25th Oct2019

‘Marvel Tales feat. Ghost Rider #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Various | Art by Various | Published by Marvel Comics


I kind of felt honour bound to review this, with Halloween in our not too distant future. Can you think of many better characters than Ghost Rider at this time of year. I also have a more personal connection in that, every Halloween growing up, I’d always pull a stack of books with a horror connection and read them. I always did the same at Xmas as well, themed reading was a thing back then clearly. Apart from the odd Werewolf By Night, or Tomb of Dracula, the character I loved the most was Johnny Blaze himself, Ghost Rider. Visually awesome, with great villains like Mephisto prone to spring up, and having adventures in a nice little niche area of the Marvel Universe, what was not to like? The 1990’s reboot was ok, with Danny Ketch as the new Ghost Rider, but it never really recaptured the magic Ghost Rider had back in the day. This Marvel Tales Special, however, promises to do just that.

The Marvel Tales series of one shots are all to celebrate Marvel’s 80th Anniversary, and designed to showcase the best of various characters publishing history, or at least stories which are very important to a character’s past. Behind a fantastic painted cover by Inhyuk Lee, we are treated to three stories, though not before a really good text piece from Ralph Macchio, covering Marvel’s horror output and Ghost Rider himself, created by Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich. People forget now just how truly groundbreaking Ghost Rider was, both in the horror subject matter and his flaming skull appearance, and was certainly nothing that had been seen since the 1950’s. So let’s take a look at the three chosen stories.

First up we have Ghost Rider issue 68, an issue from 1982 that I still remember buying from the local railway station newsagent (still love that cover). Written by the wonderful Roger Stern, and drawn by Bob Budiansky and Joe Rubinstein, this book was important as it was a re-telling of the origin of Ghost Rider. Actually, it was a lot more than that, as Roger Stern built on and improved the original origin, folding in a decade of stories since that first appearance and making them all make sense. The story is framed by having Johnny Blaze give confession in Church, detailing his stunt rider father’s death, and his time as a circus stunt rider, most of it marred by one tragedy or another.

The priest is very sympathetic, until Johnny admits he made the very 1970’s deal with the Devil, literally. Johnny sold his soul to save someone else, but very quickly learned that to make a deal with the Devil, or Mephisto as he is in the Marvel Universe, is to make no deal at all. He was now cursed, cursed to turn into the Ghost Rider, a spirit of vengeance driven to punish the guilty. The little cherry on top here is that the priest isn’t who we though he was, and Johnny being there is no accident. This a perfect summary of the character, the origin of both Johnny Blaze and Ghost Rider, essentially two beings inhabiting the same body. Though the art may be a little simplistic for some these days, the story still holds up really well.

Next up is Marvel Team Up issue 15, from way back in 1973. with the stellar creative team of scripter Len Wein and artist Ross Andru. Ghost Rider was something of a team up favourite down the years, as he makes a good supporting character in other people’s books. He has teamed up with many characters down the years, and several times with Spider-Man specifically, and I’m guessing this was the first team up he had with another established Marvel character. I’m guessing it was no coincidence it was Spider-Man, then Marvel’s biggest and most popular character. To be fair, although this is a decent story, there were far better ones later on with Ghost Rider and Spider Man (check out Marvel Team Up issue 91 for my personal favourite). We have Peter Parker and MJ out for a visit to the Ghost Rider stunt show, when it is attacked by ‘only in the 1970’s’ villain The Orb, who can both ride motorcycles and hypnotise people at the same time. It’s a fun story, but really just typical of the time.

The final story is from What If issue 28, a book for those not familiar that put various Marvel characters into theoretical situations to see how things would have gone differently from established history. Sliding Doors for superheroes. Written by Michael Fleisher and drawn by Tom Sutton, this one asks what if Ghost Rider and Johnny Blaze were separated, something that Johnny was always striving to do. Echoing themes that Fleisher used in his Spectre stories for DC, we see that a spirit of vengeance not tempered by a human host is not good news, a near uncontrollable force of nature. In truth, this is not the greatest of stories, and I found the writing and art to be very pedestrian, but I guess the idea was interesting enough to warrant the stories inclusion.

I enjoyed this book, but didn’t love it. I know these things are always subjective, but first story aside I think I could have picked better stories to showcase a great character like this. Still, it’s entertaining stuff, and a nice little jaunt down memory lane for some of us. Any book that reminds me of the good old days can’t be all bad, and it’s always nice to revisit old friends.

Happy Halloween!

***½  3.5/5

Marvel Tales feat. Ghost Rider #1 is out now.


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