Finally, this is my actual reading pile. All the books I have bought myself for the purpose of my enjoyment and as I am not tieing myself down to any kind of formulated structure, you may notice that I read whatever takes my fancy, rather than switching characters or publishers etc...
Anyhoo... GHOST RIDER!!!
I have always been fascinated by the character of the Ghost Rider, as a fan of horror comics, but also because of that captivating iconic look. Who doesn't think that a skull engulfed in flames looks cool? No one, because it's badass! But I had never really read any comics featuring the character before Garth Ennis came along and teamed up with Clayton Crain on their first mini series. I had loved the New Fantastic Four as a kid, as well as the Hearts of Darkness/Dark Design crossover with Wolverine and the Punisher, but these were my only real exposure to the character and concept of the Ghost Rider.
Road to Damnation & Trail of Tears - (w) Garth Ennis (a) Clayton Crain
Road to Damnation and Trail of Tears are my favourite stories in the series. Road to Damnation begins in Hell, where Johnny Blaze is trapped, doomed to be chased over and over by an endless hoard of demons and nightmare creatures as he attempts to reach the edge of the pit and escape from eternal damnation. Every night though he is caught and torn apart by the demons only to reform the next day and start all over again. Approached by an angel named Malichi, Blaze is told that a demon called Kazaan is about to be loosed upon the Earth and that he will free him from Hell if he can stop him. There is a catch though. An Archangel of Heaven called Ruth and a Bounty Hunter Demon called Hoss, are both also on the case and Blaze has to stop Kazaan before either of the two get there. He accepts and the Ghost Rider is on the case, only there seems to be something fishy going on behind the scenes and Malichi can't be trusted.
Trail of Tears is a stand alone story featuring a previous incarnation of the Ghost Rider. Set just after the American Civil War, Travis Parham, a confederate soldier, is saved from the battle field by an ex-slave called Caleb who has bought his freedom and some land and was settling down with his wife and two children and starting a life as free people. Nursing Travis back to health, the soldier has time to reflect on the horrors of war and sees that his fighting is futile. Once healthy, Travis stays with Caleb and his family and helps him to prepare his land for farming and in doing so strengthens his bond with Caleb. After a while he decides to ride out west and seek a new life for himself, though he promises to come back for Caleb and his family as soon as he settles down.
Travis returns after two years to find that a gang of bigots have brutally murdered Caleb, his wife and his children. Travis immediately sets out after the gang looking for justice, but he isn't the only one seeking them out. A mysterious dark rider is also searching for this gang of thugs, only it is vengeance, not justice, that this Ghost Rider seeks.
Both are dark tales, written well with phenomenal artwork to accompany it by Crain, who can make the most innocent of images look sinister. Road to Damnation didn't set my soul on fire though and the Angel vs. Demon angle is a cliché that when done in an interesting or original way (see Preacher) can be amazing, but this just seemed a little same old, same old. A good read, but not the best introduction to a character I have ever read.
Trail of Tears on the other hand was a gut wrenching tale of vengeance that had me really feeling for the characters and emotionally invested in the story. I was torn between the missions of both Travis Parham and the Ghost Rider, not knowing who to route for as both had a valid argument as to why their path was the righteous one and I hated the villains with a passion. They are written so well that they made me feel sick at their deeds.I would recommend this book to anyone, fan of the Ghost Rider or not, doubly so if you are an Ennis fan.
Vicious Cycle, The Life & Death of Johnny Blaze, Apocalypse Soon and Revelation - (w) Daniel Way & Stuart Moore (a) Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, Richard Corben & Ben Oliver
These four trades cover the Daniel Way run on Ghost Rider and includes issues #1-19 of volume 3 of the ongoing run and Annual #1.
This run starts once again in Hell with Johnny Blaze forever trying to escape. He stumbles across Greexix, a slug like being who convinces Johnny that he can dig his way out of Hell. Blaze frees Greexix from the Devils clutches and they set about on their way to freedom. But the slug isn't all that he seems. As they reach the edge of Hell and their freedom, Greexix reveals himself as the Prince of Lies and Johnny accidentally brings the Devil back to Earth with him. On reaching the mortal plain, Lucifer splits his soul into 666 pieces and embeds them into the bodies of the recently deceased, resurrecting them as evil re-animated versions of their previous selves and it is up to the Ghost Rider to kill all 666 of them and send the Devil back to Hell where he belongs.
