Monster of the Day #113

By the 1970s, like the Hays Office before it, the industry’s voluntary Comics Code was losing steam.  One of the strictures eased was the restrictions on portraying supernatural events: “Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.”

Marvel took full advantage of this situation, and soon the place was crawling with monsters ranging from the traditional (Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Werewolf by Night–whose name, I kid you not, was Jack Russell) to the more forthrightly demonic, like the mysterious Scarecrow and the Son of Satan.

These characters often sat awkwardly on the line between the supernatural the Marvel Universe’s more typical superhero antics.  The most successful crossover was the Ghost Rider, who first appeared via artist Mike Ploog’s pen in Marvel Spotlight #5, seen above.  It was quite a while, though, before he really became a superhero, and that was really a shortlived period, ending with the dissolution of The Champions.  Unsurprisingly, it (much later) turned out that Blaze had been the first to leave.  His teammates had never really ever come to trust him, presumably sensing his half-demonic nature.

Unsurprisingly, I always loved Ghost Rider.  Johnny Blaze actually got a very rare comic book perfect ending when his series ended after 81 issues.  Blaze shed the demon Zarathos, and was finally reunited with his one true love, Roxanne Simpson.  We caught up with him later in an issue of The Defenders, where he visited ex-Champions teammates Iceman and the Angel, and it was nice to see him happy for a change.  He’d earned it.

Sadly, nothing remains static in comics, and when the markedly inferior (if ludicrously popular) Danny Ketch revamp of Ghost Rider surfaced in the ’90s, Blaze was inevitably brought back in.  I think he eventually became Ghost Rider again, although not in my mind.  Blaze’s curse ended with his series in 1983.

Being a second string character, Blaze’s adventures were often drawn by, well, hacks, like Don Perlin.  However, that made it all the more exciting when he was occasionally drawn by a better artist, like a young John Bryne (in The Champions and a crossover with Daredevil, where he fought one of my all-time favorite villains, Deathstalker–I’ll always remember the miscreant grabbing GR in his til then unfailing, literal death grip, only to have Our Hero sneer “I am no mere mortal to wither at your touch”), or a really awesome issue written and drawn by Jim Starlin, where motorcycle champ Blaze literally raced Death.

GR eventually became a pretty powerful character.  He punked Thor in an issue of The Avengers, defeated Doctor Doom after the latter had finally, and incontrovertibly, taken over the world, and in a Fantastic Four cartoon even brought down Galactus (!).  Although that was more the Danny Ketch version, I guess.

Anyway, here’s to you, Johnny Blaze.  Say hi to Roxanne for me when you get home tonight.

  • Gamera

    ‘Jack Russell’!?! My sister had a Jack Russell terror and though I don’t think he was a werewolf he was definalty a monster.

  • John Campbell

    I’m seriously surprised anyone in comic books was allowed a happy ending!

    And Gamera you are in fine form this morning. “Jack Russel terror”

    That made me almost shoot coke out my nose!

  • OTL

    And then he would team up with the most horrible monster of them all: Nicholas Cage’s acting.

  • BeckoningChasm

    The bringing down Galactus bit was the weirdest little cameo. GR just drives up, does his bit, then leaves, never to be seen again. One of those “Wait a minute, what just happened?” moments.

  • Yes, I was genuinely disheartened to hear that Cage was coming back for the sequel. He’s not my favorite actor anyway, and in GR he was just awful. That Elvis shtick he did for the entire film really got on my nerves. Anyway, they used all the cool GR visuals in the first film, and I never really liked the Blaze/Ketch mix of GRs they used anyway, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. It sure doesn’t help, though.

  • Gamera

    Thanks John, glad you didn’t spew the Coko on your keyboard though since I’ve just spent a pile on updating my computer and can’t afford to buy more computer parts now!

    I was wondering how long it would take for Nick Cage to come up ;)

  • Marsden

    Nick Cage comes up like yesterdays leftover burrito.

  • Reed

    I had not heard that they’re making a GR sequel. I actually don’t mind Cage in the first movie, but I do feel like it was mostly a lot of (what I thought were fantastic) special effects sequences in search of a story.

