DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 by Christopher Sebela and Phil Noto
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
While the plot does suffer from a few confusing sequences throughout, DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 is the greatest addition to the DAMNATION storyline yet. Johnny Blaze's sojourn through Hell has all of the high action moments you'd expect, but the true power comes in the creative team's examination of his connection with the Spirit of Vengeance.
93 %
Literally On Fire
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Ghost Rider has a bad reputation. While I defend Nicholas Cage’s first film as Johnny Blaze, GHOST RIDER 2 was a hot mess. Despite this, Ghost Rider has become one of my favorite Marvel characters. The very concept of a burning skeleton on a motorcycle who can destroy your soul with a look is just cool. Sadly, though, the character hasn’t quite recovered. Thankfully, Marvel seems to be returning to Johnny Blaze. Not only has the character recently starred in SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE, but he now plays a key role in the DAMNATION event series. To save Vegas (and Earth), Johnny must travel through the depths of Hell in DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1.

After his apparent death in DOCTOR STRANGE DAMNATION #3, Johnny Blaze wakes up surrounded by flames. Mephisto, having separated Johnny from the Spirit of Vengeance, has cast the pair down into Hell. Apparently dying was all part of the plan. With Mephisto away, it is up to Johnny to claim the demon’s throne and coerce him back to Hell. With all of Hell’s legions on his trail, though, can Johnny find a way to work with his stubborn Spirit to get the job done?

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The Spirit of Vengeance

DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1
DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1, Page 1. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics.

DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 encapsulates what I love about superhero comic books. Writer Christopher Sebela has given readers a story that does double duty. It focuses in on these really fun and interesting high action set pieces while still giving way to the character moments. I was actually surprised at the depth of the characterization in this story. Sebela goes to great lengths to explore Johnny’s connection to the Spirit and his thoughts on the matter. Sebela does a great job convincing readers of Johnny’s reluctance to bond with the Spirit again. It is a necessity, but not one that makes Johnny all that happy. This leads to a lot of sympathy for the character in the midst of the chaos.

However, it was the characterization of the Spirit and the setting that really got me. The Spirit of Vengeance has very simple motives: to punish sinners. That is its only reason for existing. Johnny, though, tries to fight those urges. He doesn’t let the Spirit out to play, and for that reason, it is pissed. Now that it’s free, the Spirit has no plans to rejoin with Johnny, and that leads to some interesting tension throughout. Hell itself acts as an intense character as well. The denizens of Hell never individually have any characterization, but the way they interact with the hierarchy of this place works really well. Even though defeating Mephisto ends their suffering, the entire realm fears his wrath and refuses to help, leading to some excellent world-building.

The Rings of Hell

DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1
DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1, Page 2. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

As I mentioned, the plot of DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 is intense in the best possible way. From the start, Sebela sends Johnny through a MAD MAX inspired gauntlet down the nine rings of hell. Seriously, demons driving makeshift cars after a pair of flaming motorcycles couldn’t be any more metal. I especially enjoyed the way that Sebela mixed these action segments with character interactions. As superheroes do, Johnny Blaze never shuts up during these fights. This means that we get a heavy dose of what he stands for amidst the chaos of skull-headed dragons and demonic big-rigs. Yes, this comic rocks.

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My one complaint with the issue comes from some of these action segments. I feel like DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 suffers for its one-shot nature. I sometimes felt lost as Johnny and the Spirit journeyed through Hell. One page they are at the top ring, the next they are several more down. This would be fine, I suppose, if we had a clear idea of the map of Hell or some clearer landmarks. However, I just feel that, eventually, the setting becomes too similar all-around. In the midst of these huge set-pieces, clarity is key to help the reader get into the story. I just never quite felt like we got there in some instances.

World on Fire

DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1
DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1, Page 3. Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

While some of this loss of clarity may fall on Phil Noto’s art, you should know that he has quickly become one of my favorite modern comic artists. DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 is my first exposure to his body of work, but the amount of expressiveness and energy there is astounding. You can tell that Noto has a lot of fun with this issue. Anytime a creator gets to draw a giant metal demon truck and a burning elephant man is a good day. His style comes with a lot of high energy designs. This creates a sort of lighter, simpler tone to the piece that works surprisingly well. Also, the fact that Noto manages the entire art, from pencils to colors, in this single issue is really impressive.

Speaking of color, Noto’s attention to detail in DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 really astounds me. He has a very limited color palette to depict Hell; after all, everything is on fire from the start. However, he manages to create a depth from this simplicity. Much of it comes from the heavy blacks of his ink work, but it also comes from a sort of oversaturation. Because he is so limited, Noto leans into the reds of the piece. He gives each character and setting detail some variation of red coloring from the start. This means that when the palette shifts to blues and darker colors at the end, it shocks the reader awake. It gives us a cue that something new and different is about to happen.

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DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 Final Thoughts

While it suffers from a loss of clarity in some of its action scenes, DAMNATION: JOHNNY BLAZE GHOST RIDER #1 is the best addition to the DAMNATION event so far. The intricate characterization of Johnny Blaze and his Spirit really showcases Sebela’s passion for the character. Meanwhile, the high action moments made me feel like a kid again. Paired with Phil Noto’s fantastic art, I am a bit downtrodden that this is only a one-shot. I want an entire GHOST RIDER series from this creative team.

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