Pastoral Horror in Cosmic Ghost Rider 4

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The entirety of Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett’s Cosmic Ghost Rider has been about enthusiastically mashing up disparate elements of the Marvel Universe to create singularly compelling ideas. Our hero, if we wanna call him that, is a mix between Punisher, Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer. He spent the whole last issue battling teams of What-If cross-over mash-up characters until grown-up Punisher-Thanos came back in time from the future to rescue him. But the fourth issue finds the creative team juxtaposing disparate qualities that are far more elemental and aesthetic. Instead of a Juggernaut that is also a Duck, Cosmic Ghost Rider 4 give us a pastoral fantasy that is also a post apocalyptic nightmare.

And since we’ve been reading about the hellbound adventures of a revenge-driven space ghost, artist Dylan Burnett has his work cut for him in communicating anything even remotely resembling peace. Burnett luxuriates in the space a two-page spread provides him, drawing panels that stretch on as long and lazily as you’d expect a summer day to.

It’s sort of astonishing to see how colorist Anontio Fabela repurposes the reds and oranges from the previous pages, which were once evocative of blood and fire, and transforms them into a serene sunset. Check it out, the warm colors universally become less threatening as we move from left to right across the two-page spread, eventually extinguishing the flame around Frank’s head.

To top it all off, Cates and Burnett offer Frank the ultimate peace: this is a part in the timeline where he has already died. Frank and Thanos take a moment to pay their respects to his gravestone sitting in the shade of a lonely tree. It’s a beautiful image, powerful enough that Frank doesn’t even want to know how he died. The setting is so peaceful, and this version of the world so perfect, he can finally stop fussing over changing the past.

Ready for the turn? Of course you are! The three previous issues have taught you that nothing is just one thing. Punisher can’t just be Punisher, so paradise can’t just be paradise. At the literal half-way point in the issue, Frank discovers the edge of this pastoral plateau, beyond which lays the ruins of a rebellious civilization. Burnett mercifully keeps the reader far away from the specific and individual suffering in the camps, but the wider view is more than enough to communicate what happened here. It’s an important point to pivot on, proving there’s more than just spectacle to Cosmic Ghost Rider. This pathos motivates Frank to put a gun to a baby’s head… a baby Thanos, but still. So when Thanos re-enlists Frank as his herald, it feels more like genuine tragedy than mythological pieces falling back into place. The mash-ups become real, and really sad, at the same time.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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