Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ghost Riders: Heaven's On Fire

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Roland Boschi

I have a confession to make. This is the first time I've ever read the 'Previously' page at the start of a Marvel comic before. I usually have no reason to read them as I'm kept well abreast of most comics from my own readings and spoilers posted online.

However, I've never actually cared about Ghost Rider. I'd heard he was turned into an angel or agent of God or some such, but never actually took an active interest in reading more. When some guy I'd never heard of named Jason Aaron took over over a year or more ago, I had even less reason to go pick up a book featuring a 90's extreme character I had no interest in. A lot can change in a few short years and here I am, at the end of Aaron's acclaimed run and post-cancellation of Ghost Rider's book, picking up the conclusion to his run on the title.

But I digress. Getting back to the whole recap page, I now know why I don't bother reading them - they're still useless. It basically told me as little as possible, amounting to, "Johnny Blaze used to serve hell, turned out he was working for heaven all along and, with Danny Ketch, unwittingly let some guy I don't know take over heaven. Now they want to stop him.". I suppose it's helpful, in the barest of possible ways, but it did nothing for me and I learned more from the freaking solicit than that. I'm not joking. Look,
The renegade angel Zadkiel is out to thwart Biblical prophecy by assassinating a young boy bred by Satanists to rule the world, so if Ghost Riders Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch are going to save the world, they'll first have to save the Anti-Christ. Guest-starring Hellstorm, the Son of Satan.
They could have put that there with some stuff about how the Ghost Riders serve heaven and it'd be far better than what I learned from the recap page. I now understand why many people complain about not being able to "get into" certain comics. Now that my little tangent about recap pages is over, let's get into just how good this issue actually ended up being.

As the solicit stated, there's a war on heaven, anti-christs and various Ghost Riders and demonic characters, such as the Son of Satan, involved in this story. I have little to no knowledge of any of them outside of their basic appearances and names, so am fairly unfamiliar with their current or past personalities and can't comment on those, but I found everyone to be engaging and unique in their own rights throughout the issue. No one felt like a set piece put on the board just to put over another character nor were they just there to recap events. Everyone was a distinct personality that was there, I assume since I haven't read any of this run, for a story purpose. It was refreshing reading a story featuring that kind of usage and something typically only "allowed" on fringe books like this one, so wanted to point that out.

Another thing I wanted to point out is that this story has some downright ridiculous things in. And by ridiculous, I mean ridiculously awesome. There's ninja nuns with swords, two (2) Ghost Riders (Ketch and Blaze), heaven in the bad guy and the heroes have to stop a renegade angel, who's taken control of heaven, by protecting the anti-christ. While that may not so sound bad, they rogue angel? He wants to stop the apocalpye. Our heroes are helping bring about armageddon. The twist ont his is that the longer the rogue angel stays in power, the more powerful he becomes and, well, he doesn't like Earth, so we probably won't be around too long if the Ghost Riders don't help the anti-christ. It's a great concept and something I found compelling in a book, for all my love of Aaron's work, I didn't expect to like and have put off reading for so long.

However, while there are so many great concepts in this book, the first issue of this 'event' (it's more like a continuation of a series than an actual event book if you ask me) is actually fairly straight forward. There was no huge shock ending twist that other events use for their first issues or death (well, lots of people do die I guess) to hook people in for the longhaul. It's just a very solid first issue to a storyline and I think Marvel pushed it to miniseries/retitlted it just to drum up some hype and give them a reason to up it to $3.99 a pop.

Yes, the one detriment to this issue is that it is $3.99 for a standard sized story. Technically, there's a backup reprint of the first volume's Ghost Rider #1, but I didn't really find it overly necessary or relevant. At least, not nearly as useful as the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill that accompanied his recent miniseries, Godhunter. Of note, I don't feel ripped off buying this at $3.99, as it was a good issue, but I imagine long time readers might be a little ticked off at the price hike for what amounts to a continuation of what they were already reading in the same package, just different title.

Artwise, this looked great all around. I really like the bulkier looking Ghost Rider and the art is dark and moody, which fits the tone of the story perfectly.

Verdict - Check It. I'm hesitant to call it a Must Read as this does deal with a lot of fringe characters and the more mystical sides of the Marvel Universe, but this is a very good read and, my complaints about the useless recap page at the start aside, fairly reader friendly, all things considered.

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