GHOST RIDER: TRAIL OF TEARS #1
Writer: Garth Ennis Artist: Clayton Crain
GHOST RIDER #94 (FINALE)
Writer: Ivan Valez Jr. Artists: Javier Saltares & Mark Texiera, Klaus Jansen Publisher: Marvel Comics PLUS A MINI-REVIEW OF GHOST RIDER: THE MOTION PICTURE Reviewer: Ambush BugI’m writing this the day after sitting though GHOST RIDER: THE MOTION PICTURE, and after the heated debate on Ghostie in last week’s Talkbacks, I felt the need to speak out on our friend with the flaming skull. One particular question came up in the Talkbacks that intrigued me:
“Have there ever really been any definitive and high quality Ghost Rider stories?”
And to that, I have to honestly answer, “No, none that I have read.”
That doesn’t mean I haven’t been entertained by a Ghost Rider book before. Hell, I bought the book all through the nineties and picked up almost every one of the issues of his first series. I guess you could say I was a fan, but it wasn’t because of the quality of the stories.
No, the Ghost Rider is popular for one thing and one thing only. He looks cool. That’s why I liked him.
And it’s ok for a comic book character to be popular on looks alone. In a medium where both images and text are equally important, there is room for stories which focus on things that are appealing to the eye, even though those stories may be lacking in the plot department. Maybe the reason why Ghostie is not as popular as he was in the nineties or the seventies is because we live in a day and age where the writer is looked upon as the most important factor in a book. It’s not the nineties when the artists were the superstars, exemplified by the Image boom of splash over substance. Nor is it the seventies (when Ghostie was originally born), when Marvel was trying to cash in on popular genre movies like blacksploitation, kung fu, and horror. Maybe we live in a more sophisticated decade where the line “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” from Saturday Night Live’s Fernando isn’t as popular (Jesus, I know using that reference dates me, but who the hell cares?). Maybe comics have grown up a little.
But even though we like to think these are mini-masterpieces of literature we read every week, we have to acknowledge that these are, in fact, funny books. And maybe we should all lighten up.
Because of this, I am going to hesitantly recommend checking out two books Marvel recently released featuring Ghost Rider. The first, GHOST RIDER: TRAIL OF TEARS #1 is from Garth Ennis whose first attempt at writing the Rider left me cold. This issue looks great with some wonderful images from Clayton Crain. His panels are worn like some kind of daguerreotype photos one would find in an old attic. Crain has a good eye for positioning of the panel, avoiding using straight forward “camera” shots and preferring to make each frame interesting to look at.
Marvel is releasing this book in conjunction with the release of the motion picture, which marketing-wise is a good idea. That is, if Ghost Rider actually appeared in this issue. He doesn’t though, which will guarantee that anyone who picked up this issue after seeing the film in anticipation to enjoy a little Ghost Riding will be sorely disappointed. It’s a trade-paced first issue and Marvel should know better to release an issue of Ghost Rider the week it comes out in theaters without having an actual Ghost Rider in it. I think this miniseries is going to focus on the Cowboy Ghost Rider, which was one of the cooler aspects of the movie. It would have been a great hook to get new customers interested in comics. But I doubt I’m sticking around for issue two due to the snail-pacing and if the issue didn’t hook me, I’m betting it won’t hook Joe Schmoe Who Just Walked in the Comic Shop Do’ who knows nothing about comics or the character and was interested only because he dug the flick.
Marvel also released GHOST RIDER #94 (FINALE) which was the lost last issue of the nineties series. When Marvel went bankrupt, a few issues were lost in the shuffle. GHOST RIDER #94 was one of them. Readers never got to know whatever happened to Daniel Ketch, the nineties Ghost Rider, so the three of you who missed this issue can now die knowing that your collection is complete. This wasn’t a bad read, and I have to give Marvel props for packaging this book in the way they did. This is a book for the fans. It reprints issue #93 to catch everyone up, it’s got a cool intro explaining what happened with the lost issue, and it even has a nice Marvel Universe entry in the end dedicated solely to the 90’s Ghost Rider. It also has art by Saltares, Texiera, and Jansen, a trio of artists who can’t help but make the Ghost Rider look cool.
But because this is the last issue of the series and wraps up a lot of dangling plotlines, this isn’t really the type of book that is new reader friendly. If you liked the old series, you’ll like this one. But if you are like me and dropped Ghost Rider towards the end of his 90’s run due to poor quality of stories and Marvel’s over-saturation of the market, you’re probably going to find yourself not really giving a shit about all of this. At least it has Ghost Rider in it, which immediately gives this issue a leg up over TRAIL OF TEARS.
