Issue(s): Darkhold #5,Darkhold #6, Darkhold #7
This arc has guest stars galore, starting with the Punisher. We see him attack and seemingly kill a drug dealer named Walter "Speakeasy" Slocum, who is working for the Ghost Rider villain Reverend Styge. Speakeasy has enough firepower that the Punisher is forced to use explosives to kill him, rather than capture him to interrogate him about Styge. We then see Styge approach Speakeasy, and seemingly bring Speakeasy back from the dead, using a spell he got from the Dwarf in the last arc.
Sometime later (the initial encounter is said to have happened "last week"), the Punisher is approached by Speakeasy, who is now in a half-dead state and has, or claims to have, the ability to speak with the dead. He taunts the Punisher first with a 13 year old kid that the Punisher killed, and then with the Punisher's dead wife. But the Punisher doesn't really bite.
Punisher lets Speakeasy leave with a pile of corpses (created by the Punisher; Speakeasy wants them for Styge, who is a cannibal), since he's secretly bugged (but not so secretly; Styge is actually aware).
Ghost Rider, currently in Brooklyn, runs into a gang of muggers, who give him information on Reverend Styge. And Victoria Montesi has another of her visions, leading her and the other Darkhold Redeemers to Styge as well. Styge is still running his scam pretending to make contact with dead relatives, and Louise Hasting pretends to fall for it, allowing Victoria to search Styge's mausoleum. When the Punisher arrives, Sam Buchanan recognizes him and tries to arrest him (and almost gets as far as cuffing him!) before Victoria and then Ghost Rider show up.
Ghost Rider sees Punisher scuffling with the Redeemers and assumes that the Punisher has switched sides, and Styge is promising to resurrect the Punisher's family, but, again, the Punisher isn't falling for it. Punisher and Ghost Rider have fought on the same side on multiple occasions, so you'd think Ghost Rider would give him more of a chance.
Punisher shoots and kills Styge before he can resurrect the Punisher's family, anyway. Victoria then convinces Sam that the Punisher punishes himself more than any prison could, so they let him go.
We see Speakeasy dragging away Styge to a mysterious master.
According to the Marvel Appendix, this is Centurious, which makes sense, since Styge was working for him (but the MCP doesn't list Centurious as appearing here). In any event this is Styge's last appearance, so he remains dead. This isn't the first time that a Ghost Rider villain is wiped out in another book; i think it's weird but i guess with Howard Mackie's seeming inability to wrap up plot threads in the Ghost Rider book, he was happy for the help.
The other guest stars in issue #5 don't appear until the end: Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange, and Agatha Harkness. They have actually been appearing since issue #3, but Scarlet Witch is in better shape than prior issues at this point.
Harkness has gotten things a little mixed up, allowing for a Misunderstanding Fight.
Scarlet Witch is apparently wrapped up in a prophesy relating to the Darkhold, which is called the Malachy Prophesy and will result in Ch'thon returning to Earth. Even the children she gave birth to seem to be fulfilling elements of that prophesy. But Harkness and Strange were both part of those births, so you'd think they might have noticed this before now, and (as Michael notes in the comments) we'll eventually learn that Harkness is mistaken.
Note also that the physical representation of Ch'thon that we've seen in the past is said to not be the real thing. He (it?) is really an unknowable Elder God-ish horror. Which is how it should be, i agree, but it's a little late for us to be learning that now.
While Strange and company are working all of this out, the Darkhold Dwarf is pranking Wong.
The Dwarf is currently in Hawaii, setting up the use of another Darkhold page. There is a World War II vet upset about the rising prominence of Japanese people in Hawaii. The Dwarf gives him a Darkhold page.
The Redeemers are already in Hawaii seeking that page, and they're accosted by Strange and company. But they (unwillingly) have a mystic of their own: Modred.
Modred has been all over the place on the good guy/bad guy axis, but his history with the Scarlet Witch doesn't exactly increase the Redeemers' standing. Amazingly, this is Dr. Strange and Modred's first meeting. Strange also considers him a villain.
They battle a bit...
..and the others fight as well. Scarlet Witch doesn't have a particularly good showing, getting into a hair-pulling match with Victoria. And poor Ebony is shot by Sam!
But the fighting is interrupted by the vet's activation of the Darkhold page, which brings back WWII-era Japanese planes.
Scarlet Witch's hexes turn the planes into ectoplasmic goop.
It turns out that Strange has tricked Modred into swearing an oath to not leave the spot he's on, so he's forced to help the others deal with the planes.
The heroes join together, but everyone acts like idiots and they have trouble dealing with the problem.
Modred tries to activate a volcano and kill everyone on the island, thus giving the goop nothing to work with, and Dr. Strange actually pauses to wonder if Modred is right that it's the only way to stop it. But Professor Hastings makes her way to the veteran and convinces him to stop, even though it kills him.
