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Author Topic: Crash and Burn Comics: Marvel Spotlight #9: GHOST RIDER by Friedrich, Sutton and Stone

- Snakes on the Brain

I've never been a deep GHOST RIDER fan. A flamboyant 70's book, it was certainly a comic I always picked up.

My favourite GHOST RIDER story of all was "Phantom of the Killer Skies" from #12 by Tony Isabella, Frank Robbins and Frank Giacoia/Mike Esposito. It's the best story in the GHOST RIDER ESSENTIALS vol. 1. I'm gazing through without raising a sweat. It's simply an inspired comic-story with all the right touches: A killer double-page spread. Some title lettering by Robbins himself scattered throughout. Robbins well inked - rather than the jarring Colletta that was to cloud the next few GHOST RIDER books. A Bronze book with a Golden Age-styled poetry to it. And there's the biplane/hellbike juxtaposition, all by itself...

It's only competition at any point may have been GHOST RIDER #35 by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha.

Especially at this point, GHOST RIDER was a textbook 70's "body" of work. I believe Gary Friedrich wrote some good moments and combined with Ploog very effectively*, but that he was slack about sub-plots and keeping track of things.

*MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN by Friedrich and Ploog is splendid work, most of it adapted.

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #9 opens with Ghost Rider plunging to his ultimate demise. Friedrich calls Johnny Blaze "half man, half servant of Satan." Until the last few issues by Stern and DeMatteis, it always seemed to float around ambiguously as to just what exactly Johnny Blaze had been transformed into.

"Snakes Crawl at Night" is written by Gary Friedrich, penciled by Tom Sutton and inked, curiously I think, by Chic Stone. I'm not a fan of Chic Stone - he usually has an undesirable laminating effect. Here though, coping with the flourishing wildness in Sutton's pencils, he opens up a new brand of Stone, one that recalls his inks on John Buscema's SILVER SURFER #16-17. He's pushed to be more expressive and less tame. He doesn't dull much of Sutton, that's for sure.

The Serpent creature/apparition/snake-giant that the bad news Indian known as Snake Eyes has conjured has chased Johnny off a cliff. The end of page two invites us to believe the party's over for the Ghost Rider. The malignant Medicine Man goes to the edge of the cliff to peer down. Euphoric, he throws himself into some tangled dance. To the victor go the moves!

Others have been combing the territory for Blaze. Mr Casey has a rodeo: "Didn't want cycles at the rodeo anyway... That's all," he says to Johnny's flame, Roxanne Simpson. Between them, they figure out that the biker in question had a canyon he wanted to investigate; the Copperhead Canyon. Rather than standing around outside the rodeo arguing, Casey teams Roxanne with Sam Silvercloud, one of his right-hand men.

In the jeep, Roxanne and Sam talk land rights. They zip through the burning Arizona dust. Sam Silvercloud speaks affirmatively of repatriation by the Apache. They stop and look around. Sam tells her that he knows that "Johnny Blaze is dead!!" He overpowers her easily and ties her with rope. "You're mad... and why are you doing this?" "I have already told you... I act for my people... and for justice!" He's driving them to a date with Snake Dance.

It's morning at rodeo headquarters, and now Roxanne Simpson is missing, as well. Casey doesn't mention Silvercloud, who she's missing with. (??) He dispatched him! Bart Slade, a crippled turncoat after Number One position in the Evel Knievel business, assures Casey he can stand in for the stunt cyclist.

Hours and hours later, in the sweltering afternoon heat, who should come clawing their way out of a shallow blanket of rubble but the injured bikie on everyone's mind. He's unmarked...

Satan himself ignites the air and burns in front of Johnny. He was present to ensure Johnny's survival. Had he died at the hands of a mortal, there's no way Satan could have gathered his soul. All that work for nothing. Did Friedrich have this ghost in the machine in mind at the literal cliffhanger of GHOST RIDER #10? Maybe, maybe not. The storylines do hinge on this point, so it doesn't grate. "Until that glorious moment... you are free... and immune to all the murderous feats of our fellow man!"

Hours of contemplation pass before a helicopter attracts Johnny's attention. He's soon rescued by a samaritan who figures he's lost his horse.

And at the same instant, darkness also falls on the nearby Indian Reservation... and with it, horrors no white man ever before has heard..." Is this kind of writing dead now? The caption assumes that I'm both white and male. (By chance, that's true.) Anyway; Roxanne Simpson is going to be sacrificed. It's a bargaining for more power. Snake Dance's people are hungry and live in despair. But the children cower. He has two snakes mounted on his shoulders, not unlike War Machine and his cannons.

