Marvel Spotlight #6-11
Issue(s): Marvel Spotlight #6, Marvel Spotlight #7, Marvel Spotlight #8, Marvel Spotlight #9, Marvel Spotlight #10, Marvel Spotlight #11
Crash Simpson, Johnny Blaze's step-father, is reincarnated as "Curly", the head of a group of bikers.
After Johnny fights off an attack by them, he is subsequently recruited into their ranks.
But it's all a ruse for Simpson to attempt to sacrifice Blaze to Satan.
However, the love between Johnny and Roxanne (Simpson's daughter and Johnny's step-sister) prevents Satan from claiming Johnny's soul, so Simpson has to kidnap Roxanne and bring her to a Church of Satan (which, you kind of get the impression that there's one around every corner in this book).
While Roxanne is missing, we meet Bart Slade, Johnny and Roxanne's manager for their shows at Madison Square Garden.
Later in this arc, Slade will be written as a pure ne'er-do-well schemer, but here it's really Johnny who is acting like an ass.
There's a lot of crazy subtext in these stories. See above for that "he bunks with me" panel, check out Johnny considering just giving up and surrendering to Satan...
...and more here. But it really gets crazy when Ghost Rider is fighting Crash Simpson in Hell.
You've got Crash Simpson, nearly buck naked with a flaming sword jutting out of his crotch, and he's Johnny Blaze's step-father trying to kill his daughter, who Johnny is dating and who is dangling off Johnny's arm dressed in a skimpy ritualistic outfit. And remember that Johnny and Roxanne's love is the only thing preventing Johnny from succumbing to Satan.
Simpson eventually gains control of himself and helps Johnny escape (by using his sword to slice up a giant serpent, of course) and then Johnny encounters "The Messenger".
I guess the above plot might really be considered something of an extension of the Ghost Rider's origin, providing more detail into the themes that were established in the first issue. If you look at it that way, it's a 3 and a half issue origin, very lengthy for a book at this time. It doesn't really read like a single story in any event. It's a big jumble of Satanic rituals, motorcycle chases, and daddy issues. So i guess it's a mission statement, anyway!
Ploog definitely brings something different to the art. In addition to the Ghost Rider and the Satanic imagery, he's just got a different style that looks very different from the Kirby/Romita/Buscema house style.
Ploog is also good with comedic caricatures. There are a few scenes that look similar to something you might see in Mad magazine (not quite as deliberately cartoony, but along those lines).
As i mentioned above, the Crash Simpson plotline ends halfway through issue #8 and then "several hours later", Johnny, Roxanne, and Bart are on a plane to the desert, where Johnny is supposed to jump Copperhead Canyon.
The local Apaches, however, are unhappy with the publicity that Johnny Blaze is bringing to the Canyon because they are currently in a dispute with the government about who owns it. Despite that seemingly making them sympathetic characters, the Apaches are handled as very aggressive and villainous...
...not to mention the tomahawk and medicine man stereotypes.
And even a thing for sacrificing white women.
Blaze's motorcycle is rigged by one of the Apaches, Sam Silvercloud, to fail as he's jumping the canyon.
However, since if Johnny Blaze dies now, Satan can't claim his soul, he discovers that he's effectively immortal and he survives the crash.
The art quality takes a dive when Mike Ploog is replaced with Tom Sutton issue #9. Sutton actually improves, but the initial transition is noticeable.
It's not just the drawing, per se, but the layout outing and flow. Not only is Roxanne looking a little odd here as she investigates Johnny's disappearance, but she's teleporting around the rodeo.
By looking for Blaze, Roxanne gets herself kidnapped. The "according to the law" phrasing is a little awkward. Necessary to set up the "White man's law" rejoinder but not something someone would really say. One thing i'll say about Friedrich is that his scripting is usually more natural than, say, Roy Thomas, so this stuck out.
Despite all that's going on, Johnny still has to perform his show. I find it so weird how everyone accepts Johnny's flaming skull head as just a mask. It's a thing that will happen throughout the original Ghost Rider's appearances. But what the hell kind of Halloween costumes must they have had in the 70s, if an actual flaming skull just looks like a mask to people. It's also weird how Johnny goes through this painful transformation at night, and even his voice changes, but he's still got Johnny Blaze's personality.
Anyway, after another mishap during the rodeo event, Blaze goes after Roxanne, but he's not in time to save her from getting poisoned by snake bites (not only are the Indians straight out of a 1940s western, but they are occult snake worshipers as well). So the next issue is him racing to the hospital...
...only to find out that the hospital is all out of anti-venom. Luckily the medicine man ("Snake Dance") has a vial, and his college-educated motorcycle-riding daughter returns home just in time to chide everyone...
