Last week we discussed the many things that happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, the things we would like to forget happened at all, and the things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches. We also discussed Batman: The Animated Series, one of the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.
Ghost Rider, by Howard Mackie, Javier Saltares, and Mark Texeira.
After a seven year absence from comics, the Ghost Rider had returned in May of 1990, albeit a very different one than comic fans were used to. This Ghost Rider was Danny Ketch, a young Brooklynite, transformed into the Spirit of Vengeance when he touched a sigil on a motorcycle found in a junkyard. His vow? To protect the innocent at all costs.
The Ghost Rider had always been a bit of a cult favorite, but this new version of the character really struck a cord with fandom, becoming one of the most popular comic characters of the decade. His own series was one thing, introducing new characters and concepts to the Ghost Rider mythos, but within a very short time Ghost Rider was everywhere, spinning out into one shots, mini-series, guest spots, and even becoming a member of the Fantastic Four for a couple of issues.
This new Ghost Rider had a revamped, sleeker, more modernized motorcycle, as well as a new look. Black leather, chains, and spikes. Very fitting in the age of renewed interest in punk rock and goth that was the nineties. And his Penance Stare he would use to inflict the same pain on his victims as they would the innocent. This new Ghost Rider was one bad mother.
I still remember the excitement with which I was consumed with each turn of the page of that first thrilling issue. Whether he was taking down Blackout, Deathwatch, the Scarecrow, or any number of other villains, I was there with him each and every month. Howard Mackie crafted stories that were exciting in their action one moment, yet somber and melancholic the next. His sister in a coma, his family falling apart, and a gang war threatening to destroy his home town of Cypress Hill, Queens, and not knowing when next he would be transformed into a fiery, motorcycle riding spirit of vengeance were just a few of the things Danny had to deal with on a daily basis.
Danny Ketch himself was a well rounded character, who was easily related to. He had troubles and personal problems just like we did. He had family drama and relationship drama to deal with, on top of learning how to deal with his new life being possessed by a demon. Mackie glided along the fine line between the ordinary and the fantastic, keeping the book grounded in as much reality as was possible for this type of story.
The artwork, at first penciled by Javier Saltares, inked by Mark Texeira, and handled entirely by Texeira after issue #12, was a perfect match for Mackie’s darker take on the character. Texeira’s dark, thick lined inking over Saltares’ breakdowns were unlike much of the highly polished, dynamic art of the time. Countering the bright computer coloring of most comics, this series went with muted tones, giving it a feeling of perpetual night. It even had all black gutters.
The series wasn’t always perfect, becoming quite convoluted later on with spin-offs and an extended family that included original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze, but those early issues were pure gold. There was a reason this Ghost Rider was the hottest thing to come along in the early nineties, and those first 25 or so issues still hold up amazingly well upon re-reading. And this series is just one reason it was awesome being a comic fan in the 1990s. Next week, I’ll give you another.