VENGEANCE UNBOUND
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GHOST RIDER/BLAZE: SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE # 15

SYNOPSIS
Ghost Rider and Seer arrive at Quinn's cabin with the gravely injured John Blaze, whose body is being consumed by hellfire. The remaining members of the Quentin Carnival (Wolf, Kody, Miranda, and Clara) all gather around their fallen friend when Ghost Rider brings him inside. Quinn says he can help John and takes him to a hidden room inside the cabin, telling the others to wait outside. Quinn attempts to help John take control of the hellfire burning from within him, saying that it will take Blaze, Ghost Rider, and Vengeance to stand against what's coming next.

Meanwhile, in a mountain castle, Vengeance is in battle against a group of warrior monks who are attempting to destroy him. Vengeance escapes from the castle and rides away on his motorcycle to again attempt to kill Ghost Rider. Beneath Cypress Hills Cemetery, Lilith watches as Centurious uses magic and fire to take control of the chain he had stolen from Ghost Rider.

Back at the cabin, Blaze wakes up to find Quinn operating on him with a complex array of machines. Quinn tells John that the hellfire never came from his gun but from inside him, laying dormant until Centurious cut him up looking for the Medallion of Power. Using the equipment left by his father, Eli, Quinn has repaired the damage to John's body as best he could. Elsewhere in the cabin, the Carnival members are waiting for word about Blaze when Vengeance rides through the wall. Ghost Rider removes Vengeance from the cabin and the fight rages outside. Blaze hears Clara screaming for help and asks Quinn to give him his gun. Vengeance easily defeats Ghost Rider and the Carnival members, but is stopped by Blaze, who has emerged from the cabin in new clothes and cybernetic plates covering his limbs and half of his face. He shoots Vengeance multiple times, eventually causing the villain to transform back to his human form and fall down. Blaze recognizes him as Michael Badilino, the cop from New York that had been attempting to apprehend Ghost Rider. Blaze kicks Badilino in the face, then tells the others to get ready to go confront Centurious. Later, a naked Badilino makes his way through the forest and is found by the Caretaker, who says he's the only friend Badilino has.

ANNOTATIONS
This story was continued from Ghost Rider (1990) # 42, and the "Road to Vengeance" crossover continues into Ghost Rider (1990) # 43.

Michael Badilino first appeared as the head of the NYPD Ghost Rider Task Force in Ghost Rider (1990) # 21 and he made his last appearance as Badilino in Ghost Rider (1990) # 35. He made a deal with Mephisto and became Vengeance in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 9, though his identity was not revealed until this issue. Vengeance last appeared in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 12, where he was teleported away by Quinn McIntyre.

Badilino's reason for hating Ghost Rider/Zarathos is revealed in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 16.

Eli McIntyre left two gifts to John Blaze in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 12, the first being the aid of his son Quinn and the second being the armor used to heal John during this issue.

Ghost Rider: Official Index to the Marvel Universe listed the monks that attempt to kill Vengeance as the Blood, but that makes no sense with the scene as depicted in this issue.

The mysterious flame that pours from John's wounds was first glimpsed in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance # 12, when he was grazed by a bullet in the shoulder. He assumed he was shot with an incendiary round, but the flame is in fact hellfire.

REVIEW
"Road to Vengeance" continues its dive into awfulness as Vengeance enters the story and John Blaze gets a truly terrible revamp.

If there were any lingering doubts that this storyline was being driven by Marvel's marketing department, the fourth chapter dispels them immediately. I refuse to believe that THIS is what Howard Mackie had been building to for the previous four years for numerous reasons (the lack of connections to what had previous been established and the casual inclusion of every major villain so far in seemingly slapdash ways are two major pieces of evidence). Having already gone through Blackout, Deathwatch, Lilith, and Skinner, we finally have Vengeance brought back into play. If there was a single villain, outside of Centurious, whose presence made sense for inclusion, it arguably was Vengeance. His creation by Mephisto was to be the demon lord's agent in the "war that was coming", so not utilizing him would have been a curious omission.

However, this is the first step in what I like to call the "Venom Syndrome" for Vengeance. As Marvel did with Venom (and Sabretooth, to a degree), Vengeance was quickly transformed from a great villain into an anti-hero. The "antithesis" villains seemed to suffer this fate a lot in the 1990s, but the speed in which Vengeance went from a bad-ass villain to an "extreme!!!" hero was pretty remarkable. This issue was only his fourth appearance, and already the decision had been made to revamp him into a grittier version of Ghost Rider (who was already as gritty as one could get, except for the no-killing thing). The revelation of Vengeance's true identity isn't much of a shocker either, since Badilino was about the only candidate that made any sense at the time.

Vengeance's treatment isn't the most egregious of this comic's sins, though, because just look at what they did to poor John Blaze. I can't imagine the decision to turn Blaze into a cyborg was made by anyone other than an accountant who thought it would make for a better action figure. It's awful from concept right down to execution, turning a great character (and the 90s revamp of Blaze into a grizzled old man with a hellfire shotgun WAS great) into a knock-off of Cable.

I'm not sure who was responsible for Blaze's re-design, but I'm going to go out on a speculative limb and say it likely wasn't Mike Manley, who has been the book's fill-in artist for two issues. This couldn't have been an easy gig for Manley, stepping into the series during a huge crossover that featured an endless amount of characters and a major revamp of a lead hero. I can forgive a lot of Manley's work during this story, it's not very exciting but it at least tells the story clearly. The only ridiculous bit concerning the artwork is when Centurious "merges" with Ghost Rider's chain, which apparently cover his arms vertically like armor plates or something?

Mackie and Manley did the best they could do, bless 'em, but there's no saving this comic.

Grade: F


Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance
# 15
Published: Oct. 1993
Original Price: $1.75
Cover: Mike Manley

Title: Road to Vengeance: The Missing Link, Part 4: "Trials by Fire!"
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: Mike Manley
Inker: Tom Palmer
Letterers: Bill Oakley & Jim Novak
Colorist: John Kalisz
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor In Chief: Tom DeFalco