Let's just pretend I haven't been absent for the last couple of weeks, shall we? All right, then! Marvel Spotlight no. 9 is jam-packed with action, but for this "favorite panels" post I only chose two representative samples. One (from page 21) is the absolutely hilariously captioned image of Ghost Rider speeding into the desert to save Roxanne from being sacrificed to the Snake God (oh comics were so delightfully campy back then before people started taking them a bit too seriously).
The other is from page 24 (below), as Ghost Rider breaks onto the scene of the sacrificial ceremony. A nice full composition packed with overwrought narrative, Snake Dance announcing Ghost Rider's arrival (in case we missed it), random screaming minions, Roxanne tethered to a snake-shaped tree, and, of course, plenty of snakes, including two that rear like sea monsters from under Snake Dance's armpits. A scene that is absolutely absurd in every way, but delightfully so!
Next: the stunning secret of Snake Dance..."This land is ours!"
writer: Gary Friedrich
drawn by: Tom Sutton
inks: Chic Stone
letterer: Shelly Leferman
editor: Roy Thomas
on stands: April 1973
Tom Sutton's Ghost Rider's jaw is fused to his skull and he has a weird, fleshy neck. It's a combination of bizarre anatomy that makes for one of the worst handlings of the character in Ghost Rider's long history. But let's try to move past that and on to the story:
Alice Cooper (er, I mean Snake Dance ~ the two are kind of hard to tell apart), has tossed Ghost Rider over the edge of the canyon, causing him to pancake at the bottom while the shaman does a lot of random chanting (you know, stuff that shamans do).
Meanwhile, literally back at the ranch, Casey could care less that Johnny's missing, but Roxanne is frantic. Casey tells Sam to drive her out to the canyon to check it out. On the way out, Sam waxes political on the injustices to his people, then informs Roxanne that Johnny is dead, kidnaps her, ties her up (because what comic geared toward adolescent boys in this era didn't tie up the heroine whenever the plot could make it plausible (or even implausible!), and hauls her back to the reservation for ~ of course ~ a human sacrifice!
Again, back at the ranch, Bart Slade (who is suddenly about 20 years younger and sporting a Prince Valiant hairdo!), announces that if Johnny's gone, he'll do the stunt jump over the canyon. For the first time since we've met Bart, we realize that he's a "cripple". Something to offend everyone in this one!
In the canyon, Satan resurrects dead Johnny because, well, he can't be dead, right? Some mumbo-jumbo about keeping him alive in order to buy time to yet claim his soul later (it's not the right time, Satan says ~ guess Johnny's not ripe enough?). Anyway, having basically laid the foundation for Ghost Rider's near-immortality, Johnny is rescued from the canyon by a passing helicopter.
On the reservation, Snake Dance tells Sam that the "gods" will be pleased with Roxanne as a bride for the Snake God (someone doesn't know native American spirituality from their elbow, I guess). But wait, there's a plot twist! It turns out that Snake Dance is a fraud who's only doing all of this to revenge himself on bad white people! Nobody saw that coming!
Johnny returns to his dressing room to "change leathers" (apparently he has a dozen suits and they all look the same, just like any respectable superhero, right?). Johnny's wardrobe here and Sutton's villains share that quality. Bart Slade and Snake Dance are nearly indistinguishable in the scene that follows during which Johnny warns Bart that he couldn't "jump a sawhorse with that bum leg." Bart tries to rev on by, but Johnny clotheslines him off his bike and reclaims the show.
Cue ridiculous bike stunts.
But Johnny's concentration is off, worrying about Bart and Roxanne and, oh, I don't know, being a flaming skull-headed demon, so he mash potatoes himself into a retaining wall. But don't worry, folks, he's just fine (because, as we learned before, he's kind of semi-immortal!) He emerges from the rubble to catch Sam and interrogate him about the canyon business ~ with his fists, of course.
Cut to Snake Dance's sacrificial ceremony with Roxanne now wearing a super-cheesy Princess Tiger Lily outfit (the cheesiest!). Ghost Rider breaks up the party, but too late: Roxanne has been bitten by the venomous snakes. No amount of hellfire and excruciatingly retarded proclamations threatening damnation will save her, but these antics do manage to reduce Snake Dance's minions to gibbering idiots.
Ghost Rider trashes the place, takes up Roxanne, and goes speeding away with her draped like a carcass during hunting season over the back of his bike.
One really begins to wonder how these characters ever managed to get their own comic.
THE COSTUMES: Nothing too fancy here, folks. On page 5, Roxanne's got a red tank top paired with her brown pants and boots. It's not until page 21 that she is revealed in her Indian outfit. She has a pair of moccasins that goes with this, but I didn't draw them (oops!). Anyway, now you have your choice of dressing Roxanne up to sacrifice her to Satan or the Snake God ~ just think of the hours of imaginative play!
