VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 3

SYNOPSIS
The Ghost Rider has been transported from Texas to a cemetery in an undisclosed location by Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. Strange orders Blaze to abandon his mission of vengeance, and that further involvement with Lucifer will only make matters worse. Before he can finish his speech, however, Strange finds the Ghost Rider's chain wrapped around his neck...and believing the Doctor to be a disguised Lucifer, Blaze punches Strange across the graveyard. While the sorcerer comments that the Rider must be Johnny Blaze - for only he could be this imbecilic - the Rider attacks again, telling his opponent to "shut up and fight". Strange, recovering from yet another physical attack, attempts to recover by calling upon the power of the Vishanti to knock the Ghost Rider away. But as Blaze flies backward, he lets his chain fly toward Strange - missing him by a few inches. Strange quickly discovers that the Rider missed intentionally, as Blaze pulls the chain forward and topples a large grave monument atop the mage. While Blaze tells "Lucifer" that he won't be played for a sucker again, Strange chants a spell beneath the rubble - causing it to explode outward. Strange, frustrated by the battle, floats into the air and announces that he brought Blaze here to reason with him, but sees now that they are beyond reason. Strange states that the Ghost Rider's presence on Earth threatens all realms, mortal and immortal, and the Sorcerer Supreme shall hold the line as protector of Earth.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, two random men pass by Blaze's abandoned motorcycle on the side of the highway in their truck. Knowing a good thing when they see it, the men stop and place the bike in the back of their truck. As they're traveling down the road, a group of police cars fly past them with their lights running. Realizing that the police aren't after them, the men breathe a sigh of relief - until the motorcycle in the back of the truck catches fire. They quickly pull off the road and run from the vehicle just before it explodes in a ball of fire...and the motorcycle rides off on its own, sans driver.

Back in the cemetery, Ghost Rider again accuses Strange of being Lucifer. When the Doctor refutes this, the Rider screams "Liar!" and a blast of hellfire bursts from the mouth of his skull. Staggered by the hellfire blast, Strange gets angry and tells the Rider that he has tested his patience more than his powers, and that he will send him back to Hell. The air stands still after Strange casts the spell, and a confused Blaze finds himself struck by a bolt of mystical energy from the sky. His flames snuffed, the broken and defeated Ghost Rider lays in a large crater, while John thinks to himself that he might be dead since he cannot hear or feel anything. Strange falls to his knees on the edge of the crater, realizing that he has done a terrible wrong because of the anger that overcame him. Suddenly, several chains erupt from the lifeless body of the Ghost Rider, lifting the sorcerer into the air while binding his arms and mouth. While John thinks to himself that he feels like his soul is burning, the Ghost Rider stands back up and once again bursts into flame. As he approaches the subdued Dr. Strange, the Rider states that "vengeance is mine"...and tells the Doctor to "open your eyes and look upon me."

Elsewhere, in Elk City, Oklahoma, an old man walks into his kitchen and slips in a puddle of blood. A woman enters and helps the old man to his feet, both of them covered in blood. The two people take a seat outside and talk about the deaths of their host bodies and the murders they've committed since coming back to life. While the woman wants to go on a killing spree, the man says he's staying there until his "daughter" comes home. The woman asks "what if HE shows up first?", and the man replies "who, Ghost Rider? I get the feeling he's busy at the moment being stupid".

And in the cemetery, Doctor Strange struggles as the Ghost Rider gives him the Penance Stare.

ANNOTATIONS
John Blaze first met Dr. Strange in Ghost Rider (1973) # 29. They last encountered each other in Ghost Rider (1990) # 78.

The Penance Stare, along with the outfit and chains, was an attribute of the Noble Kale Ghost Rider, last seen in Peter Parker: Spider-Man # 93. Johnny Blaze became the Ghost Rider once again in Ghost Rider (2001) # 1 and it is confirmed in Ghost Rider (2011) # 4 that the Ghost Rider is indeed Zarathos.

The Ghost Rider first displayed the ability to breathe hellfire from his mouth in Ghost Rider (2005) # 3.

This issue was reprinted in the Ghost Rider: Vicious Cycle and Ghost Rider by Daniel Way Ultimate Collection trade paperbacks.

REVIEW
Well, despite the plot's frustrating refusal to explain itself and the meandering subplots and useless interlude scenes, I found myself enjoying this issue quite a bit. In fact, for the first time since the series began, I finally felt the thrill of the classic Ghost Rider stories of times past as I read through this chapter of "Vicious Cycle".

More or less, this issue is just a big fight scene between Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange - but honestly, and this is to Daniel Way's credit, the battle between the two heroes is choreographed in such a good way that it feels as if more is happening than there really is. Granted, we're given yet another example of Way making Blaze out to be a complete idiot when he fails to realize he's dealing with the real Dr. Strange and not a disguised Lucifer (and when Dr. Strange comments on Blaze's stupidity, Way commits a scripting sin by having a character bring up a flaw in his handling of the book's main character), but damn if I couldn't help but get excited during the fight.

Strange's motivations, though, leave a bit to be explained. Much like Lucifer's plots in the previous issues, Strange's reasons for confronting the Ghost Rider are given some frustratingly vague explanations that give us absolutely no answers to any of the goings-on of this arc. We're three issues into a five part story, and Way really should have started moving the plot forward...but instead, we're just given more head scratching moments. I hope that in the next two issues, when all the cards are laid onto the table for the readers to see, that everything makes sense in hindsight. But I have a feeling that the resolution to this story is just going to confuse matters even further.

Adding to the aforementioned confusion that's running rampant in this story are the two interlude scenes inserted throughout the big fight. While the first interlude - featuring two guys stumbling upon Blaze's abandoned motorcycle - is a complete waste of four pages that were desperately needed to start filling in pieces of the plot's puzzle, the second seems to be placed to give the illusion of the story moving forward. But as with everything else that's happened in this series so far, the scene seems to just come out of nowhere. It can be assumed that the two dead people have been reanimated by escaped souls from Hell, but what's the fucking POINT of it? As much as I love parts of this series, there are times when I absolutely hate the obtuseness of Way's storytelling.

But speaking of things I actually LIKE about this series, Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira manage to top their previous efforts once again. The battle between Blaze and Strange is rendered beautifully, keeping the back-and-forth attacks of the two heroes from getting redundant or boring. And something I have to mention: HUGE props go to Dan Brown for his coloring work on this book. The combination of Saltares, Texeira, and Brown make the artwork of this issue virtually LEAP off the page to attack the reader's eyes with no mercy. It's absolutely incredible, and I'm forced to agree with the people who have said that Ghost Rider is the best rendered series on the stands right now in terms of art.

Thankfully, though, the story was a bit stronger this month than in the last two. And I feel compelled to mention the one bit of the script that actually made me sit up and pay attention - the change in the Ghost Rider's speech and power in the last few pages. When the Rider said "Vengeance is mine" and unleashed the Penance Stare...

I'm not afraid to say it. I actually got chills when I reached that final page. Daniel Way has finally started to get me interested in his opening arc with the turn of events at the end of this issue...let's just hope it doesn't all fall apart in the next two chapters.

Grade: B-


Ghost Rider # 3
Published: Nov. 2006
Original Price: $2.99
Cover: Mark Texeira

Title: "Vicious Cycle", Part 3
Writer: Daniel Way
Breakdowns: Javier Saltares
Finishes: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Dan Brown
Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada