Monday, October 31, 2016

Real Name: Unknown
First Appearance: Strange Tales #110 (July, 1963)
Fight Club Ranking: #DNR

Featured Fights:
- Yet To Be Featured on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths.

'It's a great time to be a comic book fan' is a sentiment you'll have read often over the last couple of years, especially in reference to movies, television and other media.

Obvious ironies aside, I think it's time we faced facts: It's a lie. A lie told by an industry dependent on the infantilization of its audience, and the participants who willingly feed it.

If that sounds like a scathing indictment of your entire lifestyle - don't take it too personally, or extrapolate it to its farthest conclusion. After all, you're reading the sentiments of a lifelong comics reader, speaking to you through a dedicated comic book website. This isn't an attack on the joys of fiction -- far from it! It's a perspective rooted in comic book fandom first, societal anxiety second.

There may be larger issues at play, but the context I'm specifically speaking within is that of our Hero of the Week, and Marvel's Doctor Strange film -- open in wide release globally starting November 4th.

As unlikely as it seems, the somewhat obscure comic book character The Ancient One, and the actress playing him, are at the nexus of a tangled confusion of social and creative precepts, few actually pertaining to the comic book source material itself.

Cult character actor Tilda Swinton takes on the role, baring a passing resemblance to the comic books' ancient Tibetan mystic, who ultimately bestows upon Dr. Strange his mastery of the occult, and the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme.

For my tastes, the greatest controversy of the film may be the absence of The Ancient One's instantly identifiable long white goatee, and spectacularly tall hat. This isn't the character of distant majesty I saw in the comics, and that's one of several creative choices the new film makes to distance it from its source material. A trend Marvel is actually increasingly guilty of.

The granfalloon of concerned internet citizens deemed the greater "problem" to be the casting of a Caucasian in an Asian role. As consumers of pop culture would have it: American minorities have been entered into an unwinnable Death Race, where each is given a rating of chances of survival in the Hollywood casting process. Scarlet Johannsson's spirit crushing casting as Motoko Kusanagi in the oh-so Hollywood Ghost in the Shell really brought the Asian issue -- if not actual Asian voices -- to the fore of torch waving vogue. The self-determining conundrum: How does one rationalize this concern with the ebb in favour to support better pay and roles for women in film?

Tilda Swinton's penchant for androgyny thus ascends to some sort of Warren Ellis fever dream of racial transcendent hysteria! A triple helix of art, panic, and appreciation, snaking into new genetic material! If science could only confirm life on other planets, the bizarre social experiment cum performance piece would be complete. It sure beats taking a nap!

The whole big mess is so ambiguously occult, it almost fits the arcane world of Dr. Strange! If only it had any relevance to The Ancient One character himself. A character Swinton could probably have played relatively well -- if only she had a long white goatee and that damned, funky, gigantic hat!

Of course, a Tibetan character educating an American in the ways of the mystic arts is also under attack. Fair enough, I suppose. There is a certain arrogance to the notion that only an American could master Asian techniques to become our Sorcerer Supreme. It's a silliness we used to forgive as American ignorance, quite frankly. A phenomenon many looking in from the outside still probably observe, despite the mass export of American racial tension, and the awkward, self-centered prism through which the issues are looked at. Ghost in the Shell's makers certainly expressed disinterest in the issue, when they were finally reached to comment on Caucasian hysterics. They never imagined an Asian actress occupying the role. It's just Hollywood. America's make believe factory, full of make believe people. They've got big budgets and a talent system, the rest of the world has worldly perspective. Something for everybody, non?

In this case, it's also not Hollywood. Sure, the comic book industry was bought and shipped to be closer to its corporate Hollywood overlords, but the source material inspiring the films is still largely tinted by the good ol' days of New York. You know? Multi-cultural New York. Where plucky kids from the 'hood dreamed up stories of alien immigrants fighting the good fight. A shared comic book universe that became a post-modern melting pot for the world's mythological histories and traditions.