The combined efforts of Ploog and Mooney resulted in some especially interesting renditions of Ghost Rider. Both artists had strengths and weaknesses, but this panel from the the first page is especially effective: scary without being merely a hollow-eyed skull (as some more recent artists have rendered him). I think a trend toward realism denies Ghost Rider the plasticity of expression that the character really needs. Okay, he's a skull, but he's also a demon. I like being able to tell the difference between when he's mad and really really mad!
I also really like the coloring on this panel ~ the use of blues and purples adds a nice cast. Much of the early coloring in these books is somewhat crude due to press limitations, but here the unnamed colorist took special care.
The second panel here is a hilarious, but effective action shot in which Ghost Rider is being attacked by Snake Dance's serpents. The snakes in this issue and the subsequent issues are rendered horrifically.
Comic book artists seem to be notoriously bad with animals, which is just a shame. Horses and snakes are particularly poorly treated; as though the artist had never seen one or bothered to look at pictures or film of how their anatomy actually worked. Of course, artists back then didn't have as ready access to models in order to study these things, so I would be much harder on an illustrator today for this kind of work.
This particular panel is not nearly as bad compared to most of the others.
Come back on Thursday for the exciting continuation of this riveting storyline ~ and new costumes, including what all the sacrificial girls are wearing out west in the early 70s.
Having dispensed with the previous plotline, one page later, Bart's grousing about having to pack and Johnny's acting like a know-it-all jerk (we'll see much more of this before Johnny gets humbled). They fly from New York to Arizona and are met at the airport by Sam Silvercloud who quickly sets up the next plotline (and one familiar to the Red Power movement of the 70s: there's a land dispute between the white men exploiting Copperhead Canyon and the local natives who believe it is a sacred place. Sam threatens Johnny with a gun before ditching him roadside.
Despite this onerous welcome, Johnny wakes up the next morning proclaiming he had a decent night's sleep (not sure how he managed it, given all that's going on). Rodeo Lee Marvin-wannabee Casey tells Johnny he ain't thrilled about the cycle show either and warns him of a fella named Snake Dance who's been causing trouble.
Rodeo-side, Johnny sees Sam Silvercloud and, hothead that he is, starts a fight with him (after inexplicably calling him Clyde ~ couldn't find any cause for this in sideshow lingo, so I can only guess it's a gaffe). The fight is busted up by Snake Dance, who is all decked out in cheesy Indian garb (oh gah!). Snake Dance lays on the "Leave or die!" threat and vanishes.
That night, Ghost Rider heads out to the canyon and confronts Snake Dance, whose minions are dispatched quickly. Snake Dance then begins a serpent summoning. When Ghost Rider just as easily dispatches the serpents, Snake Dance turns himself into a hideous creature from which Ghost Rider decides to flee. He goes sailing over the edge of the canyon on his bike, but of course Sam Silvercloud has jimmied with it and so it explodes mid-flight. WHROOM!
Goofiness: It is worthy of note that this is the first of many bikes Johnny will lose over the course of his adventures (not counting the one he blew up killing Mona Simpson). Conveniently, however, he always manages to find another one. Early in the series this is dealt with as a legitimate ongoing problem, but later on, he just always manages to work something out without any plausible explanations.
Next: Can even a Ghost Rider die?
THE COSTUMES: For the first half of this comic, Johnny and Roxanne are wearing the same clothes as from Marvel Spotlight no. 7. Once they go to Arizona, we only see Roxanne briefly in a groovy orange top and her red pants. Johnny, meanwhile, sports a red button-up with pockets and blue jeans.
Nothing terribly exciting, but given that I haven't posted anything new here for some time, at least it gets us back into the swing of things! For such a jam-packed issue (there's a lot of story crammed into this one), it's surprising there aren't more costume changes.
writer: Gary Friedrich
drawn by: Mike Ploog & Jim Mooney
letterer: Shelly Leferman
editor: Roy Thomas
on stands: February 1973
In this day and age of instant gratification, it's hard to imagine waiting patiently for two months to see the continuation of a comic book storyline. And because of this, it's understandable why so much space is wasted repeating information and recapping. We see less of this in modern comics because the market has changed. Comic books are dedicated monthlies usually from the get-go, and the publishers understand that they are catering to a fanbase that is willing to jump into a storyline and/or find the necessary back issues (which is a lot easier today than it ever was before). So a lot of what goes on in these early Ghost Rider issues is forgivable on that level. Doesn't make it any less corny, of course, but it helps to read it with consideration for the audience and the pace of its day.
