Review by Win Wiacek
The Comics Code prohibition against horror had guided the comics industry for well over a decade when the popularity of superheroes plummeted at the end of the 1960s. The Code was hastily rewritten – amazing how plunging sales can affect ethics – and scary comics came back in a big way. As always in entertainment, the watchword was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be incorporated into the mix as soon as possible, so a new crop of supernatural superheroes and monsters began to appear on the newsstands.
Among them was a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the supernatural zeitgeist. The global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spooky and Supernatural had begun with Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel), and it was Satan, not any of the later retconned substitutes responsible for Ghost Rider. Circus stunt rider Johnny Blaze cuts a deal to save a friend. However, as writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich explain, as is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract. Blaze is transformed into the Ghost Rider after sundown, with a body that burns with the fires of Hell.
He takes a long, strange journey, as creative teams constantly change before Tony Isabella establishes equilibrium by writing the most stories, with early contributor and character designer Mike Ploog by far the best of a large selection of artists. The focus changes along with the writers. Friedrich emphasises the supernatural, notably introducing the Son of Satan, while Isabella’s preference is to tone it down for guest stars and less exotic threats.
Ultimately, These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the baddest of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hols steady and accept no supernatural substitutes.