I watch Chinese movies, I take an interest in world mythology. I'm not about to take offense to the appropriation and incorporation of character types taken from around the world. I think it's a weak, uneducated mind that sees this kind of appropriation -- a form of celebration that adds value to a fictional world, wherever it may've been created -- as a negative. It's silly and counter-productive to both the palette of fiction, and to the acceptance of other cultures. Old American ignorance and self-involvement dressed up as higher minded faux understanding.

Because what's missing isn't sixty year old characters dressed up to be different races, or the deconstruction of superheroes through movie adaptations. What's missing is actual diversity. The construction and consumption of new ideas and materials to reflect a broader, maturing society. If there's a crime here, it's that more people aren't consuming world fiction. More anything? More everything! More people demanding better from cinema than formulaic Marvel entries and similar franchised blockbusters. And if you want to be political - more people questioning the abandonment of good creative ideals in favor of profit margins, such as the Chinese market, where Tibet is a touchy subject, and casting The Ancient One accordingly could cost Disney dollars.

In summary, for me - the biggest crime here is being boring, and failing to live up to what I think of when I picture the comic. A more magnificent visual could've been achieved with Swinton in the role, committing to beautiful flowing robes and the traditional visuals of the character. An actual Tibetan actor would be the most sensitive choice, but I don't know how easy it is to find those, especially in Hollywood. Alternatively, a Chinese male actor could have delivered the diversity many cry for, fulfilling an important character who has a continuing presence in the comic books, and perhaps the films (as an astral mentor - ala; Star Wars). Ultimately, race is not the interesting aspect of this character. It's just an incidental part of the fabric of who he is -- much as it is for all of us. Something we as a human race should strive to accept without a second thought. We certainly didn't contemplate race while discussing another bald, aging, slightly clichéd mentor figure, last week.

Granted, I'd still like to see Dr. Strange in leggings and probably won't let that visual go so easily. Slightly less generic, fantasy fare tunic fabrics would be nice, too. Dr. Strange was the very first Hero of the Week of 2016. You can read some of my less meandering, laborious thoughts on that by travelling back to that original HOTW post. We'll be discussing some of the more broadly interesting aspects of Dr. Strange and his world throughout November, so do join me for that!

Friday, October 28, 2016

What If... Wolverine Had Become The Lord of Vampires? (Marvel)
What If...? #24 When: April 1991
Why: Roy Thomas & RJM Lofficier How: Tom Morgan

The Story So Far...
In the world we know, Storm was able to fight back when she was seduced by the Lord of Vampires: Dracula! What if that wasn't the case, though? What if Storm was caught in Dracula's spell? What if Dracula turned all of the X-Men into his vampire slaves?

In a reality where exactly that happened: Wolverine proves too strong of will for the Lord of Vampires to control him! When he rises at the vampire's behest, the clawed mutant succeeds in killing Dracula and inheriting his evil throne!

As Lord of Vampires, Wolverine commands his X-Men to convert all mutants to his vampiric leadership! The super-powered horde lays waste to New York City, killing or converting those who might stop them! The Sorcerer Supreme is one of the few powerful foes who remains beyond their reach, but with their power base expanding, Wolverine chooses the perfect mystic agent to stop Dr. Strange once and for all: His loyal vampire servant - The Unstoppable Juggernaut!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Juggernaut 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Dr. Strange 5 (Professor)
Speed: Juggernat 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Juggernaut 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Dr. Strange 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Juggernaut 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Dr. Strange 6 (Mass Destruction)

It's Halloween season and that means it's the perfect time to venture through the Nexus of Realities - back to an alternate Marvel Universe where Wolverine became Lord of the Vampires! It's a world we've been to before, witnessing the terrors of Wolverine vs Dracula and Punisher vs The X-Men! It might be hard to imagine, but before Punisher fought the X-Men, things got a whole lot worse!

Juggernaut is an unstoppable powerhouse at the best of times -- but what if some how, some way a creature of the night managed to convert him to the legion of vampires? That's exactly what we're dealing with today!

You might be wondering how a magically empowered mortal such as Juggernaut (aka; Cain Marko) could be bitten by a vampire. After all, we've seen Deadpool dump a factory load of knives on him and they didn't leave a scratch [Deadpool: Sins of the Past #2]! The answer may lie in a reference that reads like a mistake at first glance...

In this particular issue, Juggernaut is referred to as a mutant. That's a big change from his defining origin as Charles Xavier's very spiteful, very human step-brother. It's unclear what his abilities or vulnerabilities are, or what their source is. We can assume he has some degree of magical enhancement, as he's in possession of the "Ruby of Cyttorak" and is hand picked by Wolverine to take down his opponent: The Sorcerer Supreme - Doctor Strange!

Dr. Strange is one of the few powerful heroes alive and unconverted in this world, in part due to the spells that safeguard his Greenwich Sanctum Sanctorum. Vampires cannot penetrate the protective occult field, but in the spirit of fallen allies Spider-man and Daredevil, Strange has taken to leaving the safety of his home, to patrol the sky of the now vampire infested New York City.

Strange is a powerful enough sorcerer to defend himself, but with many heroes and villains added to the mutant vampire horde, he's taking his life in his hands. Especially considering he intends his greatest weapon against the vampires to be the un-deciphered Montesi Formula -- a spell found in the Darkhold capable of wiping out all vampires!

Human, mutant, or vampire - Juggernaut's connection to the magic of Cyttorak makes him a dangerous foe! We've seen his strength overwhelm other magical powerhouses: Captain Britain [Excalibur #3], Wonder Woman [Unlimited Access #1] and Captain Marvel Jr [Unlimited Access #3]!

Strange is obviously no slouch, as we've seen in victories against Baron Mordo [Strange Tales #111], The Hand [New Avengers #27] and The Hood & Dormammu [New Avengers #54]! He has been shown to be vulnerable to some other powerful magics, though, such as that of Agamotto [New Avengers #2] - whose power he routinely calls upon! The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak are one of his most powerful hexes, as well. Which could spell trouble for the good Doctor!

How much trouble? Our patented Tape tentatively has Strange just 1 point greater than Juggernaut, who's only two ranks lower on our cumulative Fight Club ladder at #67! That data spells a close call! Let's knock on the door and ask for our treat - or trick!

The Tape: Dr. Strange Ranking: Dr. Strange (#65)

What Went Down...
Soaring the night sky above silent Manhattan streets -- Earth's greatest defense against magical terror watches pensively. Much weighs on the considerable mind of Dr. Stephen Strange! An outbreak of vampirism has signaled a menace other than old foe Dracula. A menace unknown to The Sorcerer Supreme, despite his considerable knowledge of the occult and arcane!

A powerful mystic artefact - The Orb of Agamotto - has pinpointed a particularly strong gathering of vampiric aura. Anticipating a horde of the bloodsucking undead, The Sorcerer Supreme breaches the threshold of an open shutter door.

Dr. Strange finds only the crimson glow of the "Ruby of Cyttorak" in the dark of the urban underground. He knows the jewel could very likely signal the presence of the unstoppable Juggernaut! Before he can conjure strength to the Shield of the Seraphim that surrounds him -- Juggernaut strikes!

The unstoppable brute is a dark red blur as he charges into the back of the distracted Sorcerer Supreme! He gloats, even as Strange cries in agony!

The mystic properties of the gem had drained the magic shield that protected Strange from harm. Juggernaut has stood toe to toe with everyone from Thor to the Hulk! The impact of his uncanny momentum shatters the Doctor's spine!

A fist as big as his head collides with Dr. Strange's face like a missile! Blood streaks from his nose. The resulting whiplash breaks his neck.

Earth's final defense against the magical realm is reduced to a crumpled mess on a basement floor. He breathes his final mortal breaths through his own blood, gazing up at the horrific vision of Juggernaut's fanged maw!

Only Dr. Strange's magic Cloak of Levitation appears to escape the grasp of Juggernaut, who delivers the corpse back to his Lord Wolverine. He'll be fed to crocodiles, but there is more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy! Though Strange's mortal form is dead, his spirit still roams...

The Hammer...
A chilling tale with a grim end: Juggernaut wins!

If you're wondering: Dr. Strange's astral presence does indeed continue on in the story! With most heroes dead, vampires, or kept out of the city, he finds an unlikely ally and student in consummate survivalist, soldier, and star of What If stories: The Punisher!

You can see how he fared with Dr. Strange's guidance in the featured fight: Punisher versus The X-Men! If you thought today's battle was a little dark, just wait until you see how that one goes! Kitty Pryde is all I'm saying! Yeesh!

As you might have guessed, this is an issue of What If...? I particularly like. It's got that gritty '91 feel, created not just with Tom Morgan's pencils, but the subtle work of colorist Tom Vincent. His heroes have the primary colors you expect. Dr. Strange's cape is a bright red with yellow trim, his shirt bright blue. The world around him is what's different, though. Everything is darkened hues of purple, red, brown. It's a very effective way of representing an iconic version of the Marvel Universe, but adding a grim twist.

I go back and forth on how I feel about Count Dracula being part of the Marvel Universe. He's quickly excised to serve the concept of the issue, so it's kind of getting the best of all worlds.

Wolverine, still a decade away from maturing into a mass market nice guy, smoothly transitions from the X-Man who'll do what's necessary, to a cold blooded Lord of the vampires! He's ice cold, and the story lets that play out with genuinely unsettling results.

It's hard to imagine Dracula carrying out a plan on this scale of Wolverine's. I like to imagine that's the character of a classier villain, even if Wolverine's success is only a consequence of having an imaginary story sandbox to play in.

Looking more closely at the detail of the story, there are a few problems. As noted in The Tape section, it never sits well when the high concept overwhelms a character like Juggernaut.

Ignoring the inconsistency of calling him a mutant in the story, it just seems at odds with the character to suggest he could ever be bitten by a vampire. It was a problem I also had when the biters were a more decrepit brand of undead in Marvel Zombies [#5]. The high concept is ultimately what matters and it's a lot easier to just accept that everybody got turned, but it's a whole lot cleaner when those questions don't linger. To say nothing of the extra fun had by asking - and answering those kinds of questions!

A few months ago we looked at What If...? #94: A story where Juggernaut's invulnerability is itself the feature premise of the story. He's a lone wanderer in a universe where radiation has wiped out almost all of humanity. His invincibility plays out as a curse as he longs for the humanity he condemned through his own selfish actions. It might not have the simple, broad appeal of a rampaging Juggernaut with fangs, but it's a very satisfying story to tell.

Speaking of the escalation of mass appeal and the accompanying budgets; zombie legend George Romero recently told IndieWire movies like World War Z, and the Walking Dead TV series have made it almost impossible to court funding for his smaller, more socio-politically minded zombie movies. He also noted that the spectacle of "zombies wreaking havoc" had overtaken films of substance. He has a point, but even The Walking Dead, which seems to be propelled more so by tropes of the genre and character-driven chapters, never quite exploits the ever intriguing question of How? Why? When? The questions these superhero versions invariably raise, and could be very interesting to see play out.

One element of our feature fight fans will see play out on screens is Doctor Strange! Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme is already joining the cinematic universe in some parts of the world, with an official wide release coming November 4th!

As we say goodbye to an October full of demons and Halloween horrors, we levitate effortlessly into a November filled with more Doctor Strange! I hope you'll join me as we witness the true Sorcerer Supreme in action!

In the mean time, be encouraged to follow links throughout this entry to discover even more exciting battles! You can get even more vampires and monsters by hitting up the Old Comics Halloween: Chilling Tales spotlight! Master the art of the fight by venturing into the ancient Issue Index, for a complete archive of all the past featured fights in order of publisher and series!

Winner: Juggernaut
#42 (+25) Juggernaut [+1 kill]
#67 (-2) Dr. Strange

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Throughout October Secret Wars on Infinite Earths has really gone to Hell! In anticipation of Halloween, we've been dabbling in devils and demons for terror inducing month of featured fights! That's all well and good, but there are plenty more monsters and horrors lurking in the annals!

That's why for this Old Comics Wednesday we're illuminating some of the darkest, most bizarre, most chilling battles featured! By hitting the covers below you'll witness worrisome wars featuring: Ghost Rider, Count Dracula, Morbius the Living Vampire, The Werewolf, The Demon, The Grim Reaper, Demogoblin, Black Lanterns, Vampires, Zombies, Ghosts, Doppelgangers and more!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Real Name: Prof. Charles Xavier
First Appearance: X-Men #1 (September, 1963)
Fight Club Ranking: #344

Featured Fights:
- vs MAGNETO: X-Men #25 (Oct 1993)
- vs X-MEN: Onslaught: X-Men #1 (Aug 1996)
- vs XORN: New X-Men #150 (Feb 2004)
- vs SINISTER: Ultimate X-Men #49 (Sep 2004)
- vs LIZARD: X-Men: First Class #2 (Dec 2006)
- vs THE MIND GEM: New Avengers: Illuminati #2 (Mar 2007)

We very nearly talked about today's Hero of the Week way back in May, when James McAvoy was starring in X-Men: Apocalypse. Serendipity would have it that Apocalypse, Magneto and Quicksilver took the crowded spotlight back then - so we can talk about Professor Xavier here and now!

Beloved nude nut Patrick Stewart is back to play a weathered future Xavier, seen in a striking promotional photo [above] and in the first official trailer for next year's Logan!

All ready, the trailer has dashed a few of my assumptions and questions. We discussed last week the inevitable differences this story would have from the Mark Millar story Old Man Logan.

It's been long known that Professor X would essentially replace Hawkeye as a travelling buddy, which inevitably changes the dynamic. Given Xavier's mental powers, I had really begun to wonder if he would be a figment of a troubled Wolverine's mind, or perhaps a vestigial psychic echo. A reminder of a tragedy Wolverine would somehow be responsible for, even if an arch-villain would have mutantkind's blood on his hands, rather than Wolverine's claws. Something like The Legacy Virus made sense, with the last X-film teasing Mr. Sinister, and the obvious incorporation of young gender-swapped Wolverine clone X-23 into the story.

All of those questions seem to have melted away with the trailer, though. The images remind me of lukewarm 2009 cartoon series Wolverine and the X-Men more than any comic book reference. There's very little to suggest Professor Xavier is anything but a tired old man in the film. A dear friend with a different role to play, even if he might not make it all the way. A death that could very likely motivate this vulnerable, short-haired, Johnny Cash inspired Wolverine.

The music of the trailer was a questionable, clichéd choice. Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt has been in constant rotation since it was released in 2002. Nothing will diminish the poignancy of the circumstances of its recording, but as a soundtrack choice it's on the nose. It does, however, make it very clear to the viewer that this is not the usual Wolverine movie.

Perhaps more than the film itself, I'm really interesting to see what the reaction from the audience is! Fans who've followed the project over the past few years will have had some idea of what to expect, but the western tone of a desolate future that isn't the famed 1981 post-apocalypse of Claremont and Byrne's Days of Future Past will probably come as a shock to everyone else! Even more than that future, Logan promises a world that's stark and dry. An even bigger risk than Deadpool!

Will audiences embrace another harsh shift in tone and reality, or will this be Hugh Jackman's final starring turn as Wolverine - whether he likes it, or not? We won't find out the answers until March.

If we make it that far, I'll be looking forward to talking a whole lot more Wolverine! In the mean time, be encouraged to find more by following links, or checking out the Issue Index. The first Hero of the Week for 2016 was Dr. Strange and we're about to dive head-long into a world of mysticism as The Sorcerer Supreme braces for Marvel Entertainment's next theatrical release, November 4th! Be here!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Last Stand of The Spirits of Vengeance (Marvel)
Ghost Rider #29 When: January 2009
Why: Jason Aaron How: Tan Eng Huat

The Story So Far...
When Johnny Blaze vexed the demon Mephisto he was cursed to wander the Earth as a spirit of vengeance - or so he thought. New revelations reveal his fire burns by the will of the renegade angel Zadkiel!

Drawing from the strength of his army of Ghost Riders, Zadkiel plans to harness enough power to overthrow the Heavens!

Charged to gather the might of other riders is Dan Ketch -- himself a mortal who was once a spirit of vengeance! Hungry to again taste the power he once held, he accepts a mission to free all Ghost Riders from the burden of their vengeance. A quest that inevitably brings him face to face with his long lost brother Johnny Blaze! Now the former allies must burn

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Johnny Blaze 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Draw 2 (Average)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathoner)
Agility: Johnny Blaze 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Draw 5 (Lasers)

Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary story! It's a serious case of seeing double as the classic Ghost Rider finds himself challenged by his edgy new nineties replacement! Can't tell who's who? It's real simple...

Dan Ketch became the Ghost Rider one Halloween night when he and his sister travelled to Cypress Hill Cemetery. They were there to watch psychics commune with the spirit of legendary escapist Harry Houdini - but instead were caught in the crossfire between gangs working for Kingpin and Deathwatch! With his sister wounded, Dan tries to hide in a nearby wrecking yard, where he discovered a pristine motorcycle with a cursed petrol cap. Contact forever changes him as he becomes a spirit of vengeance - Ghost Rider!

We've only seen Danny Ketch in action a couple of times on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, neither of them flattering. He got himself strung up and impaled while fighting Demogoblin and a demonically possessed Blade in Ghost Rider #40. Then in the rematch, the Demogorge transformed Blade finished Ghost Rider off in a brutal battle seen in Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #13!

Johnny Blaze was a travelling circus stunt performer when he became the skull faced spirit of vengeance. Dabbling in the occult for personal gain brought him into the presence of the devil Mephisto. The love of his girlfriend Roxanne helped drive Mephisto away, but ignited a feud for Johnny's tainted soul - now bonded to the demon Zarathos!

Blaze has a couple of wins to his name in our records: He tortured The Trapster in a team-up with Spider-man [Marvel Team-Up #58], and got the best of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor in Avengers #214!

Even though their fight records thus far are mirrored opposites, the two Ghost Riders share overwhelming similarities. They both ride infernal motorcycles, they both wield dangerous hellfire, they can both invoke the power of penance, and they both possess varied degrees of super-human strength and durability!

In the brute strength stakes, I tend to think of Blaze as the more powerful of the two. He's gone blow for blow with the likes of The Thing - no mean feat! On the flip side, Ketch is the quintessential 'new and improved' model. Trademark moves like the Penance Stare and those ever present chains are a part of Ketch's repertoire right from the start. His tricks don't end there, though.

At this stage of their careers, Ketch burns with the blue flame of the fallen angel Zadkiel. He's an archangel of vengeance, pulling Dan's strings to seek out other spirits of vengeance and absorb their powers! A temptation for Ketch, who didn't enjoy life when he'd lost the Ghost Rider's power. Because he's been sucking up spirits for a while, he's pretty juiced up. Bad news for Johnny Blaze!

Dan may have a lot of flashy tricks, but Blaze has experience - and that's gotta be his strength. Over the years he's picked up a lot of Ketch's moves, and has a long history of blazing his own trail. That makes these guys hard to separate, so we may as well just dive in and answer the fanboy question: Who would win a fight between the two Ghost Riders? Let's go!

The Tape: Johnny Blaze Ranking: Johnny Blaze (#78)

What Went Down...
On a mountain somewhere in Tibet, cold wind blows the snow top frost around two men. The gust has no effect on infernal sparks that dance around one of their heads -- igniting into the burning visage of Johnny Blaze: Ghost Rider!

Standing opposite Blaze is his one-time successor - the now blue flamed spirit of vengeance: Dan Ketch! Hungry for the power he once possessed, Ketch sold his soul to the fallen angel Zadkiel. Now his mission is to consume Johnny's power!

Ketch justifies his mission with vague allusions to a higher understanding. Blaze challenges him to demonstrate and is sent hurtling across miles of snowy landscape!

Blaze crash lands hard in the snow, making a large crater with his impact.

Ketch is right behind, to hoist the Ghost Rider out of his pit - only to launch him again through the mountains! As Blaze struggles on his hands a knees, Ketch lifts a massive boulder above his head and sends it smashing over his target!

Again, the blue flamed Ghost Rider yanks his opponent from the ground - this time unearthing his limp body from its resting place beneath the broken bedrock. He professes to be working for his brother's own good. Blaze snaps defiantly back to life, snatches his "brother" by the throat and literally explodes!

When the flames clear, this time it's Dan Ketch flat on his back! Blaze mockingly prescribes repeated stomps to the skull and body for Ketch's own good. Then he squats down over him, clutches his skull with both hands, and inflicts the agony of all the pain and suffering Ketch has caused with the dreaded penance stare!

The blue Ghost Rider roars as the memories turn in on him. Baring witness to the demise of all the other riders, Johnny Blaze stumbles backward in shock. It's enough to give Ketch an opening to throw his boot into Blaze's burning face!

Ketch seeks understanding for his role in "freeing" the spirits from their burden. Johnny Blaze cracks his fist against the murderous Ghost Rider's jaw in decisive response: "They're dead!"

Righteous to the end, Ketch clubs his predecessor with a closed fist and turns the tables. This time Johnny Blaze will face his past under the terrifying gaze of the penance stare!

Confronted by the memories of loved ones who suffered for his occult existence, Johnny Blaze howls in agony! He drops to the ground, the flames of the Rider leaving him to reveal the mortal beneath. Tearfully, he accepts Dan's offer.

Zadkiel's spirit of vengeance starts sucking the power from Johnny Blaze's willing form. Only the intervention of a Caretaker saves him from being stripped of the Ghost Rider's power -- and his mortal existence!

She pops the front wheel of her motorcycle into the air, knocking Ketch clear of Blaze's prone body.

Weakly Johnny tries to tell her to leave, but she won't take no for an answer! She hoists the exhausted man onto her bike and faces front for a quick getaway! He reaches for the blue flames behind them, begging for his curse to be lifted as they escape.

The Hammer...
It's only by the intervention of Sara that Johnny Blaze is rescued from his own self-determined submission. With that in mind, we acknowledge Ghost Rider Dan Ketch as the winner of this fight!

If you find that outcome (or assessment) just a little disappointing, you're well within your rights. It's not quite the dream match it was hyped up to be, but it suffers from more than a lacklustre brawl...

In our last featured fight we talked about the introduction of Robbie Reyes as the "All-New" Ghost Rider of 2014. In that example, Marvel were very successful in balancing old and new elements to create a fresh take on a classic brand.

Key to its success is its individuality: All-New Ghost Rider sources contemporary LA car culture, a signature art style, and a completely new origin story!

It was a risky proposition to separate the new Ghost Rider so completely from his popular predecessors, but by leading with well executed new material, Marvel reaped the benefits of catching lightning in a bottle all over again! A fully realized new take established before it was thrust into a domain of comparison.

In 2008-09, the approach to expanding the Ghost Rider mythos took a very different tact. Johnny Blaze was the traditional central figure, riding us into an unfurling reality over populated with other skull-headed spirits of vengeance.

The return of Dan Ketch almost functions as written permission to follow the Ghost Rider myth to its logical end. After all, Johnny Blaze's circumstances were unusual, but not unique. Dan Ketch had appropriated a lot of Blaze's identity as a 1990 relaunch of the concept. In '92, another active Rider was established as Ketch's dark rival: Michael Badalino, better known as Vengeance.

Under Jason Aaron, this history of purposeful expansion becomes license to create a league of Ghost Riders from different times and places. It's an opening of the floodgates reminiscent of loathsome action figure variants, insufficiently supported by attempts to rapidly build a retroactive history.

The comparison of the era would be DC's rainbow colored explosion of counterpart Corps to the Green Lantern. The hugely successful GL expansion remains a shining example of the fine line between color coded monotony, and nuanced hero generator.

The modern Green Lantern premise is pre-conditioned for expansion, but in the case of the Sinestro Corps and everything beyond, it was the nested distinction of well designed characters within each Corps that made it work. The discipline to resist broad strokes based on team color alone made it work. It was also what was missing from damned adaptations like the Ryan Reynolds movie, or the disappointing CG animated series.

