VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 5

SYNOPSIS
On a deserted stretch of highway, two police cars speed down the road on a frantic chase behind four demonic bikers who had previously murdered nineteen people. As the cops radio for backup, the Ghost Rider races over their cars toward the demons. With one pass, the Rider decapitates three of the four demon bikers, causing their bikes to crash onto the road. As the last remaining host of Lucifer absorbs the strength of his three destroyed partners, the demon tells Blaze that he wants to show him something before they fight. Lucifer rides off, followed by the Ghost Rider, who thinks to himself that whatever he shows him won't change the fact that he's going to send him back to Hell. John gets a shock, however, when he sees their destination...the abandoned Quentin Carnival.

Johnny rides through the deserted Carnival and thinks back to how his life started, when his father - Barton Blaze - died in a fiery crash as his son watched. The night after, Johnny could think of nothing but the flames, and blamed himself for his mother leaving with his brother and sister, abandoning him without so much as a goodbye. He thinks about Roxanne Simpson and her parents, Crash and Mona, about how they took him and made him part of their family. He thinks that he repaid Roxanne's kindness by causing her mother's death and sending her father to Hell. In the Carnival ruins, Blaze apologizes to Roxanne...but then Lucifer appears and says that Roxanne should be the one apologizing to John - that is, if she wasn't dead. Ghost Rider follows Lucifer out of the main tent and finds his family's trailer, with the message "this is what I wanted you to see!" scrawled on the outside. Blaze kicks open the trailer's door and steps inside, thinking back to his time as the Carnival's owner, after he'd married Roxanne and had two children of his own. In the flashback, Roxanne stands next to a cycle helmet and a red book in a locker - as Blaze ruminates, she was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Ghost Rider looks in the locker, finding the helmet and book. He thinks back again to his days growing up at the Carnival, and his first encounter with the occult during a seance held by some of the carnival workers. When Crash Simpson was dying of cancer, Johnny used this knowledge to sell his soul for Simpson's life. Crash was cured of the cancer just in time to burn to death in a cycle accident.

That night, the Devil came for him, but he didn't care...he felt he deserved to go to Hell for what he had done. Roxanne, however, wouldn't let him go - and with a red book in her hands, she drove Lucifer away that night. To this day, Johnny still doesn't know how she did it, but she somehow stopped Lucifer from claiming his soul. But Hell was brought to him, and he became the Ghost Rider. In the present, Blaze's thoughts are interrupted by Lucifer, who has entered the trailer. He tells John that the two of them really aren't all that different in the end. He may be the Prince of Lies, but the fact of the matter is that the truth of what happened to Blaze is better than any lie he could come up with. He taps on the red book and laughs, saying that it's all right there in front of his face and he can't see it. "I see only vengeance", the Ghost Rider answers - to which Lucifer replies, "that is exactly the problem." The trailer then glows with a bright light, and the Carnival explodes in a blast of hellfire. Moments later, the Ghost Rider rides through the destroyed Quentin Carnival, on the search for the next of Lucifer's hosts.

The next day, police are investigating the destruction of the abandoned Carnival, with no answers as to what caused it. One of the officers finds a red book - an old Bible - still in perfect condition. There is no explanation for why it didn't burn with the rest of the surroundings.

ANNOTATIONS
This issue recaps Johnny Blaze's origin as the Ghost Rider, originally told in Marvel Spotlight on Ghost Rider # 5.

Johnny having been raised at the Quentin Carnival was a retcon established in 1997's Ghost Rider # -1. The Quentin Carnival was last seen in Blaze (1994) # 12.

Despite what it shows in the flashback, John was not aware that he had siblings until Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 16, where he found out about Daniel and Barbara Ketch. His mother, Naomi Kale, actually left the family before Barton Blaze died, as told in Ghost Rider # -1. This issue does confirm that Barton Blaze was the father of Barbara and Dan Ketch.

Roxanne died in Ghost Rider (1990) # 50 and was later resurrected as the demoness Black Rose in Ghost Rider (1990) # 77. She was brought back to Earth by Noble Kale and reunited with Blaze in Ghost Rider: Finale, but apparently died a second time before Ghost Rider (2001) # 1. Roxanne and the children, Emma and Craig, visit Johnny during his visit to Heaven in Ghost Riders: Heaven's On Fire # 6.

Just how Roxanne was able to keep Satan from claiming Johnny's soul is revealed in Ghost Rider (2006) # 18.

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

REVIEW
Before I go into the review, I want to preface it with this: there's 22 pages of fucking advertisements in this month's issue of Ghost Rider, and that's absolutely ridiculous. I'm not going to say anything else about it, but readers of Paul O'Brien's The X-Axis review site will know of the things he's said about Marvel's current ad placement policy - and I agree 100% with his comments.

So, yeah, with that said...on with the show!

It's fair to say that my opinions on Daniel Way's Ghost Rider have been highly negative (though I don't think unduly harsh, considering how poor the first arc was). I've had serious doubts as to whether this book would survive past its first year if the writing continued on the downward spiral Way has fallen into with each subsequent issue, but things are finally starting to look up.

That's right, people...after four issues of disappointment, Daniel Way has finally stepped up and produced an issue of Ghost Rider that demands to be read. THIS was the type of story that I was waiting for when the Spirit of Vengeance roared back to monthly publication, and now I'm thinking that maybe - just maybe - Way has some surprises hidden up his sleeve.

Don't get me wrong, this story isn't groundbreaking by any means. John Blaze's origin as the Ghost Rider has been told and retold multiple times, and this is yet another example of that. But it's the nods to the past that fills this issue's pages that kept bringing a smile to my face as I read. We're finally given a revisit to the Quentin Carnival (though there's a story in itself, considering we never saw what happened to the Carnival when Blaze returned to the Ghost Rider series in the late 90s) and this origin recap does what most should: it offers up new aspects that we haven't seen before. Granted, we've got a big glaring retcon squatting in the middle of the story with Johnny now having been raised at the Carnival, but that was established in the Flashback issue from 1997 - can't fault Way for that one. But what makes this issue so good is the insight we're given into Blaze's thoughts as the origin is retold, and how the desire for vengeance affected him even at that young of an age. I also liked the explanation of how Johnny learned about selling his soul to Satan in the first place, considering that's something not touched upon in the past.

Javier Saltares and Mark Texiera up the ante once again on the artistic front with this issue. The flashbacks are given an eerily washed-out effect that goes lengths to show the flame motif, bathing everything in shadows and silhouettes. And, of course, their version of the Ghost Rider continues to define the look of the series, with the strongest image of the issue being the flashback of Johnny's first transformation into the Ghost Rider.

I can't express how happy I am that the series has taken this positive turn, and it proves to me that Daniel Way CAN produce quality work. So here's to the series continuing with this issue's trend without slipping into the shoddy storytelling of the previous four issues.

Grade: A-


Ghost Rider # 5
Published: Jan. 2007
Original Price: $2.99
Cover: Mark Texeira

Title: "The Day Johnny Came Home"
Writer: Daniel Way
Breakdowns: Javier Saltares
Finishes: Mark Texeira
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Dan Brown
Editor: Axel Alonso
Editor In Chief: Joe Quesada