Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Ghost Rider 1, originally released November 30th, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS!
Patrick: I’m not great with first impressions. I’ve got so many nerdy and niche interests, and I never want to unload all of that alienating garbage on someone when we first meet. That usually leads me to under-share, but on the odd occasion I give myself green lights, things get weird fast. Striking the balance between being withholding and being an emotional exhibitionist is hard, but it’s exactly what’s required of a good first impression. Felipe Smith and Danilo S. Beyruth give themselves all green lights with Ghost Rider 1, and while the result reveals an awful lot about what this series is going to be, it is frustratingly unfocused, bursting from overstuffed plots from the very first issue.
Part of the problem is that Smith seems most interested in establishing the least-Ghost-Rider-y details first. The issue gets off to an achingly slow start, insisting on the quiet realities of Robbie Reyes and his little brother Gabe before shifting over to a baffling Amadeus Cho story. It’s a good ten pages before Robbie suits up and allows the spirit of the Ghost Rider to overtake him, and what precedes it is a surprising amount of non-incident. Robbie and Gabe work on the car, Cho tries to catch a mutant rat, Robbie and Gabe get ice cream. In a medium that practically demands we get to fucking point already, Ghost Rider 1 takes its time.
Now, this could very easily be one of the qualities that Smith intends to attribute to both his hero and this story: patience. Robbie is the sole caretaker for his little brother, who has developmental disabilities. They’ve got a good relationship, but a lot of that seems anchored in Robbie’s saintly patience. It might be hard for Robbie to raise his brother, but he’s rewarded with a sweet, bright kid. Similarly, we’re rewarded for our patience when Beyruth gets to stretch him legs and draw a uniquely chaotic action sequence.
I love this spread – each of these six vertical slices presents uses different numbers and sizes of panels. But even if each of those moments has different internal storytelling vocabulary, the consistency of each beat appearing in one of those vertical strips is grounding. It’s not even always totally clear what’s happening, but the pacing implied by this regularity muscles its way to a totally cohesive scene.
When Robbie rips the back off the truck, it’s revealed that the gangbanger is carting people in a crate. We don’t get any kind of context for this, but they’re clearly happy to be rescued by “The Legend of Hillrock Heights.” It’s an amazing little scene – and at a tidy four pages from start to finish, it does a better job of setting up who Robbie is and what he can do than the 10 pages that proceed it. I don’t usually like to rewrite comics, but I’d totally start this issue with Robbie excusing himself to chase this guy down, and then loop back around on the cutesy stuff with Gabe.
As it stands, there’s this parallel story with Amadeus Cho, which I guess is less parallel than it is just happening concurrently. A supertitle reminds us that Cho is the 9th smartest person on Earth (I still find it hilarious that Marvel keeps this ranking), but he sure does make some dumb decisions when dealing with this purple goo / rat-monster. But more than that, I’m bothered by the inconsistent amount of time that the majority of this issue seems to take place over. We’re cutting back and forth between Reyes and Cho, and while we check in with the Reyeses before dinner, and again at night, it seems like no time has passed for Cho. Unless he’s hulk-wrestling with the rat for like 6 hours…
But I wouldn’t even have noticed if the Hulk action were more satisfying. Beyruth may have a deft eye for vehicular combat and chase sequences, but his hand-to-hand combat is stale. It also hurts everything that the stories don’t quite come together by the end. Don’t get me wrong – it’ll be cool to see Cho and Laura and Robbie all team up to fight a monster together, but that’s not something we actually get to see in this issue.
I actually think that the back-up story, with art by the inimitable Tradd Moore, makes a much cleaner first impression. Even if, y’know, it comes second. Robbie’s character is a lot clearer, and we get to the Ghost Rider action within four pages. Plus – Robbie’s pitted against another character that can keep up with him, instead of a thug that poses no real danger to him. Double-plus, Smith constructs that classic Bruce Wayne / Selina Kyle dynamic between Rhonda and Robbie – two people are playing out two different relationships simultaneously.
