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Off The Page: Ghost Rider - Road to Damnation

By Patrick McNair Oct 17, 2016 - 7:40 AM print




Ghost Rider, the "Spirit of Vengeance" is one of the most enigmatic figures in Marvel Comics. An agent of Hell, Ghost Rider (the name was originally used for a different Marvel character, now known as the Phantom Rider), with his flaming skull head, strikes terror into his victims, claiming souls for the devil Mephisto. The character made his debut in Marvel Spotlight #5 in 1972, his initial incarnation that of stunt rider Johnny Blaze, who sold his soul to Satan (later retconned into the arch demon Mephisto) in order to save his dying father. In return, Blaze became Mephisto's right-hand, consumed by fire, his head transformed into a flaming skull, roaming the Earth on a motorcycle to hunt down the souls Mephisto demanded. Since Blaze, there been a number of other Ghost Riders, such as Daniel Ketch and Alejandra Jones as well as the most recent iteration, Robby Reyes, who has appeared on the TV series, Agents of S.H.I.L.E.D . In 2005, writer Gareth Ennis reintroduced the original Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze with the miniseries, Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation , (following a 2001 miniseries) which saw Blaze, making a deal with an angel to escape Hell itself.

The Setup:

Every night, the being known as the Ghost Rider attempts to escape the fiery pits of Hell, always being dragged back by its demons. The angel Malachi offers Johnny Blaze the ability to leave Hell permanently, but there's a catch. He must capture the demon Kazann before the forces of Heaven and Hell do. Desperate and dishevelled, Blaze leaps at the chance, but unknown to Ghost Rider, sinister forces may be manipulating his every action.

The Players:

Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider
Hoss
Kazann
Malachi
Father Adam
Daniel
Jemima Catmint
Ruth
Earl Gustav

The Breakdown:

Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation is a six part miniseries written by Gareth Ennis and illustrated by Clayton Crain, published under the Marvel Knights imprint of Marvel Comics between 2005-2006. The book was initially titled Ghost Rider", even though "Road to Damnation" was the name of the story. When the series was collected into a single edition, the book was retitled, Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation . The story starts with two angels, David and Malachi, discussing the fact that a demon, Kazann has escaped Hell, bent on creating a new kingdom on Earth. Malachi takes matters into his own hands by appearing before Johnny Blaze in Hell, who as Ghost Rider has found himself trapped in an endless cycle of torture and suffering in Hell. Malachi offers to free Ghost Rider from Hell permanently if he hunts down Kazann before the Archangel Ruth does, thereby negating the destruction the two entities would cause upon fighting one another. As Ghost Rider is once again loosed upon the Earth, he finds and teams up with the demonic hunter Hoss, who is also after Kazann. The pair encounters Ruth and barely survives her attack, as Ruth makes off with Blaze’s motorcycle. Meanwhile, corrupt business owner Earl Gustav plans to bring Kazann to Earth, seduced by his promises to cure Gutav’s paraplegia. Gutav ruthlessly sacrifices his employees to create a new body for Kazann and breaks down the barriers between Earth and Hell (using a large drill) to bring Kazann’s demon army to Earth. Finally catching up to Ruth, Ghost Rider and Hoss find that Kazann has been freed. Blaze does battle with Kazann, but finds that his attacks are ineffective against the demon, who makes short work of Ghost Rider. Gutav’s secretary, Jemima Catmint, who up to this point had been complicit with both Gutav and Kazann, threatens to kill her employer unless he recites an incantation to send Kazann back to Hell, which he does so reluctantly. Ghost Rider celebrates his freedom, in a moment of brief elation, before being shot in the head by a priest, who had been sent by Kazann to hunt Ghost Rider and is sent back to Hell. Malachi informs a confused Ghost Rider that he tricked him by using him to bring Kazann back to Hell and that no one can escape The Pit. An angered Blaze attempts to kill Malachi, but is killed by Ruth instead. Hoss reveals that Malachi and Kazann were actually brothers, secretly passing information between Heaven and Hell and that Hoss and Ruth had been sent to stop the breach. A disheartened Blaze is told by Hoss to, "Take your pleasure where ya can", whereupon Ghost Rider returns to his punishment in Hell, although this time dragging Malachi in chains behind his motorcycle.

Summary:

Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation is a decent Ghost Rider story. Gareth Ennis reintroduces the original Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, recounting his origin to the uninitiated. Ennis shows the reader a world-weary Johnny Blaze (who is this title, never appears in his human form) doomed to be torn to pieces by the demons of Hell for eternity. There is a pervading sense of foreboding throughout Road to Damnation as well as the feeling that Blaze is being manipulated in some form, with a fairly well executed (if signposted) betrayal in the final pages. Furthermore, Clayton Crain's artwork is exceptionally detailed, providing a lifelike interpretation of Ghost Rider's world. However, those expecting to see the "Spirit of Vengeance" may be disappointed. The Ghost Rider on display here is not the uncompromising demonic agent of earlier runs. Johnny Blaze is seemingly duped at every turn and is more than gullible. Earl Gustav and Kazann are fairly one note too, with the former convinced he is going to walk again despite the latter's obvious contempt and use of Gustav as a means to an end. Using a drill to break down the barriers between Hell and Earth is rather silly as well. Kazann’s defeat is anticlimactic, since he is sent back to Hell via an incantation, rather than a fatal blow making the end of the story fizzle rather than pop. Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation is a good introduction to Ghost Rider, but veterans may find the title fairly boring and lacking action. This miniseries did lead to a new ongoing Ghost Rider series in 2006 and films in 2007 and 2012, starring Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze. Ghost Rider is a fascinating character and Ennis churned out a decent effort, but a more compelling narrative would have done Ghost Rider much more justice.



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