VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER # 7

SYNOPSIS
As the Zodiac member Taurus roars out of the bank he's just robbed on his motorcycle, he is confronted by the Ghost Rider. Surprisingly, Taurus knows about Johnny, saying the two have much in common. The Zodiac leader roars off down the street, with Blaze in hot pursuit behind him. As Taurus rides off, he thinks to himself about how the documents he stole from the bank will make certain that Cornelius Van Lunt, the original Taurus, will spend the rest of his life in prison.

During his escape, Taurus rides past an autograph signing that's being held by the Stuntmaster, a former villain that had reformed with the help of Daredevil. Now a television star, the Stuntmaster decides that if he helps the Ghost Rider, maybe it will give him an opportunity to repay some of the good that had been done to him in the past by heroes. Still pursuing Taurus, Blaze thinks back to the original Zodiac, who were all defeated and captured by the Avengers weeks prior. Before he can think about the mystery more, the Stuntmaster rides up beside him and offers his assistance. Johnny reluctantly accepts the help, and the two proceed to knock Taurus off his bike. To the two heroes' astonishment, however, Taurus changes before their eyes into yet another member of the Zodiac, Scorpio, who uses his Zodiac Key weapon to knock the two unconscious.

When the two heroes awaken, they are chained to posts in a waterfront warehouse, the Zodiac member named Aquarius standing before them. With Aquarius is the demon Slifer, who served the monster Roulette before the Ghost Rider killed him. Aquarius tells the two heroes his story, about how Cornelius Van Lunt betrayed his fellow Zodiac members by getting himself cleared of his criminal charges and leaving his teammates to a life behind bars. As a result of Van Lunt's betrayal, Aquarius contracted a rare lung condition, giving him one year to live. Swearing vengeance on Van Lunt, Aquarius' shouts were heared by Slifer, who offered him a deal. For one year, Aquarius would possess the powers of the combined Zodiac, in order to gain vengeance, but at the end of that year he would forfeit his soul to Hell. Having already used the powers of five Zodiac members, Aquarius says that his vengeance on Van Lunt is almost finished.

At the end of the story, Blaze uses his hellfire to burn through the Stuntmaster's chains, allowing him to break free. Aquarius transforms into Cancer, who crushes Stuntmaster's ribs with his claws. When the Ghost Rider rushes foward, the Zodiac member transforms into Capricorn, who uses the unconscious Stuntmaster as a projectile. After checking on the injured Stuntmaster, Johnny races out of the warehouse, but doesn't spot Aquarius anywhere. He asks a young woman if she's seen anybody, but the woman tells him to get lost. Blaze jumps on the Stuntmaster's bike, but before he can ride off he realizes that one of the Zodiac members was a woman. Transforming from Virgo, the woman, into Aries, the villain uses his horns to batter the Ghost Rider senseless. When Aries attempts to run, Johnny tackles him off the pier and into the water. Instantly, Aries transforms into Pisces, a fish-man, but Blaze turns the tables on him by super-heating the water into a furnace with his hellfire. The two make their way back onto the dock, with Aquarius again assuming his true form. However, Slifer appears, saying that Aquarius' time has come and that he owes his soul. Aquarius argues he made the deal only a few weeks ago, not a full year, to which Slifer replies that the villain has assumed the form of each Zodiac member once, making a Zodical year. Despite Aquarius' protests, Slifer touches him and the two disappear, leaving Johnny to ask "what next?"...the answer to which coming in the form of a towering Satan before him.

ANNOTATIONS
The Stuntmaster, whose real name is George Smith, reformed in Daredevil # 67.

The Zodiac were defeated by the Avengers in Avengers # 120-122.

Slifer first appeared in human form in Ghost Rider (1973) # 4 and as a demon in Ghost Rider (1973) # 5.

This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider # 15 and Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1.

REVIEW
This issue gives us the resolution to the One-Man-Zodiac story, and despite yet another demonic/Satan plot the story manages to give a nice twist at the end.

As I said in the review for issue # 6, incoming writer Tony Isabella immediately went to work toward implementing the new superhero status quo for the series by bringing in the book's first true "super-villain", Aquarius. This is a story you'd never see at today's Marvel, as it picks up a plot thread from a completely unrelated book in this instance, the Avengers and takes it in an unexpected direction. Aquarius was far from the star character of the original Zodiac stories (that honor going to Taurus, Ares, and Libra), spending most of the time getting punched out by Hawkeye or Black Panther in the background of panels. So he was a perfect choice for Isabella since no one would honestly care about what happened to a character like Aquarius.

Aquarius was given a great little gimmick, to boot. He was effectively twelve villains in one with the ability to transform into each member of the Zodiac gang (though I wonder, just what powers did Aquarius have on his own?). The twist that comes at the story's end is fairly clever: the deal he made with the demon Slifer stated that he would have the combined power of the Zodiac for one year, but following his use of all twelve Zodiac powers this was considered his "year" of power. Of course, such a revelation actually shoots Satan's plan in the foot. In all likelihood Aquarius would have eventually killed the Ghost Rider, serving up his soul to Satan by sheer force of numbers. I guess it comes down to which soul was coveted more, Johnny's or Aquarius'? I suppose Aquarius' soul could go to Slifer instead of Satan himself since the minor demon is the one who made the deal with the villain. Like I said, it was a clever twist that almost falls apart after a bit of thought. I still award points for creativity, though.

This issue also brings back a pretty minor supporting character from the pages of Daredevil, the Stuntmaster. I suppose including him was an easy decision since both he and Blaze riding motorcycles as their gimmick, but his presence doesn't really do much to advance the story. Isabella's planning for the future, though, and Stuntmaster makes a much more important return appearance a few months down the road.

I don't really have much more to say about Jim Mooney's artwork, other than how much I hate his design for the demon Slifer. Mooney seemed to really struggle drawing the horror aspects of the book. Instead of looking scary, his Slifer just looks goofy. And let's not get me started about his depiction of Satan, who looks like he's ready for a really cheesy Halloween party.

This was a solid superhero style story with a clever twist ending. Just don't think about it too hard and enjoy it for what it is.

Grade: B-


Ghost Rider # 7
Published: Aug. 1974
Original Price: $0.25
Cover: John Romita

Title: "...And Lose His Own Soul!"
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Jim Mooney
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: A. Kupperberg
Colorist: Phil Rache
Editor: Roy Thomas