VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 5

SYNOPSIS
Roxanne Simpson is held at gunpoint by crooked stock-car promoter Dude Jensen, who had caught her eavesdropping on his plan to assassinate one of his drivers. Before he can shoot her, Jensen's lackey Slifer bursts into the trailer and tells him not to fire, because the area is swarming with police. Jensen laughs, and is then consumed by hellfire, transforming him into the demonic Roulette. He then transforms Slifer into his demonic form and sets the trailer on fire with a point of his finger. The two then teleport away, leaving Roxanne to burn to death in the trailer.

Elsewhere in Las Vegas, the Ghost Rider rides through the city in search of Rocky, but is surprised by the appearance of Roulette in the sky above him. The demon pelts Blaze with blasts of hellfire, but during his bid for escape, Johnny sees a vision of Roxanne trapped in the burning room. Roulette appears again, telling Johnny that he has to make a choice: save Roxanne, or stop him from burning down Vegas. Though he struggles with the choice momentarily, the derogatory remarks thrown out by the Vegas citizens quickly makes his choice for him. Blaze races off to rescue Roxanne, leaving Roulette to begin his assault on the city. The demon sets a large casino on fire, destroying it and killing many of the people inside. Johnny, meanwhile, makes it to the burning trailer and rides right through the wall, scooping up Rocky before plowing through the opposite wall and to safety. Before she can say anything, Johnny sets her down and races back into the city, determined to save it whether it deserves it or not.

Meanwhile, a group of casino owners talk about a note they each received, which says all of them will die and their casinos will be destroyed, signed by Roulette. They realize that Roulette and Dude Jensen are one and the same, recalling how the race promoter had lost twenty thousand dollars at one of the casinos. When he couldn't pay back what he'd lost, they took him into the desert and shot him, leaving his body dumped in a quarry. The Ghost Rider, elsewhere in the city, is then attacked again by Roulette, daring the biker to follow his trail. Blaze tracks the demon down to the desert, where he finds a huge castle floating on a platform of hellfire. Johnny jumps through the castle's doors, quickly finding Roulette in his throne room. Jensen tells his story to Blaze, revealing that after his body was dumped in the quarry he was brought back to life by none-other than Satan himself. He made a deal with the demon-lord, his return to life in exchange for destroying the Ghost Rider. Roulette then downs Johnny with a hellfire blast, then calls upon Satan for the power to destroy their enemy for all eternity. Satan appears and grants Jensen's request, pouring more power into his body. Johnny sees his opportunity, blasting Roulette with his own hellfire, essentially overloading the demon's body. Jensen explodes, leaving only a tattered robe and the victorious Ghost Rider.

ANNOTATIONS
Roulette's demon sidekick, Slifer, returns in Ghost Rider (1973) # 7 and is transformed by Satan into Inferno in Ghost Rider (1973) # 8. He makes his last appearance as Inferno in Ghost Rider (1973) # 11 and then disappears before the rest of his story could be told.

This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider # 13 and Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1.

REVIEW
Following the departure of series co-creator Gary Friedrich last issue, Ghost Rider finds itself in the peculiar position better known as "changing writer syndrome". This was a phenomena that plagued Marvel's comics quite frequently in the mid to late 70's, as writers would come and go from titles and books were cancelled mid-storyline. The task of resolving these dropped plots would often fall to fill-in writers who would usually come on board books with no idea on how the dropped storylines were intended to be resolved.

Case in point: Ghost Rider # 5.

When we left the conclusion to the previous issue, Roxanne was the captive of Dude Jensen, a crooked stock-car promoter who was under investigation by the Attorney General and the target of an undercover sting operation by Roxanne Simpson (because that made sense, apparently). While Johnny was performing in Jensen's demolition derby, Roxanne overheard Jensen planning the murder of an independent driver in the derby. All pretty straight-forward and simple - a down-to-earth plotline that's welcome after all of the Satan business of the last few issues.

So of course, Jensen turns out to be a Satan-powered demon. Sigh.

It was fairly obvious that writers Wolfman and Moench were brought on last minute to throw any kind of resolution they could to the Dude Jensen story, and it resulted in this issue being nothing more than a huge eye-rolling farce. A conventional wrap-up to the story was apparently beyond them, so they pulled the "let's make him a demon, just like all of the Ghost Rider's other villains!" card from the stock plot pile. Common sense, naturally, need not apply here: why would a demonically powered man give a shit about running a crooked stockcar promotion business?

And then there's his character design. Bad enough that the guy was saddled with the name "Dude Jensen", they also gave him a horrible Vegas-themed codename, Roulette, and dressed him up like Skeletor in a bathrobe. Jim Mooney was never the greatest artist of his day, but his work wasn't usually this uninspired...and "uninspired" was the watchword for this issue, as the whole thing comes off as incredibly bland. Perhaps it was disdain for the script that prompted Mooney to phone in this issue - a script with such laugh-out-loud moments as the floating gothic castle in the middle of Las Vegas and Roxanne kissing Johnny right on his flaming skeletal mouth. There's also a bit of a discrepancy concerning the timeline of events following from the last issue, in which Johnny - who only turns into the Ghost Rider at night - had just participated in the demolition derby as Roxanne was captured. Only at the start of this issue, picking up mere moments from the end of # 4, Johnny is once again turning into his demonic form as night falls.

Hell, it's not even worth trying to come up with an explanation.

But that's not to say this issue didn't have a few good things (believe it or not, I know). Even though Roulette was saddled with the typical revenge motive, the details of his origin - murdered by a coalition of casino owners - was an appropriate touch. And the one bit that almost makes up for the overwhelming ridiculousness of the issue: Johnny's reaction to Roulette's lose/lose situation. After hearing the remarks of a few Vegas pedestrians, Johnny - in typical Blaze fashion - says "wasn't such a difficult choice after all. Hang Vegas! Rocky babe, here I come!". That's right. A few random people making some nasty comments in his direction prompts Blaze to pick his girlfriend over a city filled with hundreds of thousands of innocent people. That, my friends, is the mark of a hero...and it's a character moment that fits perfectly with the relatively selfish Johnny Blaze of the series' early days.

But regardless, this issue was a pretty grim blemish on the series...and honestly not a good sign, considering it's the first issue without a regular writer.

Grade: D+


Ghost Rider # 5
Published: April 1974
Original Price: $0.20
Cover: Gil Kane

Title: "And Vegas Writhes In Flame!"
Writers: Marv Wolfman & Doug Moench
Artist: Jim Mooney
Inker: Sal Trapani
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: P. Goldberg
Editor: Roy Thomas