By simply turning the page, readers will encounter the first, and in many senses the most basic, compromise of Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch. From the in-story title captioning, it is clear that the story being read was originally intended to ‘Ghost Rider: Addict’. The comicbook certainly does feature Danny Ketch the ‘other’ Ghost Rider, but this is not the Howard Mackie-written, Ron Garney- and later Salvador Larroca-illustrated Danny Ketch of the 1990’s. It takes current Ghost Rider scribe, Simon Spurrier, a short four pages to both retell and unravel the mythos of Danny Ketch.
Danny Ketch was the ‘clean’, ‘healthy’, ‘pure’ Ghost Rider, those terms used relative to the more complex, more sinister origin of Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze. Pursued by neighborhood toughs, and with his wounded sister in tow, Ketch broke into a junkyard there to discover a haunted chopper with a mystical gas cap. Not unlike Bruce Banner’s Hulk or Jason Blood’s Etrigan the Demon, Danny Ketch joined the ranks of post-humans unwilling or unable to use their incredible powers to become superheroes. It was never easy for Danny Ketch’s Ghost Rider, heavenly bounty hunter and narrator Mister Eleven, seems to suggest. But it was also a far easier ride for Ketch than for some others who over time were wound into the destiny of the Ghost Rider.
Spurrier easily dismantles the notion of the ‘clean’ Danny Ketch. The first splash panel to feature the lead character shows Ketch in a bar fight, with a fist landing on his jaw. Spurrier’s Ketch has embraced a rogue’s life, pushed well outside the edge of workaday mainstream society. Though middle class in his upbringing, Danny Ketch has finally come to lead that biker lifestyle he must have dreamed of as a child. Readers quickly come to realize that for Ketch living the dream means facing something far worse than wielding the monstrous power of the Ghost Rider; it means having to live without it. Over the years, through the thousands of mystical battles, Danny Ketch has grown addicted to the power of the Ghost Rider. And now, he can no longer go without.
Within just a few pages Spurrier seems to have gifted readers with a work truly magnificent in its scope. Ghost Rider has always been notoriously difficult to rarefy as an ongoing monthly title. Flaming skulls and chopper-bikes, angels and demons, bargains with the devil all seem visually compelling, but what fictional scaffolding can hold these disparate threads together? Garth Ennis, a writer who often demonstrates skill at being able to weave character mythologies, has underlined this difficulty with establishing Ghost Rider’s fictional bona fides. What is Ghost Rider really about? Ennis’s recent mini-series, ‘Road to Damnation’ and the Old West tale of the classic, horse-mounted Ghost Rider, ‘Trail of Tears’, read more as once-off skirmishes than settings for future stories. Even Paul Jenkins’ careful rendering of Johnny Blaze’s first encounter with The Devil in Ghost Rider: Mythos seems more to suggest the possibility of Ghost Rider ‘year one’ stories than become a platform for current continuity. More recently in the monthly comicbooks, writers Daniel Way then Jason Aaron have posited a war in Heaven with the Ghost Rider as fulcrum.
What is Ghost Rider about? While ‘Addict’ does not hope to answer the question for Johnny Blaze, once again the lead character in the monthly series, Spurrier does seemingly offer a compelling vision for Danny Ketch’s Ghost Rider. Danny Ketch has become a preternatural junky, his days spent jonesing for an occultic fix. For just a moment, the harshness of Neil Gaiman’s sentiment expressed in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ comes shining through. ‘The price of getting what you want, is getting what once you wanted’, Gaiman writes, words reflective of the tyranny of Danny Ketch living out his dream to be a biker and to finally be free from the power of the Ghost Rider.
But this imaginative re-envisioning of the Danny Ketch character would not be sustained. Partly due to an ostensible compromise with a corporate agenda by Marvel, and partly because of a failure of execution. Something feels wrong in reading a story called ‘Addict’ after its having been repackaged as ‘Danny Ketch’. Is this the expression of Marvel’s desire to sell more copies, by making its product slightly friendlier for the teenage market? In a profound statement on the marketability of art, web marketing guru Seth Godin suggests that actively shutting down access by certain markets might prove a sounder decision in the long run. ‘There is only commerce, because there is art’, Godin reminds us. In the light of this, Spurrier’s ineffectual handling of foreign cultures (Hindi, Maori, African, even English), conceiving of them as minorities within their own cultural locus seems almost forgivable.