When Ed Brisson’s run of Ghost Rider was cut tragically short, with countless loose ends dangling, it left the mythology of the character a little murky. For one, Mephisto was under Johnny Blaze’s detainment, which would need to be addressed before any of his current appearances in Avengers. Johnny, corrupted by his seat on the throne of Hell, was out of control, and long-neglected baddie Lilith was gunning for his spot; Dan Ketch, a Rider himself, had been possessed by a brand new type of Rider-like spirit. There were a lot of things, both logistical and conceptual, that had been left undone, most of which would have gotten in the way of the current series (which has taken a ‘fresh start’ approach).
Nearly a full year after its final issue, the massive crossover King in Black gave Brisson one measly issue to get all that crap in order. A tragic thirty-six pages.
Collected in The Return of Blaze, sandwiched between two other ghostly one-shots, the King in Black issue seems to pick up directly following issue #7 of the series, though a lot of the nuance, motivations, and emotional beats had to be shaved away in order for the issue to stand on its own legs. On top of that, the gooey trappings of King in Black barely play a role in the issue’s proceedings: this is an issue more shrug than statement, as if Brisson is sadly and half-heartedly checking off boxes to wrap up something he very clearly cares about.
The issue does its job just fine—Mephisto and Johnny return to their classic places and lingering concerns are wiped away—but it doesn’t feel great. So much potential, scrubbed away.
For anyone who picked up the two collected volumes of the series to which the issue is tied, however, it’s necessary. The problem, of course, is that you can’t slap a lone issue on your bookshelf. To solve the problem, Marvel included both Ghost Rider: Return of Vengeance and Spirits of Ghost Rider: Mother of Demons; the latter was already collected in Hearts of Darkness II, however, which makes its inclusion in this volume somewhat baffling.
No more so than Return of Vengeance. Not connected to the other two issues in any way, the issue features ’90s Rider mastermind Howard Mackie’s return to the mythology by peeking in on Vengeance, notable mid-’90s spirit (and, for a skeleton, somehow muscle-bound) badass. Vengeance is a character that could serve as an illustration of the trends of the mid-to-late ’90s (the way that Century is an illustration of trends in the earlier ’90s); big, beefy, and extreme.
Mackie drops in little notes of his earlier, epic work on the franchise, such as a meaningful inclusion of Skinner, a Lilin (son of Lilith) who had a two-issue career during the Rise of the Midnight Sons crossover. That epic continuity, however, is largely lacking from present-day Ghost Rider; Vengeance doesn’t seem like a particularly germane resurrection. The issue, then, serves more as a gentle update to where he’s been (Hell) and where he currently is (fresh out of Hell). If only we could get more one-shot updates on our favorite, forgotten characters of the In-Your-Face-’90s.
As a whole, then, The Return of Blaze is more a simple grab-bag of Rider tie-ins masquerading as a full volume of work. Two of the three issues have homes in other volumes (HoDII and the two separate King in Black volumes), which might make the book’s inclusion in your collection redundant. If it had included other homeless Rider stories (such as Kushala’s brilliant appearance in Spirits of Vengeance: Spirit Rider), it might have earned its keep. As it is, it’s necessary only for the minimal resolution it provides for Brisson’s run.
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