    The Ghost Rider comic was definitely a mixed bag. Some great issues, along with a lot of truly awful ones. A lot of the bullpen really had no idea what to do with the character. It’s also hard to convey things like his ghostly voice, or the constant sense of fear and unease people are supposed to feel in his presence.

    Despite that, GR remains one of the most memorable visual characters ever, and isn’t that a big part of comics? It makes things like the decision to give GR a physical motorcycle with a ludicrous skull windscreen for several issues all the more bizarre. The hellfire motorcycle is my favorite comic hero prop ever.

    To be fair, the time he punked Thor was pretty funny. There was a long stretch of the Avengers were Thor was really phoning it in, and he got a well-deserved slap down.

    The adventures of Danny Ketch and the horrible perversions of the Johnny Blaze character in the 90’s were, unfortunately, all too typical for early 90’s Marvel. Those were dark times. I haven’t had the heart to read the most recent iterations (didn’t Ellis do one?) of the character. I have a feeling that they have not lightened up any at all. GR’s story was always about redemption, but that doesn’t seem to be a theme that has resonated with a lot of the modern writers.

  • Rock Baker

    I guess I’m not as demanding. I’ve seen Cage do some very good movies, and be good in them (ditto his costar Travolta). Granted, I’ve never sat down and just examined him or his career, I just know he’s done some movies I liked, and many I never saw. (I am with the rest of the world in thinking he was a terrible choice for Superman, but my beef there is more with his looks than his talent.)

    My brother is a huge Ghost Rider fan, but the Marvel stuff has never really been my scene.

    _____________________________

    I DO enjot reading reprints of the original ME Ghost Rider (thanks to AC’s Best of the West and other reprints as The Haunted Horseman). Rex Fury, western lawman, dons the spooky uniform of the Ghost Rider and strikes terror into the hearts of owlhoots everywhere. Using parlor tricks and devices built into his costume (sort of a frontier Batman), he has the criminal element convinced he is actually a Ghost out to collect the unjust and drag them to hell (this was all pre-code stuff). Drawn by Dick Ayers and leaning heavy on the inks, ME’s Ghost Rider had a truly unique feel to it. Plenty of gothic horror in western setting.

    ME’s Ghost Rider was revived too. AC brought the character back as The Haunted Horseman (for obvious legal reasons). Under this banner, Rex continued to foil western crime until the day he was struck down and became a literal phantom. Able to move through limbo and detect any supernatural evil, he became one of the most powerful characters in the AC universe, but his current occupation somehwat limits his appearances. No longer contained in the past, though, he occasionally shows up to help the present day characters. Years ago, when Dick Ayers became an artist for AC, it was a big thrill for publisher Bill Black to see him draw a story freaturing the character Ayers is most remembered for.

    For my own connection, I got to draw the Ghost Rider/Haunted Horseman for the historic 150th issue of Femforce, in two chapters that included the big climax! In the most recent issue I got to draw (and write!) a couple more western characters. One was The Black Phantom (Redmask’s black-clad sexy sidekick from the old Tim Holt comic). The other was Buckaroo Betty, written into continuity as none other than Rex Fury’s daughter!

    Sorry if that sounds like bragging, I was just really excited to get to draw those pages!

  • PB210

    Further to Rock Baker:

    Dick Ayers admitted that the Shadow influenced ME’s Ghost Rider. (Lee Falk’s The Phantom may have served as an influence.)

    Curious that masked or costumed heroes seem to stand as more prominent in Westerns than in other genres. Anyone. I mean, if you asked someone to name a detective property, they might name Dick Tracy, Perry Mason, Mike Hammer, John Shaft, etc., none of whom wear costumes or masks. However, if you ask someone to name find it interesting that of the three

  • PB210

    Further to Rock Baker:

    Dick Ayers admitted that the Shadow influenced ME’s Ghost Rider. (Lee Falk’s The Phantom may have served as an influence.)