...and take the vial to the hospital.
It turns out that when she was a little girl, Crash Simpson, who was a police officer at the time, saved her life. But, in yet another crazy twist, she's also a Satanist who is supposed to be killing Johnny Blaze (she wasn't aware that if she had just let Roxanne die, Blaze would no longer be protected by Roxanne's love).
When writers create a scene where the villain binds the hero and then rambles on forever about their origin and plans while the hero waits for an opportunity to escape, they realize what a cliche it is, right?
I mean, it's painful to get through these. However, if you're going to do it, including a bit about nighty- and/or bikini-clad Satanic sorority sisters is most certainly the way to go.
The Ghost Rider escapes, and Satan makes the witch kill herself.
Interesting that the witch says that the Ghost Rider could have the same powers as her if he'd take time to master them instead of wallowing in self-pity.
Another example of the lack of direction on the title: in issue #6 Roxanne confirms that she's figured out that Johnny Blaze is the Ghost Rider.
But in issue #8, she assumes it's all a dream. Not just the "dead father waving around a flaming sword in Hell" stuff. Even Johnny's "outlandish costume".
Still, since she had the basic deductive reasoning skills to recognize him once, she should be able to do so again.
It's all a crazy mess. There's fun to be had. Some great imagery, especially from Ploog. The sort-of thrill factor from all this use of Satanism (although after a while it's like "Another Satanist?!"). But there's just too much madness and unintentional weirdness.
Back-up stories in the Original Ghost Rider reprints feature the original western Ghost Rider, later called the Night Rider to distinguish him from Johnny Blaze and then, when it was pointed out that a guy in an all-white costume shouldn't be called a name that was used to refer to the Klu Klux Klan, finally the Phantom Rider. I'm ignoring them since i'm not covering Marvel's Western period but i just wanted to acknowledge their existence and note that they were written by Dan Slott in what was probably his earliest Marvel Universe series.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The "Witch-Woman's" real name is either Linda Littletree or Linda Littletrees. She is called Littletree more often in these early issues, but Littletrees eventually becomes her official name.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Original Ghost Rider #2, Original Ghost Rider #3, Original Ghost Rider #4, Original Ghost Rider #5, Original Ghost Rider #6, Original Ghost Rider #7
Inbound References (3): showBart Slade, Crash Simpson, Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze), Linda Littletrees, Mephisto, Roxanne Simpson, Sam Silvercloud, Snake Dance
The title refers to the Donovan song "Season of the Witch".
Gary Friedrich revealed in a Comic Book Artist interview that he had a really bad drinking problem at this time, and remembers nothing about writing this(and other) series.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 14, 2011 11:57 PM
Is that western book before the infamous Doc Samson mini Slott claimed he did? I spoke with Slott a long time back when he was doing the She-Hulk book (long before the Spidey run) and he said he did that back in the 90s and he found it rather infamous and something he really wanted to talk too much about.
Posted by: Ataru320 | February 28, 2013 10:06 PM
Er, didn't want to talk about. (sorry, can't edit the previous post)
Posted by: Ataru320 | February 28, 2013 10:07 PM
No, Slott is referring to an actual limited series that appeared in 1996.
Posted by: Michael | February 28, 2013 10:42 PM
The Phantom Rider stories begin in Original Ghost Rider #3, which has a Sep 92 cover date. I think the first series that Slott wrote full stories for was The Ren And Stimpy Show, which began Dec 92 (and is obviously outside the scope of this project).
Posted by: fnord12 | March 1, 2013 7:28 AM
Wow, that shot of Ghost Rider falling into the canyon is just fantastic.
Posted by: S | March 2, 2013 12:12 AM
Roxanne Simpson looks more like Betty Cooper in the Sutton issues.
The Apache storyline was probably inspired by AIM(American Indian Movement)'s occupation of Wounded Knee.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 3, 2013 5:26 PM
The Eagles released their single "Witchy Woman" in August 1972, so that probably had something to do with the introduction of this character.
Posted by: Andrew | March 1, 2015 6:22 AM
Motorcyle stuntmen and Satanic paranoia -- two great 70s fads.
Posted by: accordion321 | February 16, 2016 12:28 AM
Ghost Rider had a good origin, if a little overcomplicated by Johnny losing four parents in four different events, but his stories immediately became bad trash with this craziness. It's almost never a good idea to immediately resurrect your protagonist's Uncle Ben equivalent, yet alone to do it like this.
Anyway, the title of issue 7 might be an homage to the '60s film Die! Die! My Darling!
Posted by: Mortificator | November 13, 2016 9:50 PM
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