GHOST RIDER # 6
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Johnny Blaze goes to see Attorney General Barnett, who is waiting for him with both his son, Dave, and Roxanne Simpson. Congratulating him on the excellent job he did against Roulette, Barnett tells him that he has another assignment ready. Blaze refuses to do any more dirty work for him, and a fight nearly breaks out between him and Dave. Before Johnny can walk out, however, Dave pulls a gun on him and forces him to sit and listen. Barnett tells him that they need his help to stop the Zodiac, to which Johnny replies that the villains were put in jail weeks ago. The Attorney General explains that four different Zodiac members, Leo, Libra, Gemini, and Sagittarius, have struck San Francisco in the past 24 hours, each committing crimes directed against their leader, Cornelius Van Lunt. What makes the crimes so bizarre is the fact that none of the Zodiac have escaped and are all still in jail. Blaze again refuses to help, and he and Roxanne leave.
That evening, at sunset, Johnny stands in the center of an outdoor arena. As expected, his nightly curse activates and he transforms into the Ghost Rider. Roxanne emerges and embraces her lover, asking if they'll ever beat Satan's power. Blaze answers that by saying the only thing they can do at the moment is try and get their cycle show back on its feet. Straddling a motorcycle, Johnny takes off in an attempt to try and create some new stunts. He does get far, as a a mysterious gunman takes aim and shoots at his bike, causing him to wreck. Emerging from the crash unhamrmed, the Ghost Rider finds Dave Barnett, who is pointing a gun at him. Blaze simply points his finger at the gun, and a stream of hellfire melts it out of Barnett's hands. Realizing that Johnny truly does have supernatural powers, Dave grabs Roxanne by the throat in order to force the Ghost Rider to help him defeat the Zodiac. The Attorney General arrives, having followed his son, and emplores him to let the girl go. Using Roxanne as a shield, Dave drags her into the shadows. Mr. Barnett tells Johnny that his son has suffered a nervous breakdown due to his being captured by the Zodiac two years prior when he was an FBI agent. They tortured him, and when he broke he told them all about the defenses of New York City, allowing the villains to capture the city for a brief time.
Suddenly, a spotlight at the top of the arena is turned on, shining directly on Blaze and Barnett. Though they can't see him, they hear Dave's voice behind the light, telling them that either Johnny helps against the Zodiac or Roxanne dies. Creating his hellfire cycle, Johnny rides straight up the stands toward the light, but when he gets to the top he finds Dave is gone. A lasso is then thrown over him, trapping his arms. On the other end of the rope, Dave begins to pull him backward, but a burst of hellfire frees the Ghost Rider. A fight between the two men breaks out, and the outmatched Barnett finds himelf hoisted into the air by Blaze, who is prepared to throw him down to his death. Roxanne appears in the spotlight below, however, and begs Johnny not to hurt him now that she's safe. Blaze lets the other man down, only to find that his mind has completely snapped. Feeling sympathy for Dave, Johnny finally agrees to hunt down the Zodiac for him.
Back in San Francisco, a bank is attacked by a motorcycle riding Taurus, who demands to be taken to Cornelius Van Lunt's saftey deposit box. The bank manager, despite being utterly confused by the fact that Van Lunt and Taurus are supposed to be the same person, tells the villain that the vault is on a time lock and that it won't open until the next morning. Touching a button his bike, Taurus blasts the door with an energy beam, completely disentegrating it. In the vault, Taurus grabs a bunch of documents that contain incriminating evidence, enough to put Van Lunt away for life. As he rides out of the bike, he is confronted by the Ghost Rider...
Johnny had been on the run from the police since Marvel Spotlight on Ghost Rider # 10. Roxanne's made the deal with Attorney General Barnett to have Johnny's criminal charges dropped in Ghost Rider (1973) # 4.
Slifer first appeared, as an agent of Roulette, in Ghost Rider (1973) # 4.
This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider # 14 and Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1.
Let's face it, by this point Satan as the book's main antagonist was getting very old. Even when working through pawns and agents like Roulette and the Witch-Woman, every story seemed to regurgitate the same thing: Satan wants Johnny's soul and Roxanne is most likely being threatened and/or tied up somewhere. Readers were understandably getting tired of the formula, with each issue's letter column filled with requests to finish the Satan arc and move on. That was Tony Isabella's goal when he came on board, to wrap up the Satan plot and change over to a superhero status quo. In the first step toward that goal, we get our first bona-fide super-villain: Aquarius, the One-Man-Zodiac.
The Zodiac was a group of villains introduced in Avengers as a crime syndicate with twelve members, each taking on the aspect of a different zodiacal sign. It was an instantly memorable gimmick, I admit, and the characters were treated as a deadly threat by Steve Englehart during his run on Avengers. Englehart, in fact, had just wrapped his major Zodiac arc in that book directly before this story. In an act of tight continuity that modern Marvel wouldn't be caught dead attempting, the mystery of the One-Man-Zodiac hinges entirely on the end of that specific Avengers storyline which placed each Zodiac member in prison. And it is a pretty compelling mystery that provides the story with an equally great gimmick in the next issue.
This issue, though, is less concerned with the villain than it is on setting up the conflict between Blaze and the Attorney General's son, who has a serious axe to grind with the Zodiac. Now that I think about it, this story really does serve as a new starting point for the series. Not only does Isabella provide a completely unnecessary recap of the series thus far, he also tosses in the notion that Johnny's curse would be considered by most people as genuine super-powers, something Blaze himself had never considered.
Jim Mooney continues his run as the book's regular artist, and you can immediately tell that he's more comfortable drawing this kind of story versus the horror-heavy stories under Friedrich's stint. Mooney was a super-hero artist, so it stands to reason that his Zodiac scenes would be more suited to his style than the demonic Roulette. Unfortunately, this issue also begins the frightful decision on Mooney's part to start drawing Ghost Rider's skull with big goofy eyeballs. I suppose it was done to humanize Blaze's alter-ego during the transition from horror to superhero, but it frankly just looks ridiculous.
A new writer combined with a compelling mystery and the start toward a new status quo. All things considered, this one's pretty good.
Ghost Rider # 6
Title: "Zodiac II"