    Curious that masked or costumed heroes seem to stand as more prominent in Westerns than in other genres. I mean, if you asked someone to name a detective property or modern day adventure hero, they might name Dick Tracy, Perry Mason, Mike Hammer, John Shaft, etc., none of whom wear costumes or masks. However, if you ask someone to name an Old West character, they might name the Lone Ranger and Zorro (who wear masks and/or costumes) before they name Longarm, Slocum, the Trailsman, Lone Star, Jonah Hex, the Cartwrights, The Man With No Name, etc. (They might name Hopalong Cassidy, though.)

  • But if he gets his power from Satan, then when he stops doing evil things why doesn’t Hell just withdraw its power. This makes no sense.

  • “But if he gets his power from Satan, then when he stops doing evil things why doesn’t Hell just withdraw its power. This makes no sense.”

    It turned out that Blaze had been bonded with the demon Zarathos, and getting them apart proved problematic. Also, that would have freed Blaze from his cursed existence, so it was partly just to dick with him.

  • Reed

    Yes, they had a whole story line where Blaze is essentially redeemed from his deal with Satan (though his love of Roxanne and the intervention of someone who, while never named, very closely resembles popular depictions of Jesus). Realizing that this pretty much put the kibosh on a really cool character they then came up with the Zarathos idea. It was much more in keeping with the wider Marvel Universe than the whole Satan thing, anyway.

    And brag away, Rock. It is cool that you got to draw those pages!

  • Rock Baker

    Thanks, Reed. But I’d like to take this moment to say to everyone here that I’m sorry for being a titanic jerk. I never wanted to be a jerk, I don’t like jerks, but I am aware of how I can come across as one. I end up talking about myself more than I ever meant too, I never noticed until it was pointed out to me that I was misreading Sandy’s name, and then I tried to appologise for it and tripped over yet another typo. I can’t promise I’ll never make a jackass of myself again, but I do want to let everyone know I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt I was being rude or guilty of hyjacking a comment section. Upon reflection, there was really no reason to bring up my own connection to the Ghost Rider, or a million other things I’ve brought up. So, sorry about that.

  • Rock — Dude, seriously, if you’d ever been over the line, I would have said something. You’ve never even come close to it that I can recall. And indeed, I found your story pretty interesting. Certainly if I had a connection like that I would have gone into it. Carry on as before, sir.

  • Rock Baker

    Thanks, Ken. Just let me know if I ever DO cross the line.

    Did I tell everyone about the third time I made the cover? Well, I had drawn this one thing that….. Just kidding!

  • PB210

    “But if he gets his power from Satan, then when he stops doing evil things why doesn’t Hell just withdraw its power. This makes no sense.”

    He does not receive power from Satan. He made a deal with a demon who posed as Satan.

    They have established that Set (the serpent demon from the Conan stories, also referenced in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian and the Conan the Adventurer animated series) fled Earth after a great battle which left behind demonic energy. This demonic energy eventually formed into various demons who took advantage of Abrahamic concepts of Satan held in the Occident by passing themselves off as Satan. Ghost Rider made a deal with one of these Satan impersonators. This particular Satan impersonator most often uses the alias Mephisto.

    These Satan impersonators often vie with each other for influence, as well as with other demons, so Ghost Rider’s presence actually sometimes helps Mephisto. Ghost Rider’s actions often help curtail Mephisto’s rivals.

  • lakings1

    I thought the first movie was okay but had exceptionally weak villains. I was a teen in the ’90s and loved the Ketch version of Ghost Rider and all of the Midnight Sons imprint that Marvel published at the time. Thankfully, most of those titles were canceled before they all went straight to hell around the time the company went through its bankruptcy troubles. The last 15-20 issues of that run were terrible. Remember, Blade came out of Marvel’s decision to revive a bunch of these fun ’70s characters.

    The Ghost Rider stories (and Blade, for that matter) published in the last five years or so are uniformly bad, regardless of the author. Ellis’s story brings back Johnny Blaze as Ghost Rider but ignores continuity to a ridiculous extent.

    Oh, the ’90s run ended without the final issue being published because of Marvel’s financial trouble. The uncolored, finished issue kicked around the Internet for years and was finally published when the GR movie was released.

  • Petoht

    Oh, man… the Son of Satan comic. My brother loves dragging that thing out as a “how did they get away with that?” counter to me bringing up Squirrel Girl as a “what were they thinking?”