‘All-New Ghost Rider’ #1 Starts Off Slow But Hits The Finish Line Hot And Other Racing Puns [Review]
I love Ghost Rider. Or at least, I love Ghost Rider in theory. Everything about the character, the very idea of a flaming skeleton in a cursed leather jacket riding around on a motorcycle made of hellfire, bringing vengeance to increasingly bizarre and demonic villains, all while pulling off stunts that you could only do on the comics page? That is exactly my jam. In practice, however, Ghost Rider has always been a really hit-or-miss character for me. As good as it can be, and there are issues of Ghost Rider that are among my absolute favorite comics, it's often bogged down by being overcomplicated and, worst of all when you're dealing with a book about demonic motorcycle stunts, boring.
That being the case, you can probably understand why I approached Felipe Smith and Trad Moore's all-new Ghost Rider comic, appropriately called All-New Ghost Rider, with a little bit of caution. On paper, it's exactly what I want out of comics, but in practice, there are a dozen things that could go wrong. Fortunately, the first issue is off to a strong start.
The biggest flaw with All-New Ghost Rider is that it already feels dated. In every way that it's an update, it feels like it's lagging behind the times. I'm all for the idea of updating Ghost Rider and swapping out the motorcycle for a muscle car and that '70s southwest carnival setting for a contemporary Los Angeles full of street racing action, believe me, but it feels like something that should've happened back when we were only two or three movies into the Fast and Furious franchise, instead of seven, and that's before you get to the part where a dude who looks like Lil Jon is telling street racers to put their "skrill in the pot" and then responding to seeing Ghost Rider's Hemi 'Cuda with "daaaayuuum!" If they'd pulled out flip phones and talked about playing Texas Hold 'Em, I would've believed this comic dropped in 2006.
Believe it or not, it actually feels even more dated than the last iteration of the Ghost Rider franchise, when Jason Aaron, Roland Boschii and others were doing a retro grindhouse take on it. The idea of dragging Ghost Rider back to his '70s exploitation roots, ironically, is something that somehow feels more "2014" than the actual Ghost Rider update that's happening in 2014.
That doesn't mean that the book's bad by any means, but it does make for a weird reading experience, especially given the decidedly contemporary feeling of other recent Marvel launches like Ms. Marvel and Daredevil, and even the new Punisher, which has the feeling of a made-for-cable action-drama. It doesn't feel quite "new" enough to be now, but not "old" enough to be retro, which puts in in this weird aesthetic limbo. If, you know, I can drop the single most pretentious phrase I've ever written in my career reviewing comics.
It's also a little slow, which, for me, is the cardinal sin of doing a Ghost Rider comic. It's one of those Ghost-Rider-himself-shows-up-at-the-end deals, and I understand that Smith and Moore are doing a lot of origin setup work in here that's necessary for actually caring about why this guy turns into a giant ball of fire and bones. The emphasis on Robbie Reyes as a character is more than understandable, but again, it doesn't feel like there's much that's new with it. Rather than the original Johnny Blaze origin of selling his soul to the actual Devil tor a bargain that (surprise surprise) goes sour on him, All-New Ghost Rider hews close to a setup that's equal parts Spider-Man and the Crow. You've got the good kid who gets cocky and does a bad thing, a relative in danger, and, to cap it all off, the mysterious occult resurrection -- albeit one that doesn't actually have a whole lot of the occult involved just yet.
It feels like story that's moving cautiously through familiar territory, which makes sense given that the creators are new to Marvel, and that they're introducing a new character. The problem is that, in this first issue, the story that they're telling doesn't quite reflect that feeling. The opening page has this beautiful image of a speedometer starting at Heaven that's been redlined all the way to Hell, and while that's a beautiful image, this opening chapter never quite gets out of first gear.
But despite all my grousing, I don't actually think this is a bad comic, or even a bad first issue. Even with the familiar elements, the mix that's being created through what Smith and Moore are doing here is incredibly appealing. Robie Reyes fitting in the mold of Spider-Man -- which, to be honest, virtually every superhero created since the '60s has, in one way or another -- isn't necessarily a bad thing. He's immediately likable and understandable. He's a character that you can relate to and root for, and for all that I wish this story would've started with the last few pages and then doled out his personality in flashback as it went along, that's an extremely important aspect of introducing a new character.
Also, dude has pretty cool hair.
It's not just the character work, either. The story, for all its familiar territory, takes a twist at the end that's both shocking and immediately intriguing. The real star, though, as far as I'm concerned, was Moore's art.
Car chases are notoriously difficult to pull off in comics, to the point where Kenichi Sonada and Gunsmith Cats have been everyone's go-to examples of how to do it for the past 20 years -- no one else has come close, before or since. But Moore makes it work really, really well here, and he does in a way that I don't think I've ever seen before.
Instead of just solely relying on speed lines and Dutch angles -- both of which, I assure you, are represented in abundance, Moore bombards the page with different techniques. There's a bit where he alternates between long shots and a view of the action done as a GPS-style map of twists and turns on a city grid that's just brilliant in how well he pulls it off.
It's the sort of thing that I wish I'd come up with, and that I know creators are going to be stealing for years to come, and it's exciting. And for that matter, so is the way Moore draws Robbie's transformation into Ghost Rider, a largely "silent" sequence that's beautifully engaging. When the action gets started, that's where this comic really shines, and while I'd say something like "it takes a while to get there," realistically, it takes up half the book. It's just front-loaded with a lot of very static -- and arguably necessary -- character building.
It's the sort of thing where the only real frustration is that it ends here, As a single issue of a comic, I think it's flawed but engaging, but as the first chapter of a longer story that I hope is going to build from here and get bigger, wilder and more entertaining as it goes? It's got its hooks into me, and I have no reason to believe that those hopes won't be fulfilled. If it's the job of a first issue to get readers interested in picking up the second, then the mission is accomplished.