There’s a scar on the back of Johnny Blaze’s head, and it’s bleeding. It shouldn’t be, because this was a wound closed months ago, stitched up after a highway accident left Johnny with a number of mental and physical injuries.
Since then, Johnny’s been doing better; going to therapy, relying on loved ones, etc. But all that healing won’t keep his scar stitched shut because it isn’t his skin that’s just refusing to close…
Something in his head is trying to get out.
Ghost Rider #1 credits
Written by Benjamin Percy
Art by Cory Smith
Colors by Bryan Valenza
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
On sale February 23
‘Rama Rating: 8.5/10
Marvel’s latest Ghost Rider ongoing series opens on Johnny Blaze in a different kind of Hell than we’re used to: suburban America. In the tiny town of Hayden’s Falls, Johnny Blaze is a run-of-the-mill auto mechanic, married with two kids and generally liked by his community.
However, there’s something rotten under all the beauty. Johnny is hallucinating horrible creatures, waking from ghastly nightmares, and terrified of a shadowy presence that seems to be following him. His therapist and family chalk this up to his accident, repeatedly assuring him that there’s no such thing as monsters. But despite what they tell him, Johnny knows deep down that monsters really do exist.
More than that, he knows he is one.
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Ghost Rider comics have always been able to encapsulate a bunch of genres, from dark fantasy to action to traditional superheroes. But in this latest incarnation, artist Cory Smith firmly establishes the book as horror. His depiction of the mysterious Hayden’s Falls early on is nothing but idyllic, all baseball fields and little churches and yipping dogs. But as the pages turn, that perfect picture melts; the baseball fields get covered in gore, the church goes up in flames, and the dogs… well, the dogs get a lot less cute.
Soon, all the tension that Smith has been building comes to a head, unleashing a storm of blood, beasts, and bad guys, the likes of which would give Hieronymus Bosch chills. Whether you like your horror subtle or balls-to-the-wall, Cory Smith has you covered in this comic.
Those gonzo spooks wouldn’t have been possible without the colorwork done by Bryan Valenza. It wouldn’t be shocking to learn that Valenza is a fan of Sam Raimi’s bonkers horror movies Evil Dead II or Drag Me to Hell, his choices put the same bombastic colors on the page that those films do on the screen.
Also dynamic is the progression of Valenza’s colors. During the subtle horror of the opening pages, he relies on blues and blacks to unsettle the reader. Then as the plot heats up, so do his tones, red taking up more of every page. No spoilers here, but you won’t be surprised when this comic ends in bright, terrifying flames.
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But for all the incredible visuals that populate the world around Johnny Blaze, a lot of this story happens within his own head, and writer Benjamin Percy excels at putting us in there with him.
The fan-favorite Wolverine scribe focuses not just on terrifying monsters but the terror of being one, building out an attractive life that fans will want Johnny to have only to showcase the terrible things that happen once he gets it. It’s a kind of story that’s special in Big Two comics, much more about an internal conflict than an external one. By the end of the book, you might be left wondering whether the biggest antagonist Johnny Blaze has ever faced is the Ghost Rider himself.
Presenting that internal struggle to a reader is a difficult task, but Travis Lanham’s lettering goes a long way in getting it across. The internal monologue boxes Lanham has designed for Johnny are black and brooding; you can’t read them without feeling the weight of Johnny’s troubles. And while Cory Smith makes the monstrous cast of this book look scary, Lanham is responsible for making them sound scary. His gurgling speech bubbles and demonic letters make the already frightening things they say that much worse.
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There are plenty of creatures within the pages of Ghost Rider #1. It’s even hinted that there’s a Big Bad behind Johnny’s current troubles. But even if they weren’t there, this book would be terrifying. Johnny Blaze is a man who gave up everything to stop his pain, and that pain only got worse. Living in his head is a literal Hell, whether or not there’s some gruesome Cronenberg thing writhing around in there. In this chilling, extremely well-crafted book, we have to live in there with him.
Does Ghost Rider have you wanting even more scares in your pull list? We’ve got a list of the best horror comics of all time right here.