There’s a tradition in American mainstream comics in taking a character that most fans had written off (Iron Fist, Punisher, Animal Man, Swamp Thing) and reviving that character with a fresh take that constantly surprises readers (Brubaker/Fraction, Ennis, Morrison, and Moore, respectively). “Ghost Rider” has now become a series that can be mentioned in the same paragraph as the ones listed above. Under Jason Aaron’s guidance, “Ghost Rider” has transformed from a tepid, light-horror road story into a twisted, mythic, grindhouse opera. Each new issue expands its scope, and “Ghost Rider” #30 propels the saga of Johnny Blaze into new territory. And it’s great fun.
Tan Eng Huat might not draw comics that look like the rest of the Marvel line, but “Ghost Rider” shouldn’t look like the rest. It has its own sensibility, and Huat’s contorted, expressionistic line visually embodies the dynamic ugliness that this series revels in. Huat is like Mike Mignola brewed with Kevin O’Neill, and why shouldn’t “Ghost Rider” look like a “Hellboy” spliced with “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”? It makes sense that it does, and Jose Villarrubia seems intent on pushing the psychedelic color scheme toward a toxic garishness which fits the tone of this comic perfectly.
This isn’t a mopey, sullen comic about a guy with a flaming skull. This is a bombastic, excessive, thrilling, hideously gorgeous comic about a bunch of guys with flaming skulls, and the things that unfold in issue #30 aren’t pretty. But they are constantly surprising.
Aaron has established what he terms (in the letters page, at least) the “Ghost Rider Survival Squad” — the last remaining spirits of vengeance who stand united against the threat of Danny Ketch. I have to admit: Aaron trapped me into thinking that this comic was starting to fall into a rut. The first half of this issue is pretty straightforward spirit-of-vengeance-on-spirit-of-vengeance action. The bizarre look of the characters make it visually interesting, but there’s not much more than an extended series of fight and flight scenes for the first dozen pages. But halfway through “Ghost Rider” #30, Aaron and Huat reveal a new layer of meaning, and show a different side of the Ghost Rider mythology in spectacular fashion.
You might scoff at the idea that a Ghost Rider comic can be something great, but people used to scoff at Iron Fist and Punisher, Animal Man and Swamp Thing too. Give it a chance and you’ll see that Jason Aaron and Tan Eng Huat’s “Ghost Rider” is one of the best Marvel comics on the stands, each and every month.