Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

This editorial might be part and parcel to one I wrote a month or so prior. But I’m going to go here again. My award for the comic that has always had potential to be great but is only, finally, starting to tap into it? It has got to be Ghost Rider. So much has just gone right with this comic, lately. I think one of Marvel’s strengths in the last ten years or so is the freedom with which they’ve let their books distinguish themselves. For a long time, I think Marvel always made sure that every book you read was, at its core, a superhero book. Every individual title had its own themes and ideas, but even characters that felt a little off the beaten path in the Marvel U. had that kind of ‘team-up and fight the bad guys!’ feel to it. Now, granted, Marvel has always worked hard to distinguish their characters' personalities, motives, and struggles- and it shows in the complexity of the stories they tell. But lately, I just feel like they’ve gone that extra mile and let their comics be what they are. It’s like Annhilation. It feels like somebody, somewhere in Marvel was just like: "let’s go nuts with the space guys. I mean really, really hardcore Star Wars-ish nuts. And no, we don’t need Captain America and the Hulk running around with Silver Surfer, Adam Warlock, and Drax the Destroyer. Let’s just let one thing be one thing and the other be another." Ghost Rider has always, obviously, been a horror comic. I mean, how could it not be? It’s about demons, fallen angels and all that scary, biblical stuff. But it was sort of like…it could never quite go there far enough. Not that there aren’t some dark Ghost Rider stories out there- but it was the superhero thing. Ghost Rider needed to have his own superhero collectible trading card, so they had to keep just a bit of that comfort zone in there. Too much couldn’t change or happen. Ghost Rider had to be able to team-up with Spider-man to fight the Rhino or something, if someone thought that would sell a comic. But now? This comic is freaky. As freaky as I always kind of thought it would be. I mean really, really disturbing, alien stuff going on. I mean, on the one hand, Ghost Rider can have a little bit of a Law and Order kind of feel to it: Blaze gets drawn to some situation in which he’s supposed to meet out vengeance. We get some kind of passion play about who did what to who, and why- usually some very dark commentary on the depths people can sink to. But on the other- Ghost Rider’s "rogue’s gallery" is filled with the most heinous, unforgivable, demonic creatures you could possibly imagine. Not supervillians, but horrific monsters that prey on humanity. They’re the things that go bump in the night that most people never know even exist- Blackheart, Deathwatch, Lillith, Mephisto…they would all carve bloody swathes through the human race without thinking twice. Note that the Rider is the Spirit of Vengeance- as in something-horrible-already-happened and he’s trying to avenge it. The Rider’s villains corrupt unlucky souls, possess human bodies and warp their flesh into terrifying monsters, make walls bleed, all that fun stuff. It can be scary as &*$#. The other thing I love about Ghost Rider has to do with the nature of morality in the comic. Namely that it’s handled so…differently. It’s sort of like Blaze has this mandate, direct from the powers that be- some things AREN’T forgivable and the Rider is the ultimate barometer of what is and isn’t. Blaze doesn’t always like Zarathos and that entity's role, in the grand scheme of things- but Zarathos DOES exist. Sort of like, in the great cosmic wheel, vengeance HAS a place. It isn’t a choice- it’s a thing. It has to happen the way that it does. When Blaze is confronted with ethical dilemmas, it’s in this much grander, even theological, scope than most other characters. It isn’t "does a wrong make a right;" it’s "is God just? Is God God because God is perfect? Or could some other entity overthrow God and institute a cosmic law that is better?" Really, OUT there stuff. That last bit is just part of the central themes in one the most recent arcs, The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance. Blaze’s latest nemesis is an angel (yes, an ANGEL, not a demon) named Zadkiel who is attempting to step in where Lucifer failed and seize control of heaven. Most people don’t realize this, but there’s been more than one Ghost Rider. Well, okay, there are Ghost Rider"s" (plural). But what I mean is, the actual title character of the comic has changed before. Blaze actually has a half-brother, Daniel Ketch (although neither knew they were related at the time) who became bonded to a part of Zarathos too (it’s a long story). The thing is, in the current arc, Ketch has allied with Zadkiel. He’s become convinced that the spirits inside each Rider are truly cursed and that he can ‘free’ each spirit’s host. The process by which Zadkiel has taught Ketch to separate spirit and host, however, results in the host’s death. So Ketch has offed a whole slew of Riders as an act of what he believes is mercy. Blaze vs. Ketch. What a frickin’ awesome fight. They're both trying to do the right thing, but they’re playing around with stuff so far outside the realm of normal human experience it's tough to really know what the right thing is. I loved seeing them both Penance Stare each other, and they both have a moment where they see their wrongs in their opponents eyes. Really, the whole thing has been epic. Highly recommended.