VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 1

SYNOPSIS
Trapped in Hell, the Ghost Rider races through the underworld's dark gates, blowing through them with a horde of demons on his heels. Having finally escaped, the Rider turns to observe the horde, only to find that he hasn't escaped at all - he is still in Hell. And as Satan watches atop his tower, calling the Rider a "sucker", Johnny Blaze falls to his knees after realizing that he's fallen for the Devil's trick once again.

In his tower, Satan is approached by his minions, who praise him over his manipulation of the Ghost Rider. While Lucifer admits that he's well aware of his superiority, in the case of the Ghost Rider he knows just how to pull the strings. The Ghost Rider, meanwhile, rages at the fact that he may never get out of Hell. Punching furiously at the ground, he uncovers a small demon hidden beneath the dirt. Though the little demon protests otherwise, Blaze accuses him of observing him for Satan. While the demon asks the Rider for his help, a group of demonic horsemen charge toward them. Blaze prepares to fight, but instead watches in bewilderment as they ignore him in favor of snatching up the smaller demon, catching him with a hooked chain and dragging him away. As the demon is dragged back to Lucifer, he yells to the Rider that if he saves him he can dig them both out of there.

In the tower, the digging demon - Greexix - is brought before Lucifer, who tells him that had he simply told him that he no longer wished to serve in the Pit he would've gladly relocated him. Instead, he ran away. Greexix attempts to explain that he just got lost, but Satan sends him off to be tortured regardless. One of the riders then tells Lucifer that when they found Greexix he was speaking with the Ghost Rider. Outside, as the minions drag Greexix off to be tortured, Blaze rides past them and catches the small demon with his chain, pulling him free. As they're chased by the demon horde, Blaze tells Greexix that they're going to the Pit. When Greexix protests, Johnny corrects himself and says they're not going INTO the Pit...they're going OVER it. Jumping over the giant gorge on his mystical motorcycle, Blaze and Greexix crash on the other side, buying them only a small amount of time. His eyesight poor, Greexix asks the Rider if there are mountains and a cave nearby. Spotting it, the two make their way into the cave. Greexix tells Johnny that when they reach the bottom of the cave he'll start digging, and that they're pretty close to the boundary already. Greexix explains that people's assumptions have a huge effect on Hell, commenting that it's pretty funny that Hell looks exactly like one would think it would look. That's Lucifer's only power: deception. He uses people to get what he wants because he can't get it himself. Greexix himself had been used in the Pit, digging to expand it deeper and deeper to fit more and more souls inside. One day he gave up and tried to escape...and found water. Blaze hesitates, saying that there's no water in Hell - to which Greexix replies, "exactly". The little demon asks Johnny if he's going to help him, so they can both escape. Johnny says yes, but thinks to himself that Greexix is a demon, in Hell because he deserves to be. Blaze promises Greexix, not feeling the least bit guilty about lying, and takes the demon's hand...only to find Greexix transformed into Lucifer himself, who says that lying is a sin. Lucifer laughs as the water rises to engulf the trapped Ghost Rider, and as he loses consciousness he hears Satan say "see you on the other side".

On Earth, a young couple walk across a moonlit beach. While a light flares across the water in the distance, the couple see hundreds of people walking up out of the water and onto the beach. The light grows closer...as the Ghost Rider rides across the water, back on Earth.

ANNOTATIONS
This issue picks up directly after Ghost Rider (2005) # 6. John Blaze has been trapped in Hell since before Ghost Rider (2005) # 1, and was returned there at the end of of the "Road to Damnation" story.

The events that led to John being dragged down to Hell were revealed in Ghost Rider (2006) # 6 and Ghost Rider (2006) # 7.

This issue makes yet another change to the identity of the "Devil" who cursed Johnny Blaze into becoming the Ghost Rider. In Marvel Spotlight on Ghost Rider # 5 it was established that Blaze made a pact with Satan/Lucifer himself, but that was retconned in Ghost Rider (1973) # 68, which changed the demon's identity to Mephisto. As of the start of this series, it seems that again Lucifer is the originator of the Ghost Rider curse and not Mephisto. Not surprisingly, as of Ghost Rider (2011) # 1, it appears that Mephisto is now once again being credited as the devil who cursed Johnny Blaze.

