WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Cosmic Ghost Rider #2, by Donny Cates, Dylan Burnett and Antonio Fabela, on sale now!
Writer Donny Cates and artist Dylan Burnett's Cosmic Ghost Rider series has taken the dead world of EARTH-TRN666, in which Thanos has killed nearly every living thing in the known universe, and somehow injected this bleak future with levity. The duo have given the finger to playing by the rules, and the book is better for it. The idea of Frank Castle becoming Ghost Rider is as ludicrous as it is awesome, and the creative team behind Cosmic Ghost Rider are leaning into both aspects of this scenario, making it the most punk rock title Marvel currently has to offer.
That's an incredibly rare feat.
When it comes to playing with the characters populating the pantheon of superheroes owned by DC and Marvel comics, there are surprisingly strict rules for creators. Titles can be driven by writers and artists on the micro level to great effect, and those stories can help reshape heroes and villains for a new audience or plant the seeds for operatic revelations in upcoming arcs, but very rarely do they operate independently from the big events publishers usher out into the mainstream comic world. There are guidelines regarding how these superhero toys can be played with. These rules and grand designs can either help or hamper creators’ choices in their storytelling.
Now, this is nothing new, but the frequency with which crossovers and events occur has increased, especially in the Marvel camp. Even miniseries from the publisher that seem to operate in a vacuum often tie back into the bigger pictures. This isn’t to say it’s a bad things, but it does mean that writers and artists are not necessarily always following their own vision. Instead, they are compromising to the grander scheme. There have been outliers, of course.
Ongoing books like Rick Remender’s run on Uncanny X-Force produced 35 issues of one continuing narrative without having an event banner plastered across its cover. And while, yes, a lot of the fallout from that series had a serious impact on the rest of the X-Men universe, it reads like a singular vision. The same could be said for Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s brilliant 12-issue series The Vision (to be fair, if his amazing work on Batman is any indication, Tom King seems like a writer who doesn’t really give a damn about the bigger picture).
Some comic readers appreciate transgressions from the norm in their books. Taking massive liberties with well-established heroes can be cathartic for creators and readers, alike. These liberties can also create worlds in which the audience traverses blindly. The recent onslaught of miniseries Marvel has been releasing has given readers some new perspective on characters who haven’t had their moment in the sun in quite some time, but rarely are they isolated stories. In fact, some of them seem like dry runs for ongoing series.
Rogue & Gambit, for example, reads like a prelude to the new ongoing series Mr. & Mrs. X. There is one miniseries, however, that seems to be operating inversely. That book is Cosmic Ghost Rider. What makes this book stand out from all the others is that, while it was spawned from a character introduced in the pages of Thanos, it plays out less like a continuation of that story and more like something completely independent. In fact, the comic thus far reads like a madcap indie zine that is teetering on copyright infringement more so than an officially sanctioned Marvel comic. And honestly, it’s just what Marvel needs.