There's more to the picture: Snake Eyes thinks to himself about how much he tires of "...this charade..." Far from lilly white, the redskin is a simple liar and fraud. With brittle justifications and a naked longing for more power to go with his showmanship, he isn't an antihero; he's simply a rat. Inside the junk-strewn shack, he is going through his treasure chest "...dredging out the ancient instruments of destruction."

Johnny jumps to he ground from the copter. He makes it to the dressing room which he "...never thought would look so good!" He begins to change his apparel - well, just to put on a fresh suit of same. What really changes is his Flame On! head!! It's that time! Look, I honestly forget what brings on his changes at this point. I suppose it's nightfall.

Ghost Rider is surprised to find Bart Slade about to enter the show's spotlight. He stops him physically. The cycle-gymnastics intended for the evening's spectacle would be suicide for Slade. The next two pages prove it, too. The Rider jumps through flaming hoops and over a series of poles held shoulder height, two men a piece. Sutton's angles are beautifully chosen. It's when Johnny has to jump a line of steers that he lets his mind wander - and he and vehicle fall down and go boom.

Naturally, he steps from cataclysm. The crowd have had their money's worth and its no concern of Ghost Rider's if they haven't. He sights Sam Silvercloud and gets Roxanne's location out of him. Though how the hell he could possibly know of Silvercloud's complicity is beyond me. It's just the loose sort of detail Gary Friedrich falls down on regularly. Annoying? You bet.

Blaze bikes it to the reservation. Roxanne is tied to a snake creature-effigy the size of two sofas. The penile conventions are played and yet they're nothing overt; or at least there's nothing over-the-tip (so to speak.) It doesn't look wholesome or nuthin' - it just looks provocative and electrifying within the boundaries of a mainstream comic, from the time when zombies, walking animations of the truly undead, could only be referred to obliquely as "zuvembies." (That Comics Code Authority rule was on its last legs about now...)

So Snake Dance waves his pets and promises the Serpent Roxanne for his bride. He awaits a sign. Nothing coming, one of his shoulder snakes lances at her. It doesn't actually connect, though. Instead, Snake Dance has his wonderful fanged deluxe-sized worms striking and biting himself. It's like being pinched by a rubberband to him. Now he's going to make the sacrifice. If she survives as he can... They bite her hands! Sutton delivers. Ouch!

Snake Dance is playing everyone, the crowd, even his gods. Roxanne begins to weaken. Reenter: the Ghost Rider! Ghost Rider chases - Snake Dance sprints. The heat is on. The best moment in his comic is this: Ghost Rider has her in his arms. His hellfire and pony show keep the others at bay. Simply awesome!

Ghost Rider has to take his leave - Roxanne is beginning to die. He vows that he will be back if she perishes. They're sure she will and tremble accordingly.

Before he goes, Ghost Rider destroys their huge serpent totem. And he goes... To be continued in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #10 (where Sutton is matched rather intriguingly with Jim Mooney on inks.)

One of the dopey things I love about earlier GHOST RIDER is how no one takes Johnny in full Satan-mode seriously. They're standing right next to him and saying that his ghost cycle routine doesn't scare them a bit. Yeah? Would they say the same standing next to the Blazing Skull or Johnny Storm or a human-sized Dormammu? My foot, they would. This guy's naked skull is on fire for the love of Peter, Paul and Mary! The air burns around him. He has Satan stench. (If he doesn't, he ought to have.)

And when he's sitting in a car with a roof - well, there's that burning globe of his sparklng with hellflame - but nothing melting or distorting.

Ghost Rider - safe for children. He should stunt ride at kindergardens.

(Gordon Bennet! That was a bit long. Would you believe it was a substitute for FANTASTIC FOUR #18, the origin of the Super Skrull. I will get to that one soon. Also going to write about Jim Woodring's JIM comics, four of which came out of Fantagraphics in the early 80's, but the six issues I'm gonna look at are reads from the 90's, so that's going to be on the Independents. Mostly, I'm drawn to G/S/B material, as if you couldn't tell.)


Reading: I polished off the monster-sized SPIDERMAN ESSENTIALS vol. 9 and I'm about halfway through the first DOOM PATROL SHOWCASE to date. It looks like I'm on a reading streak of SGT ROCK though I don't have nearly enough of them - principally some 15c and 20c issues. I did read (from the ARCHIE AMERICANA SERIES) BEST OF THE FIFTIES Booth 2 which was great, though it's a thin volume for a hardback.
Listening: DAYDREAM NATION by Sonic Youth. They toured here not so long ago and performed their old album live, buttttt I missed it.
Watching: One doco after another.
RIP: David Carradine

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