Review by Win Wiacek
During a downturn in sales of superhero comics in the early 1970s Marvel shifted focus from straight costumed crusaders to supernatural and horror characters, among them a certain flaming-skulled vigilante dubbed the Ghost Rider. In 1990 it was the turn of a tragic boy named Danny Ketch to assume the role of hosting the demon Zarathos.
From that dubious period of fashionably “Grim ‘n’ Gritty” super-heroics comes this slight, but engagingly fast-paced horror-hero re-imagining courtesy of writer Howard Mackie, and artists Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira. Theirs was a looser than usual artistic arrangement, not so easily breaking down into penciller and inker roles, and they quickly secured the new Ghost Rider status as one of the hottest hits of the period.
So how did Danny Ketch become Ghost Rider? ‘Life’s Blood’ sees young Danny and his photographer sister Barbara looking for Houdini’s tomb in the vast Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn on the eve of Halloween. Unfortunately they stumble into a bloody criminal confrontation between ninjas and gangsters over a mysterious briefcase. Discovered, the siblings flee but Barb is hit by an arrow, whilst the case itself is snatched by a juvenile gang who plague the wooded necropolis. The ninjas and their macabre leader Deathwatch are the victors of the fire-fight and are soon hunting for their hard-won prize and the witnesses.
In an adjacent junkyard Danny is helplessly watching Barb bleed out when his attention is caught by a glowing pair of eyes. Closer inspection reveals them to be an arcane design on the gas-cap of an abandoned motorbike. The ninjas, having caught the girl who stole the briefcase, are closing in on the Ketch kids when Danny, his hands soaked in his sister’s blood, touches the glowing bike symbol. He’s inexplicably transformed into a spectral horror, burning with fury and indignation – a Spirit of Vengeance hungry to assuage the pain of innocent blood spilled with inhuman vitality, toting an infinitely adaptable bike chain. Even deadlier is a mystic “Penance Stare” which subjects the guilty to unimaginable psychic pain and guilt.
Psionic monsters, urban horrors and the Punisher feature in nine further tales of demonic excess producing a prodigious body count. Despite being markedly short on plot and utterly devoid of humour, this does deliver the maximum amount of uncomplicated thrills, spills and chills for action-starved fight fans.
If you occasionally feel that subtlety isn’t everything and yearn for a vicarious dose of simple wickedness-whomping, this might well be the book for you, and if it is, there’s a Volume 2.