PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Comics

Ghost Rider #1-6: Road to Damnation

Andrew Welsh

Anyone familiar with Ennis's other comic projects knows that he doesn't readily tip-toe around issues possibly offensive to the church or the far right.

Ghost Rider #1-6

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Subtitle: Road to Damnation
Contributors: Clayton Crain (Artist)
Price: $2.99
Writer: Garth Ennis
Item Type: Comic
Length: 22
End Date: 2006-04
Start Date: 2005-11
Amazon

In the annals of fiction there are several legendarily bad decisions that individuals tend to make. One of the most common is for the average Joe character to trust a foxy lady that is unusually interested in him; she nearly always turns out to be a ruthless assassin or space alien in disguise and the guy inevitably ends up dead or with his brain in a jar. Another classic blunder is to assume that an uncharted planet's life forms are naively friendly. Bringing gifts and various signs of goodwill is always a nice idea, but the savvy space explorer will always have his trusty laser rifle close at hand for Plan B. A third poor decision that seems to crop up again and again is the sell-your-soul-to-the-devil instant success scam. This one seems to reel in more unfortunates than pyramid schemes, despite the fact that it really never pays off with anything other than a nasty heat rash along with an unpleasant case of eternal torment.

We're reminded time and time again that the devil is sort of like a loan shark, but not nearly as trustworthy or hospitable. The Prince of Darkness simply doesn't seem to feel that he needs to play the game like everybody else, so unless you have god-like fiddle skills, it's usually a bad idea to do business with the embodiment of evil. Johnny Blaze's run in with old Scratch was no exception, though historically Blaze, better known as Ghost Rider, is said to have made a pact with the demon Mephisto, who was merely impersonating Satan. As one might expect, the deal went sour and Johnny Blaze ended up bound to the demon Zarathos and thus became the leather-wearing, motorcycle-riding, chain-wielding, skull-flaming hellion that we all know and love. In Marvel's new Ghost Rider mini series, Road to Damnation, the distinction between Satan and Mephisto, and "super-powerful hellspawn" and Zarathos is not made, but this doesn't really damage character continuity and, in fact, makes the story far friendlier and simpler for readers who aren't familiar with Ghost Rider. When you start throwing in lots of complicated minor character names while omitting expository dialogue (for the sake of a 22 rather than a 57 page book), readers begin to wonder if they're looking at a DC title.

Road to Damnation is certain to excite more than a few comic book fans solely by its parental advisory warning. I usually enjoy an advisory if it means "depiction of characters who talk and act realistically" rather than pure gore or profane language for its own sake. In keeping with this, characters in this series speak and react in a manner that feels identifiably familiar even though the persons and events are wholly otherworldly. The advisory on the cover also paves the way for a surprisingly callous Marvel product. The disregard for human life is taken to an unusual -- unusual for comics anyway -- extreme in order to show characters' obdurate temperaments more clearly. And while this Ghost Rider series has its fair share of reasonably explicit gore and violence, the carnage supplements the story well. Writer Garth Ennis and artist Clayton Crain appear very conscious of the boundary between excessive and tasteful and successfully deliver writing and art that feel mindfully balanced.

Also to be found in the new Ghost Riders series are some subtle (and not-so-subtle) political, religious, and social overtones. Anyone familiar with Ennis's other comic projects (Preacher, Hellblazer, Punisher) knows that he doesn't readily tip-toe around issues possibly offensive to the church or the far right. It is unlikely mere coincidence that one of the prominent "bad guys" is an oil baron who uses his money to escape legality and morality, or that the only sides of Christianity presented are extremes such as the KKK and a rich church that goes out of its way to exemplify prosperity. And might it be yet another fluke that hell and earth are connected through Texas?

Ennis's polarized characters, however, essentially seem a humorously aloof look at American society rather than an actual maleficent attack on particular members. One gets an impression of amused disparagement or playful criticism rather than doom saying. The good humored demon Hoss at one point chuckles that the forces of hell are funded by the world's billionaires. Additionally, the archangel Ruth is seen throughout the series inflicting far more violence and bloodshed than any demon, causing traditional views concerning the spiritual realm to be constantly turned on their collective head. It's as if Ennis is saying that, in a larger sense, people simply believe whatever makes them feel safe and happy and that we are often blind to or ignore reality. To illustrate this, Ennis's angels and demons are selfish, bad tempered, and unapologetically disloyal. Ghost Rider represents the eyes of the reader and he is time and time again appalled by what he sees. As conventional wisdom disintegrates before him, he ascertains the true mechanisms of the celestial realm and finds them to be less than magnanimous. Any subscriber to the angel fanaticism of pre-millennial infamy would be wholly disgusted by Garth Ennis's dark vision of the spiritual world.

The heavenly and demonic conspiracies, numinous action, and imaginative characters give Clayton Crain excellent fodder for his digital artwork. I hope that comic artists never completely abandon their pens and pencils for mice and keyboards, but Crain certainly presents a formidable exemplar of the excellent work of which digital artists are capable. The fire and lighting that accompany Ghost Rider's hellishly fiery persona from page to page are brilliantly vivid. The blazing dark metal of Ghost Rider's motorcycle and his flaming skull are skillfully contrasted with the allusively Cthuloid demons that relentlessly confine him to hell.

And enjoyable and imaginative tale, Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation is well worth the price of admission for fans of Ghost Rider or Garth Ennis, as well as first time readers. If nothing else, the trade paperback would function beautifully to offset your mom's Touched By an Angel DVD collection.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.