SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1 by Victor Gischler and David Baldeon
Art
Plot
Characterization
Summary
SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1 features some of the Marvel Universe's darkest supernatural antiheroes joining forces to take on the coming dark. Though Daimon Hellstrom doesn't receive the same level of characterization as his co-conspirators, this investigative fantasy is a lot of fun.
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Comic book publishers learned long ago that their darkest anti-heroes often pull in the largest sales. Those characters with sordid pasts or grey morals provoke heated debate about the nature of the world at large. Take, for example, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK from DC Comics, which brought together DC’s most complicated supernatural heroes together. However, Marvel has seemed to steer away from this trend. While there have been historic storylines and characters with this focus (Blade and Punisher to name only two), much of their recent work has echoed the exploratory and comedic tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, with the recent release of SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1, Marvel is throwing its hat into this dark realm.

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When Marvel first announced MARVEL LEGACY, they made a promise to put the spotlight back on fan favorite characters. I had hesitations. Certain characters have been all but nonexistent in the Marvel universe for years. However, SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1 carries with it an all-star cast of all but forgotten anti-heroes. Johnny Blaze, Daimon Hellstrom, and Blade all make reappearances in this action-packed comic. But with so much history behind these iconic characters, can this comic do them justice?

Enter the Demon Spawn

Spirits of Vengeance #1
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

When Johnny Blaze stops at a roadside diner, a random drifter approaches him and claims to know him. As they talk, the man pulls a bullet from his chest and tells Johnny to take it to Daimon Hellstrom, Satan’s son. The drifter then bursts into flame. As Johnny leaves the scene, a pair of demons attack. Before they can steal the bullet, though, Johnny transforms into the Ghost Rider and rides off to New York City and Hellstrom’s apartment.

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After Hellstrom examines the bullet, he decides to join Johnny in investigating the mysterious attacks. They visit a number of sources around New York, each carrying the same message: something big is going down in Marvel’s supernatural plane, and it’s either raise defenses or run. With such a vast threat hanging overhead, Daimon and Johnny do the one rational thing they can. They pick up the phone and call their favorite resident vampire slayer, Blade.

A Bloody Trip Down Memory Lane

Spirits of Vengeance #1
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

I was probably way too young when I first saw the BLADE films, and I immediately fell in love. Similarly, Nicholas Cage’s GHOST RIDER, while universally mocked, hooked me on the superhero genre. And while I have loved Robbie Reyes, Dr. Strange, and Elsa Bloodstone’s modern take on Marvel’s supernatural side, I have missed seeing these iconic characters. Marvel has seemingly forgotten about them as their universe has expanded. Thankfully, writer Victor Gischler and artists David Baldeon and Andres Mossa have masterfully captured them in SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1.

Though we only see Blade briefly, SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1 manages to provide interesting characterization. Blaze stands at the center of this spotlight. Next to the suave and unfettered Hellstrom, Blaze is self-conscious. With his leather coat and long messy hair, Blaze simply doesn’t fit in at Hellstrom’s locales. This works incredibly well for SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1 because it possibly foreshadows situations in which Blaze may be entirely ineffective. As a brawler, very few can defeat the Ghost Rider. But as a socialite? Blaze is dead in the water.

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Hellstrom’s font of magic knowledge is useful to push the story along, introducing a number of highly interesting secondary characters. The cursed soldier Curtis has a rather… distinctive appearance, but he never feels like a gimmick. He, along with the Wall Street Supernatural society, provide wholly unique worldviews to the conversation. In hindsight, this leaves Daimon rather uncharacterized. While I hope that he will fall under the spotlight in future issues, he feels like a demon encyclopedia only. This might be my one complaint with the issue. I loved his utter confidence in contrast to Blaze. Alone, Daimon Hellstrom didn’t fully provide interest. Hopefully Gischler manages to focus a little more on this rather obscure but important character.

Off to War They Go

Spirits of Vengeance #1
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Some fans might find issue with the slowness of the plot. While the opening third of the book and the last two pages are highly action packed, the rest of the book focuses on information gathering. Daimon and Johnny go around to mystical hotspots and talk to people. This may not attract certain fans looking for an explosive superhero story, and I totally understand that.

I for one had no issue with this plot development. While the dialogue was lengthy, it never felt like it fell into the mire. It never got boring to me. Each character, whether it be the philosophical Curtis or the Victorian-styled socialites of the Wall Streets supernaturals, had their own voices. You can tell that Gischler had fun diving into the heads of these different characters. None of them felt stock, which made this feel like a living investigation instead of a boring social call. The exploration of the supernatural New York managed to build a world that I want to spend more time in.

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David Baldeon and Andres Mossa’s work on the visuals only strengthens this brilliant world. Baldeon’s character designs are somewhat cartoony and highly exaggerated. While I wouldn’t think that this stylization would work for this type of book, it provided a nice contrast. It helped those dark moments, like Blade threatening a vampire, stand out from the rest. I did notice that Johnny’s early transformation into Ghost Rider was rather messy on the page. I disliked the lack of definition in the skeletal character. However, this was the only place I felt that the art was lacking. I hope Baldeon finds a lot more work with Marvel because I would buy every single one of his books. The same goes for colorist Andres Mossa, whose warm color palette only adds to the amazing Saturday Morning Cartoon feel.

Final Thoughts: SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1

I had little idea what to expect in SPIRITS OF VENGEANCE #1. From the title alone, I thought that this would be another Ghost Rider centric crossover series. But when I saw Blade and Daimon Hellstrom on the cover beside Johnny Blaze, I knew this story would be gold. While some readers may not enjoy the investigative fantasy angle, fans of series like The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher or other similar titles will fall immediately in love. This story is packed with plenty of intrigue and brilliant characterization. For those worried that they don’t have enough background on these characters, Gischler et al included a four page spread at the end of the issue focused on the characters’ backstories to catch you up. It has never felt this good to be bad!

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