Before the vet dies, she learns that he got his Darkhold page from a Dwarf.
After everything is over, it's confirmed that the prophecy is coming true, which is why ordinary people are even able to use the pages.
Strange says that the Redeemers therefore can't just retrieve that pages. They have to find a gateway to Ch'thon's dimension and close it. Strange says that he and his colleagues will dedicate themselves to repairing the dimensional walls. Strange later says that the Redeemers' lack of powers is exactly what is needed to stop the prophecy. It also turns out that Strange knew all along that the Redeemers weren't bad guys, but he wanted to draw out Modred.
Speaking of whom, the Scarlet Witch give him a pow...
...and Strange refuses to release him from the geas binding him to Maui.
Meanwhile, the Darkholder cultists become aware that "she" is back. At first they think it means Lilith, but that's not the case.
I want to like this book, and i feel like it should be good. But something's not working here. The endless parade of guest stars might be part of the problem. In part because there hasn't been enough time devoted to character development, to actually making us like Victoria, Louise, and Sam. And also in part because with all these super-mystical characters appearing, it really makes you wonder why three humans are left sorting out the Darkhold problem. Yes, that is at least addressed, but the explanation feels more like hand-waving than a real reason. I also liked the original format of the Redeemers going from place to place and dealing with creepy horror stuff. But it's quickly escalated into a world threatening prophesy; the stakes are too high too fast. Maybe Chris Cooper saw the writing on the wall and realized things had to be wrapped up before the book got cancelled, but the book never really got a chance to be what it should have been: a true horror series set in the Marvel universe.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Punisher appeared at the end of the last arc, and i said that appearance could be ruled as symbolic or it could just be an isolated appearance unrelated to the one(s) here. But the Punisher appears twice in issue #5, first during a prelude, and then a second time where the first appearance is referred to as having happened "last week". So the other possibility is that his appearance at the end of issue #4 connects directly to the prelude in #5. Either way, the Punisher appears in 30 books a month with no dependencies, and his appearance here is context free. Scarlet Witch began appearing in this series beginning with issue #3. The appearances in #3-4 don't necessarily take place directly before these issues (especially due to the Punisher's "week"), but they all take place between Avengers West Coast #91-92, thanks to a note in #91 (which also acknowledged her upcoming appearance here by giving her power fluctuations). Dr. Strange seems fully powered and a footnote confirms that this takes place before Doctor Strange #49. Ghost Rider should appear here after Spirits of Vengeance #9-10, which ends a string of dependencies for him going back to Infinity War. He can be appearing here while Johnny Blaze and his carnival friends are hiding out in Greenwich Village, as shown in Ghost Rider #39. Next issue begins with the Redeemers still on a plane back from Hawaii, so it shouldn't take place too soon after this arc.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showAgatha Harkness, Centurious the Soulless Man, Darkhold Dwarf, Dr. Strange, Ebony, Ghost Rider (Danny Ketch), Louise Hastings, Modred the Mystic, Noble Kale, Punisher, Randolph DeGuzman, Rev. Styge, Sam Buchanan, Scarlet Witch, Speakeasy, Victoria Montesi, Wong
The idea of a group of investigators trying to stop the problems involving the Darkhold with a creepy dwarf spurring things on should be a cool idea as you said. But yeah...you start throwing in Dr. Strange and Wanda in there and there goes the neighborhood. Somehow if this was an indie book instead of integrated into the Marvel universe, maybe it could work for some sort of pseudo-Vertigo story.
Posted by: Ataru320 | August 23, 2016 6:46 PM
"Scarlet Witch is apparently wrapped up in a prophesy relating to the Darkhold, which is called the Malachy Prophesy and will result in Ch'thon returning to Earth. Even the children she gave birth to were fulfilling elements of that prophesy. Harkness and Strange were both part of those births, so you'd think they might have noticed this before now."
Posted by: Michael | August 23, 2016 7:48 PM
How can this story be reconciled with Disassembled, in which Wanda can't remember her children. She can clearly remember them here.
Posted by: Steven | August 24, 2016 1:02 AM
Steven, it was explained in Avengers West Coast Annual 7 that Agatha restored Wanda's memory of the kids. Bendis ignored that.
Posted by: Michael | August 24, 2016 7:58 AM
I wonder how seriously we're supposed to take the claim that the Punisher killed a 13-year old just for drug running.
Since something like this happened in the Frank Miller DD story featuring Punisher, it seems quite likely to be true. It's not like we see him pausing in firefights to check how old his victims look like before he shoots them.
Posted by: Tuomas | August 24, 2016 9:23 AM
Such a nice concept, such abysmal handling. It could be a far better history with better art and, most of all, without such a deluge of guest stars that serve no good plot function. Doctor Strange, particularly, comes out looking somehow both manipulative and ineffectual. Instead of adding to the story, those guest stars erode their credibility and take valious pages for no good reason.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | August 25, 2016 12:00 AM
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