In the end, while Marvel is hoping GHOST RIDER: THE MOTION PICTURE will be a success, all they have out right now is a miniseries with a first issue where the Ghost Rider doesn’t even appear, whateverthehell Daniel Way is trying to do in the current lackluster ongoing, and a fifteen year old last issue with so much going on that it’s all but incomprehensible to new readers. Marvel, you ain’t getting any new Ghostie fans from that crop of crap. One of these days, some writer is going to come along and write the definitive Ghost Rider story. Until then, we’ve got this pair of books that look pretty good, but have little else in the way of substance or relevance going for them. So like I said earlier, I’m going to hesitantly recommend these two books because even though they are lacking in the story department, they look good, and that’s important too.
And because no one asked for it, I thought GHOST RIDER the film (or as I like to call it, HELL TOUPEE) was kind of fun. Definitely better than DAREDEVIL, PUNISHER, & ELEKTRA. It’s strictly FANTASTIC FOUR level stuff with performances that ranged from pretty damn great (Cage, Elliot, Fonda, and Mendez’ breasts) to god awful (Bentley, Cage’s wig, and the rest of Mendez). Cage was at his VAMPIRE’S KISS kookiest. The effects were ok. The demons were downright laughable and looked like rejects from some Midwestern wannabe goth band from the nineties.
On a side note, I found myself completely distracted by Nick Cage’s bizarrely shaped ears. What up wit those things?
Had they lost the “origin story” snippet from the beginning and just had Cage cursed from the get-go, peppering history throughout the narrative, it would have been a much stronger film. Why does every super hero film have to follow a cookie cutter formula and focus on the origin?
The performances from the cast save HELL TOUPEE in the end. It definitely isn’t the worst comic book film I’ve ever seen, but Cage’s wig and the performances from Bentley and Mendez were the cinematic equivalent of Ghostie’s Penance Stare. I would say, “Save your money, wait for DVD, and go read the comic instead.” But we’ve already established that the GHOST RIDER comics Marvel is offering these days aren’t that great either.
THE PUNISHER PRESENTS: BARRACUDA #1
Writer: Garth Ennis Penciler: Goran Parlov Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeThe introductory paragraph for any written work is very important, whether it be a novel, a short story, or in this case, a comic book review. That intro is where you're supposed to grab your audience and pull them in for the rest of your piece of prose. You set your tone, your direction, give the reader an idea where you're going with your subject matter, usually summed up in your thematic statement, the lynchpin of your dissertation. And mine would be this right here:
Four fucking dollars for this comic book Marvel? Are you out of your fucking minds?!?!
Sure, yeah, I know I'm the main guilty party in this, I should have paid attention to the solicits, or maybe got a feeling of what was going on when I noticed this thing had one of those WONDERFUL card stock covers that obviously cost another dollar to manufacture, but at the same time why? Last I checked the PUNISHER title that this is spinning out of is a pretty consistent 40K plus seller, so one would assume this is going to get a pretty decent spill off of those readers. And last I checked even the good old boys at places like Dynamite Entertainment (where Ennis is taking THE BOYS) and whatnot can keep their books at a "reasonable" price. Seriously, how the fuck does this cost an extra buck? I understand when like, IDW has to market their books at four bucks a pop, they (sadly) rarely have a book that sells in the five digits. If freaking Image and Dark Horse and whoever can keep pretty much all their titles at the standard $2.99 price tag, why the hell can't Marvel freaking Entertainment do the same? That's just sad...
But okay, okay, we've got a comic book to talk about here. So was this spinoff about the meanest, toughest, blackest sumbitch and the only man to cross the Punisher and live to tell about it worth the extra loot? Eh, not really, but it was still fun.
Basically the premise of this mini-series is that our main 'Cuda has been hired to protect the young, brutally nerdy and undersized son (Oswald) of a pretty wealthy and made man as young Oswald gets his first kill. Oh, and Oswald is a hemophiliac. Comedy ensues, or at least will ensue since 'Cud and Oswald don't "team up" until the end of this issue. But this issue is you standard, loveable Ennis humor. No race or stereotype goes unskewed, blood is spilled, and enough f-bombs are dropped to give the “South Park” movie a run for its money in totality. The thing of it all is that Barracuda really does have some weird sort of draw to his character. He's such a horrible piece of shit, but you really can't but help love the guy. He just doesn't care. He does what he wants, and is so brutal, unrelenting, and whimsical about it all, he's just so much fun to watch, which is how this book obviously got the green light.
