Bizarro Back Issues: Ghost Rider Fights All of the Avengers, And Wins (1981)
My favorite thing about the new Avengers movie is how well it took the separate stories and elements of movies like Captain America, Thor and Iron Man and blended them into one big story. It worked so well that I almost wished they would've been able to just go ahead and bring in every Marvel Movie, if only for a few minutes. Admittedly, we could probably do without ever seeing the SyFy Channel version of Man-Thing again, but c'mon: Who doesn't want to see Wesley Snipes take Robert Downey Jr. to task for trying to ice-skate uphill?
Unfortunately, I don't know if that kind of crossover will ever be able to make it to the movie screen, but on the bright side, we've got plenty of comics where those characters people love in the movies interact with each other to make great stories. Like, for instance, that time that Ghost Rider beat the hell out of the X-Men and the Avengers had to show up to stop him -- and then Ghost Rider beat the hell out of them, too.That's the premise of "Three Angels Fallen," a Jim Shooter / Bob Hall classic from Avengers #214. I've written about it a little before, but it stands as what might just be my single favorite issue of the series, mostly because it has a pretty solid shot at being as close as you're going to get to the platonic ideal of a Bronze Age Marvel Comic. Seriously, it's got truly ridiculous fights between heroes, soap-operatic angst, a catgirl in a bikini... The only things it doesn't have are a kung fu master and Dracula, and considering that it's got demonic spirit of vengeance surfing down a highway on a motorcycle made of hellfire, I'm willing to let that slide.
As for the source of that angst I mentioned, this story takes place right after Hank Pym did... well, one of exactly three things that Hank Pym is famous for doing, freaking out, going temporarily insane and slapping his wife hard enough to give her a black eye and get himself kicked out of the Avengers. And just in case you're wondering, the other two involve the creation of a genocidal robot and a sex scene by Geoff Johns and Steve Sadowski that's best described as "regrettable." So needless to say, things are a little awkward around Avengers mansion.
So awkward, in fact, that even Captain America himself is a little shaken up. And when Cap has frustrations to take out and there aren't any Nazis around that need a sound thrashing, he goes for the next best thing: Robots wearing boxing gloves.
Aside from Captain America re-enacting key scenes from Real Steel, however, the first segment of this comic is devoted to a lot of storytelling housekeeping. We get the Wasp's announcement that she wants a divorce, Hank Pym shacking up at a fleabag hotel, and even Iron Man and Thor grabbing lunch to dish about what's going on.
Despite the fact that Thor flies himself over to the restaurant, the two heroes end up eating in their civilian identities, leading a pair of nearby diners to express their frustration that Don Blake isn't "a sexy starlet," and their disappointment that Tony Stark is only meeting up with a handsome young doctor.
Clearly, these people are not on Tumblr. Otherwise, we'd have at least thirty sepia-toned animated gifs chronicling their meaningful looks, probably set to the poetry of Taylor Swift.
Anyway, eventually enough stuff is in place that we can move on with today's adventure, and our scene shifts to New Mexico, where young Johnny Blaze -- better known as the Ghost Rider -- is engaged in that cornerstone of the Marvel Universe: Sitting around feeling bad about himself. But rather than just internalizing his grumpiness like your Spider-Mans (and since New Mexico has a crucial lack of boxing robots), he ends up lashing out at the first guy that drives by:
Who knew Zarathos had so much resentment for the 1%?
But, in true Marvel Universe fashion, the guy in the sports car turns out to be none other than Warren Worthington III, alias Angel of the X-Men, out for a drive with his girlfriend Candy. He's also a former teammate of Ghost Rider's in the Champions, but while Warren hopes this is just a friendly reunion happening at 150 miles per hour, Ghost Rider really isn't in the mood for catching up with old pals.
He is, however, in the mood for wrecking his former teammate's car, tearing his shirt off to expose his mutant wings, challenging him to a race, and then burning his soul with the fires of Hell itself:
Amazingly, this is not the last time this would happen to that dude. Angel ends up in a coma, and since the X-Men apparently keep their number unlisted in order to cut down on 2 AM drunk dials from Wolverine's ex-lovers / potential assassins, Candy ends up calling the Avengers to see if the Beast is around to come stop the Ghost Rider from his reign of terror.
That, by the way, might be the single best idea in this comic: Captain America answers the phone at Avengers Mansion. You'd think they would at least have some kind of automated menu before it put you right through to Cap, but I guess he's a man of the people. But since the Beast is no longer an Avenger at this point, Captain America ends up putting together a team to go check it out himself.
Thus, Iron Man, Thor, Tigra and Captain America load up into the Quinjet and head out west, and we get the second-best idea in this comic: Thor signing autographs.
I've never met Walter Simonson, but I really hope that's how he signs his stuff.
It's also worth noting that the first thing Tigra does when she gets to Alkalai Flats is invest in a leather vest and chaps, meaning that this comic has suddenly reached Sexual Fetish Critical Mass with a single character:
We're just lucky that Ghost Rider and Angel didn't tussle at the French Maid Treatment Ward of Sexy Nurse Hospital, or this thing would fold in on itself and disappear.
What the Avengers don't know, though, is that the person they're looking for is right there in town. Johnny Blaze, feeling guilty about what the Ghost Rider did, has stuck around and gotten a job at a gas station so that he can visit Angel in the hospital. See, back in the early '80s, you could just get a job that paid cash and nobody would ask for your name or whether or not you were possessed by a demon. It's called laissez-faire. Look into it.
With the Avengers poking around, though, Blaze's desire for self-preservation overcomes his guilt about Angel, and he decides to clear out. But suddenly -- child endangerment!
It's not really clear why this lady runs to Johnny since for all she knows, he's just a dude who worked at a gas station for two days, but the fact remains that the Ghost Rider has the power to save Kim.
The only problem is that the total number of f***s Ghost Rider gives is somewhere around zero.
Fortunately for Kim (and the Comics Code), Iron Man happens to be flying around the area, and he's able to make the save. Ghost Rider, however, decides to tear ass down the highway looking for the Avengers. And this is where things start to get awesome.
First, he lures Captain America and Tigra into a canyon, wrecks their motorcycle, and burns them with his powers. Then, he tackles Iron Man in mid-air and blasts him directly in his eyes and mouth with hellfire.
The only Avenger left standing is Thor, who throws his hammer, Mjolnir, at Ghost Rider while they are engaging in a surprisingly wordy theological debate. As support for his argument, Ghost Rider hops onto his bike, and not only does he manage to outrun Thor's hammer, he also grabs onto Mjolnir as it starts to return to Thor's hand, and rides it all the way back to stomp on Thor's face with a motorcycle made of hellfire:
That would stand as the most metal thing to happen in a Marvel comic until that issue of Punisher 2099 where someone asked where Jake Gallows lived and he told them "on the edge."
The fight goes on until Angel shakes off his coma and shows up to volunteer to let Ghost Rider kill him if he feels like it, at which time Johnny Blaze reasserts control. He goes back to moping, and the Avengers learn that if even an actual demon from Hell can choose to do the right thing, maybe there's hope for Hank Pym. Now if only more than about six people actually cared about Hank Pym, that would mean something.
But that's beside the point, which is that the Marvel Universe is a great construct that involves so many disparate elements that you can throw together and make something amazing. The Avengers movie was a pretty great step, but I really hope that as the movie franchise expands, we get more stuff like this translated to the big screen.
Because seriously, if you don't want to see Nicolas Cage and Chris Hemsworth beating the living hell out of each other with a hammer and a motorcycle that's on fire, then you and I will never understand each other.