Jan 11, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 686: The Original Ghost Rider Rides Again #3, September 1991

http://www.comics.org/issue/64656/

Today's comic reprints some of the final issues of the Ghost Rider series from which yesterday's comic was drawn (ha). For me, the main feature is some early 80s writing by Roger Stern, just before he took over writing The Avengers and produced some of the best stories that team has had. I think the thing that gets me about Ghost Rider is that, at least in this iteration, he's played much like the Hulk. We have a decent guy in Johnny Blaze who has an evil creature inside him, one that doesn't care about people or right. Which makes it difficult for me to think of him as a superhero, much as I have the same difficulty with Bruce Banner's alter ego. There is, of course, some nice metaphorical resonance to the idea of having an evil creature trapped inside one's body, one that has to be struggled against and repressed. We all have these things, though perhaps nothing quite so dire as a spirit of vengeance. But it's the same problem that one encounters with DC's Spectre: how guilty does one have to be to deserve the vengeance of the universe? Would Ghost Rider attack someone who felt bad for having an argument with their partner? Or who felt guilty over a stolen chocolate bar? There have to be limits, of course, but the creature that resides inside Johnny Blaze appears to not acknowledge any.

When Bruce Jones and John Romita Jr. took over on The Incredible Hulk in the early 2000s, they played the character as something to be repressed, much to the chagrin of many readers. They told, instead, a story about a man who knew what was inside him, knew how destructive and damaging it could be, and who worked hard to keep it chained within. I really enjoyed that take on the character, the idea that the Hulk is nothing to celebrate, not like our semi-gentle giant in the current film continuity, but instead like a force of nature that would indiscriminately kill and destroy. It seems to me that Ghost Rider could be played similarly, and Stern makes gestures toward this in today's comic. But the Ghost Rider has far more agency than the Hulk - it knows what it wants to do, and knows that it has the power to do it. It's more like a split personality, with one being a serial killer. So, again, I ask the question, how do we make a superhero comic out of such a character?

Tomorrow I'll have a look at some of the GR stuff from the later 90s, and we'll see if the introduction of a different version of the character helps. Onward.

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