So, the book is fun, but it's really not four dollars fun, unless you do just happen to love the title character that much. The humor is pretty standard Ennis, so it's not like you don't know what you're going to get for your money; you just have to decide if it's worth it. I personally laughed out loud my fair share of times so I'd say it is, but not in a monthly format for that unnecessary added dollar. Trade is easily the way to go with this, and I personally am pretty giddy with anticipation over how things are gonna go down with young Hemo. Should be, as they say, a "rip-roaring good time".
Writer: Grant Morrison Artist: John Van Fleet Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugMy fingertips compress each plastic cube making up the keys on my keyboard as my thoughts slosh against the interiors of my mind and pour out onto the flat glowing monitor screen before me. I keep my critical eye peeled as I remember reading one particular monthly periodical written by a scribe whose work has often bordered on the bizarre, the fantastic, and the unimaginable. My thoughts on this writer’s most recent endeavor swirled around me ethereally, hauntingly, forebodingly. Those who worship the page that this writer’s pen inks upon will find it hard to fathom, but there are chinks in this powerhouse of a writer’s armor and my job was to expose them.
Translation: I’m writing a review of BATMAN #663 and some of you may not like it.
The writer that goes by the name Son of Morri has in his possession a chalice filled with words. Words full of flair and aplomb. Words descriptive of every nook and cranny; every angle and surface; every devil-hiding detail. I found myself taken aback as I peeled open the front cover to reveal a beginning with little substantiality. As my eyes darted across the pages, I found myself reminded of an airplane jetting across a cloudy sky, passing through the cumulous masses which at first appear thick and abundant, but soon give way to the reality that there was nothing to them at all. I breezed through paragraph after paragraph which described every scene with detail to an exhausting degree, only to reach the end, realizing that nothing much had been said at all.
Translation: Grant is a wordy fuck. He opened the book with a two page description of a clown falling out of a coffin. Page three took four paragraphs to let the reader know that it was raining and Batman was standing on a ledge.
The naysayers will do what they often do and shout ignorance as the cause for such criticism. They will attest that the periodical before me rests highly above my head and a critic of my stature has neither the right nor the ability to comprehend the work of a scribe of Morrison’s stature. They will label him visionary, re-imaginist, arteest! But alas, they will be mistaken. This humble reviewer knows good prose. He has read good prose. This, gentle reader, is not good prose. Accolades to the writer for attempting a form of storytelling that differs from the norm, but a comic book writer does not a novelist make.
Translation: Just because Grant can write good comics doesn’t mean he can write a good novel.
Happily, the pace quickened after a somnambular beginning. My worn fingertips raced towards the edge of the page hungry for the feast of words ahead on the next. But the expeditious tempo’s arrival was tardy resulting in an ending that bore no resemblance to satisfaction with its confounded paneling and abrupt finale. I was left, mouth agape, periodical held loosely in hand, wanting…wanting…wanting…more.
Translation: After a slow start, things started heating up, but by that time it was too late…the book ended.
Looking back, the sole factoid of importance to result from this tale was the fact that the Joker now more resembles his cimematic counterpart from the motion picture by Tim Burton. A rictus grin has been permanently supplanted upon the visage of Batman’s arch-nemesis. This reviewer should be thankful, I guess, that Morrison shelved his ego and the desire to emblazen his moniker into the Bat-mythos by erasing the Clown Prince of Crime from the mortal plane. Morrison attempts to sandwich this story on the shelf betwixt the likes of such modern day Gotham classics as THE KILLING JOKE and ARKHAM ASYLUM, but alas, this was a tale of little importance in the grand scheme of things, for which I find myself thankful.
Translation: This is just your run o’ the mill Batman story with few ramifications…and I’m cool with that. At least Grant didn’t kill the Joker in the end.
Artistically, this book borders on maddening. No doubt, John Van Fleet has talent with bringing words to life, but alas, the images are often secondary to the massive paragraphs of descriptors. Many of the images are so diminutive in size that any semblance of cohesion is lost. The images either redundantly communicate what the writer has exhaustively described or, as with the final page, fail to communicate the happenings at all.
Translation: Van Fleet is good, but you wouldn’t know it from the tiny art and muddy translation in this book.