But there is a catch. Split into 666 pieces, the power of Satan is split also and initially these zombie puppets are easily defeated, but as each one falls the remaining group grows stronger as they consolidate the remaining essence of evil. You may be wondering why the Devil doesn't just kill himself, or at least 665 of himself leaving an all powerful final host body? But suicides go to Hell and so would the Devil if he tried.
The premise for this run is genius and after reading the first volume I was excited to see where it would go and how Johnny would solve the final problem when it got to the eventual final confrontation between the Ghost Rider and the Devil. With 666 adversaries out there, this run could last for years, with the destruction of the devil as the ongoing back story whilst Johnny Blaze seeks out vengeance on the evil and wicked. Unfortunately what starts out as a great premise, becomes a little repetitive with the emphasis being pushed solely towards the destruction of the Devils host bodies and not much else. Volume 3 - Revelations, is one of the worst graphic novel purchases of all time too, not because of the content of the stories, but because of the fact that it only contains two issues of the regular series (the World War Hulk tie-ins) and the Annual. Three issues?!?!?
The end of the run is wrapped up fairly quickly for my tastes and even though the final defeat is done in a clever way, I still can't help thinking that they missed a trick with this book. Still, it held my attention to the end, so it can't be all bad.
Hell Bent & Heaven Bound, The Last Stand, Trials & Tribulations, Addict and Heaven's on Fire - (w) Jason Aaron & Simon Spurrier (a) Roland Boschi, Tang Eng Huat, Tony Moore, Mark A. Robinson and Javier Saltares
These five trades cover the Jason Aaron run on Ghost Rider and includes issues #20-35 of volume 3 of the ongoing run, Annual #2, the Danny Ketch mini-series Addict and the Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire mini-series.
During the final battle with the Devil in the Revelations graphic novel, we discover that the Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance, isn't actually a demon at all but force from Heaven created by the Angel Zadkiel. Not only this but Zadkiel is a rogue Angel looking to overthrow God, take over the Kingdom of Heaven and usurp the throne and he has been using the Ghost Rider as a pawn in his schemes. Johnny is pissed and decides to find a way into Heaven, storm the gates and have his revenge on Zadkiel. Along the way he encounters and has to battle the minions of Zadkiel who have been tasked with stopping the Ghost Rider in his tracks, including his brother Danny Ketch (the Ghost Rider from the nineties series, volume 2) who has gathered a group of villains and murdered the Caretaker, the "watcher" of the Ghost Riders if you will. He is replaced by his Granddaughter, Sara, who eventually joins forces with Johnny in the battle against Danny and his evil allies. But Danny also possesses the power of the Ghost Rider, which leads to the revelation that he isn't the only Spirit of Vengeance, but only one of many weapons that are scattered across the globe. Danny has been tasked by Zadkiel to eliminate them all until he is the only one left, but he too is being played as a pawn in the rogue Angels game and not long after Zadkiel's forces take Heaven and he ascends to the throne. Johnny and Sara must now join forces with Danny (along with Daimon Hellstorm, the Son of Satan) in a last ditch effort to defeat Zadkiel, but they will have to save the Anti-Christs life in the process to do so.
The final run of this series just didn't sit right with me. It just seemed a little unimaginative. Ghost Rider is the Spirit of Vengeance, yet the only person he seems to want to avenge is himself. In the process of trying to find Zadkiel he gets into mishap and adventure, but unlike Swamp Thing, which is another contemporary horror comic set in a universe of super-heroes, there doesn't seem to be a different mission each arc or issue that would have kept my interest going. Instead we have 27 issues of the same unwavering mission, the same obstacles and nothing to distract him along the way.
Road to Damnation was a story of Angels and Demons, Daniel Way's run was Ghost Rider vs. The Devil and Jason Aaron's run was Ghost Rider vs. An Angel! And if there ever were any Zombies or Ghosts or Vampires, it was all still a part of the same story. I used to love the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer because even though each season had a Big Bad that was the underlying threat, there was plenty of monstrous variety to distract her during the season. That seems to be missing from this series though, which is a shame as for the most part it is very well written and has amazing artwork.