Riding his bike on a stormy night, Johnny Blaze runs across a young girl on the side of the road. She asks Johnny for a ride, which he gladly gives her. While on the road, Blaze tells her that she should be more careful who she accepts rides from, because for all she knows he could be a psycho. She replies that she can tell Johnny is a good soul, to which he says "Don't bet on it." Further down the road, Johnny and the girl come across a stranded motorist, who claims that his car won't start. Johnny offers to take a look at the engine, but quickly realizes that he's walked into a trap. Three other men emerge from the darkness and beat him into near-unconsciousness, stealing his bike as the leave. Unable to retain control over his second-self, Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider, who forms his flame-cycle and pursues the attackers. The two men on Blaze's bike wreck against a tree, but the two in the car manage to escape. The demon relinquishes control back to Johnny, who weakly reclaims his bike. Suddenly, the girl he gave a ride to mysteriously reappears, pointing the wounded stunt rider toward a house where he can get help. Blaze approaches the house, where an old woman sits on the porch, but collapses before he can ask for help.

Johnny wakes up in the old woman's house, where he tells her that he was attacked and badly beaten. The woman's name is Veronica Stanton, and she tells Johnny why he's been the first person to set foot in her house in years. After her son and husband died, the only person that kept her from going insane was her daughter, Sally. Unfortunately, one night on the way home from a college seminar, Sally was run off the road and killed by a drunk driver. The drunk was the nephew of the town mayor, which meant the whole incident was covered up and ignored. Veronica allows Johnny to take her truck into town, so he can pick up some spare parts to fix his bike. At the town's auto-shop, Blaze sees one of his attackers, who is an employee of the shop. With his memory affected by the beating, Johnny finds the man familiar, but does not recognize him. He sees Johnny leave in Veronica's truck, and decides that he and his boys need to go to her house to make sure she's "okay".

Later that night, Johnny tells Veronica that the man at the auto shop looked familiar, to which she replies that his name is Jock Parker...the man that killed her daughter. Outside the house, Jock tells his friends that his drunken accident cost him his family and his business, that he's been living in Hell ever since and he deserves vengeance. He throws a brick through one of the house's windows, prompting Johnny to run outside to see what's going on. The men attack Johnny and tie him to a tree, where they prepare to beat him to death. Inside, Veronica readies her rifle to protect herself, but is stopped by the young girl that Blaze had helped the night before. The girl is Sally, Veronica's daughter, who says she's come back from the dead for a reason.

Outside, Johnny finally gives into his demonic self, letting the Ghost Rider out to stop the men from hurting him. The demon biker brutally attacks the four men, while Sally points out to her mother that Blaze is the embodiment of vengeance, the very thing she's wanted ever since Sally's death. The Ghost Rider prepares to kill Jock Parker, but is stopped by the frightened Veronica, who says that no matter what he's done, he doesn't deserve death. The demon slaps the old woman away, but is then confronted by Sally. The Ghost Rider flies into an insane rage, but finds that his fists pass right through the ghostly girl. Eventually exhausting himself, the Rider is unable to retain control over Blaze, and transforms against his will. Sally fades away, telling her mother that it's time to move on with her life. Veronica turns to Johnny, who weakly holds out his hand and asks for help. Veronica takes his hand, deciding to choose love over her desire for vengeance.

This issue is reprinted in the Essential Ghost Rider vol. 4 trade paperback.

For many reasons, "Holding On To Sally" shouldn't work. On its surface, DeMatteis' story immediately brings up memories of some of Michael Fleisher's earlier issues: "A Demon In Denver" and "The Diesel of Doom", just to name two. We've seen the "ghost returns to aid Blaze" and "group of bikers/rednecks beat up Johnny, but then gets punished by the Ghost Rider" several times before; but this story IS different despite those strong similarities to past issues. It carries with it an emotional punch that DeMatteis brings across deftly.

While the revelation of Sally's death isn't a surprise in a story such as this, I don't believe it was meant to be. The true story is to be found in Sally's mother, Veronica, and her lingering desire for vengeance against the man that killed her daughter. When she finally sees her vengeance taking place in the form of the monstrous Ghost Rider, Veronica realizes just how brutal and unforgiving such a force can be. And while Veronica is certainly a sympathetic character, DeMatteis doesn't make the mistake of having Jock Parker be an irredeemably evil straw man. In his speech about how he lost his wife and children following Sally's death, Parker is shown that despite being despicable he too has suffered alongside Veronica. But while she was finally able to let go of the hatred inside of her, Parker is ultimately consumed by the personification of vengeance.

And, of course, we have the ultimate sympathetic character in Johnny Blaze, who was used and manipulated by Sally's ghost to help Veronica despite what it would do to him. But the ending gives hope to both Johnny and Veronica, when she takes his hand after he asks her for help.

Artist Don Perlin also seems to be recharged with this issue, possibly due to his absence from the title for the past several months. His work in the first half of the story is slightly weaker due to sub par inks by former series artist Tom Sutton, but picks up considerably at the end during the Ghost Riders confrontation with Sally's killers. There's a reason that Perlin is thought of as the defining artist of the 70's Ghost Rider run, and this issue shows off his strengths very well. One major contributing factor to just how great Perlin's work is in the latter half of the book is the finishes by Dave Simon, who went on to be half of the immensely awesome Budiansky/Simons art team of the next several issues. Simons was responsible for making Ghost Rider's leather jumpsuit actually look like leather instead of blue spandex, and the character immediately looks more realistic and terrifying. Sadly, Simons passed away a few years ago, but his work on the character remains some of the best in the book's history.

So, while "Holding On To Sally" may be a simple fill-in issue, it's one done by creators who had it in them to tell an emotionally powerful story in the confines of 22 pages. Judged on just this issue alone, DeMatteis' return to the series a few months down the road is certainly a welcome one.

Grade: A

Ghost Rider # 67
Published: April 1982
Original Price: $0.60
Cover: Bob Budiansky

Title: "Holding on to Sally"
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Don Perlin
Inkers: Dave Simons & Tom Sutton
Letterer: Diana Albers
Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter