Monday, March 17, 2008

Ghost Rider #21

Since Johnny Blaze reprised his leading role in the pages of Ghost Rider almost two years ago, he's been hit with a series of revelations that have changed the way he looks at himself. Particularly surprising was the realization that the spirit of vengeance which shares his body wasn't of demonic origin as he'd always presumed, but was actually assigned to him as part of a heavenly “black ops” program. When God doesn't want to get his hands dirty, I guess, he dials up the guy with the flaming skull and a magic motorcycle. Only now, the angel in charge of the whole program has developed grand aspirations, including but not limited to the highest post of them all. The angel, named Zadkiel, wants to evict God from his throne and rule heaven in his place. I guess some people never learn…

Roland Boschi contributes the artwork this month, and while he's certainly a step up from what Javier Saltares was producing the last time I read an issue of Ghost Rider, he's got a few rough patches of his own. His work blends the simple, gestural qualities of Tim Sale with the composition style of the Kubert family, but doesn't compare favorably to either. On the occasions that he seems to get it, such as an early scene-setting panel that portrays Blaze's morning campsite, the artwork is vividly Kubert-inspired, but missing a sense of life and identity.

When his style emulates Tim Sale's, it retains that sense of mesmerizing simplicity, but totally misses the beauty of the Long Halloween artist's linework. Where Sale's illustrations live and breathe, painting their way across the page, Boschi's work is unrefined, jerky and often clumsy. Often, his characters' facial expressions don't match what they're saying or doing. Yet, every once in a while a flicker of hope will peek through. Boschi has the tools to make something of himself… he keeps a good pace, and can tell a story with or without the aid of word balloons. He isn't there yet, but with a bit of refinement and a more discernible identity could become someone noteworthy.

Like his partner, Jason Aaron's writing is a marked improvement over Daniel Way's efforts a few months back. His storytelling is much easier to follow, despite a few awkward shifts from inaction to sudden, jolting fireworks and knife fights, and he shows restraint and a knack for legibility in much of his dialog. I can safely say that this month's conflict is one of the more unique pairings I've ever stumbled across, and while it occasionally gets a bit too close to cliché for my liking, it never actually carries itself over the top in that respect.

Even though it directly involves a battle between angels and repeated references to biblical material, the story really isn't what I expected. That's both a good thing and a bad thing – on one hand, Aaron is exploring new territory with a character that's badly needed that kind of a vision for decades. On the other, his quirky writing style and oddball situations have almost completely reversed the book's personality in a very short period of time. In my eyes, it's a welcome change because what came before was just rotten, but he runs the risk of alienating older readers by changing the game on them so drastically with little warning.

Ghost Rider is grasping for an identity right now, and while both Boschi and Aaron certainly provide something different in that arena, I'm not sure they're a permanent solution. But, to be fair, they are at the very least a step in the right direction. Flip through this, even if the character has never appealed to you. It's trying to reinvent itself, which is more than I can say for a lot of books in a similar predicament.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

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