Ghost Rider month continues!
This week I’ll be looking at my all-time favorite story to appear in the original run of Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider #68 (May 1982) was about a year before the series came to an end and featured a very unique and, I have to say, very EC-esque style story. This story was also #100 on Wizard Magazine‘s list of “100 Best Single Issue Comics Since You Were Born”.
The story is what we would call a ‘recap issue’ or a ‘jumping on issue,’ and begins with Blaze entering a church to, he claims, escape the storm that rages outside. Inside a rather nervous priest seems a little shocked and anxious over his arrival, and Blaze noting all the gold in the church.
From there, Blaze asks if he can make a confession and begins to recount his origin. Updating panels from Marvel Spotlight #5, artist Bob Budiansky gives readers a look back at Blaze’s life from the death of his father to being taken in my the family of Crash Simpson, all the way to his making a deal with the Devil, now drawn more like Mephisto, and becoming Ghost Rider. His story continues as he recounts, in a single page of some of my all-time favorite Ghost Rider art, how the demon runs rampant whenever it’s freed from Blaze’s mind.
Aside from the main story, this flashback sequence was another reason I liked this issue. When I got into the Ghost Rider in the 90’s I had no clue about the Blaze character. As the 90’s series progressed there were hints and references to this series, and I asked the owner of my local comic shop about it. Sure enough, there was a whole previous series!
This issue was suggested because, while near the end of the run, it had the origin which is what I was initially looking for, and naturally, his first appearance was difficult to find and fairly expensive.
So, while being my first issue of this series, it was also the first time I read the origin of Johnny Blaze and his Ghost Rider.
Back to the story: Blaze talks about not wanting to let the monster loose, but that sometimes, just sometimes, he actually wants to let the Rider out to punish the guilty. This is where things get nasty. Blaze tells of coming across a man in a ditch. The man told Blaze he’d been attacked and left for dead and that his clothes had been stolen. The man, who died in Blaze’s arms, was a priest. Blaze then says it made sense when he entered the church and saw all the gold.
Blaze then frees the Ghost Rider to punish the killer, but the Rider likes to play with his victims first! This begins a hellish demon cat-and-mouse chase, as the Ghost Rider terrorizes the killer, first in the church, then across the countryside, as the killer takes Blaze’s bike in hopes of escaping the demon. What he doesn’t realize is Ghost Rider can make his own bike out of pure hellfire, and using the skills of Blaze, quickly catches up with the killer but still doesn’t punish him. Ghost Rider loves the chase and revels in the knowledge that this is a rare occasion where Blaze isn’t fighting him to prevent him from harming someone.
The chase finally comes to an end when the killer loses control of his bike while going down a muddy embankment and lands on a train track, getting his arm stuck. His panic grows as a train approaches, but the Ghost Rider arrives and pulls him from the track, saving his life. But that is only a formality. The Rider didn’t want him to get the easy way out, no, he saved him so that he could burn the man’s soul with his demonic hellfire. He leaves the man mentally broken.
This story has always stood out, not only because it was the first time I read his origin, but also because it shows how evil and horrific the Ghost Rider can really be. There is no campiness here, no jokes or lame one-liners, just a demon punishing a murderer in the cruelest way possible.