Ghost Rider: Ghost Rider/Vicious Cycle
featuring Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich and Daniel Way
(Art Mike Ploog, Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira, Robin Corben, Dan Brown and Jose Villarrubia)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 50. Here we get the tale of how Johnny Blaze originally became the Ghost Rider as well as learning about his later escape from Hell.
I've always like Ghost Rider, largely on the basis that he's got a flaming skull for a head, rides a motorcycle with flaming wheels and delivers ungodly vengeance to evildoers. It's a great premise for a dark comic book character by any measure. Despite always liking him, however, I never knew the full story of the origins of the character and was intrigued to find out. It was a huge disappointment then to find out that not only is Ghost Rider's origin cheesy garbage, but the character of Blaze himself is, from day one, a complete moron.
There is something almost painful about finding out that this iconic character's famed deal-with-the-devil came about because someone he liked had cancer and Johnny's immediate response was to summon Satan to save that person from the cancer. There is neither drama nor surprise when said character dies anyway, just not from cancer. But old Johnny Blaze acts like he's such a poor victim to have been so cruelly misled. By Satan. The Satan.
The far more modern 'Vicious Cycle' by Daniel Way at least continues this theme, with Lucifer tricking Johnny into releasing him from Hell and going on to repeatedly trick Blaze over and over, constantly pointing out how stupid he is. There's not many stories where you sort of root for the Devil to defeat the hero on the grounds that the hero is blindingly stupid, but this is one. Unfortunately, there's no resolution nor great cohesion to Way's portion of this book and it too feels hugely disappointing.
A big let-down for a long time Ghost Rider fan who was looking to learn a bit more about this ostensibly fascinating Faustian character. Maybe it's because I grew up with the Danny Ketch incarnation...
1 out of 5
Green Arrow: Quiver - Part 1
featuring Kevin Smith and Bob Haney
(Art by Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano)
Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection. In the first of the two stories on offer here Green Arrow Oliver Queen returns to the streets of Star City, confused at the changes he sees around him. His confusion only grows when faces from his past return and reveal that he's supposed to have been dead for ten years. The second story sees Green Arrow and Batman team up to defeat the crimeboss Minotaur, whilst both wrestling with their dual identities.
Superheroes return from the dead all the time, often in horribly contrived ways and for painfully obvious real-world marketing reasons. However, every once in a while the return of a dead hero is handled well and you get a genuine feeling of being glad to see them back. Geoff Johns' 'Green Lantern: Rebirth' is a good example of it being done well and, I'm pleased to say, so is this. I think Smith's masterstroke is to just drop Ollie back into the world and not give him any knowledge of having been away. Not only does it mean that the original Green Arrow returns fully-fledged, but also that we get some amusing scenes of him trying to get his head around the change in technology from the 90s to the 2000s.
It's not all gold, though, and the parts I didn't like were down to Smith's very distinctive writing, which I know from having been a fan of his films for years. It's not that the writing is bad, it's just that there are some Smith-isms that we probably could've done without. The most obvious ones are where he features a gay character in a positive role but can't help making jokes about bumming; and the way he has strong female characters but also can't help sexually objectifying them too. If you're not sure what I mean by the latter, then how's this; he introduces Mia, a strong-minded and street-tough fifteen year old girl, but also makes her a prostitute and has half of her appearances in the book be in her underwear. Pick a side Smith: feminist or perv, you can't be both!
Whilst I overall enjoyed the titular story by Smith, Bob Haney's 'The Senator's Been Shot' was another matter. It's featured here because it's the story that introduced Oliver Queen's iconic Green Arrow costume (way back in 1969), but it's really not very good at all. The main bulk of the story is just a boring tale of a crimelord trying to intimidate a senator over a land deal, like something out of a Saturday-afternoon action series. However, where it goes really wrong is in trying to have a meaningful look at the dual life of Batman/Bruce Wayne and Green Arrow/Oliver Queen. The contrived way it does that is to have them both simultaneously consider giving up crimefighting and then simultaneously confide their dual identities to their new joint psychiatrist. It's such a transparent and mishandled attempt to be deep that it totally spoils what was already just a dull story.
3 out of 5
Green Arrow: Quiver - Part 2
featuring Kevin Smith and Robert Kanigher
(Art by Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella)
Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection. Here we get three stories, the first of which picks up where Part 1 of 'Quiver' left off. The resurrected Green Arrow begins to discover the metaphysical reasons that not only has he been returned to life but that demons seem to have a strong fascination for him. Reuinted with his old friend Hal Jordan, now the Spectre, Ollie also discovers the reason that so much of his life is now lost to him. The other two stories, from the late 1940s, feature the first-ever appearance of the Black Canary and then her first-ever story in a starring role.
I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the second part of 'Quiver'. This time around it focuses more on the supernatural side of the DC Universe, featuring the likes of the Phantom Stranger and Etrigan the Demon, and loses some of the street-level-hero vibe that makes Green Arrow compelling in the first place. The revelations of the nature of his return was a bit underwhelming too. It boils down to him being saved by the power of friendship, which is admittedly a new idea for the resurrection of a dead hero, but not one that really has any punch to it.
With the main plot so much less compelling, the writer's Smith-isms seem more egregious, with the objectification of the female characters being the worst. Here we get a full-page scene in which Deadman takes control of Etrigan's body and then 'can't resist' the urge to force a kiss onto Black Canary because she's 'too cute for words'. So yeah, we get a full page dedicated to a female superhero being sexually assaulted. Cheers Kevin Smith. And this is all before we get to the villain's plan to inhabit Ollie's body and use it to rape a 15 year old girl.
The two throwback stories included here are also much worse than the one in 'Part 1', which was already pretty bad to begin with. Whilst it's interesting from a real-world point of view to see the beginnings of the character of Black Canary, remember that they are stories being written by a man in 1940s America. Let's just say that they're not exactly of a feminist bent. So, I guess on that point the book as a whole does have a connecting narrative. Unfortunately.
2 out of 5
Guardians Of The Galaxy: Thunder In The 31st Century!/Legacy
featuring Roger Stern, Len Wein, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
(Art by Sal Buscema, Klaus Janson, Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar)
Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 43. In the first of these two stories Thor is sent into the future and teams-up with the original Guardians of the Galaxy. The second story has Star-Lord putting together a team of heroes to protect the universe from all threats, but it is a team which doesn't exactly trust one another.
I was a fan of the original Guardians, the ones from the future that is, back when they had their own comic series in the 90s. It was pleasantly nostalgic to revisit them here but beyond that Stern and Wein's story is just short, dated and pointless crossover with Thor.
'Legacy' by Abnett and Lanning is much more engaging, in large part because the team is such a group of misfits who have little in common except cosmic adventures. In case you didn't know the team consists of Star-Lord, Adam Warlock, Quasar, Mantis, Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Groot.
There were three things in particular I enjoyed about this story, the first of which is that they are surprisingly inspired to take the team name from an encounter with a time/space-displaced Vance Astro, the original Guardian who inherited Captain America's shield. In a very meta moment the Guardians also stop to discuss the coincidence that what cemented the Avengers as a team was defrosting a frozen, shield-bearing man-out-of-time. The second thing I particularly liked was the way that the writers use the timing of Marvel's Secret Invasion crossover event to play into the themes they were already exploring. With a team still working on trusting each other, throwing possible Skrull infiltrators into the mix turns the tension up a fair few notches. The third thing is simply how much the story features Cosmo the Space Dog. I love Cosmo the Space Dog.
A great second half to the book which is, sadly, weighed-down by the non-event first half.
3 out of 5