VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 2

SYNOPSIS
At a small gas station off the I-81, John Blaze places a call to his girlfriend, Chloe, trying to explain to her why he disappeared without letting her know. John hangs up on her while she's still talking and then goes to the old mechanic, who is looking at Blaze's motorcycle. The mechanic tells John that there's nothing wrong with the bike, even though Blaze tells him that it does "weird things". As an example, John asks the mechanic about Emmet Electronics, who withhold wages and deal meth to their truck drivers. The mechanic tells him that their distribution warehouse is off the next exit, and in reply the bike bursts into flame. A moment later, Blaze has been replaced by the Ghost Rider...and as the demon rides off toward the warehouse, the mechanic tells him to come back if John gives him any more trouble.

The Ghost Rider quickly arrives at Emmet Electronics, riding through the building until he reaches the desk of Mr. Haldan Emmet. At the desk is Haldan's son, who tells the rider that he's in charge of running things there. The demon drops a small doll pulled from the wrecked driver's truck onto the desk, then wraps his chain around Emmet's neck. The office catches fire at the demon's command, and as everything burns around them Emmet writes a note down and hands it to his attacker: "Didn't mean to screw truckers, in deep -- owe $$$ to Corbal Bros. = Meth. Said they'd cut my tongue out if I didn't pay up FAST". The Ghost Rider leaves the young man inside the building and rides out on his bike, the warehouse exploding behind him.

Later, in the mystical void, John encounters the Ghost Rider. Blaze shouts at the demon, saying that he's ruined his life and asking why he won't leave him alone. In reply, the Ghost Rider asks "why don't you leave me alone?" Blaze punches his fist through a sign that reads "Corbal Brothers", and immediately wakes up in a phone booth, his arm shoved through the glass window. Physically ill from his ordeal, he picks up his bike and starts looking for a hospital, eventually coming to a church. He rushes to the reverend and demands an exorcism, that there's a demon inside him. John thought he was finally free, that the demon even had another host for a while, but now it's back. The priest invites Blaze inside the church, but when he steps through the doors the candles lining the entrance all light on their own...and the Ghost Rider appears as Blaze's reflection in the mirror, causing John to run out in a panic.

Later that day, John has made his way to a small bar, where he attempts to drink himself into oblivion. He overhears a conversation held by three men at a nearby table, talking about their activities as killers for hire. John, quite drunk, stumbles to their table and asks if they kill people for money. The leader of the men, Gunmetal Gray, answers that he kills for fun...his two partners just make sure they get paid for it as well. They explain that Gunmetal is the best rider and shooter on the open road, and that he can walk away from any wreck without a scratch on him. John asks them if they've heard of the Ghost Rider, and they quickly answer that they've heard the urban legend about him. Blaze says that the Rider is very real, and that "no matter how, no matter how much, and no matter what -- I want him dead."

ANNOTATIONS
The other host for the Ghost Rider that John mentions was Daniel Ketch, who became linked to the demon in Ghost Rider (1990) # 1. It was later revealed that Ketch's Ghost Rider was different than the one that possessed Blaze, and that Daniel was in fact John's long lost younger brother, in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 16.

This issue is reprinted in the Ghost Rider: The Hammer Lane trade paperback.

REVIEW
After a decent, though far from great, start to the series in the previous issue, "The Hammer Lane" rolls on with establishing the cycle of vengeance and the effect of the Ghost Rider curse on poor John Blaze. As with the first issue, there's some interesting ideas here...just poor execution.

This was the first issue to hint of the "chain of vengeance" that provided one of the major thrusts of the series. Each victim of the Ghost Rider points the demon to the next victim, putting the demon on an endless road of vengeance-seeking...and honestly, I think this is a pretty damn cool idea. We start with the young woman last issue whose husband was run over by a truck driver...continue on to the truck driver, who points to Emmet Electronics for making him take meth...and from Emmet Electronics to the yet-to-be-seen Corbal Brothers. It's certainly a different take on the "Spirit of Vengeance" aspect of the character, and it's one of the few changes made by Devin Grayson that makes an odd bit of sense. Of course, we're far past the "innocent blood is spilled" part of the character, but keep in mind that this seems to be a return to the Zarathos incarnation - and that demon really didn't care much about innocents at all, provided he was able to mete out his punishment.

We're also given a pretty interesting twist at the end, with Blaze hiring Gunmetal Gray to kill the Ghost Rider for him. At first this seems like a rather stupid thing to do, considering the fact that Blaze and Zarathos are bound to one another - and if one dies, the other would assuredly die as well - but there's something to keep in mind with this. Blaze is scared, drunk, and desperate to get his life back...a mixture that leads to decisions made with less than a clear mind. While I seriously doubt the potential effectiveness of a human hitman, no matter how tough he may be, against the Ghost Rider, it's nevertheless an unexpected action made by a man that's frantic to get his life back.

Of course, though, we've got plenty of bad to go with the good mentioned above. One of my major problems with this series is the sheer absence of dialogue, resulting in a 22 page comic that can be read in less than a few minutes. Do we really need two pages of the Ghost Rider riding down the highway on his way to the warehouse? Of course not, because it serves no purpose other than to eat up panel time and hide the severe lack of plot. And the action scenes themselves don't make up for this, because there IS NO action - just the illusion of action. Five pages, two of which are a double-spread, spent on the Ghost Rider setting a building on fire does NOT constitute an action scene in my book.

We also have the horrible mischaracterization of Johnny Blaze to deal with. This is a character who has been through all of this before, and while his teetering on the edge of a breakdown is appropriate for a man saddled with a curse he thought himself to be free of, his forgetting of everything that's happened in his life after the curse began is sloppy writing. Blaze knows exactly what the Ghost Rider is and where it came from, he knows that Zarathos - HIS Ghost Rider - did not have another host (his brother, actually, which seems to be conveniently forgotten), and he knows that a simple exorcism would do no good. But this is par for the course when it comes to Devin Grayson's "research" on the character...namely, she did none.

The artwork is also starting to slip, with a lot of the tightness of Trent Kaniuga's work in the last issue beginning to fall to the side of the road (pun intended, 'natch). This issue was plagued with missed deadlines and a sporadic release schedule, and it appeared that the fault of this was on Kaniuga's shoulders. The artist's work consistently got worse and worse as the series progressed, with his work being near-unreadable in the final issue. It's truly a shame, because I genuinely enjoyed his work on the first issue, and even on parts of this one.

So while the series is still seemingly just here to irritate Ghost Rider fans, this issue wasn't all that bad.

And trust me, it gets way, WAY worse.

Grade: C+


Ghost Rider # 2
Published: Sep. 2001
Original Price: $2.99
Cover: Trent Kaniuga

Title: The Hammer Lane, Part 2: "Hard Brake"
Writer: Devin Grayson
Artist: Trent Kaniuga
Inker: Danny Miki
Letterer: Jason Levine
Colorist: Dan Kemp
Editor: Stuart Moore
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada