Monday, 18 August 2014

All-New Ghost Rider, Volume 1: Engines of Vengeance Review (Felipe Smith, Tradd Moore)


Robbie Reyes’ life is a fucking nightmare. 

Still a teenager in high school, he must look after and support his wheelchair-bound little brother, Gabe, in the absence of his deadbeat parents, and work an after-school job at a body shop. They live in a crime-ridden neighbourhood in LA, gangs operating on every street corner, drugs and guns everywhere, while Robbie spends each day telling himself he’ll get them out there, him and Gabe, out somewhere safe, somehow…

Then one day Gabe’s beaten up by some thugs from Robbie’s school and his electric wheelchair stolen. It becomes the last straw and Robbie knows he has to do something drastic to get them out. He steals a souped-up gangster car and enters an illegal street race with the prize at $50k – enough to start over with a new life.

But Robbie stole the wrong car. In the boot are bags of a new pill created by the evil Dr Zabo which his private army of mercenaries hunt and kill Robbie for. As his life ebbs away from him, the pain and rage of his life calls out to a kindred spirit – the Spirit of Vengeance! Robbie Reyes is... the All New Ghost Rider!

OK - this is a really decent comic but let’s be clear: it’s also pretty simplistic, story-wise. It’s kinda manipulative to have some one-dimensional dickheads beat up a kid in a wheelchair – I mean, what else are you supposed to feel except anger at such a despicable act? 

And the main villain is your cookie-cutter mad scientist who, when drinking a potion, turns into a vicious monster. It’s so unsubtle, the creature is actually called Mr Hyde! The other villain is as one-dimensional as you can get – a gangsta psycho called Grumpy who goes from drug dealing prick to pouring handfuls of pills down his gullet as he transforms into this frothing juiced-out lunatic! 

Then there’s the Good Will Hunting aspect to Robbie. Turns out he’s a wicked smaht kid but he doesn’t apply himself because he’s got other worries like keeping his kid brother safe and, y’know, the whole Ghost Rider dealio. Come on. 

Felipe Smith adopts the tried and true Garth Ennis/Punisher MAX template. This is when you have awful people do terrible things to innocents for most of the story then in the last act you have the hero emerge and smack the everloving shit out of the villains. I have to say though, even knowing what Smith was doing, with the characters and the story, it’s still damn effective and I was drawn in deep as the tension was built up towards the finale when Ghost Rider goes nuts. Hey, it’s simple but it works. 

I should also say that this Ghost Rider eschews the traditional motorcycle with flaming tyres motif and opts instead for a car, perhaps to appeal to the Fast & Furious crowd. As if that wasn’t a populist enough move, Robbie’s look is near-identical to One Direction’s Zayn Malik (to my credit, I had to google his name)! But that’s fine, Robbie doesn’t sing little girl songs and the two wheel/four wheel thing isn’t essential to the character of Ghost Rider, as you’ll see in the book - he works fine in either vehicle. 

What puts All New Ghost Rider Vol 1 over the top is Tradd Moore. Moore was the artist on Image Comics’ Luther Strode series which is about a schoolboy becoming the avatar of violence, so it was a no-brainer for Marvel editors to look at that series and pick out Moore to draw this book which is about a schoolboy becoming the avatar for the Spirit of Vengeance! 

Moore’s art - like all art, really - is difficult to describe with just words, so take a google at some of it yourself to decide whether you like it or not. Personally, there’s no question - this dude’s art is incredible, true-blue gorgeous - but people are funny (read: wrong). There’s an urgency to his work, an energy that’s brimming over and, when it does, it flows beautifully on the page - essential for a book featuring high speed chases and super-charged action. If anyone else had drawn this book, I wouldn’t rate it so highly, but with Moore drawing, it’s supremely elevated. Moore takes Smith’s decent script and turns the book into a must-read, for his contributions alone. 

Speaking of Luther Strode (and if you haven’t read that series, check it out, it’s really good), Ghost Rider isn’t nearly as gory or hyper-violent, but I do feel Marvel should’ve gone for a MAX series with this one. There’s gang violence, constant swearing (all *!%$ out of course), drug use aplenty not to mention one very visceral scene where a character is ripped in half! Making it a MAX title (which means adults only) would’ve suited this series and allowed the creators free reign to portray a more authentic ghetto LA. But I guess then you miss out on the younger audience and therefore opportunity to make more money. 

All New Ghost Rider Vol 1 certainly isn’t the most sophisticated comic you’ll read, nor is it complex even by Marvel standards, but it has style and verve to spare, and definitely held my attention from start to finish. It’s a very enjoyable and visceral read with stunning art - easily one of the highlights from Marvel this year. Check it out!

All-New Ghost Rider Volume 1: Engines of Vengeance

4 comments:

  1. Eli has been giving me the creeps. Judging by the dialogue being written for him I think I'm supposed to be. I'm thinking he's not what he appears to be and there may be a betrayal on his part soon. Either way I'm sensing there may be a twist coming that will not be leaving this story so simple afterall.

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    1. I've a feeling you're right - the second arc of All New Ghost Rider will probably be less straightforward as Robbie and Eli get to know each other more.

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  2. Glad to hear this is a good one. This actually got my interest first time I heard about it. It actually seemed like Marvel was doing something different with the character (Unlike Iron Man: Believe), which seems refreshing.

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    1. Ugh, Kieron Gillen's Iron Man is the WORST! Yeah, this Ghost Rider is awesome - definitely worth a look.

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