VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 4

SYNOPSIS
At the conclusion to their battle in the cemetery, the Ghost Rider administers the Penance Stare to the defeated Dr. Strange. This time, however, it's not John Blaze in the driver's seat - this is the actual Spirit of Vengeance that's take control of the Ghost Rider, leaving Blaze to just watch the events unfold as he realizes the Penance Stare had only been used by the Ghost Rider that had possessed Daniel Ketch a few years before. However, when the Penance Stare reveals that Dr. Strange is not Lucifer in disguise but in fact an innocent man, Blaze finds himself back in control of the Ghost Rider, realizing how badly he's screwed up. Dr. Strange has actually died as a result of a the Stare, Blaze desperately tries to revive him. As he tries to help Strange, a bright light engulfs him and a strange woman materializes out of a cloud of pink smoke. The woman, who calls herself Numecet, crouches down over her friend Strange's body, telling Johnny that there is much he doesn't know. Blaze immediately goes on the offensive, demanding to know what Lucifer is up to and what the devil meant by "six hundred and sixty-five more chances". When Numecet refuses to answer, Blaze wraps his chain around her neck, giving her little choice in the matter.

Finally, Numecet reluctantly begins to answer his questions, starting with Blaze asking what Lucifer's plan is and how he can stop it. Numecet tells him that he can't stop Lucifer because he's part of his plan. The mortal plane was never meant to host a celestial form like Lucifer except in the form of an apparition. When the Ghost Rider crossed back over to Earth, he crossed over intact...Lucifer, hitching a ride, did not. Only the Ghost Rider possesses the ability to traverse between planes, which is why Lucifer used him to escape, but Lucifer had no physical form to reside in - and when the Devil crossed over, he disintegrated. Lucifer's destroyed form rained down on Earth, coming to rest in the bodies of the recently dead, reanimating them and taking possession of their souls. When Johnny asks how many of these hosts there are, Numecet answers with "surely you already know the number of the Beast, Johnny...six hundred and sixty six." When Johnny reacts with surprise, asking how he could possibly stop all of them, Numecet cuts him off by saying he mustn't try - that's what Lucifer wants him to do. When one of the host bodies is destroyed, the remaining number will become that much stronger. If the Ghost Rider continues on its quest eventually only one will remain, and Lucifer will have consolidated all of his power into one form on Earth. Soon, the host bodies will be too powerful for anyone but the Ghost Rider to destroy, which is why he mustn't try to stop him. Blaze, furious, declares that he'll make Lucifer go back to Hell, that he'll hunt down all of his bodies until only one remains and then he'll drag him back into Hell himself. Numecet tries to convince him otherwise, but Blaze correctly deduces that only he can traverse between the planes - meaning that, since he brought Lucifer to Earth, he can also take him back to Hell.

The Rider's motorcycle appears, having traveled to him from Texas, and Johnny straddles it. Before he drives off, he tells Numecet that not her or anyone else will be able to stop him from killing Lucifer. After Blaze has left, Dr. Strange finally awakens and asks his friend why she is crying. Numecet answers "because he's right..."

ANNOTATIONS
As Blaze mentions in the story, the Penance Stare was a power previously held by the Dan Ketch version of the Ghost Rider. Possessed by his ancestor Noble Kale, Dan's incarnation of the Ghost Rider was last seen in Peter Parker: Spider-Man # 93. Dan Ketch returns in Ghost Rider (2006) # 22 and the fate of Noble Kale is revealed in Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch # 1.

Despite his referring to Dan Ketch as "that kid", Dan is actually John's brother, as revealed in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 16.

The Ghost Rider escaped from Hell, unknowingly bringing Lucifer to Earth with him, in Ghost Rider (2006) # 1. Blaze destroyed the first of Lucifer's host bodies in Ghost Rider (2006) # 2, leaving 665 more possessed bodies to eliminate.

The cover to this issue is an homage to the cover of Daredevil # 169 by Frank Miller.

