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MARVEL SPOTLIGHT ON GHOST RIDER # 8

SYNOPSIS
With Roxanne still strapped to the sacrificial alter, the Ghost Rider is confronted by the crazed Crash Simpson, who holds the flaming sword of Satan and is more than willing to use it. Johnny frees Roxanne and begs her to run, but she refuses to leave the man she loves and her father alone to fight to the death. Satan commands Crash to strike, but the man cannot while his daughter is endangered. Enraged, Satan waves his hand and takes both Crash and the Ghost Rider down with him to Hell. With Roxanne no loner in the equation, Crash attacks Blaze, attempting to kill him with the flaming sword. Johnny pleads with Crash to turn against the demon, and finally his words get through to his step-father, who saves Blaze from a tentacled creature. Crash takes the wounded Blaze and runs into the depths of Hell, but the two are attacked by a large demon. Crash strikes the monster with the sword, but is crushed by the falling monster. Johnny picks him and begins to walk, determined to make it out of Hell with Crash's soul. Blaze is approached by a mysterious cloaked figure, who offers to send Crash onto his final reward and Blaze back to Earth. Johnny gives his step-father over, and seconds later awakens back in the crypt in his human form, an amnesiac Roxanne fawning over him. Johnny feigns ignorance about what happened,and the two return to Madison Square Garden.

Several hours later, Johnny arrives in Arizona, and is picked up from the airport by a local Native American named Sam Silvercloud, who is supposed to take the stunt-rider to Copperhead Canyon. Instead, Sam pulls a gun on Blaze, telling him that he won't allow the biker to jump the Canyon. If he makes the jump, then the canyon will never be returned to the indians that are trying to get it back. Silvercloud abandons Blaze in the desert, but not before Johnny is able to retrieve his cycle from the back of the truck. The next morning, Johnny arrives at the Canyon Rodeo grounds and speaks with the rodeo manager, who explains that the local Indians are in an uproar because of a medicine man named Snake-Dance. As they speak, Silvercloud sabotages Blaze's cycle.

That evening, Johnny rides out into the desert toward the Canyon, and while in transit undergoes the transformation into the Ghost Rider. When he makes it to the rim of the canyon, he is attacked by several Native American warriors. After quickly defeating them, Blaze is confronted by Snake-Dance himself, who mystically summons snakes to attack the Rider. Johnny makes it to his bike as the shaman transforms into a giant serpent and gives chase. Realizing the only avenue of escape is to jump the canyon, Blaze takes flight. At that moment, Sam Silvercloud's earlier sabotage causes the Ghost Rider's bike to explode, sending him into a free fall toward the bottom of the canyon.

ANNOTATIONS
The mysterious "Messenger" that took Crash from Johnny was revealed to actually be Satan in Ghost Rider (1973) # 8. Satan later reveals that the Crash Simpson disguised as Curly Samuels was only an illusion in Ghost Rider (1973) # 9.

This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider # 4 and Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1.

REVIEW
Marvel's fourth Ghost Rider issue of Marvel Spotlight brings us something quite bizarre - and though rare in this comic's time, it's technically unheard of today - an issue that ends one arc halfway through and then begins another. The Crash Simpson story sees its abrupt end before we're whisked off to Arizona for the start of the Snake Dance arc.

It's a technique I honestly don't think I've seen before. Perhaps it was common practice in other comics of the 60s and 70s, I admit to not having read too much from the time period. But taken in context of how comics are written today (for the last twenty years even), the idea of using one issue to end an arc and begin a new one is practically unheard of. Sure, you sometimes come across "bridge" issues between story-arcs, but never something like this. The Crash Simpson arc wraps up by the halfway point of the issue, which then wastes no time in setting us up for the Copperhead Canyon/Snake Dance story. I'm sorry for going on and on about it, but it just strikes me as so very odd.

Anyway, the lackluster "return" of Crash Simpson gets its resolution here with the character finally coming to his senses when it comes to killing his daughter and adopted son, turning against Satan just in time to get killed again. Or, well, so it would seem considering the oh-so-convenient arrival of "the Messenger" to haul Johnny's fat out of the fire and take Crash to his heavenly reward. I know I've expressed my distaste for this story-arc in previous reviews, but man...this is just terrible on all counts. No wonder later writer Tony Isabella felt it necessary to retcon it out of existence.

Wisely, Friedrich moves on to the next story-arc with all due haste, changing the setting to Arizona for the jump over Copperhead Canyon and introducing Snake Dance and his stereotypical Apaches that more closely resemble "savages" from a Conan comic. I hate to say that, actually, because Friedrich DOES provide some excellent characterization for the Apaches in the following issues, but here - with all of the "white eyes" and "blood of our ancestors" remarks - things look pretty dire. But things are certainly much better than during the previous story-arc, since at least the events surrounding Blaze's jump of Copperhead Canyon are both logical and interesting, two qualities the series had been lacking in the last few issues. The different conflicts that Blaze encounters throughout the issue are part of what makes the story so much more interesting, from Bart Slade's scheming to Sam Silvercloud's treachery to rodeo manager Casey Miller's dislike of motorcycles in his rodeo. The conflicts are subtle for the most part and Friedrich does a good job of reining in the melodrama that caused the last story to be such a groaner.

Most importantly, this marks the last issue by series artist and co-creator Mike Ploog, who shares art duties with Jim Mooney here. While Ploog takes the second half of the issue that focuses on Snake Dance, Mooney is given the conclusion to the Satan/Crash story. I've never been a big fan of Mooney's work on Ghost Rider - not that his art was bad, far from it, I just don't think his more traditional superhero style fit the tone of the book, particularly the more horror-centric stories. His work here is serviceable, but honestly the Ploog artwork is all the previous parts of the story had going for them, and without it the conclusion falls just as flat as predicted. Ploog's work on the second half the book unfortunately isn't much better, as I presume it was inked by Mooney as well, taking away most of the ambiance and style that Ploog brought to his work when he handled all of the art chores himself. Regardless, Mike Ploog is one of the major factors of the character's initial success, and the book was poorer for his absence (not a knock against his successor, Tom Sutton, whose work I really enjoyed as well).

So here we have a split decision for this issue. While it concludes a story that was fairly awful throughout, we also get the start to a much more promising plot that only gets better as it progresses in future issues. Congratulations Snake Dance, you saved the issue's grade from total failure!

Grade: C


Marvel Spotlight On Ghost Rider # 8 Published: Feb. 1973 Original Price: $0.20
Cover: Mike Ploog

Title: "...The Hordes of Hell!"
Writer: Gary Friedrich
Artists: Mike Ploog & Jim Mooney
Inker: Jim Mooney
Letterer: Shelly Leferman
Editor: Roy Thomas