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Friday, March 28, 2014

My Week in Comics: All-New Ghost Rider #1

Ghost Rider is probably the most badass in the realm of comic book imagery. A dude with a flaming skull for a head and a chain for whipping bad guys with while riding a motorcycle from Hell would make any comic book fanboy blush. But this is Marvel NOW!, and the age of Ketch and Blaze has come and gone...and who the Spirit of Vengeance has chosen to replace them may surprise you!

All-New Ghost Rider #1 is exactly what it says. Gone are Danny Ketch or Johnny Blaze and their motorcycles. In their place is a new character named Robbie Reyes, a mechanic with a need for speed and who drives a, *gasp!*, muscle car! Joining illegal street racing so he and his little brother can move out of the slums of LA and to a better life, Robbie bites off more than he can chew...and cue the Spirit of Vengeance and a lot of pain!

Granted, any drastic change to an established character can make any comic book fan nervous, but writer Felipe Smith thankfully knows how to shake things up the right way. The character of Robbie Reyes certainly feels heroic, with a sense of justice and right that doesn't fade despite living in one of the meanest parts of Los Angeles. He lives for something, particularly his handicapped little brother, and the way Robbie dotes on him and tries his best to protect him really tugs at the heart strings. Which makes Robbie's transformation into the Ghost Rider something of a "f--k yeah" moment, when he finally has the power to protect the people he loves. I love characters like these, Smith knows how to write Robbie's plight in a way that doesn't sound corny at all.

And man, dat art.  Artist Tradd Moore's style is glorious. It's slick and turbo-charged, with an energy that pops off the page whether characters are just talking or setting fire to the streets with breakneck speed in souped-up cars.  Speaking of which, Moore shines in the issue's climax, where Robbie participates in a high-octane, albeit illegal, street race. Moore hits you with lots of creatively-designed panels that let you feel the rush of speed with every gear change and the thrill of every tight corner. I love creative visuals like these, and if I was judging this book on art alone, this would have gotten the perfect grade and then some.

If there's anything that could knock points off of this ish, it's the fact that this reads less of a debut of the all-new Ghost Rider and more of a debut of Robbie Reyes, the character. One can't help but feel Felipe Smith is "writing for the trade", so to speak, and issue #1 reads more like the first 10 minutes of a Ghost Rider movie. It's a badass 10 minutes, for sure, but you expect more Ghost Rider for your buck at the price point they're selling this. But what we do have is some much-needed character building, and I'm more than okay with that.

All-New Ghost Rider #1 may not have come out of the gate blazing, but it wasn't here to just rock our faces off...it wanted to make us care. To care about the Nth guy possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance, to care about what he does with the powers of hellfire given at his disposal. And for a first issue, that's more than enough. This gets a 4 out of 5.

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