While Rob is reviewing Jason Aaron's Scalped, I thought I'd chip in with my thoughts on the same writer's recently-concluded Ghost Rider book from Marvel.
Ghost Rider is one of those characters who never quite reached his true potential in my mind. A couple of writers have come close, most notably the always-excellent J.M. DeMatteis in the mid-80s, but most have found themselves hampered by the damned motorcycle, since high speed chases (even when they feature flaming-skulled stunt riders) are never quite as exciting on the comics page as they would be on the big screen. (Ironically, in a true tribute to the comics, Nicolas Cage and co. went out of their way to reflect this lack of excitement in their lamentable movie adaptation.)
The character was revived in the 90s as part of the grim 'n' gritty nadir of mainstream comics, steered to oblivion by Howard Mackie, the man responsible for some of the worst excesses of superhero dross in that woeful, must-be-forgotten decade.
There have been a couple of attempts to revive the title since, but nothing that particularly stuck until writer Daniel Way was given the character to relaunch a few years back. Way's approach brought a couple of intriguing hooks, most notably (and controversially) that Zadkiel, the demon behind Johnny Blaze's powers, was actually a renegade angel, making Ghost Rider a servant of heaven, not hell. However, though Way's book was fun in places, it was also quite a light and fast read. I never felt he nailed it. Enter Jason Aaron... and let the madness begin.
Using Way's renegade angel concept as a springboard, Aaron let's his imagination run wild, throwing in sexy kung fu nuns, demonic truck drivers, serial killers, chain gang thugs and a whole host of alternate religion Ghost Riders (since Blaze works for the Christian version of the deity, wouldn't it be cool if there was also be a Hindu Ghost Rider and a Buddhist Ghost Rider etc.?) He re-introduces a clutch of "classic" GR villains too, giving them an amusing, irreverent spin - most notably The Orb, who I always loved as a kid because his head is one giant eyeball, and who, under Aaron's watch, becomes a hyperactive chatterbox heading towards for a painful splinter...
The writer also brings back the 90s Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch, and makes him an interesting character for perhaps the first time ever. Aaron isn't afraid to cherry pick characters and situations from throughout the title's long and convoluted history, and to make them his own. The tone is OTT B-movie fun, reminiscent of Tarantino or Rodriguez - even Raimi - at their most playful and fanboyish. And Aaron goes to town on the whole Ghost Rider concept too, introducing alternate GRs who ride horses, trucks, elephants and even sharks.
The art is split between three pencillers with appropriately cartoony styles: Roland Boschi, Tony Moore and Tang Eng Huat, who all worked together on Punisher: Frankencastle. This comic has a similar no-holds-barred approach to storytelling and likewise refuses to become tangled up in current Marvel continuity, telling a completely self-contained story. Unlike the Punisher book though, the story doesn't all fall apart at the end, building instead to a satisfying conclusion involving Damian Hellstrom, Master Pandemonium, the Big Wheel, Madcap, more nuns with guns, and the anti-christ (one chapter is even amusingly titled "Save The Antichrist, Save The World").
I love Marvel's oversized omnibus editions, but they're usually too expensive for my wallet. Despite costing me £22.59 from Amazon (it's since gone up to £25.09), I still considered this something of a bargain as it collects a total of 22 comics - meaning I paid just over a quid an issue. The omnibus has an rrp of 37-99 and if you were to try buying the 4 trade paperback collections that comprise this run, they'd set you back £39.76 at current Amazon prices.