This issue was produced with two variant covers by Marc Silvestri, one normal and another "sketched".

This issue was reprinted in Ghost Rider: Cycle of Vengeance # 1, the Ghost Rider: Vicious Cycle trade paperback, and the Ghost Rider by Daniel Way Ultimate Collection trade paperback.

REVIEW
Well, here it is. The comic that all Ghost Rider fans have been clamoring for since the last series' cancellation - the return of the Spirit of Vengeance in a brand-new ongoing series. It's fair to say that expectations for this series were very high, what with it coming on the heels of the successful Ennis/Crain mini-series a few months previous. Does it live up to the hype?

Hmm. I'm conflicted.

One thing that canNOT be denied is the quality of the artwork. Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira are part of what made the 1990s Ghost Rider series such a phenomenal hit book, and they haven't lost a single step in their return to the book (their second return, in fact, considering they were reunited on the last ongoing series right before its cancellation). Ghost Rider immediately looks RIGHT, as if the character we all know and love has finally returned to his glory days. Enhanced by the fantastic colors of Dan Brown, who paints the fields of Hell with a striking palate of reds and oranges, the Saltares/Texeira art team looks poised to once again place their mark on the character - some 15 years after their first collaboration.

Unfortunately, the writing doesn't hold up as well as the artistic part. I'm not much of a fan of Daniel Way's work, truth be told. I read through his opening arc on Wolverine and came away incredibly disappointed. His work there was slow and horribly paced, drip-feeding information in a fashion that - instead of tantalizing me into wanting to know more - made me frustrated and confused. Not a spectacular introduction to the man's work, despite how many issues he's sold on his new Wolverine: Origins book.

First things first, as a debut issue meant to attract new readers this issue fails HORRIBLY. I can't imagine a single reader understanding the happenings in this "first issue" without having read the previous "Road to Damnation" mini-series. While it's safe to say that most people picking it up possibly DID read the Ennis/Crain book, that's not something that can be assumed on a scripting level. No effort is given to explain the Ghost Rider's character or situation. How did he get trapped in Hell? Who IS this Ghost Rider person anyway, and how did he come to be? Not a single question that a new reader might have is answered in the pages of this issue, and THAT is a failure on every single level - from the editors on down to the writer.

But okay, I DID read "Road to Damnation" and I DO know what's going on when the book open's with Blaze's repetitive escape attempt from Hell. Fair enough. But the problems don't end with the lack of accessibility. Just as he did with Wolverine, Daniel Way has produced yet another extreme example of decompression at its worst. Granted, at least things HAPPEN in this issue (unlike in Wolverine), but I'm still left with a feeling of "what's the point to all this"? The dialogue is minimal, providing us with an issue that's read in close to 30 seconds flat (an exaggeration, yes, but a fair one).

But, despite all of this, there were parts of the issue that I DID enjoy. John Blaze was given little insight here, but one of the few parts of monologue that didn't sound formulaic was his willingness to lie to a demon in order to escape. John's not the most moral person on the planet, and his "sin" committed at the book's end was a nice touch...and I admit, I didn't see the Greexix/Satan switch until it was revealed.

Still, Ghost Rider # 1 was far from being what I hoped it would be. The art was immaculate, but it couldn't keep a bad story from being bad. And the case of this issue, the story was pretty bad indeed. Here's hoping that it gets better now that the character's finally out of Hell (for good, please).

Grade: C-



Ghost Rider # 1
Published: Sept. 2006
Original Price: $2.99
Covers: a) Mark Texeira, b) Marc Silvestri, c) Marc Silvestri (sketch)

Title: "Vicious Cycle", Part 1
Writer: Daniel Way
Breakdowns: Javier Saltares
Finishes: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Dan Brown
Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada