Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness
Issue(s): Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness
And probably the biggest disconnect, the one that had me laughing when i read the reprint, is this: the plot of this story is that Blackheart lures Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Punisher to a small town and tries to convince them to team-up with him to fight his father, Mephisto. What i thought was funny, but in a cool "that's an interesting storytelling decision!" kind of way, is that in my reprint, none of the heroes actually refuse Blackheart. They just start fighting him, and it seems like it's left to Blackheart to narrate the fact that they've refused him. But no, it turns out that all the pages of decision making (including Wolverine suggesting that Thor or the Silver Surfer might be better suited to fighting Mephisto) are cut out. We don't even learn what Blackheart offered Punisher in return (it turns out to be the whereabouts of the people that killed his family, which the Punisher says he already knows anyway). But it turns out that was all spelled out very clearly in the original, with each of the heroes eventually explicitly saying, "No." to Blackheart.
I can understand why a book that was going to be sold with a toy would need to be censored in some ways. Cutting four pages of a ritual sacrifice from the start of this book makes perfect sense to me (and doesn't affect the story at all). But most of the cuts seem less about content than just trimming the book down to a desired size. And if that's the case, i don't know why this comic is the one that they picked. Blackheart's first appearance, Daredevil #270, would seem to be a better choice; most of the comics that came with this line of figures reprint first appearances, and that issue had a guest appearance by Spider-Man. Why pick a book where you know you're going to cut nearly half the pages?
Anyway, most people reading this entry are going to want to read about the actual issue, not me griping about my reprint. So i'll do my best.
Actually i've already mentioned everything you really need to know. Blackheart has lured Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Punisher to a small town, offering them knowledge in return for fighting Mephisto, who is the incarnation of all evil anyway, so it should be a win-win. Punisher gets info on the criminals that murdered his family, Wolverine learns who gave him his adamantium skeleton, and Danny Ketch gets information about the nature of the Ghost Rider. As i also mentioned, the Punisher has already killed everyone responsible for the death of his family, so this wasn't a burning concern for him. Blackheart is under the mistaken impression that this Ghost Rider is Zarathos, which has already been confirmed not to be true in Ghost Rider's regular book by now, so there really wasn't anything for him to gain here either. And Wolverine is at least playing it tough in front of Punisher, pretending like he doesn't care who gave him his stupid bones (he sounds like a kid saying he didn't want to go to the school dance anyway).
The real reason for this comic's existence, aside from putting Marvel's three most commercial heroes at this time in a book together (and without the irony of Fantastic Four #347-349), is the art by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson. Blackheart is a JRJR co-creation (and i'm sure the visuals were all him).
Blackheart's theory is that all three of these heroes "represent humanity's newest breed of hero. A hero that isn't afraid to approach the edge when the need arises. It is an intangible thing, a gray area which resides in each of you, in a place that my father would call your soul. It allows you to override the human emotions that often get in your way and go for the jugular". Blackheart thinks that he can tap that aspect of the heroes and expand their powers so that they can kill Mephisto. Depending on your copy of the story, the heroes either spend a couple pages considering that offer or jump right to fighting Blackheart.
Blackheart kidnaps a little girl that was living at the boardinghouse where the three heroes were staying, and he also steals Ghost Rider's bike and takes over the town.
So the heroes go after him.
The Punisher's bullets and Wolverine's claws do seem to have an effect on Blackheart, at least after Ghost Rider punches holes through his stomach.
In the end Ghost Rider rejects the notion of an "edge" because the ends justify the means.
Also missing from my reprint is an interlude where Ghost Rider and Blackheart are brought to Mephisto's realm after Blackheart is defeated. Mephisto tells Blackheart that he's proud of him and is doing exactly what he expected, and he tells Ghost Rider that he is a mystery to him, but for now he wants to concentrate on bonding with his son, so he sends Ghost Rider back to Earth.
Even after i discovered all the missing pages, it's still a pretty simple story (but at least it's more coherent). As far as graphic novels go (many of which are dire), it's got a lot going for it. Romita/Janson is always a nice combination, and this comic has a lot more action and a better flow to it than Romita's work with John Byrne on Iron Man. There are a lot of pin-ups in this story, but there are also actual fight sequences, and a lot more content overall than in Iron Man. Putting Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Punisher together is admittedly crass commercialism, but it makes sense for the theme of the story, which is fully developed and even concludes in a way that makes sense. It's not a conclusion that i necessarily agree with, but it's certainly a good summation of the zeitgeist of the era.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This encounter is mentioned in Wolverine and the Punisher: Damaging Evidence, which takes place before the Last Rites/Fall of the Kingpin (the storyline ending in Daredevil #300), so this also takes place before Fall of the Kingpin.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Marvel Legends Blackheart Action Figure reprint
Inbound References (5): show
The three poster children for the '90s "grim & gritty" nonsense all in one book. It's every bit as shallow as one would imagine. At least there's the JRJR art.
Posted by: Robert | October 19, 2015 2:05 PM
If you threw a copy of every early 90s Marvel book into a mixing vat this book would likely come out the pipe on the side. Feels like all we're missing is Cable.
JRJr's art really elevates Howard Mackie's story here, though I did enjoy all three heroes sharing a meal at the boarding house and pretending they don't know each other (although I guess they don't know Danny Ketch). As I recall, the follow-up special didn't have art anywhere near as good.
It's also pretty funny and ironic that The Punisher of all people tells Blackheart to "take your edge and shove it!"
Posted by: Red Comet | October 19, 2015 2:43 PM
I'd say Ghost Rider is the fourth with Cable being #3.
Posted by: david banes | October 19, 2015 5:45 PM
Well my reasoning for saying those are the main 3 is that they have multiple titles of their own (Ghost Rider will get more than the one soon enough) and they guest-star all over the place to make struggling books "cooler." But yeah you can definitely add Cable into the mix with his novelty-sized guns and faux edginess. It's all embarrassing looking back on it.
Posted by: Robert | October 19, 2015 6:06 PM
The girl, Lucy Crumm, later appears in the Dark Design oneshot, so she should be listed as a character appearing.
Posted by: Michael | October 19, 2015 7:45 PM
Added Lucy. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 19, 2015 8:41 PM
It might as well be Venom saying those last few lines instead of Danny Ketch.
And this was before 9/11. What led people to buy such bull back at the time?
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 19, 2015 11:07 PM
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