Ghost Rider has always seemed like a niche character to me. He’s got the monster look going and has a connection to Heaven and Hell, but it’s a character that mostly seems to fight monsters in deserted locations at night. Jason Aaron appears to have had bigger plans for the character after his “The War for Heaven” story, and in those plans come these three takeaways.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
We’re hell-bent and heaven-bound as Jason Aaron blazes a new trail for the Ghost Rider! Over the years, Johnny Blaze has lost everything to his curse – his family, his life…even his soul. But now, he finally knows who’s responsible for turning him into a flaming-skulled horror-show on wheels – and he’s out for vengeance! But when his fellow Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch, returns, whose side is he on? What familiar faces has Ketch brought to the party with him? And who is about to get shot in the head with a hellfire shotgun? Plus, meet the mysterious Mister Eleven – he might be an angel, a demon or something else entirely! And what secrets lay within the town of Mercy, Idaho? Grab your helmet; it’s gonna be one hell of a ride!
Why does this matter?
Jason Aaron clearly has a soft spot for the Ghost Rider who has become a major player on the new Avengers series. Heck, in the very last issue Ghost Rider goes through a big transformation! This collection reveals not only how much Aaron loves the character, but also how he had big plans for the character way back in 2006.
Ghost Rider realizes he has a bone to pick with Heaven
If you were to pinpoint one main villain in this story it’s the fallen angel Zadriel. Truth be told the character doesn’t pop up until midway through, but he puts villains in Ghost Rider’s way from the very beginning. Looking very much like Archangel (and he is an archangel) this character basically wants to build up enough power to take over Heaven. As the story unfolds Ghost Rider fights ghosts, crazy nurses who do Zadriel’s bidding, and even Lucifer. All of these things add up to Zadriel needing a whooping to lay off Johnny Blaze for a second. The opening story, written by Stuart Moore with art by Ben Oliver, has a character whisper a little something in Ghost Rider’s ear so that he’s ready to kick Zadriel’s ass. At its core, this book is about Ghost Rider realizing that Hell may not be as bad as he thought and it’s Heaven that needs to clean house. Over the next 14 issues collected here, he’s given even more reason to do so.
Johnny Blaze isn’t the only Ghost Rider on Earth
About two thirds of the way through this book Ghost Rider discovers there are other Spirits of Vengeance like him. However, he learns this too late as he discovers they are being killed for their power to boost Zadriel’s war on Heaven. Much like Aaron’s recent run on Avengers, it appears he was trying to build up the history of characters even a decade ago. We learn that there are different Spirits of Vengeance in different parts of the world tailored to the customs and religions of the areas. How cool is that? This collection features only three, one of which rides a flaming horse, although we get a snapshot of a whole bunch now dead. Eagle-eyed readers will notice there’s a Ghost Rider riding a bear, a giant panther, a shark, and even a flaming mammoth. Aaron didn’t let this idea go, as we’ve learned from reading Avengers that a mammoth-riding Ghost Rider was one of the first Spirits of Vengeance.
Brothers can be the worst, especially Blaze’s
Danny Ketch may not share the same name as Blaze, but he’s an annoying little brother to him in this collection. The character pops up early on and over the course of the collection, we learn what he’s doing and why he’s shadowing Johnny. Many may not know, but thanks to a handy guide at the back of this book you can read all about how he was Ghost Rider for a time. He ends up fighting Johnny not once, but twice in two epic battles. The way this collection ends one could guess they may team up, but he’s quite an annoying pest in this collection. At one point Danny teams up with Orb, Blackout, and Death Ninja to do a bad thing. Not only is it fun to see Aaron use Orb earlier in his career, but it helps show how far Danny will go to do what he thinks is right.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The mission Danny is on is pretty by-the-numbers and you’ll probably guess how it unfolds. The big bad villain Zadriel is cool to look at but doesn’t appear until halfway through, which can make all the posturing of the character grow tiresome. The first half is basically a slow and drawn out mystery with the second half kicking the action up to another gear. The character serves as a final boss behind many bosses, but that can grow tiresome too. This is basically a road trip story but at a certain point, you’d rather see a showdown that matters rather than another semi-powerful goon punching Ghost Rider in the face.
Is it good?
I enjoyed this collection for the most part. To see Aaron playing around with Ghost Rider history so many years ago is exciting since he’s clearly not lost that thread in his current work. This collection builds up Ghost Rider in exciting ways and it succeeds in making the character more important to the bigger Marvel universe.