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GHOST RIDER # 4

SYNOPSIS
On a deserted stretch of Nevada highway, the Ghost Rider is pursued by a fleet of police officers. Thinking he can lose the patrol cars, Johnny takes his hell-cycle off road, into the desert, but the police are one step ahead of him as they follow in a modified dune buggy. Riding onto a dead end at the top of a plateau, Blaze is forced to give himself up when the sun rises and he returns to his injured, human form. Meanwhile in Carson City, the Attorney General of the state talks to the sherrif that captured Blaze, telling him to make sure he gets the best of care. Roxanne Simpson is in the office with the A.G., and he offers to pardon Johnny for his crimes, as long as he accepts the deal he's laid out. Roxanne tells him that they'll do anything to make sure Blaze's name is cleared.

In Vegas, the bed-ridden Johnny is physically abused by the sherrif that arrested him, but is stopped by the famous stock car promoter, Dude Jensen. Dude offers Blaze a job for when he regains his help, promising to take care of his troubles with the law. The next day, Roxanne visits Johnny in the hospital, where he tells her that Dude Jensen got the charges against him dropped, and that he's going to go to work for him once he's better. Though she says nothing, Roxanne thinks to herself that Jensen is the man the Attorney General is after, but decides to remain silent until she talks to the A.G. first. As the two lovers talk, however, a jealous Linda Littletrees watches from the hallway, wishing she had Blaze for herself.

Two months later, a recovered Blaze is set to debut as the star of the Dude Jensen Demolition Derby in Las Vegas. Roxanne talks with the Attorney General, who tells her that they can't do anything against Jensen until they have evidence. Roxanne goes to Johnny's dressing room, where she finds him talking closely with Linda. Roxanne storms out, slapping Johnny for his effort. Linda then tries to move in, but Johnny tells her to get lost. As she leaves, he notices the sun setting, and undergoes the painful transformation into the Ghost Rider. Blaze creates his hellcycle and rides into the arena, joining the cars, and the demolition derby immediately begins.

Meanwhile, outside, a distraught Roxanne overhears Jensen telling a lackey to shoot the driver Red Thompson, due to the fact that Thompson is an independent driver that's costing his show a fortune. Before she can get to a phone to tell the Attorney General what she's learned, Roxanne is caught by the lackey. Back in the arena, Johnny has managed to survive the derby, but he soon finds himself in the sights of a car that's prepared to run him over. Before the car can hit him, however, Jensen's lackey fires a bullet into the driver's brain, causing him to swerve away and crash. The Ghost Rider chases down the sniper, and promptly fries him with hellfire. In his trailer, however, Jensen has Roxanne tied to a chair. She tells him that she's working for the Attorney General, to which Jensen replies by shoving a pistol in her face.

ANNOTATIONS
This was Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich's last issue as writer.

Johnny was shot by policemen after running a barricade in Ghost Rider (1973) # 1.

Linda Littletrees first appeared in Marvel Spotlight on Ghost Rider # 10 , and was later freed from Satan's curse in Ghost Rider (1973) # 3. Unfortunately, this was Linda's last appearance until 1994, when she appeared in the back-up Blaze story in Ghost Rider Annual (1993) # 2.

Ghost Rider's appearance in Marvel Team-Up # 15 takes place during the two-month gap in which Johnny is recovering from his injuries, as does his one-panel appearance in Avengers # 118.

This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider # 12 and Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1.

REVIEW
"Death Stalks the Demolition Derby" marks the last issue of Ghost Rider by the book's co-creator Gary Friedrich. Unfortunately, he doesn't really end on a strong note.

This issue starts off with a repeat performance from some of Friedrich's favorite Ghost Rider stock plots. We've got the chase by the police and Johnny's eventual capture at daybreak when he turns normal. We've also got Johnny hospitalized for his gunshot wound that he received way back in issue # 1, making this the third time he's landed in a hospital bed since getting shot. Thankfully, this issue marks the end of the gunshot plotline, an idea that was initially interesting before getting milked absolutely to death for every ounce of drama it could generate. So for two months Johnny rests up, with no explanation given for how he hid his nightly transformations into a skull-faced demon while in the hospital. The narrative captions flag up this plot hole by saying "somehow managing to keep secret his other identity". Okay, er, you're the narrator. You're supposed to tell us how these things happen if their not shown. In other words, the writer had no idea how it was kept secret.

This is also the last round-up for a few of Friedrich's ongoing plots that are unceremoniously dropped when the next writer takes over. One of those is poor Linda Littletrees, who went from sympathetic Satan-pawn to a tarted-up harlot determined to bed Johnny Blaze. For a character with such a strong introduction, she really deserved a better send-off than she received here, where Johnny literally pushes her out of his door telling her to scat.

The plot also settles into a much more mundane story than the book's been known for, focusing on demolition derbies and crooked stock car promoters instead of Satan and demons. Frankly, while a bit bland, it's a breath of fresh air. Readers could only withstand so many Satan plots, evidenced by the letter column of the book being filled with requests to drop Satan all together, and to get a solidly "real world" story was a bit of a surprise. Of course, the next writer drops all of this in favor of turning Dude Jensen into a cloaked demon named Roulette, and what else did you expect?

Of course, Friedrich gives us yet another "Roxanne in peril" plot at the issue's end. After a quick count, I determined that Roxy Simpson was in one form of danger or another for a whopping eight out of eleven issues since Marvel Spotlight # 5. That's just ridiculous, don't you think? This issue also gives us one of the biggest groaners of the series so far when Blaze's motorcycle made completely out of hellfire somehow manages to have an engine stall in the middle of the demolition derby. A few reviews ago I spoke about "false drama" that places the character in peril despite all logic...well, we just got another terrible example.

Jim Mooney continues as the book's artist, and his work's still not growing on me. It's solid super-hero style artwork, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. It's just not what I'm looking for out of Ghost Rider, a character that lives and dies by the strength of its visuals. Oh well, at least Mooney isn't drawing GR with big goofy eyeballs in his skull...he doesn't start that for a few more issues.

All in all, while Gary Friedrich may have created Ghost Rider, he certainly didn't write too many memorable stories for the character. His place in Ghost Rider history is assured, of course, and he did tell some great yarns during his run...he just also had some of the worst issues of the series under his belt as well.

Grade: C-


Ghost Rider # 4
Published: Feb. 1974
Original Price: $0.20
Cover: John Romita

Title: "Death Stalks the Demolition Derby"
Writer: Gary Friedrich
Artist: Jim Mooney
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: P. Goldberg
Editor: Roy Thomas