What all's All-New this week? 'Ghost Rider' and 'Silver Surfer'

It's another week, which means a new batch of Marvel series launched as part of the publisher's "All-New Marvel NOW!" initiative showed up at my local comics shop: Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore's All-New Ghost Rider, Ales Kott and Garry Brown's Iron Patriot, and Dan Slott and Mike Allred's Silver Surfer.

I read two out of the three, as those were the most visually interesting, and seemed to be part of the initiative's guiding principals: matching striking talents with lower-tier characters for idiosyncratic takes that veer away from the "typical" Marvel comic. Also, those were the two that featured characters who haven't had a shot at their own book for a longer while. (Sorry, Iron Patriot, it's not you, it's me. I'm sure there are plenty of other critics willing to review you).

I still don't understand the economics of Marvel's comics, which seem to be an even worse value in the "All-New" era, where quirkier teams take on quirkier characters in quirkier directions. My mind boggles at a publisher charging $3.99 for 20 pages of content -- content that will be a harder sell than the  books with words like Avengers, X-Men, Spider- or Bendis attached. However, judged solely on the criteria of whether these are good comics and good first issues of new series, then yes, All-New Ghost Rider #1 and Silver Surfer #1 are pretty excellent. No matter what my wallet has to say in the matter.

The biggest innovations in the new Ghost Rider have been apparent since the series was announced. The human host or "secret identity" of the flaming-skulled, leather jacket-rocking Spirit of Vengeance is a new, third character. And he's not going to be riding a motorcycle, but driving a car. (Yeah, I know, but Ghost Driver just doesn't sound quite right, does it?)

The biggest surprise was revealed on the last, non-ad page of the book, in an article by editor Mark Paniccia—apparently, those two innovations were both his ideas, and he had damn good reasons for both of them. He didn't think he could top what was already done with Danny Ketch and/or Johnny Blaze, and he wanted a change in vehicle akin to Blaze riding a motorcycle instead of a horse to justify a new series and character.

It was a rare peek behind the curtain of corporate super-comics, as Paniccia discusses how he, rather than writer Smith, pitched the series (although Paniccia assembled the creative team). It is, of course, a hell of a team, and they've put together a hell of an issue. Smith is responsible for manga series Peepo Choo and a great artist in his own right; Moore is best known for his Luther Strode comics.

In the first issue, we meet a young mechanic named Robbie Reyes, who already had a white streak in his hair to signify him as a comic book character destined to bond with a supernatural entity (a la John Corrigan and Jason Blood). He's raising his young, special-needs brother in a pretty rough part of Los Angeles — when we first meet his brother, gun-toting teens have stolen his wheelchair — and, in an attempt to make enough money to get them the heck out of there, Robbie "borrows" the car he was tinkering with for a Fast and the Furious race. It ends pretty badly for him, as he's machine-gunned to death and set on fire, but, on the plus side, he gets back up — albeit with a flaming, metal skull.

The script is a nicely put together introduction of the character and his conflicts in a series of short, show-don't-tell scenes, and the art is pretty amazing. Moore has a loose, highly animated design style that I can't recall seeing in a Big Two super-comic regularly since Damion Scott was drawing for DC, and, perhaps most importantly for a comic about a title character with a burning engine for a head driving a car with wheels of flame, it's highly kinetic artwork.

Whether throwing a punch or just rolling his eyes, Moore's Reyes really moves across the page, as does everything else the artist draws. Marvel has a lot of great artists, but I think All-New Ghost Rider may feature the most exciting art.

Great artists like Michael Allred, for example. Allred, who just finished a pretty great 16-issue run on Fantastic Four spinoff FF, tackles another highly inspired Jack Kirby/Stan Lee creation in the all-new Silver Surfer (which, while new, apparently isn't as all-new as Ghost Rider is, and thus doesn't get the descriptor in its title). He's working again with wife Laura Allred on colors, and his collaborator this time out is writer Dan Slott, who has been so busy with Spider-Man for so long now that it's rather refreshing to see him in such a strange and different Marvel milieu.

The Surfer's history is long and complicated, but Slott doesn't approach this as if he has to include a Marvel Saga's entry worth of background, or even really let us know what the character was up to the last time he appeared. Pretty much all you need to know is that he is a silver guy who flies around space on a surfboard; he has god-like powers and used to be a herald of Galactus, feeding planets to his even more god-like boss. Now he tries to live that down by being a good guy. And that's all covered here.

The new character is Dawn Greenwood, a perfectly ordinary-seeming Earth woman who's a bit of a homebody, having spent her entire life in Anchor Bay, Maine, where she helps her father run a bed and breakfast (well, perfectly ordinary except that she apparently hasn't changed her red-and-black polka dot dress in 12 years).

She's kidnapped as a "motivator" to help press Silver Surfer into serving as the champion of a sort of resort planet he's never heard of before, but something went wrong, as the Surfer was going to help anyway and didn't need any such motivation. And he has no idea who Dawn Greenwood is.

Allred remains one of the ideal artists to draw Marvel's characters, most particularly those that originated in the publisher's volcanic period of creation in the 1960s. It's a special treat to see him drawing so much "real world" stuff, like the scenes of Dawn and her family, which account for almost half of the book.

I have a hard time putting my finger on what it is about Allred's artwork that so reminds me of Kirby's, as Allred's lines are so much rounder and smoother, and his pages tend to lack that jagged sense of urgency. I think it has something to do with the way he so effortlessly adapts Kirby's designs into modern comic storytelling, and with the posing of his superheroes. They stand, walk, fly and fight like Kirby characters, but less violently — I get a cool, comfortable, casual Kirby vibe from Allred's Marvel work (see, I told you I had a hard time putting my finger on it).

Slott's plot is well-constructed and does a fine job of introducing a new character, re-introducing the old one, and setting up one hell of an elaborate meet-cute between the couple that will apparently star in the series. I got a very Douglas Adams vibe from some of the space stuff — a character named "The Incredulous Zed" summons the Surfer to rescue the resort planet of The Impericon, with luxury suites so big they have their own moon, from disaster.

If one regards Marvel's "All-New" initiative as an extended period of trying out new things to see what works, then this week brings at least two more success stories.

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