VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN # 93

SYNOPSIS
In Cypress Hills Cemetery, local firefighters attempt to douse a mysterious flame that has started - flames burning in the pattern of the Medallion of Power. From the flames emerges the Ghost Rider, who - before jumping on his motorcycle - simply says "It begins anew. I ride again...for vengeance!"

Elsewhere in the city, Spider-Man swings over the rooftops, jubilant that his recent troubles with the law are over. Spider-Man spends his evening stopping muggers and rescuing people from a burning building, but discovers that his reputation is still ruined due to Norman Osborn's allegations of the wall-crawler being a criminal. Spider-Man then visits Arthur Stacy, a friend, and finds that even he is having trouble trusting the hero. Outside the Stacy house, Mary Jane Watson-Parker talks to Jill Stacy before starting home. A few moments later, Mary Jane is startled by her husband, Peter Parker, jumping out of the trees. Peter scoops his wife up and swings them to a nearby rooftop. Peter tells her that things are finally starting to look up and asks "what could go wrong?". Just as Mary Jane says that she wishes he hadn't said that, Parker's spider-sense goes off, causing him to grab his wife and cover them with a web shield just in time to keep them from being burned by a flash of fire. The Ghost Rider rides past them on the street below, melting cars and street lamps as he passes. Parker changes back into Spider-Man and kisses Mary Jane before swinging off after the Rider.

A short time later, Spider-Man wonders what's causing Ghost Rider's flames to burn out of control. He stumbles across an abandoned building caught on fire by Ghost Rider's flames and sees a kid trapped on one of the floors. Spider-Man saves the boy just in time and returns him to his parents, winning back the trust of some of the public. Spider-Man picks the Ghost Rider's trail back up, following the trail of fire left by his motorcycle, and finds the Spirit of Vengeance in the middle of Times Square. Fallen on his knees, the Ghost Rider yells for everyone to stay away from him, that he's lost control of his hellfire. Ghost Rider is confused and disoriented by "so many truths and lies mixed together". "Noble Kale, the Lord of the Dark Realm, Mephisto, Blackheart", he says, "lies within lies within lies!" Spider-Man jumps down to the street, but is immediately attacked by Ghost Rider, who tells the hero to leave - that the lives of innocents are at stake and if he doesn't act soon the streets will run with blood. Spider-Man attempts to stop the Ghost Rider, but the demon smashes the ground beneath them, blowing a huge crater in the street. Severely weakened, Ghost Rider falls next to the hole - and when Spider-Man investigates, he finds a group of terrorists planting a bomb under the street. Spider-Man makes quick work of the terrorists, but sees that the bomb has just over five minutes before it detonates. Ghost Rider says he's too weak to help, but then out of the crowd steps Daniel Ketch, the Rider's descendant and former host. Dan asks the Rider - addressing him as Noble Kale - how he escaped Mephisto's realm and if he remembers him. Ghost Rider claims not to be this Noble Kale, and that Mephisto and Blackheart are the lords of the lie...the truth is not yet known. Spider-Man brings their attention back to the bomb, and Ghost Rider asks Dan to merge with him once again to make him stronger. Realizing that if he doesn't thousands of people will die, Dan agrees - and the two merge, restoring the Ghost Rider to his full strength. Whole once again, Ghost Rider takes the bomb and asks Spider-Man to contain him with as much webbing as he can generate. Within the giant dome of webbing, Ghost Rider stands with the bomb until it explodes, barely contained by Spider-Man's web. Immediately after the explosion, Ghost Rider rides out of the fire and out into the city. Spider-Man thinks to himself that this should finally prove to the city that he's a hero again...but the next day reads an editorial by J. Jonah Jameson that claims both Spider-Man and Ghost Rider to be part of the terrorist plot.

ANNOTATIONS
Noble Kale became the ruler of Hell in Ghost Rider (1990) # 93, but only made one appearance in this capacity in Werewolf by Night # 6. In January 2007, Marvel finally released the final issue of the second Ghost Rider series, titled Ghost Rider Finale, which takes place before the events in this issue.

