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MARVEL SPOTLIGHT ON GHOST RIDER # 11

SYNOPSIS
In the abandoned cave ruins, Linda Littletrees, now going by the moniker of Witch Woman, holds the Ghost Rider captive. Binding him to the wall with flaming shackles, the Apache girl tells Johnny that she has been sent by Satan to collect his soul. Using her satanic powers, Linda projects her thoughts onto the cave wall, showing Blaze how she became Mephisto's thrall.

Less than a year before, she left her family's reservation to attend college in New York City. When she arrived, she met her roommate, a blonde girl named Jennifer Glatzer, who was a practicing devil-worshipper. Linda immediately became friends with the other girl, who eventually convinced the Indian to read some of her occult books. After about six months, Linda fell asleep on her bed while studying. While she slept, Linda snuck into the room, her satanic candle lit. She opens the window and calls for her master, offering Linda as a bride. When she receives no sign of Mephisto's arrival, Jennifer assumes that he has rejected her gift. When she looks at Linda, however, she sees the pentagram emblazoned on her forehead, a sign of acceptance. Johnny interrupts Linda's story, arguing with her that she was unwillingly duped into satanic servitude. Denying his accusations, the Witch Woman conjures a gag of hellfire around Blaze's mouth, so she can continue her story without further interjections.

The night after Jennifer's secret offering, Linda decides that she will join her roommate for one of her group's rituals. The two dress in exotic outfits and then cover up in large robes, so as not to draw attention to themselves on the way to the sabbat. Jennifer assures Linda that it's all pretend, easing her nervousness. They arrive at a large house and descend into the crypt-like basement, where Linda is shocked to see dozens of women with flaming torches surrounding a large altar. Jennifer and the other women surround the frightened girl and drag her to the altar, tying her down as they chant. Jennifer calls out for her master to appear, pulling out a large knife in the process. As the girls continued to chant louder and louder, Jennifer plunged the knife into Linda's stomach, but the girl felt nothing but the essence of Satan pouring into her.

Linda becomes wrapped up telling her story, breaking the concentration needed to maintain the Ghost Rider's bonds. Realizing he has his chance to escape, Johnny runs from the cave and hops on his motorcycle, his escape finally snapping his enemy back to reality. She fires several bolts of hellfire at the Rider as he navigates his way down the narrow trails of the pueblo. As he makes his escape, Satan appears before Linda, claiming that she has failed in her task. Linda pleads for a second chance, which the demon begrudgingly gives her. Having made his way to the bottom of the caves, Johnny turns back to see the Witch Woman standing at the top of the pueblo. She tells him that because she has failed in her mission, she must now pay the price. Turning her blasts of hellfire back on herself, Linda lights herself afire and falls to the canyon floor. Johnny turns away, unable to watch the girl's death. He rides away just as the sun comes up, transforming him back to his normal self.

ANNOTATIONS
This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider # 7 and Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1.

This was the last issue of Marvel Spotlight to feature the Ghost Rider, as he was granted an ongoing title of his own. Therefore the next issue of this series is Ghost Rider (1973) # 1.

REVIEW
This issue marks the Ghost Rider's final appearance in the pages of Marvel Spotlight, with the character finally graduating into a series of his own. While we don't really get a conclusion to the plotlines running through Spotlight (with this issue ending in "to be continued..." mode), we are treated to some quality writing and artwork - two things that the series either had one or the other of, but rarely both.

Honestly, this issue gives us little more than an origin story for the Witch Woman. Writer Gary Friedrich spends a whopping 10 out of 19 pages on her origin flashback, giving it the bulk of the issue. And while this isn't the first time we've seen the "normal human cursed by Satan and his minions" story in this series, Friedrich pulls out all the stops and makes it absolutely terrifying for once.

It's fairly easy to say that the presence of Satan dominated the first few years of this series, and except for the initial storyarc the demon lord became less effective (and more horribly depicted) as time went on. What makes this issue work so well is the distinct lack of Satan as an on-screen character (until the end, of course), making him out instead to be a powerful behind-the-scenes force that manipulates human pawns to get what he wants. This is much more effectual from a story stand-point than having the big red guy in underwear and cape show up to yell at Johnny every other issue. It makes Satan finally feel like the powerful entity that he should be in a series such as this - not a villain, but the root cause for other characters' villainy.

This is rendered expertly in Linda Littletrees' flashback sequences, which features some of the best writing Friedrich did on the series. Linda and her roommate Jennifer are developed into well-rounded characters in a brief amount of space, and the readers are left cringing in dread as the cult's plans for Linda are put into motion. I especially love the scene with Jennifer calling upon Satan while Linda sleeps, showing how she takes every single thing around her to be a sign from her master.

Tom Sutton continues as the series' artist after Mike Ploog's departure, a situation I wouldn't envy ANY artist to be in. Sutton steps up to the plate and performs magnificently, however, and what the series now lacks in mood (done so well by Ploog) it has style in spades. Sutton's clean line-work and striking character depictions are very nice indeed, making what could have been a boring issue into a beautiful work of art.

So overall, Ghost Rider departs the pages of Marvel Spotlight on a high note, with this issue easily being the best of the Spotlight run. Definitely recommended.

Grade: A


Marvel Spotlight On Ghost Rider # 11 Published: Aug. 1973 Original Price: $0.20
Cover: Rich Buckler

Title: "Season of the Witch-Woman!"
Writer: Gary Friedrich
Artist: Tom Sutton
Inker: Syd Shores
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roy Thomas