And this is also my way of excusing my long absence. If you've been following along, now you too know what it's like to wait two months to find out what happens next!
When last we saw our intrepid hero, a panty-clad Crash Simpson was facing off against him while Roxanne in her sacrificial get up was screaming the obligatory "Noooooo!" Johnny has quite the dilemma here since, after all, Crash raised him like a son (though fatherhood for Crash seems of little value since he's willing to kill his own daughter, but I digress). When they hesitate to kill one another (Crash being magically enchanted), Satan transports them "to the very pit of HELL!" (in big letters) so that the two can fight without all the distracting screaming and carrying on.
Ghost Rider then disarms Crash with an awkward-looking punch, and Satan conjures a giant purple monster. Ghost Rider convinces Crash this whole thing is bogus and the two flee (where they think they are going is anybody's guess since they are in hell, after all).
Ultimately, Crash sacrifices himself while slaying the big drooling dragon demon, and Ghost Rider carries him to an altar where a mysterious robed figure tells him that Crash will receive his eternal reward and Johnny must return to the world of mortals. And Johnny, being the dunce cake that he is, buys this line and goes along his merry way. Johnny wakes to find Roxanne at his side. Conveniently she has amnesia. Even more conveniently, she reminds him that they have to leave for Arizona so that he can jump the Copperhead Canyon.
And off they go, quickly dispensing with this very dispensable storyline.
But just you wait ~ there's more! (to be continued....)
Where have I been??? Fear not, intrepid readers, I have not abandoned this project, though it has been stuck on Marvel Spotlight no. 7 for the last month (yipes!). Today I bring you some favorite panels from that issue and tomorrow we will continue with the saga where we've left off.
The first fun image from this issue (and these early issues are rife with really ridiculous comickery), is Ghost Rider napping in the graveyard from the 1st page. First, it's just classic Ploog work: moody and oh so intense! And then there's just the absurdity of 1.) Ghost Rider getting tired, and 2.) Sleeping in a graveyard in general. Too funny.
The second image I had to share is of Curly stuffing Roxanne into the ACE drum to transport her to be sacrificed.
The casual abuse of women in comic books is amazing from a 21st century perspective, but I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it back then (in fact, I don't think I did when I originally read this book).
Roxanne is doomed to the role of damsel-in-distress by Friedrich's pen. By the time other writers get a crack at her, she's already so entrenched as a helpless female that it's nearly impossible to make use of her in any reasonable way. This is about par for the course for Marvel women of this era, unfortunately. With very few exceptions, most of them are merely subplots and romantic side distractions wrecking any peace of mind a given title's hero may long for.
And this not-quite-diatribe on sexism in the comic industry is brought to you by the number 2 (see sacrificial Roxanne below from page 4, complete with aforementioned sponsorship paint!).
writer: Gary Friedrich
artist: Mike Ploog
inker: Frank Monte
letterer: Herb Cooper
editor: Roy Thomas
on stands: December 1972
The long holiday weekend, a change of jobs, and a cranky scanner have caused me to fall behind on this blog, but I haven't given it up!
When last we left off, Curly (Really Crash Simpson in disguise) had hypnotized Roxanne. Marvel Spotlight no. 7 opens with him dumping her unconscious body into an empty drum of ACE cleaning compound and trundling her out to a taxi in order to haul her across town to his satanic lair.
Meanwhile, after a page of recap, Johnny (in full Ghost Rider flames) is on the prowl and attracts the attention of the police (uh, maybe he shouldn't be driving so fast ~ you think?). The dorky cops, dubbed Harvey and Barn, pursue him recklessly and Ghost Rider makes all manner of fancy jumps in order to escape them (in second person address, of course: "hurtling toward your fateful rendezvous like a streaking eagle with its wings shot off" ~ honestly, Friedrich, come on). While Johnny recuperates in a graveyard (Ghost Rider gets tired!), Curly sets the stage to sacrifice Roxanne to the devil (like any good father would do, right?).
Come dawn, Johnny races home to make coffee and relax before his next show. But then Bart Slade arrives (the road manager) to announce Roxanne's disappearance. Tempers flare (and a couple of thought bubbles conveniently establish Bart as a rival for Roxanne's affections: cue soap music). After the show, Bart also tells Johnny that Curly was there and Johnny somehow makes the connection that Curly must be involved. So Johnny waits for nightfall, pops into his Ghost Rider flames, and goes hunting.
