Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1 is a case of being careful for what you ask for... because you might just get it.
I’ve been waving the Cosmic Ghost Rider banner for a while now. His portrayal in Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw’s run on Thanos was fantastic. He was funny, tragic, and strangely relatable. The humor, of course, didn’t come from a place of joy -- it came from a place of madness unburdened by shame, the horrific events Frank Castle endured over the course of several millennia destroying his mind. No matter what sort of crass or outlandish thing Cosmic Ghost Rider uttered in Thanos and, to a lesser degree, the self-titled miniseries which followed, the humor on the page came from a place of anguish. They were barriers to be stepped around, not comedy waves to be ridden. Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1 seems to have forgotten that.
I am not a stick in the mud when it comes to comedy, especially in comic books. I don’t need my superhero comics to be all serious, all the time. Humor can help bring out the humanity in a character; how a hero reacts to extraneous situations tell us all a lot of what we need to know. But for some reason, this comic has stripped the heartache and madness from Cosmic Ghost Rider. The character reads like a hammy mix of Lobo and Deadpool, but not nearly as interesting as either, which is a shame, especially considering who’s behind its execution.
The set up for Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1 is straightforward: Frank Castle travels back in time to see his family shortly before their eventual deaths. Posing as the uncle of the Frank Castle from the this time period, he regales his son with stories of heroism, retelling stories from Marvel’s past with a sizable amount of embellishment and shorthand. This is by no means a bad idea for a framing device to set a narrative on, but the execution feels unfocused and isn’t nearly has funny as it thinks it is.
I’ve seen this comic being compared to Drunk History, and while you can see what those who are making this comparison are going for, Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History is closer in structure to the Tim Burton film Big Fish. Drunk History recounts actual events with surprising accuracy, seeing as how the folks telling the tales are hammered out of their minds. They skim over details or accidentally mispronounce names or get dates wrong, but the meat of what really happened is still intact. This comic, however, is all about tall tales. Frank walks us through some pretty big moments in Marvel Comics history, and either injects himself into those moments or embellishes his participation in them. Again, this isn’t a bad place for a comic to operate, but it’s handled haphazardly. Instead of our titular character feeling like a man out of place and time among a punch of characters who are taking this seriously, it reads like everyone on the page is in a bad sketch, which would be fine if this was an issue of Mad Magazine lampooning fifty years of comic books.
Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1 is heartbreaking in how unfunny and unengaging it is. It hurts even more considering the team behind it is great, Paul Scheer in particular (his voice fills up a lot of my podcast feed, and Human Giant was my jam), whose previous comic work along with co-author Nick Giovannetti in Deadpool was pretty solid. Even Gerardo Sandoval’s artwork didn’t do much to lessen the blow, which it usually does. As big of a fan as I am of the titular character, this book just fails. Perhaps Cosmic Ghost Rider is like the hot sauce of comics; sure, he’ll spice things up if you get a bland meal, but you don’t want him to be your entree.