Robbie Reyes is an interesting, if confounding, character. Launched during the All-New initiative, creators Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore really took those words to heart, off-loading some 42 years of Ghost Rider mythology to get at something fresh. In a move that should have deepened the supernatural mystery and widened the avenue for flame-headed possessed motorists, the mystery fell flat, the mythology left unclear. Rabid old-schoolers demanded, in their child-stamps-their-foot way, that they wanted their Ghost Rider back—whether this meant Johnny or Danny (or rarely, the rad-but-wasted Alejandra). The first title barely made it a year’s worth of issues, and Robbie was set aside for two years before being brought back for a new series which was, in turn, canceled within five issues.
Now that he has been brought aboard for Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run, it seems that Robbie is gaining some more fans — if not some more narrative anchoring — and so it’s a perfect time for Marvel to have released Ghost Rider: Robbie Reyes – The Complete Collection, a mammoth Epic Collection-sized tome collecting all seventeen of his Ghost Rider issues (and a What If?). Fans getting their first taste of the character in Avengers get a chance to experience the beginnings, while the original fans (of which there was a fair number) finally get to have Robbie stand proudly on their shelves.
His surprising role in Marvel’s premiere super-team, however, does not obscure the flaws with his original stories. It’s hard to ignore how unsteady the first twelve issues are, constantly ready to trip over their own feet.
Reyes and his brother, Gabe, make up the strongest aspect of the book — a relationship dynamic unique to superhero books. Their parents nebulously out of the picture, Robbie finds himself struggling to raise his younger brother, a special-needs kid with no motor control over his lower body and some undefined cognitive and emotional troubles. It’s a deeply moving and important dynamic, providing unique character motivation, conflict basis, and a genuine heart to Robbie.
The problem is how buried this kernel of goodness is. Kinetic and hyperactive to a fault, the book struggles to maintain anything but the most basic of high-octane plots, never quite diving deep into the human heart of the story. With a handful of artists taking wild stabs at nailing a unified visual language over those twelve issues, action sequences are hard to follow, characters drop in and out of the action, and a truly awkward amount of cartoonish violence gets slicked away under a graphic sheen.
A new moving part is added nearly every issue, as if the team is grasping for comic tropes to steady their wobbling, ever-moving machine, despite the problem being that they’ve not addressed the parts already extant — possessing spirit Eli Morrow, the car, Robbie and Gabe themselves. Johnny Blaze arrives to try to explain away the inconsistencies (which he did, with greater effect, for Dan Ketch in the 90s volume of Ghost Rider), before simply disappearing. A love interest is shoehorned in three-quarters of the way through the story, as if her presence was the missing, grounding key element (when, in reality, it should have been Gabe). With no resolution reached, the story breaks down in a confusing Morrow/Reyes battle, and ends.
The first series has some genuinely interesting concepts and moments of horror, but finding them beneath the clutter is a chore. All the better, then, that Robbie’s next volume finds a balance with the character that relies almost wholly on the fact that it is essentially an ‘All-New’ Teen crossover book centering more around Wolverine and Totally Awesome Hulk (with a late addition of Silk) than Robbie.
This sounds problematic but necessary: Robbie needed an establishing shot of him in the central universe proper, and this book manages to explore the beginnings of what that might look like: a troubled, (literally) haunted teen disinterested in the superheroics of others when so much is at stake at home. It’s a humble beginning for one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and it truly softens Robbie’s transition to teamwork.
This Complete Collection is by no means a must-have for your average Avengers fan or Ghost Rider purist, but it’s the only book for Robbie Reyes fans, and a handsomer collection than his fellow Spirits of Vengeance have managed to snag for themselves.
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