Monday, July 13, 2015
Review: All-New Ghost Rider Vol. 2: Legend
But as solid as Felipe Smith's scripting and various acts of franchise re-tooling was, the thing that really made the first five issues of All-New Ghost Rider–collected as All-New Ghost Rider Vol. 1: Engines of Vengeance–sing was Tradd Moore's art. All dramatic angles, dynamic lay-outs and in-your-face, off-kilter action scenes, Moore's Ghost Rider looked like almost nothing else that either Marvel or DC were publishing at the time. Maybe more than any other aspect of the new series, which, when stripped to its essentials, looks an awful lot like a pretty compelling 21st century re-creation of Ghost Rider as Peter Parker, it was Moore's art that brought the "all-new" to All-New Ghost Rider.
And for this second volume? Moore's gone.
Marvel Comics has been a writer's game more than an artist's game for a while now. I suppose if you want to get philosophical about it, I suppose one could even argue that it's baked right into the DNA of the Marvel Comics, with writer Stan Lee always gaining greater recognition and reward than artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. But it's pretty damn unfortunate, and Marvel hasn't done much to help give writer and artist equal participation and footing in their books, even accelerating the publishing schedules of many titles to the point where it's all but impossible for a single artist to keep up. It can be a real shame too, as a lot of Marvel series gradually lose any sense of visual cohesion–even limited series, like their big event/crossover comics (Age of Ultron being a particularly good example).
(It's also a bit of shame because, at the risk of offending any professional comics writers who might have accidentally found themselves reading this, writing is much, much, much easier than drawing. One might come easier or more naturally to some individuals than the other, but it's a fact that it it takes a hell of a lot longer to draw a page of comics than it does to write one.)
This is a bad news, good news situation for All-New Ghost Rider; while it's bad news that Moore left after the first story arc, the good news is that editor Mark Paniccia and Marvel managed to snag a replacement artist whose style is at least in the same aesthetic ballpark as Moore's: Damion Scott.
You may remember him from the the early issues of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl series (I almost said "the good Batgirl series," but I guess that since the current volume of Batgirl went and got itself a new creative team, there are now officially two good runs of Batgirl comics*), as well as a little Spider-Man, some Robin, a Raven miniseries, an issue of Solo and a dumb LeBron James comic. His style is something of an acquired taste, but it's one I like an awful lot–so much so that I even bought that dumb LeBron James comic, just to look at the art.
While there are some pretty big differences in Moore and Scott's styles, both have a similar sense of dynamism and predilection for extreme angles and highly expressive exaggeration. If anything, Scott boasts far more of this than Moore, although his artwork is also much rounder (the first volume of this series had more straight lines than the second) and slightly sketchier. Still, if you couldn't get Moore for the next story arc, I can't think of anyone better than Scott.
So, if you read the first volume, you know that Robbie Reyes was being shot to death when he heard a voice that made a sort of deal with him, resurrecting him and turning him into the all-new Ghost Rider. It turned out not to be the spirit of vengeance, or a spirit of vengeance of the sort that inhabited Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch, but it gave Robbie the weird-ass powers he needed to protect his neighborhood from villain Mr. Hyde, who was giving super-steroids to local gang members and turning them into hulking monsters that only a metal-headed, flame spouting demon with a ghost car and chains could defeat. Defeat them this new Ghost Rider did, and he became a local hero.
In this volume, we learn a lot more about the spirit empowering Robbie, and it ain't good. Apparently, this is the ghost/spirit of a Satanic serial killer who had performed some sorts of crazy occult rituals with his victims in order to allow him to possess and Ghost Rider-ize another. Here, it's Robbie.
Robbie has to be very careful to keep Eli, the killer's spirit, in check, or he can lose control of his own body, as he does in some particularly scary scenes in the first four issues of this collection. As used to comics as I am, as jaded and cynical as I can be about superhero universe comics, I have to confess feeling real dread for Robbie's little brother and his teacher when Eli took control of Robbie's body, which I think is a testament to how good Smith and Scott handled these issues. I actually gave a damn about characters in a superhero comic! That doesn't happen often!
While Robbie struggles with Eli for possession of his body (and their powers), Mr. Hyde's less-monstrous half is building an army of teen Hydes with a new version of his super-steroid pill from the one used in the last volume (the remainder of which is gobbled up by some animals in this issue, giving Scott the opportunity to draw some horrible monsters) and Johnny Blaze comes into town, determined to figure out what's going on with this "All-New" Ghost Rider, who turns out not to be a Ghost Rider at all, really.
That's followed by a two-issue arc in which we get more artists, these ones who don't draw much of anything like Moore or Scott. Although both are excellent artists; one is Smith himself, who I wouldn't have minded drawing the entire series, if he could draw fast enough, and the other is the always-excellent Kris Anka, who helps Moore finish up the issue #12.
Here we jump ahead a few months, Robbie gets a girlfriend and Eli sets his sights on possessing Robbie's little brother instead of Robbie, as the kid is a bit more malleable. Here's a pretty good example of why it's no good changing art-styles too radically; Robbie's brother is said to be 13, but here looks about half the age he did during Scott and Moore's runs on the book.
This volume ends with Eli and Robbie coming to a sort of accord, one that would seemingly satiate the former's bloodlust enough to keep him from trying to take Robbie's little brother again, but it also appears to be the last issue of the series. It ended in time for Secret Wars, wherein there are at least two books that will feature Robbie Reyes, but an new All-New Ghost Rider wasn't one of those post-Secret Wars comics announced, at least not yet. So I suppose this could very well be the end of the series or just the end of the series for now.
I hope it comes back with Smith and a stable, consistent art partner for Smith to work with, because these two volumes were both pretty damn good.
*This being the Internet, I expect someone to at least be thinking "But the Stephanie Brown run was awesome!" I didn't think so. The Stephanie Brown comic may have had some strong writing here and there, but I was never able to stick with it for more than an issue here and there; that costume was as hard to look at as post-Flashpoint Barbara Gordon's first costume was, and the art was rarely more than mediocre.