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

REVIEW
Despite being billed as a 5-parter in the solicitations, "Vicious Cycle" concludes this issue with Lucifer's plans finally being disclosed - and while it does clear up a lot of the questions I had about some of the seemingly meaningless scenes in the last few issues, the answers are given in possibly the most boring and uninteresting way possible.

As I've said in reviews for the previous three issues, the main thing holding this series back is the absolutely terrible pacing used by writer Daniel Way. While last issue was merely a 22-page fight scene, this issue - the conclusion to the first storyarc, mind you - is nothing but talking heads wrapped around a deus ex machina. In fact, the character of Numecet (essentially a plot device with breasts) sums up this series as a whole: completely random. When your resolution to the story - and set-up for future stories - relies on a never-before-seen character spouting off answers like a writer for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, I can't help but come to the conclusion that you've written yourself into a corner. Had this been done with a pre-existing character with actual ties to Dr. Strange or Ghost Rider, I would perhaps be more lenient. But Numecet is the worst kind of character, one brought in to move the plot from point A to point B because there's no other way to do so. It's bad writing, any way you look at it. It's also very very boring to read, considering its 22 pages of an omnipotent character spelling things out for our poor, stupid lead character.

But okay, let's talk about Lucifer's big plan, which takes up the majority of this issue. I admit, there are parts of this that I like, specifically Lucifer being split between (the oh-so-convenient number) six hundred and sixty-six damned souls. While I have concerns that the ongoing plot established here, with Blaze hunting down these hundreds of Lucifer hosts, could get very repetitive very quickly, I'm willing to go with it and see what happens. It's not a bad idea by any means, though how this version of Lucifer possibly jives with Marvel's established Hell Lords like Mephisto constantly popping up on the Earthly plane dozens of times in the past...well, I have no idea. But that's a little thing, and I'm not that huge a continuity stickler to get all bent out of shape over it.

After the first read through of this issue, I said to myself "okay, that makes sense". But what I discovered is that after 10 or so minutes of thought and a second read-through of the arc as a whole, the story makes NO SENSE AT ALL. The first issue dealt with Johnny's escape, and like I said about that issue it boggles my mind why Lucifer would have spent all that time fucking with Blaze's head (through a previous mini-series, to boot) before implementing his plot to come to Earth. But okay, at the end of # 1 Johnny loses consciousness when Lucifer reveals himself; next we see, Johnny is racing across the ocean while hundreds of zombies emerge from the water onto a beach. So tell me, please, how this links up with what was said in this issue with Lucifer's fragments inhabiting the bodies of the recently departed? There's absolutely NO internal consistency between the chapters of this story arc, and it reads terribly.

But despite all of the negativity I've spouted off in this review, I must admit there are parts of the issue that I did really like. The artwork, as always, is the book's saving grace. In fact, I'm actually running out of things to say about Saltares and Texeria's work, because they continue to make this the best illustrated book in Marvel's current stable. I also liked the nods to the Dan Ketch version (though it appears that we may be heading toward a retcon concerning Johnny and Dan being brothers), and the emergence of the actual Spirit of Vengeance added a nice bit of mystery to the beginning of the piece. Obviously, this is something that Way plans to address again, and I'm both looking forward to it and dreading it worryingly at the same time. The Ghost Rider's origins are complicated enough as it is, and I'm afraid that the direction Way's going into - coupled with the upcoming "Road to Damnation" prequel by Ennis and Crain - is going to just make matters SO much worse.

All in all, "Vicious Cycle" was a deceptively labeled "story arc"; disjointed with terrible flow between chapters, not to mention contradictory story elements that frankly left me in head-scratching confusion. It's a good idea wrapped in horrible execution, and I expect better from a title like Ghost Rider.

Grade: D+


Ghost Rider # 4
Published: Dec. 2006
Original Price: $2.99
Cover: Mark Texeira

Title: "Vicious Cycle", Part 4
Writer: Daniel Way
Breakdowns: Javier Saltares
Finishes: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Dan Brown
Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada