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)

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