This was the last appearance of the Dan Ketch/Noble Kale version of the Ghost Rider for close to ten years. John Blaze returned as the host for the Rider in Ghost Rider (2001) # 1 and remains as the Ghost Rider in the current series. Dan Ketch finally made his reappearance in Ghost Rider (2006) # 23 and the details behind his whereabouts and the fate of Noble Kale were revealed in Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch # 1-5.

This story's title, "Reborn Again", is an homage to Ghost Rider (1990) # 50, which also featured a "return" of the Noble Kale Ghost Rider.

REVIEW
This is a difficult issue to review, given the behind-the-scenes chicanery that was going on at the time concerning Ghost Rider and the book's demise. In 1998, Ivan Velez's run on Ghost Rider came to an end with the series' cancellation and Marvel's decision not to publish the final issue. This left the character in a precarious position of literally hanging in limbo with an unfinished story that was radically changing his status quo. Velez's run had changed the character dramatically from original series writer Howard Mackie's version, giving him an origin as a man named Noble Kale that became the present-day Ghost Rider and has since inhabited the bodies of his descendants - Dan Ketch and John Blaze both being such. In the final published issue of the series, Noble Kale overthrew Blackheart and became the ruler of Hell...and that's where the series was ended, leaving the character in a bizarre scenario that had fully removed him from his original place in the Marvel Universe. Only one story utilized Kale as Hell's ruler, an issue of the late 90's revamp of Werewolf by Night, and it remained to be seen whether or not the Ghost Rider would appear again.

A few months later, in what was a last-minute editorial decision, the Noble Kale version of the Ghost Rider reappeared in this issue of Peter Parker: Spider-Man written by Howard Mackie. Without knowing what was happening behind the scenes, it appeared to readers that Mackie wrote this issue as a reaction to what Velez had done with the character he created, casually disregarding everything that had been revealed in the last 30+ issues of Ghost Rider. Fortunately, this wasn't the case at all.

In a discussion I held with Mackie back in 2002, I asked him about this issue and his reasons for writing it. Was it actually a printed swipe at Velez's work, a criticism of what had been done with the character? Mackie replied that he hadn't read ANY of Velez's work on the book, that he stayed away from Ghost Rider after leaving due to his personal feelings about the character. He meant no disrespect toward the writer that had followed him, and this story - indeed a last minute piece of work - was mandated to him by then Spider-Man editor Ralph Macchio, who said that he wanted Mackie's version of the Ghost Rider back in the Marvel Universe. Given just the broadest explanation of what had happened since he left, Mackie was told to reveal the Noble Kale origin as "lies" perpetrated by Blackheart and Mephisto...and needless to say, fan reaction to this was mixed at best.

While Ghost Rider fans had problems with Velez's run on the series, the Noble Kale origin was nevertheless something now firmly established in the character's history - some 30 issues had been spent detailing it as such. Such a massive retcon like the one done in this Spider-Man story was met with disdain by fans, despite a majority of them indeed wishing for the character to return to the roots Mackie had established for him. This issue, coupled with the decision not to publish Ghost Rider # 94, felt like a slap in the face to a fanbase that already felt abused by the publisher. Finally, Marvel has decided to release that final issue in 2007, nearly a decade after it's originally intended publication date...and thus, much of this story's events may now become a moot point.

It also doesn't help that this story is as forgettable as it is. It's painfully clear that the story was rushed to print at the last minute, as the story's bare bones plot is disregarded in favor of wiping away the character's recent history. Even the artwork by series favorite Javier Saltares is below par, as the artist is paired with Scott Hanna, an inker that simply did NOT mesh well with Saltares' grittier illustrations. Also, colorist Gregory Wright painted the Ghost Rider with a red skull throughout the story - and the end result wasn't pretty to look at.

Regardless of any of this, it still remains that this story is the last appearance the Dan Ketch/Noble Kale version of the Ghost Rider would make. The series is currently running with John Blaze back as the Rider's host, and there are still questions lingering about which Ghost Rider is appearing at the moment - though most signs point to the original demon, Zarathos. This is truly a bizarre end to a character that, in his prime during the early 90s, was one of Marvel's most successful.

Grade: C-


Peter Parker:
Spider-Man # 93
Published: July 1998
Original Price: $1.99
Cover: John Romita, Jr.

Title: "Reborn Again"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Javier Saltares
Inker: Scott Hanna
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor In Chief: Bob Harras