The Seventies were a weird time for comics but also a great one. The post-Sixties era gave a new life to the medium and allowed it freedoms to do more and more bizarre things. Characters that were already on the fringe flourished in those times, especially Doctor Strange, Power Man, Iron Fist and Ghost Rider. As time pushed on some of these characters were able to make the modern jump. Doctor Strange had less bizarre adventures but was folded nicely into the Marvel Universe. Power Man “became” Luke Cage and even Iron Fist grew into the new millennium. One character that continues to have trouble finding a modern voice is Ghost Rider.
Trying to change that perception once again, Marvel has re-launched Ghost Rider with Ghost Rider #0.1. Here we have a streamlined Ghost Rider, losing his baggage and back to the basics. Think of it as Ghost Rider’s version of the Punisher’s “Welcome Home Frank” series. The problem is that it doesn’t work, at all, on any level. Every single problem that has plagued Ghost Rider is here in spades. Most of it has to do with Marvel trying to make Ghost Rider cool and edgy rather than just letting him be Ghost Rider. The other issue is the terrible writing, a surprise since it comes from Rob Williams who has done great work with Judge Dredd and more recently Skaar.
From page one, Ghost Rider just doesn’t work. It’s like ten pieces from ten different sets of Ikea furniture trying to make one dresser. Williams’s biggest problem is dialog, which he can’t seem to get right. Johnny Blaze, aka Ghost Rider, spends half the time eloquently describing his predicament and the other half sounding like a redneck tough guy moron. I’m guessing Williams was trying show the duality of Blaze and Ghost Rider, but it just comes off as clunky. At no point does Williams find a rhythm with his words. By the end of the issue I had grown to really hate the white dialog bubbles.
The story also plods along in a disjointed and uninteresting way. The most obvious offense is the “stranger” who offers Johnny Blaze a way out of being Ghost Rider if he’ll only trust him. Not only should Blaze know better after all this time, but he spends the first half of the comic talking about how you can never trust anybody. In fact, at one point Johnny erupts into the Ghost Rider because some woman he helped offers to help him. Yet we’re supposed to believe he just buys into the stranger’s idea because, what, he’s lonely and sad? Really? An emo Ghost Rider? Wow, what an incredibly bad idea.
Artist Matthew Clark is another key player in this failed production. To be blunt, the art on Ghost Rider 0.1 is goofy. Everybody is just a little too sexy, a little too cool. It’s like True Blood in how it takes place in the most genetically perfect southern town ever. It’s that same kind of silliness here. Clark tries so hard to make Ghost Rider badass that he drains every bit of badass out of him. At no point does Ghost Rider look menacing or scary. Instead it’s akin to watching the Ghost Rider from the terrible Nic Cage movie on paper.
Perhaps the worst is the look forward at the end of the book. Apparently in the next year there will be a chick Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze will have a spaceship motorcycle and he’ll have something to do with Red Hulk. I don’t understand why Marvel can’t have Ghost Rider operate outside the rest of the Marvel Universe and let an artist and writer who love him create adventures for him. Why this need to make him slick and cool? Perhaps another movie reboot is in the works. Whatever the reason, Ghost Rider 0.1 throws a bucket of cold water on what was once the most awesome flaming skull around.