As I take my leave, there will be those proclaiming “Enough with the amateur writing, and just tell us whether you liked the book or not.” My response is two-fold. Intentionally, my writing has been inflated, boorish, and overly-descriptive to illustrate the point that this book is just that. Secondly, although often the readers of this site arch their necks back like birdlings in wait for the critic to force-feed thoughts either night crawler or mealy, sometimes it is much more rewarding to let dig for one’s own sustenance.
Translation: Eat the worm.
Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Mike Deodoto, Jr. Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: BaytorTHUNDERBOLTS has managed to find itself in a unique period of history… again.
When the book first debuted, it was hot on the heels of a rather forgettable cross-over event, whose ending was never in any doubt of being reversed. For a glorious year, it was the book to watch as a group of unrepentant criminals launched an audacious plot to rule the world by pretending to be heroes, but good ended up being as seductive as evil and things didn't go according to plan. It was never the same after that first year, but those 12 issues still remain a high water mark in super-hero history.
Two issues in, it looks like Warren Ellis has a lock on repeating the triumph of that first year, albeit in a completely different manner. As is the case with the original, you can feel the ticking clock, knowing that the universe will spring back to normal before too long, and that he has a limited time to take full advantage of the dramatic potential so often squandered by CIVIL WAR.
Ellis accomplishes this by infusing the book with real evil, not just a simple difference of opinion. The new team is led by the former Green Goblin, Harry Osborn, who is employed by the federal government and technically on the side of the angels, but in this shadow play, there's little doubt that he's as thoroughly evil as the team's original leader, Baron Zemo. Clearly, he's viciously manipulating the current political climate for his own nefarious reasons, but as yet has revealed little except his own lingering psychosis.
The bulk of the book centers on the conflict between the third-rate hero, Jack Flag, and our team of malicious bad-asses. Ellis loves writing fight comics like this and it's a tour de force by Deodato, who puts an insane amount of detail into the carnage. This is super-hero spectacle at its best, harkening back to the gory glory days of the grim 'n gritty trend. That old trend has gotten received renewed interest of late with such writers as Millar and Ennis utilizing them in their own creator-owned work, but the very nature of the Marvel Universe, with its invisible rubber band always threatening to return the status quo, works to this book's advantage. We know that we are not seeing an empty exercise in nihilism and that some hidden heroic nature will emerge before too long. This allows Ellis to cut loose in these early issues, showing our "heroes" acting with ruthless efficiency, with a minimum of heroic regret. Only Songbird shows any heroic tendencies and she is a shattered shell of her former self, completely cowed by the dressing down she receives in the opening sequence from Osborn.
It also shows that there's still life in the old Widescreen Comics trend that Ellis helped start nearly a decade ago. It's short on plot, long on action, with just enough intelligence, emotion, and surprises to make it worth the ride. If you like the Explodo, then this is the book for you.
SUBURBAN FOLKLORE TP
Creator: Steven Walters Publisher: Ourobor Books Reviewer: Dan Grendell"We had to grow up sometime... and to be totally honest, none of us saw it coming."
SUBURBAN FOLKLORE is a real, honest look at the relationships people form as children or young adults and the changes they go through as the people involved mature, interests change, and new people enter the equation. I'm sure I'm not alone in noticing that people you once thought would be your friends for life just aren't around anymore, and it isn't because of some big fight or anything - it's an organic process, usually one that occurs as you or your friends change at fundamental levels until suddenly, connections that were once there just aren't anymore and you drift apart.
Steven Walters knows. He has carefully crafted SUBURBAN FOLKLORE to show that process, not just from one point of view but from the eyes of each of the five friends in the gang. We see their trials, their successes, and we see them change into new, more mature people that just don't quite click with each other anymore. It's sometimes painful, sometimes cathartic, but always interesting to watch this process as an outside observer, and Walters' skills are such that he makes you enjoy going along for the ride.
Just as important to the story is Walters' art talent. His ability to use faces and facial expressions to deliver emotion is critical in this type of comic. He also uses tools like dream sequences and fade-outs to very good effect, evoking emotional responses in the reader quite effectively. Walters also makes very effective use of grayscale shading, using it so well it becomes a third color with the black and white. If I had a complaint, it would be that perspective is sometimes off, but it's rarely noticeable and in a book like this it isn't really an issue anyway.
I'd certainly suggest giving SUBURBAN FOLKLORE a try if you're looking for a book with a mix of introspection and intelligence. There's some quality drama for your brain here.