Is he alive… or is he dead?

And more importantly, does the issue give any hints that this is a character that will last for the next 45 years?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Marvel Spotlight #5 awaits!

marvelspotlight5coverMARVEL SPOTLIGHT #5
Writer: Roy Thomas/Gary Friedrich
Penciler: Mike Ploog
Inker: Mike Ploog
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 20 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2000.00

Previously in Marvel Spotlight: The slow demise of the Comics Code Authority (created in the 1950s to self-regulate content in kid-friendly comics and/or force EC Comics out of business) led to a strange side-effect in the 197os, as monsters began reappearing in the pages of our four-color friends’ adventures.  Nowhere was this more evident then at Marvel Comics, where the monsters became protagonists, as in ‘Tomb Of Dracula’, and even the heroes of the books.  Marvel Spotlight launched in 1972 with the adventures of Jack Russell, Werewolf By Night, who proved successful enough to graduate to his own title later that year.  As for this issue’s hero, he was reputedly created to be a one-shot Daredevil villain (though who actually came up with what parts of the gimmick has long been disputed by Roy Thomas, Mike Ploog and Gary Friedrich) before being granted his own starring role.  Regardless of who is the true mastermind of Ghost Rider’s genesis, one thing is clear: His first appearance is one of the strongest single pages of comics I have ever read…

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That’s just a gorgeous reveal, featuring beautiful layouts (and a great0looking bike) by Ploog.  One of the most perfect issues of 1970s Marvel, one I could have sworn I reviewed before, but that review seems to be lost to the mists of time and the internet.  Thus, in honor of my tenth anniversary at Major Spoilers, a do-over!  Roaring through the night accompanied by his second-person narration, Johnny Blaze accidentally witnesses a crime.  Pursued by the felons, he uses his motorcycling skills to try an escape, only to get tripped up by weak navigation.  Trapped in a blind alley, Johnny uses his terrifying visage to try and bluff his way out…

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The early issues of his own title (which was greenlit almost immediately after this book hit the stand, thanks to remarkable sales figures) had Johnny repeatedly faking demonic voice and presence as part of his schtick, a fact which becomes ironic when he later finds himself actually fighting off possession by the demon that gives him his fiery form.  Bygones…

Regardless, when his satanic bluffing fails, he uses his stunt-riding skills to escape, leaping over the criminals and racing out into the night, awaiting the sunrise…

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As a youngster, I remember reading my first Ghost Rider comics and being utterly taken by his super-cool design, the dark riding leathers highlighted by bands of lighter color, usually blue or white.  (Mike Ploog has stated that this design was so he could make the leathers as black as possible while still keeping clean figure work.)  Returning to his dressing room at Madison Square Garden, where he is preparing to break a world record for motorcycle jumping, Johnny thinks back to how he got in this mess.  His father, Barton Blaze, was a cycle-jockey too, performing in Crash Simpson’s legendary stunt show, which led to his tragic demise.  Fortunately, Crash and his family were willing to help a young orphan out…

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It’s really the hat that makes the whole “Oliver Twist” ensemble work.  Aaaanyway, Johnny develops an understandable fear of motorcycles, only slowly growing comfortable by working on the murder machines.  Eventually, he graduates to riding, but another unexpected accident leads to tragedy, as Johnny’s cycle catches fire.  He manages to get safely away from the riders, but his adoptive mother is gravely wounded by the exploding cycle…

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Johnny holds true to his vow never to ride in the show, even as his “father” and Roxanne accuse him of cowardice.  (To be fair, if you lost two parents to exploding motorcycles, I’d say fearing the beasts is perfectly rational, maybe even smart?)  Of course, Johnny is a clever young man with a somewhat flexible morality and realizes that he swore never to ride in the show, not to foresake the two-wheeled conveyances he fears/loves…

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When young Rocky Simpson discovered that her lifelong friend wasn’t a coward after all, her heart melted, and Johnny and Rocky embarked on the traditional “superhero who dates a girl who is kind of his sister” routine, a vaguely distrubing trope most recently seen on TV with the Barry Allen Flash.  But, the one enduring things about Johnny Blaze is his rotten luck, as proven when Crash Simpson returns from the doctor with a terrible prognosis: Terminal cancer.

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Johnny refuses to accept Crash’s impending demise, but feels he can’t break his deathbed promise to Mona.  What is a young man to do when trapped between the proverbial rock and hard place?

How about a literal deal with the devil?  (The opinions of Johnathan Blaze vis a vis infernal pacts are not those of Major Spoilers, this writer or indeed the 21st Century.  Some restrictions apply, not valid on all ethereal planes.)

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“Satan” (one of several such demonic types at Marvel Comics during this era, though this one was later revealed/retconned to be the Silver Surfer’s nemesis Mephisto) grants Johnny’s boon.  Crash’s cancer goes into remission, allowing him to go on with the biggest stunt of his entire career…

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…which kills him.  After all, Mephisto promised he wouldn’t die from the cancer, proving once and for all the old adage about being careful about what one wishes for.  After years of refusing to ride in the show, Johnny’s anger and frustration boil over, and he grabs his own motorcycle in the hopes of fulfilling Crash’s final stunt: A jump over 22 cars!

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Ultimately, this proves to be a mixed blessing, as he probably saves the traveling show, but he hammers the final nail in his romance with Rocky.  Worse still, Crash’s demise means that his deal with de debbil is now due, and the price is his very soul…

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Fortunately for Johnny, even though his beloved hates his now-flaming guts, she has read his books just enough to know what incantations will drive off “Satan”, saving Johnny life.

Unfortunately, said life is not unchanged, as every nightfall comes with a terrible transformation…

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Thus is born, The Ghost Rider!  Later issues would bring a lot of slight changes to the narrative: Explaining that Satan didn’t “steal” Johnny’s soul, but instead bound him to a minor demon named Zarathos; Allowing Johnny to trigger the transformation at will; even a run as a bona fide superhero in the ranks of The Angel’s Champions group.   But the basic premise of this issue remains unchanged (certain more unchanged than the first appearances of many 1970s Marvel heroes): Guy uses powers from evilness to do good things.  This book is truly one of my favorite comics, and one that I would still recommend to modern readers as a good starting point for your understanding of any of the various Ghost Riders.  Marvel Spotlight #5 is a beautifully drawn issue featuring a compelling (if very disturbing) story that kicked off one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes in his own adventures, earning a highly skilled 4 out of 5 stars overall.  If nothing else, this book may be the most consistent artistic issues of 70s Marvel…

Is he alive... or is he dead? And more importantly, does the issue give any hints that this is a character that will last for the next 45 years?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Marvel Spotlight #5 awaits! MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #5 Writer: Roy Thomas/Gary Friedrich Penciler: Mike Ploog Inker: Mike Ploog Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Stan Lee Publisher: Marvel Comics Cover Price: 20 Cents Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2000.00 Previously in Marvel Spotlight: The slow demise of the Comics Code Authority (created in the 1950s to self-regulate content in kid-friendly comics and/or force EC Comics out of business) led to…
Ghost Rider's first appearance is remarkably solid and indicative of what the character would become, featuring BEAUTIFUL Mike Ploog art. Highly recommended!

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #5

Writing
Art
Coloring

Ghost Rider's first appearance is remarkably solid and indicative of what the character would become, featuring BEAUTIFUL Mike Ploog art. Highly recommended!

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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