And man, I can’t get enough of the way Moore draws these characters. Moore lets some simple visual vocabulary characterize each of them – Ghost Rider’s actions are driven by the constantly looping chain-lasso, and Piston Nitro’s actions are ruled by this cool blue zig-zag. Check it:
Taylor, I don’t know that we’ve talked much about Robbie Reyes in the past. I do genuinely like this character and you know I’m a fan of the setting. I just wish Smith was better about pacing, you know? Or I wish there was a way I could be eating some of Doña Rosa’s Famous Tacos with the Reyes boys. AND NO, I’m not just saying that because Robbie’s a dream boat. So what do you say? Wanna get some tacos?
Taylor: I’ll get tacos with you anytime Patrick and I’m sure it would make a less messy experience than reading this comic. Like you, I was frustrated by this issue for a lot of the same reasons you mentioned. However, one thing it does have going for it is the setting. The world Robbie lives in feels fully realized and real, no doubt because it is set in actual, real locations. There’s something about seeing the places I’ve actually been to in fiction stories that is so much fun. When this happens I feel instantly connected with the author because we have a shared experience. Such is this case when we go to Doña Rosa’s Famous Tacos in Culver City, home of one of my best friends and sometimes Retcon-Punch writer and reader Ethan.
While this location definitely works favors for Smith in my opinion, there’s more here than just simple name recognition. In showing us Los Angeles, he’s sure to show us an honest version of how it is as opposed to what we frequently see in them movies. Anyone who has been to LA knows that Hispanic culture plays a huge part in making Los Angeles unique. By portraying primarily Latino characters, locations, and culture, he shows us a city that is vibrant and alive. These aren’t the sterile streets of New York – they are wholly unique.
But a good setting can only get a title so far. I was similarly perplexed by the addition of Amadeus Cho’s story and it’s seeming irrelevance to Robbie’s. Oh I’m sure the stories will cross soon but in this issue it comes across as just bizarre. This strangeness is perhaps the saving grace of this B storyline though. Amadeus is supposedly the ninth smartest guy on the planet but he comports himself like a bro both in action and in words.
There is something endlessly charming about a Hulk who eschews the now tired “SMASH” for the more modern and infuriating “bro.” The Hulk really is the essence of a bro distilled: he’s loud, destructive, loves muscles, and at the end of the day everyone just wishes he would go home. Seeing him comport himself in a way that checks off every item on this list. When the purple, mutant, rat thing transforms into a larger dangerous version of itself, Cho isn’t horrified or worried, but is excited by the chance to wrestle it. He talks about naming it a pokemon and elongates the vowel on the word “dude.” I love this version of the Hulk. True: he’s just as destructive as ever, but he’s ever so pleasant as he does it. So even though this story makes little sense in the broader context of the issue, on its own it’s a fun little romp.
Even though the second story in this issue is more coherent than the first, it still suffers from some of the same clarity that its predecessor has. There’s not much in the way to complicate the story, but where you found Moore’s panels exciting, Patrick, I found them confusing, if not at least pretty to look at. A prime example of what I mean comes when Ghost Rider catches up with Piston Nitro and then…something happens.
What exactly is happening in these panels is extremely confusing. It’s unclear if Ghost-Rider’s car is stuck in mid-air or if it’s in motion. Later on the issue we learn that Piston-Nitro can slow down time and that that’s what she is doing here, but for someone like me who is unfamiliar with her skill set, these above panels are a mystery. Annoying as this is, it doesn’t take away from the story in a significant enough way to do lasting harm. Even though the action is muddled, the panels are indeed wonderful to just look at. I love the way Ghost-Rider’s flames and Piston Nitro’s electricity blend together in a way that suggests the two are actually not so different from one another. It helps that they are dazzlingly colored with each panel reading hot to cool from left to right. Overall it’s just some nice artwork to look at, if not necessarily easy to read.
Ultimately all of this is enough to both intrigue and also annoy me. The potential for a great issue is lurking somewhere here just below the surface but somehow it gets lost in a lot of white noise. This and some other serious missteps, like Robbie’s overly idealized and Hallmark worthy relationship with his disabled brother, do a lot to hinder the plot developing in a logical or coherent way.
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