Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Vengeance!" Cries The Ghost Rider!


It may be difficult to imagine the Ghost Rider, of all characters, giving the "big three" of the the Avengers a run for their money. That's not to disparage the Ghost Rider, having a respectful run of over eighty issues in his 1973-83 series as well as being a prolific guest-star in other titles (in addition to being tapped for charter membership in the Champions); but as far as going up against the likes of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, the prospect seems (you'll excuse the expression) dead on arrival. Yet the first meeting between the Ghost Rider and the Avengers produces an issue that's a fairly good read, with even the Avengers finding their foe to be a formidable--and at times terrifying--challenge.




But while the cover obviously indicates the story's major conflict, the issue's first six pages offer material that the reader will find equally compelling, with the Avengers still reeling from the court-martial of one of their founding members, Henry Pym. In light of the aftershocks of Pym's disgrace and exit, the scenes which feature the remaining Avengers struggling to reconcile their thoughts and feelings on the subject feel necessary, if for no other reason than allowing the Avengers to move forward.

But with those scenes covered elsewhere in the PPC, we can turn our attention west to New Mexico, where Johnny Blaze is trying to pick to pick up the pieces of his own life, having hit rock bottom both professionally and personally. With his brooding come seething feelings of blame and unfairness, which unfortunately transfer to one who can and will act on them.



But the Rider's target is no ordinary playboy putting his high-priced car through its paces, but Warren Worthington, the Angel, who of course recognizes the Rider as the flaming demon appears in his rear-view mirror and speeds by him at 200 m.p.h. but has no idea of the rage and bitterness his former partner now feels toward him. But that soon changes when the Rider forces Worthington off the road and his car crashes, and the Rider "invites" the Angel to play a deadly game that can only end in the latter's suffering.




It's only when Candy Southern, Worthington's companion, attempts to contact the Beast following the attack that the Avengers become involved. But there's a comical aspect to this scene, something that probably shouldn't overshadow the seriousness of Ms. Southern's call but ends up inadvertently doing so:


Captain America, YOU BIG CLOSET GAMER.
You're supposed to be on monitor duty!


The Avengers' arrival predictably turns heads and sets tongues wagging in the desert town of Alkalai Flats, with writer Jim Shooter scripting a number of scenes that play well in showing how the team interacts with the locals--particularly panels that feature their newest member, Tigra, who so far is acclimating well to the group (though she'll eventually come to the decision that she's not a good fit for the Avengers). One local in particular is also seen taking note of the famous visitors, as he comes to realize just who they're hunting for.




Blaze knows that he's safe from the Avengers only as long as Worthington remains in his coma, since Worthington knows what Blaze looks like and knows that Blaze and the Rider are one and the same. Yet as he prepares to leave town while the getting's good, he's suddenly drawn into a crisis when a young boy is in danger of falling from a water tower--but the Ghost Rider, focusing instead on Blaze's worries, will regrettably have other priorities.



From here, we're given a series of separate encounters that spotlight the Ghost Rider's strengths as far as what he brings to the table in combat. Cap and Tigra's pursuit of the Rider on Cap's 'cycle, for instance, seems futile, given that the Rider is far from being an ordinary 'cyclist. But just as was the case with Worthington, it's the Ghost Rider's discharge of his "hellfire" that provides the greatest visual effect for the issue (as its cover makes apparent) and presents the greatest danger to the Avengers--especially Tigra, whose confidence and cockiness that's been displayed since day one of joining the team is suddenly replaced with horror that strikes to her soul.



And even Iron Man, who normally would be more than a match for this kind of foe, is caught off-guard by the Rider, whose tactics are proving to be both aggressive and quite effective, considering his opposition.



As for Thor, such a clash perhaps has "mismatch" written all over it, especially given how the Ghost Rider's soul-searing hellfire appears to have no effect on the God of Thunder. Yet the Rider not only stays in the fight but manages to hold his own, much like Yellowjacket did when he had to face down Thor and the rest of the team following his raid on a federal installation.




With the Avengers dealt with, the Ghost Rider decides to make a clean sweep of dispensing his vengeance by returning to deal with Worthington, whom he blames for the Avengers' presence. It's a chilling indication of the tightrope that this character has walked in his existence with Blaze, both tempered and frustrated by his mortal self. In Blaze's current state, he's effectively been given the green light to leave behind Blaze's influence and act as he will--an odd testament to the kind of "hero" we're dealing with here.

Yet this sort of story usually follows a playbook--in this case, the Ghost Rider is only a challenge until he's not. We've arguably seen the best that he can offer in these scenes--and when the Avengers rally and strike as a team with their combined might (with the exception of Tigra, who still seems rattled by the Rider's earlier attack and offers no real offensive capability against him), it appears he's on his way to being taken down.





As we see, another has arrived on the scene--Worthington, whose words turn out to be what are needed to bring an end to the hostilities, words which will strike more deeply than any physical blow and will reach not only the Ghost Rider but perhaps more importantly Johnny Blaze, the one who truly needs to hear them. In light of the foundation Shooter laid for Blaze's despondence earlier in terms of the state of his life, it makes for a fitting final page for this story.





It might be interesting to follow up in the Ghost Rider's mag to see if any of what's happened here had an impact on Blaze's fortunes. At this point in time, The Ghost Rider had less than twenty issues remaining in its run, a countdown which may or may not be an indication of how well Blaze rebounded, as well as how much further this character's journey of vengeance could take him.

The Avengers #214

Script: Jim Shooter
Pencils: Bob Hall
Inks: Dan Green
Letterer: Janice Chiang

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

It was in a 1980 issue of Ghost Rider that I first heard of Albuquerque - I remember thinking "is that a real place?" because to my clueless 14 year-old mind Albuquerque didn't sound American (!!)....anyway, in the story there's a nuclear missile aimed at Albuquerque or something (it was a long time ago - I forget the details).

Warren JB said...

Thanks CF. I kinda like the imagery of the story - the angel defeats the demon through nonviolent means.

Though that doesn't prevent Thor looking like a boss, either.

Colin: I feel a great deal of pity for the fact you reached the age of fourteen without hearing how Bugs should have turned left at Albuquerque. ;)

Comicsfan said...

Very nice observation on the Angel/GR confrontation, Warren.

Colin, thanks to your question, I read up a little on Albuquerque out of curiosity. It has a long history, and seems like a great place to put down roots--and it's also host to an international hot air balloon "fiesta" every year!

Anonymous said...

A bit of online research reveals that I was thinking of Ghost Rider #52 dated January 1981. According to the cover the story was called "The Sirens Of Kronos" and they are giving Ghost Rider a hard time in the foreground while the Albuquerque-bound nuclear missile lifts off in the background!

Jared said...

I like this issue. It’s not Shooter at his Avengers best. I think at this point he had done everything he wanted to on the title and was having trouble finding a writer he liked for the title.

I know Shooter didn’t create Tigra, but I think he had ideas for her as an Avenger that did not necessarily carry over to Roger Stern. Shooter seemed to write her much better.

Iain said...

When Worthington appears on the scene in silhouette I recall thinking it was Yellowjacket here to save the day and fix his recent bad rep, his silhouette kinda looks similar. ^^

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