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MARVEL SPOTLIGHT ON GHOST RIDER # 9

SYNOPSIS
After fleeing from the Apache known as Snake Dance by attempting to jump over a gorge, Johnny Blaze finds that his bike has been sabotaged when it explodes in mid-air, leaving him to fall to his death in the canyon. The Ghost Rider hits the rocks at the canyon base, and Snake Dance revels in his triumph, believing Blaze to be dead. Meanwhile, back at the rodeo where Johnny is to perform his cycle act, the foreman comments that Blaze has disappeared. Roxanne believes that he must have ridden out the canyon, so the foreman tells Sam Silvercloud to give her a ride there as well. On the way to the canyon, Silvercloud (the one responsible for sabotaging Johnny's bike) tells Roxanne that the land is rightfully owned by the Apaches, and that they will soon reclaim it from the white man. They arrive at Copperhead Canyon, where Silvercloud tells Roxanne that Blaze is dead. He then kidnaps the young woman and takes her to the nearby Indian reservation.

The next morning, the rodeo manager is upset because both Johnny and Roxanne are now nowhere to be found. At that moment, Bart Slade, the cycle show's road manager, enters the room dressed in cycle leathers and says that if Blaze doesn't show, he's more than ready to fill in for him. Hours later, Johnny, now in his human form, awakens on the canyon floor, astonished that he's still alive after the fall. Suddenly, Satan appears before the stunt rider and tells him that he's responsible for Johnny's surviving the crash. He tells Blaze that if he died by the hand of another mortal, he would be unable to capture his soul. Therefore, whenever Blaze's life is in danger, Satan will extend protection over him, until he himself has a chance to take his life. The devil disappears, leaving Johnny alone on the canyon floor. Luckily, a helicopter passes overhead and airlifts Johnny out. Meanwhile, at the Indian reservation, Silvercloud presents Roxanne to Snake Dance, who decides that they shall sacrifice her to the Snake-God as a bride. The witch doctor then returns to his home, where he states to himself that the entire snake ceremony and belief system is a charade, perpetrated to save his people from starvation and poverty.

Blaze arrives at the rodeo just in time, barely making it to his dressing room before nightfall triggers his transformation into the Ghost Rider. He runs out to do his act, and is surprised to find Slade ready to do the stunts himself. Because Bart is a cripple with a bum leg, Johnny stops him from doing the act, but only manages to anger his former friend even more. Blaze continues and starts the stunt show, stunning the audience with his cycle mastery. During one stunt, however, he loses his concentration and crashes his bike into a wall. The Ghost Rider emerges unscathed, but quickly spots Sam Silvercloud standing on the sidelines. He chases the saboteur down and forces him to give up Roxanne's location.

At the reservation, Snake Dance and his men perform the Snake-God ritual, with Roxanne tied to a serpent-shaped stake. Snake Dance tells her that she must prove herself worthy by enduring deadly snake venom, and that only ones who are chosen by the Snake-God can survive. Two snakes shoot out from the shaman's arms, biting Roxanne on each wrist. Snake Dance, knowing all too well that the venom will kill Roxanne, continues his sham by saying that the gods are angry with the Apaches, and that the only way to apease them is to rise up against the white man as an army. At that moment, the Ghost Rider roars onto the scene, quickly dispatching Snake Dance's followers with his hellfire. He unties Roxanne from the stake, but realizes that he must get her to a hospital before she dies. He turns to the Apaches one last time and tells them that Snake Dance is a charlatan, and that they shall never again threaten innocent people. He rides off on his motorcycle, vowing that if Roxanne dies, he shall return to exact vengeance.

ANNOTATIONS
This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider # 5 and Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1.

REVIEW
Marvel Spotlight's Ghost Rider serial gets a new regular artist while the Snake Dance story comes to its conclusion...sort of.

Discounting Jim Mooney's fill-in work for half of the preceding issue, this issue features the first regular artist to take on Ghost Rider since co-creator Mike Ploog took his leave. Tom Sutton was the replacement artist, and through he has a different style from Ploog less moody, more detail-oriented he nevertheless continues the artistic successes the series had managed to keep up in its early days. Sutton excels at drawing everything from Snake Dance's victory dance to Blaze's stunt show to the Ghost Rider's vicious attack on the Apache to rescue Roxanne. One particularly memorable panel comes on the second to last page, with Blaze carrying Roxanne in his arms while the snake alter burns down behind him. The only downside to the new artistic endeavor is inker Chic Stone, whose thin lines and lack of heavy blacks causes the work to "pop" too brightly for a book with such a dark tone as this one. Later issues with Jim Mooney inking Sutton's work are a much better showcase of what Sutton could do with an appropriate inking partner.

Story-wise, Gary Friedrich turns in his first winning issue of Ghost Rider, capitalizing on the potential he showed with the start of the Snake Dance plot last issue. Snake Dance turns from just a generic villain to a sympathetic antagonist halfway through this issue when his motives are revealed. Snake Dance isn't just a medicine man and leader of his people, he's a charlatan that's willing to go to any end to bring prosperity to the Apache. It doesn't matter if his charade turns his people into unwitting dupes or murders an innocent girl, to him the ends justify the means. He doesn't just know full well that the "snake god" won't save Roxanne from the snake bites, he plans on using her death to rally his people to revolution against the white men. I found Snake Dance to be a particularly fascinating villain, so it's too bad that he gets sidelined in favor of his daughter in the following Witch Woman issues.

Of course, that's not to say that this issue didn't have its faults. How stupid is the rodeo manager, who sends Roxanne out to look for Blaze with the man that tried to abandon Blaze in the desert last issue. Johnny telling the manager about Silvercloud's actions was actually an on-panel scene in the last issue, even. Another problem presents itself when Satan "saves" Johnny from dying in his fall in the canyon. If Satan is going to step in to save Blaze every time he gets near death, then what danger could he possibly be in from now on? This small plot point had the potential to completely bleed any sense of danger to the title character, and if Johnny can't die then why should readers care if he plummets off a cliff at the end of an issue?

These are just nit-picked problems, though, and they're not enough to drag down what was otherwise the first really good issue of the series since the origin story. I recommend this issue to all Ghost Rider fans.

Grade: A-


Marvel Spotlight On Ghost Rider # 9 Published: Apr. 1973 Original Price: $0.20
Cover: Mike Ploog

Title: "The Snakes Crawl At Night"
Writer: Gary Friedrich
Artist: Tom Sutton
Inker: Chic Stone
Letterer: Shelly Leferman
Editor: Roy Thomas