That isn't the only time Green Lantern has been at the centre of a successful venture into expanded mythology. The earliest impactful example goes back to the mid 1950s, where the introduction of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen as new versions of Green Lantern and The Flash began the Silver Age of superheroes! As replacement heroes adopting an existing identity, they weren't worlds apart from Robbie Reyes, even if they had the luxury of their predecessors being out of print quite a while. [For more, see: Old Comics Weds: Substitute Heroes!]

The range of 2009 Ghost Riders only exist in the periphery of the dream match presented by Ghost Rider #29, but it's a central pre-occupation that prevents this from being the balls to the wall throwdown 90s fans might've imagined.

The popularity of Dan Ketch in his day cannot be over stated! Johnny Blaze had served the seventies well, marrying motorcycle wanderlust and stunts to the boom of resurgent horror comics. The eighties explored the character more, but he seemed to get lost in the shuffle. The time was right to update Ghost Rider with new motorcycle aesthetic and cult, gothic horror of the time! A chain laden nineties reinvention that squeezed more out of the character, whilst capturing the imagination through the simple power of the visual!

Like his predecessor, Dan Ketch was perceived to be connected to the fad of the times. As comics withdrew from the booming period of the early nineties and the comics got lost in excess, the character was swept aside. Introspective comics of the 2000s chose Johnny Blaze for post-modern reinvention, but even that was a tough sell to fashionable readers.

The battle that finally brings the two Ghost Riders together in 2009 ultimately courts dissatisfaction by presenting the popular, classic Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) as weak and submissive to the tarnished newer model.

Granted, there are narrative reasons for Ketch's power, not unlike the plot of Spirits of Vengeance #13. The difference between the two being the quality of the fight, and the quantity of content. There doesn't seem to be any need for a clear winner in this early chapter, so a hard hitting stalemate would've sufficed.

I quite like the line work of artist Tan Eng Huat, but his layouts are very hit and miss. When the action gets going, it can be very difficult to see exactly what's happening at times. On some pages, it's painfully clear, as minor movements are documented over pages of repeating staging. I sense a script stretching its material too thin, or making vague suggestions. Stronger art direction could have elevated the material, either way.

Colorist Jose Villarrubia doesn't have a lot to work with to create variation in images, but he services the art well. A deep cool palette contrasts with bright, hot flames. Mauves and purples bridge the gap well when scenes allow for it.

Ultimately, this isn't a bad issue. The ideas aren't critically flawed. Choices on and off the page just ask a bit too much, and are hampered by a lot of little issues that nag the more it goes on. It's a case of a lot of things not quite coming together, the way so much went right when editorial took another shot at it for All-New Ghost Rider!

Got a different take? Want to see for yourself? Hit up the Amazon link provided to pick up a collected edition! Doing so helps support the site at no extra charge, which means you can keep your soul and read your book!

You can find lots more superhero smackdown and review by following links throughout this post, or diving in to the Issue Index! There you'll find all past feature fights organized by publisher and series.

Secret Wars on Infinite Earths has really gone to Hell this month, but up next we're travelling to a universe that really bites! Be here to find out exactly what that means very soon!

Winner: Ghost Rider (Dan Ketch)
#302 (+200) Ghost Rider (Dan Ketch)
#502 (new) Caretaker (Sara) [+1 assist]
#97 (-19) Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Throughout 2016 we've been discussing the phenomenon of substitute heroes in Monday's Hero of the Week spotlight. It seems the trend of borrowing iconic costumes and identities is back in vogue - especially at Marvel Comics! This type of identity crisis is nothing new, and since we're coming up to Halloween, this Old Comics Wednesday we're looking back at the heroes who played dress-up!

By hitting the covers below you'll be transported back to battles featuring: Wally West aka; The Flash, Dick Grayson aka; BatmanJames Rhodes aka; Iron Man, Beta Ray Bill aka; Thor, John Walker aka; Captain America, Dan Ketch aka; Ghost Rider, Guy Gardner aka; Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner aka; Green Lantern, Ryan Choi aka; The Atom, Stephanie Brown aka; Robin, Ben Reilly aka; Spider-man, Mac Gargan aka; Spider-man, Rogue aka; Thor, and many more!