GHOST RIDER # 80
During their cross-country trip, Johnny and Roxanne stop to make camp for a night. After Roxanne gives Johnny the cold shoulder and retires to her tent, Blaze notices a strange fog rolling toward them. Out of the fog comes a pack of wolves, who hungrily attack the couple. Afraid that they'll kill Roxanne, Johnny allows the Ghost Rider to emerge and the demon quickly causes the animals to retreat back into the forest. Roxanne recoils in horror as she sees for herself just how much the Ghost Rider has changed since she last encountered him, but offers no words of solace to Johnny as he regains control over his body.
When the two arrive in Holly, Roxanne's family invites Domblue for dinner, in order for him to meet Johnny. While Roxanne's aunt and uncle appear afflicted by the Sin-Eater, her cousin Charlie is not. During the dinner, he calls the pastor out as evil, and that the two need to have a talk. The two leave, and later that night Charlie comes into Johnny's room. His face is devoid of all emotion as he speaks of how wonderful Domblue is.
The next day, Johnny and Roxanne attend the pastor's church service. After his fiery speech, he calls out for those who have yet to receive his touch to come forward. Johnny gets up, deciding to find out if he's truly a fraud or not. Blaze lays upon the alter, not noticing several green tendrils that emerge from the floor beside him. Johnny's soul begins to rise out of him, but instead of submitting, he shrieks and triggers the transformation into the Ghost Rider. The demon smacks the Sin-Eater away, only to have another man step from behind a curtain: Centurious, the Soulless Man. The two battle, but soon the Rider tires, giving Blaze a chance to regain control. Centurious shows him the source of his power, the Soul Crystal, which is where the Sin-Eater has deposited the souls of Holly. He then tells Blaze his story; he was a prince that had been alive during Zarathos reign on Earth, used by Mephisto to lay the demon low. He wandered for centuries, eventually coming across the Soul Crystal. His chance meeting with the Ghost Rider weeks before had stirred his memories and hatred of the demon, and in a search for anything to use against him, came across Roxanne. Centurious then offers Blaze a choice: either submit to the Soul Crystal, or have the same fate bestowed on Roxanne. Blaze rushes forward as the tendrils of the Crystal extend, ripping the soul from his body.
Centurious and the Soul Crystal first appeared in Ghost Rider (1973) # 74. The history of Zarathos was told in Ghost Rider (1973) # 77, but the fact that Centurious and the soulless prince were one and the same was left as a surprise.
This issue was reprinted in The Original Ghost Rider Rides Again # 7 and the Essential Ghost Rider vol. 4 trade paperback.
I've never been the biggest fan of poor Roxanne. In the early issues of the series, she was almost always relegated to the "damsel in distress" role, constantly needing to be saved by Johnny. But bringing her back for the conclusion of the series makes a lot of sense, and seeing her again isn't that disappointing considering how long it's been since we've seen her. Five years is a long time for a character like Roxanne - seemingly indispensable to the series in the first two years - to remain in limbo. But that's exactly where she's been until DeMatteis brushed her off and stuck her back into Johnny's life. What's really interesting is the meeting between Roxanne - representing the more carefree, superhero days when Johnny controlled the Ghost Rider - and the members of the Quentin Carnival - who represent the current status quo of the darker, more evil Zarathos. Roxanne pales as a character when compared to the more well-rounded Carnival members (such as Red Fowler or even Cynthia Randolf), but it is good to see her again.
We're also given a return engagement for Centurious, and it's to the writer's credit that a character introduced only a few issues before was so logically and easily established as the Ghost Rider's ultimate nemesis. Blaze didn't have very many recurring villains over the years - the Orb, Moondark, possibly Mephisto - but Centurious stands out from them simply because of how obvious the plan was for him from the start. With the revelation that Centurious was the prince from Zarathos' origin story, all of the information revealed in the past year snap into place to make what could have been just another fight scene into a true battle between forces destined to destroy one another. Even though he only made three true appearances in the first volume of Ghost Rider, it's easy to see why Centurious was brought back in the 1990s as the Ghost Rider's major foe.
Centurious' involvement also comes as a surprise during your first time reading the story, but there were certainly warning signs. The thought of someone stealing someone's soul and turning them into a zombie was showed chillingly in Centurious' first appearance, but this time the horror was hidden behind the pleasing and charismatic face of the Sin-Eater. The script during the Pastor's sermon at the end is incredibly tense, immediately conveying the power of the man's words. DeMatteis is a master of the purple prose, but never once do you feel as if he's getting long-winded or silly in his descriptions.
Bob Budiansky (who also doubles as co-plotter on this and most of DeMatteis' run) turns in another incredible art job. I can't say enough about how perfectly he captures Blaze and the Ghost Rider, enriching the series with loads of detail and a darkness that had only been seen during Mike Ploog's work at the start of the series.
"Stained Glass and Shadows!" is the beginning of the end for Ghost Rider, but this issue is another example of the book ending on the highest note possible. Absolutely recommended.
Ghost Rider # 80
Title: "Stained Glass and Shadows!"