It’s no secret that I’m a major Ghost Rider fan, and there’s really no better time to jump into his various series than in October when the leaves are changing and Halloween is right around the bend. The spooky season adds a fantastic backdrop for this enduring tale of a boy with a flaming skull face and the motorcycle he loves. There are countless dearly beloved Ghost Rider stories that walk that fine line between the cornball and the divine, but let’s chat about the time that writer Daniel Way rebooted the series in the early aughts and legendary horror artist Richard Corben jumped in for a couple of issues to tell a tale of police brutality, local corruption, “the dark side of hippie life,” and, of course, Ghost Rider blasting Satan with Hellfire, right in the face.
The central conceit of this Ghost Rider reboot was that Johnny Blaze, on his way out of Hell, accidentally freed Lucifer (there are a lot of Lucifers in Marvel comics so just choose one and go). Lucifer’s body broke into, you guessed it, six-hundred and sixty-six pieces, and those pieces inhabited living bodies and began absolutely wreaking havoc upon the world. Johnny took it upon himself to chase all of these pieces down so that he might save the world. Which he endangered. This was quite literally all his fault, but if you’re a longtime Ghost Rider fan like me, you know that there are a whole lot of things in this series that are Johnny Blaze’s fault.
Johnny Blaze usually has his heart in a good place but, through his good intentions and impulsive decision-making, epically screws up everyone’s life along the way. In all fairness, the first person whose life he screws up is usually his own. Not the last, but definitely the first.
This particular story tells the tale of Johnny Blaze’s death sometime prior to the beginning of this series. He was arrested one night in Tennessee as a result of rampant police corruption and prejudice against bikers. They plan to pin a murder on Johnny and his cellmate Clay, who promises Johnny his lawyer will protect them both. Instead, they set Johnny up, and that’s what led him to Hell, to begin with.
Readers will definitely find themselves questioning Johnny’s sanity when he agrees to team up with Clay, an obvious scumbag, but Johnny truly does see the best in people despite his alter ego’s penchant to see the very worst. One of the best parts of the story is when Johnny excitedly rides a motorcycle and seeing how much it cheers him up. The sense of joy is palpable. It’s moments like these that drive home how sad Johnny’s life is because it shows you how the things he truly loves are weaponized against him.
Like most great Ghost Rider stories, this is fairly low on plot, but heavy on Ghost Rider and Lucifer going all out on trying to destroy one another. Both are essentially immortal, so their fight with one another is truly entertaining, and looks especially good as a result of Corben’s very strange, very cool art. Though this is an incredibly brief run, it’s enough to rate him as one of my top Ghost Rider artists of all time. Everyone looks seedy and untrustworthy, Lucifer is genuinely frightening, and the backgrounds crawl with life. Meanwhile, Way gave us an infallible pitch here, and the ludicrous, teasing dialogue between Johnny and Lucifer as they taunt and attack one another is nothing if not classic Ghost Rider.
There isn’t much to say about these two issues besides that, other than they’re part of a relatively underrated Ghost Rider run and it’s well worth reading regardless of if you’re a longtime fan or a new reader looking for an easy place to jump on. As is so often the case, this series kind of derails eventually, but if you stay tuned after this there are a lot of great issues left before that happens. For instance, he fights the Hulk as part of World War Hulk, and it’s another two-parter that is at least as fun as this one is.
Ghost Rider is one of those hokey Marvel concepts that will really grow on you if you give it half a chance, and this is far from the only great GR story. Still, when thinking about what to write about, this did stick out. Because Ghost Rider is kind of a silly idea, some of his series come and go without much in the way of horror vibes. This story, however, is especially well-suited for October. It is most definitely a horror story, albeit one told through the brightly-colored, superhero-adjacent lens of a Marvel comic.