attempt to console her, and she tells them that Dave was on the highway and a semi-truck ran him off the road, killing him. What made matters worse was that the truck didn't even slow down after hitting him. As Blaze listens from the bar, the transformation into the Ghost Rider is triggered. The bikers are speechless as the demon looks at Cristi before riding off on his cycle, the first thing said after he leaves is "What the hell was THAT?"
A few hours later, the truck that killed Dave is riding down the interstate. The driver is on the CB radio, telling his boss that he got all the blood washed off the truck at the weigh station, to which the boss says he doesn't want to talk about it anymore over the radio. Before he ends the transmission, the boss tells him to just get his haul in on time, no matter what. The driver looks in his side mirror, and sees the Ghost Rider bearing down on his truck. He turns and looks back out his window, but sees nothing. When he turns around, however, he finds the Ghost Rider standing on the hood of his truck. The demon crashes his hand through the windshield and pulls the driver out. With nobody left to control it, the truck jackknifes down the highway, flipping over onto it's side as the Ghost Rider jumps off to safety. The Rider then finds the driver, crushed by the cab of his truck. As he dies, confesses that he's sorry about hitting the biker, but if he'd stopped the truck then his boss, Emmet, would've killed him, saying he's crazy...runs them too hard, gives them free meth, withholds his wages...he says somebody has to stop Emmet, and that the entire truck fleet is suffering. He asks for somebody to get even for them. When the trucker dies, the Ghost Rider relinquishes control of his body back to Blaze, who can only look on in horror at the loss of life caused by the Ghost Rider.
The biggest mystery of all, to which there was no answer in this series, was how exactly Blaze became the Ghost Rider again. The Ghost Rider that now possesses Blaze, revealed to be an angelic entity in Ghost Rider (2006) # 18, was established as being Zarathos in Ghost Rider (2011) # 4. The current theory is that following Blaze's brief time as the host for Zarathos in Ghost Riders: Crossroads # 1 their connection was not completely severed by Blackheart. Given time, Zarathos was able to reconstitute and reassert himself to take control of their body from Blaze.
This issue is reprinted in the Ghost Rider: The Hammer Lane trade paperback.
Unfortunately, what fans of the character received was far from what any of them wanted.
Now, I can fully understand why Marvel went with Devin Grayson's approach to the series. The Ghost Rider's continuity had become a nightmare by the end of his second series in the late 90s, and given new Editor In Chief Joe Quesada's "back to basics" mantra for Marvel's older characters it's certainly reasonable why the decision was made to try and recapture what made the original Ghost Rider so cool to begin with. So, despite how much I enjoyed Dan Ketch's run as the Spirit of Vengeance, I wasn't one of the many fans that were up in arms to see John Blaze back in the saddle as the Ghost Rider's host.
What I most certainly WAS up in arms about was the complete and total disregard of the character's history and an absolute lack of respect for a series that still had a great many fans despite not having been published for several years. Devin Grayson had said in interviews that she hadn't really read any of the Ghost Rider comics before her run, but felt that her "love of biker lore" was what would draw the readers in. How wrong she was. Never mind the fact that she didn't even TRY to explain why John Blaze was the Ghost Rider again after 93 issues of someone ELSE as the host; her entire concept for the book was completely laughable. Instead of the "Spirit of Vengeance", under Grayson's pen the Ghost Rider became a "friend of bikers", protecting a subculture of people that -- honestly -- weren't truly in much need of avenging in the first place. This alone shows just how badly Grayson failed to understand the character -- the Ghost Rider is not a character defined by the motorcycle he rides. Is it a gimmick? Certainly. Is it essential to the character? Absolutely. But it is NOT the driving force behind the character's motivations nor is the "biker subculture" what attracted readers to the book. Grayson will make other major mistakes throughout this series, but we'll discuss them in future reviews as we come to them.
This series also brought along artist Trent Kaniuga, best known for his creator-owned work on Creed for Image Comics. A good number of fans immediately took a dislike to his cartoonish, manga-inspired style of art...but in this debut issue, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. Despite his tendency to draw the Ghost Rider with an overexaggerated and disproportionate upper body (with tiny legs to match), I feel that he captured the feel of the character quite well here. Unfortunately, due to his inability to meet a monthly deadline, Kaniuga's artwork will take a major nosedive as the series goes on. By the sixth and final issue, his illustrations are terribly rushed and quite honestly an eyesore.
But, even though this series was FAR from what fans were wanting or expecting, I was still giving the creative team the benefit of the doubt after this first issue. The action sequence in the second half of the book is paced and illustrated very well, and it appeared that Grayson was truly going to get to the meat of Johnny's curse and the effect it has on his life. It's too bad that an utter disrespect toward continuity made the series such a pain for long-time fans to endure.
Ghost Rider # 1
Title: The Hammer Lane, Part 1: "One Bad Day"