Of course the gang gives Curly's location up where a black mass is underway (complete with Roxanne all rigged out for Satan's delight ~ dressed in what all the sacrificial girls were wearing in 1973. A few silly occult incantations later and Curly pulls out the Devil's Dagger! This is all looking very dire for our perky heroine, but of course before she can be impaled, Ghost Rider arrives.
This pisses off Satan who decides it will be a contest between Ghost Rider and Curly "in his real form" and enhanced with mystical weaponry. To the death, of course. So Curly changes into a disturbingly panty-clad Crash Simpson, takes up a sword, and we're left with them facing off with a very excitable "to be continued!" across the bottom of the page.
THE COSTUMES: There are just a couple of new pieces for this issue (and a lot of red and orange!). Johnny wears a red bathrobe (page 10) while he drinks his morning coffee and yaps with Bart (we never see below his waist, so I have no idea what the length of the robe is or whether he's got any jammies on under it). Then later (page 11), during the show, Johnny sports a lovely set of orange leathers with a big red star (it's similar in design to the one previously worn by Roxanne. Star-chested sneetches anyone?)
And finally there's Roxanne's sacrificial get-up (page 15): a sort of spangled halter top and a long red loin cloth with some baubles hanging off it it. The design changes subtly from frame to frame, so I just tried to put as much detail as I could. She also has a little headband thing that she wears with this, but I omitted it. Mostly because it would be very tiny. This is the first issue in which Roxanne's hair is suddenly and inexplicably blonde, by the way.
So I read Trail of Tears over the weekend and have mixed feelings generally about it. Dismissing my high expectations (Ghost Rider in the Civil War? It has to be great!), what we're left with is a decent western with a basically okay (if not fairly standard) revenge plot, and a morally ambiguous ending that's not terribly satisfying. Spoilers ahead, so be forewarned.
While Ennis would seem to be a great match for Ghost Rider as a writer, honestly I feel like I haven't read anything good by him since Vertigo's Saint of Killers (now that was a story!). So it's disappointing on that level, though Ennis had already disappointed me to the nth when he retconned the whole Ghost Rider series. I don't know that I can ever forgive him. But I bought this book because it was divorced from the whole Johnny Blaze saga and therefore I thought I would have a more objective eye for it (and it would have half a chance to please me).
And it mostly did. I thought the title was in poor taste (naming a comic book after an act of genocide ~ it's like: next month in The Amazing Spiderman: "Arbeit macht Frei!" ~ and it's a story about a steel worker who does like his crummy job so he turns to a life of crime). It's demeaning, I guess is my point ~ but I am probably in the minority who would even bother finding offense at such a thing. But putting the title aside, the story (I read the collected trade in hardback because I got it for a ridiculously low price), was worth about the 6 issues it spanned originally. Drag it out any longer at the pace it was going and I would have gotten tired of it.
The characters are nicely designed and this version of an "Old West" Ghost Rider is deliciously terrifying: from the smoky cowl to the flaming horse, they really did him up right. I didn't even mind the chains so much. And our protagonist, former Confederate officer Travis Parham is honorable and good and gets nicely caught up in the whole unsavory business. Which makes it all the more annoying that he suffers the most. It's a bleak view of justice in this world and that's mainly what I object to. While I laud the condemnation of wanton havoc in vengeance (Parham's argument with the Ghost Rider is nicely done in the final confrontation), Parham still loses. And frankly, I don't get what we're supposed to be left with because it renders his fight pointless. The whole thing is just one unfortunate mindless bloodletting that does no one any good.
I'm okay with it if that's the point, but it's a sadly nihilistic tale if in the end even Parham doesn't emerge from this nightmare a better man for what he's seen. Just boo. There was an opportunity here and it was totally missed.
Clayton Crane's art likewise gets a mixed review from me. I'm not crazy about digital art in general, but I can appreciate it and Crane's big splashy scenes are rendered gorgeously. He loves Ghost Rider and you can tell by the detail he puts into the character. He also does a great job of individualizing all the other characters so that they are recognizable and distinguishable (this is too often a problem in comics with large "casts" ~ everyone looks the same). His single prominent female character is pretty good too, so he gets points for that.
But the art is uneven. A splashy action page makes for great eye candy, but some of his panels look downright unfinished when the scene is about people sitting around talking. This smacks of laziness to me. Worse yet, he starts cutting and pasting toward the end of the story which is not only lazy, but annoying. His snowy town of Pike's Reach is beautiful enough alone that I forgive most everything else, though.
In the final analysis, this is a pretty book with a decent story that gives you something to think about and I'm not mad that I bought it. Disappointed that it could have been so much more, but then, truly, my expectations from Marvel have been at the bottom of the pit since the 90s, so I'd say this one's above par from the usual fare (if that's not damning it with too faint praise).