Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Javier Saltares (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Inside Cypress Hills cemetery, Ghost Rider emerges again. Elsewhere in the city, Spider-Man is trying to fix his tattered reputation. When Ghost Rider races past, his hellfire out of control, Spider-Man follows. Ghost Rider and Spider-Man have a brief confrontation that ends when the street is ripped open, exposing a group of terrorists in the sewers. Spider-Man confiscates their bomb, as Dan Ketch emerges from the crowd. Ghost Rider convinces Dan that he’s incomplete without him. They merge together once again, using their supernatural powers to deaden the impact of the bomb’s blast. Spider-Man’s webbing insures that no bystanders are hurt. The next morning, the Daily Bugle accuses Ghost Rider and Spider-Man of being terrorists.
The Subplots: Spider-Man offers to discuss the details of George and Gwen Stacy’s deaths, but Arthur isn’t in the mood to hear it. Paul Stacy is moving out of the Stacy home for unknown reasons. Peter playfully snatches MJ out of the streets and takes her to a rooftop, but is called into action a few minutes later when Ghost Rider races by.
Web of Continuity: Ghost Rider claims that the revelation that he’s Dan Ketch’s ancestor, Noble Kane, was a lie. Apparently this ties into some controversial continuity from the final days of the ‘90s Ghost Rider series.
Forever Young: Peter and MJ’s conversation is another forced reminder of how young they are. “We're young, in love...” “Let's start acting our age for a change. Sometimes I feel like we act as though we've been married for a thousand years.”
How Did This Get Published?: Heed the words of the world’s sleepiest terrorist: “You are too late, Spider-Man. The time has come for this city to be cleansed in fire. No more mutant or super-normal aberrations such as yourself. A new age is dawning.”
I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man to the terrorists: “Give me a break! You're WAY too early for the millennium!” (I guess the premise of the joke is that all terrorists in the late ‘90s have ties to the new millennium, but even in comics, was this very common?)
Production Note: John Romita, Jr. is incorrectly credited as the penciler on the cover. He did draw the cover, but not the interiors.
|Original art compared to the printed page, from http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1105112|
Review: I remember this issue getting more of a promotional push than usual from Marvel, since it reunited the original creative team of the popular ‘90s Ghost Rider revival. I also recall that the online response to the issue was overwhelmingly negative. Apparently, Howard Mackie viewed this issue as a means of clearing up Ghost Rider continuity, and as the Clone Saga taught us, Mackie’s solution for handling continuity problems is to toss out a few lines of dialogue and then brush his hands together and call it a day. I’m assuming that his goal was to retcon the revelation that Ghost Rider was someone named Noble Kane, and to go back to the status quo of Dan Ketch and Ghost Rider sharing the same body. This is accomplished by having Ghost Rider babble for a few pages about Mephisto lying, then Dan Ketch and a convenient group of poorly-defined terrorists literally appear out of nowhere, and finally in a heroic act of sacrifice, everything’s back to the old status quo. Never mind that none of this has anything to do with Spider-Man, of course, and Mackie doesn’t even seem too fluent in the continuity he’s disrupting. Ultimately, what was the point of this?
Can the subplots save this one? What do you think? We’re blessed with a few pages of Peter and MJ having the same repetitive conversation they always have in this title, a conversation scene that has MJ flip-flopping from nagging to supporting her husband over the course of one page. Oh, and did you know that the Parkers are really young? The rest of the issue deals with the Stacy family, which is always death. Jill Stacy, we’re told this issue, is obsessed with Spider-Man and discovering his connection to her uncle and cousin’s deaths…information that has never come up before, or was buried so long ago I’ve totally forgotten it. Jill is an absolute blank slate of a character, we don’t even know what her college major is, so if this obsession was the one thing we do know about her, shouldn’t it have played a role in any of her previous appearances? Arthur Stacy, we know, is obsessed with George and Gwen Stacy’s deaths, which hasn’t really gone anywhere, but at least has been repeated enough times for the reader to get the idea. This issue, he finally has an opportunity to learn the truth directly from Spider-Man, but he’s too depressed to speak. He’s upset because his grown son, who’s so caustic and antagonistic he can’t make a single friend, is moving out…for mysterious reasons. This title’s record for actually paying off storylines, and giving the Stacys anything to do, doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the future of Paul’s story. (And if the goal of “Identity Crisis” was to have Spider-Man come around and embrace Arthur as an ally, that’s another plot point Mackie communicated very poorly.)
Visually, the issue is an improvement over the majority of the fill-ins of this era. Javier Saltares, not surprisingly, draws an excellent interpretation of Ghost Rider and his Spider-Man feels like a nice callback to guys like Gil Kane (although Saltares seems unable to draw Spidey’s eyes consistently throughout the issue, a common problem in this era for some reason.) I’m not sure what was going in Sensational #30, but the combination of Saltares’ pencils and Scott Hanna’s inks this issue creates on-model, attractive versions of the supporting cast. No ape-people this time. The visuals actually do a lot to sell the story, which on a very basic level isn’t even that bad. Ghost Rider’s powers out of control, with Spider-Man caught in his wake, rescuing the innocent civilians…that’s a fine starting point for an issue. Once you throw in the garbled continuity, stilted dialogue, lame subplots, and half-hearted ending, that’s a disappointing comic.