Ghost Rider Vol. 1: Unchained isn’t a book that I was very interested in. My enjoyment of Ghost Rider as a character and as a concept pretty much starts and ends with Nicolas Cage’s portrayal. They’re fun movies, and also they’re not very good. I’ve never really wanted to read the comics, because my enjoyment of them has probably already been sapped by those films.
But people started hollering about this comic. And I apparently have enough time to read and review it. So I did.
And it’s pretty rad.
The setup for this run is very very basic: Johnny Blaze got in a crash, has amnesia, and has some adventures. There’s nothing new under the sun. While the series isn’t conceptually or foundationally new, the execution is solid, with one foot in horror and the other in westerns. It works unsurprisingly well. Notably, it excelled on two fronts: horror imagery and focusing on telling single-issue stories.
Imagery is obviously the most important part of a comic. Whether the comic is good or bad, we ultimately are seeing the writing filtered through the artist’s work,and as such, they are the primary storyteller. The creative team on Ghost Rider synthesizes perfectly, with Cory Smith, Bryan Valenza, and Brent Peeples bringing Benjamin Percy’s horrifying ideas into reality in disgusting and delightful ways, such as the giant monster made of people, which is suitably awful to look at and also awesome.
It’s a really truly horrible looking thing that perfectly captures the importance of imagery in comics. Yeah, you could make the big ball monster made of people evocative using only words—horror novels are wonderful, awful works in their own right—but the skill shown here is apparent. Look at that thing!
The imagery and focus on creating strong visuals is in general just a good idea in the visual medium that is comics, but it also helps force the series into being more episodic in focus. When you have artists designing amazing horror creatures, it’s easy to lean into that and let them go wild with each issue. I don’t think they quite hit the highs of the Big Ball of People, but they still brought their all to each issue, and it makes each issue feel like an entire meal.
I don’t think this volume of Ghost Rider fundamentally changes my view of the character, or makes me a fan who wants to go back to read every issue, but it is fun to read in a messed up way. It’s something that’s easy to read every month, where a guy rides his motorcycle to new cities, looking for people to help, oh and also he has a big gash in the side of his head that sometimes has stuff coming out of it, but don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be fine, Ghost Rider’s gonna fix it. Probably.
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