Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: All-New Ghost Rider Vol. 2: Legend

There was a lot to like about the first story arc of All-New Ghost Rider, which actually introduced an all-new Ghost Rider. There was the new character, Robbie Reyes, who tried to balance taking care of his mentally and physically-challenged younger brother while going to high school, working nights as a mechanic and trying to win extra money via illegal street-racing. There was the design of the new Ghost Rider, who had a metallic head that looked more like a skull-shaped engine that spouted flames, rather than the traditional skeleton on fire design. And there was the fact that this Ghost Rider drove a car rather than a motorcycle, further differentiating him from his predecessors.

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 Vengeancesing 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.


Anonymous said...

While I can't say I'm a fan of Damion Scott's art, especially coming off of Tradd Moore's tremendous run on the title, I very much do like Robbie Reyes as a character and am glad you dig what Felipe Smith has done with him.

At this point only two issues of the Secret Wars tie-in *Ghost Racers* has come out so far, and it's been great. Gedeon's art is on point and Smith has made it a treat for both old fans and new of the character. There's also that *Secret Love* one-shot coming out next month which makes me think that he'll be around to stay.

Oh, and Axel Alonso is a huge fan himself, and with that kind of support I feel confident in his survival.

Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

I just made a comment on Facebook today that I really hope Felipe Smith is back for another run of All New Ghost Rider in some form. The series is just too solid to let die yet.

Evan said...

I agree that art may be more challenging than writing. But there's not necessarily a correlation between how hard something is to do, and how much value it adds. I'd usually rather read a well-written comic with spotty artwork than a well-drawn comic with a mediocre story*. It's similar to the way a low-budget movie with a good script is generally superior to a glossy big-budget SFX-fest with a bad script. I can't make myself get overly excited about art unless it's portraying characters I care about and a story I find engaging.

*Of course, this is within limits. It's possible for art to be so bad it makes a great script unreadable (i.e. Greg Land), the same way it's possible for cinematography/acting/SFX to be so bad that it ruins a decent script.

Brian said...

"(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.)"

Caleb, I mean no disrespect by saying this, because I appreciate your opinions and how you state them. Yet, writing is NOT easier than art, It may be quicker sometimes – especially quicker to rusher, but not necessarily to do well. Nevertheless, there's a clear distinction between good writing and good art wherein good writing (and good use of language) is FAR superior than even the best visual endeavor, and depicts far more in its scope than mere artistic encapsulation. Like many, I enjoy your work her on the blog and on larger sites, but you have to realize that neither comics writing not art is actually of any "artistic" merit – and I include the "independent" nonsense that bloggers fellate themselves over in lieu of reading of seeing such things of real historic value. Instead, enjoy the ride, true believers – 'nuff said...

Evan said...


If by "writing" you mean "scripting" or "storytelling" I'd agree with your first point. Obviously it's possible to make an excellent "silent issue" of a comic that tells a good story without any words, but such issues are "written," by a scripter, even if no language is visible to the eye. Scripting events and characters so they form a good and satisfying story is hard.

But I don't agree with the point you seem to be making about "artistic merit." In my experience, assigning "artistic merit" is more about status games than it is about any quality a piece of art might possess. Saying something has artistic merit is about elevating people who appreciate it above people who appreciate other things, not about it's quality. I find it especially suspicious that things that were popular entertainment in previous centuries become "high art" as soon as they are old enough that the hoi poloi doesn't consume them anymore (see Dickens, Shakespeare, etc.).

Attempting to assign artistic merit without regard to social status, I can't really see any difference in quality between the works of Grant Morrison or Marcel Proust. Although I will say this: Action-adventure is awesome. Serious artistic explorations of the human condition are also awesome. So a writer who manages to combine both of those things into one narrative must be awesomest.