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Book Review: Ghost Rider by Greg Cox

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Ghost Rider has been a Marvel Comics superhero since the seventies. The company brought out a lot of supernatural heroes in those days. Werewolf By Night, Dracula, The Monster of Frankenstein, Son of Satan, Man-Thing (although he wasn’t truly supernatural at first but the adventures tended toward that later), and others.

But there was something special about Johnny Blaze, the young motorcycle daredevil who sold his soul to save the life of another and was betrayed in that bargain. Ghost Rider became a supernatural force constantly at war, caught between the pull of good and evil inside himself. That was the part of the story that really caught my attention. A classic kind of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character but one that wore biker leathers and rode a flaming Harley. My little adolescent mind seized on that, and still hasn’t let go of it all these years later.

Ghost Rider broke out of the pages of Marvel Spotlight and grabbed his own title magazine, which lasted for 10 years or so, with sporadic frequencies. Johnny Blaze's character and the nature of Ghost Rider went through a lot of retconning. He tended toward the supernatural for a while, hit the superhero phase, then crossed back into the supernatural theme again.

Later, during the second run of Ghost Rider (Volume 2), Danny Ketch took on the mantle of the Spirit of Vengeance. Soon, readers discovered that Ketch was Johnny Blaze’s brother. All in all, Ghost Rider has been through a lot of changes and reinvention.

Greg Cox's book Ghost Rider is a novelization of the movie coming out in February, and I was torn between waiting to be surprised with the film or reading the book. I passed the book by twice, then picked it up and read it in two sittings. Ghost Rider was one of my favorite characters because he looked so cool, and I rode a motorcycle for a while. The character has instant appeal for guys, and women seem to dig him too because Johnny Blaze is the quintessential bad boy.

The book/movie is basically a re-envisioning of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider's origin, and it sets the stage for a franchise of films, ala Spider-Man, Hulk, Daredevil, Elektra and Fantastic Four. Ghost Rider follows some of the retconning done in comics, like Johnny’s relationship with his father, Barton Blaze, and progresses from that spin. Of course, there's a girl in the movie version: Roxanne Simpson, the daughter of the circus owner where the Blazes performed their death-defying motorcycle stunts. Johnny loved her and had plans to flee the circus with her.

The book/movie starts out with a prologue featuring the first Ghost Rider, a man named Carter Slade, who was a Western hero in Marvel Comics (he got retconned into the mythos as well later, as well as being renamed Phantom Rider). This Western Ghost Rider in the book/movie worked for Mephistopheles and was sent to collect a contract worth 1000 souls. That Ghost Rider chose to hide the contract instead, and then he rode off into the sunset.

Fast forward to the tragedy that left Johnny Blaze's soul exposed. With his father dying of cancer, 17-year-old Johnny Blaze contracts with Mephistopheles, trading his soul for his father’s health. Mephistopheles throws in fame and glory almost as an afterthought, making it apparent that those weren’t Johnny’s real goals.

Fifteen years later, Mephistopheles returns for Johnny's soul and transforms him into the Ghost Rider to battle Blackheart. Blackheart is actually Mephistopheles's son and intends to take over his dad's rule because he thinks his dad is being too cautious.

The Ghost Rider in the book/movie is an interesting blend of Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, who was the second modern Ghost Rider. Ketch first had the spirit chain of fire used to flail bad guys, but it looked way too cool too pass up for the movie.

From the book, I can see there’s going to be a lot of action, fighting as well as motorcycle stunts (the trailer showing Ghost Rider racing up the side of the building on the Hellcycle is something I’m not going to forget any time soon). Cox does a really good job of bringing those stunts into sharp focus on the page, but it left my appetite really whetted for the upcoming big-screen release.

Greg Cox's book is a great treatment of the script. Cox is an experienced tie-in writer (that special breed otf writer who can step into someone else's world, tell a good story, and walk away without leaving disturbing ripples). I cruised through the pages and had a great time living the adventure.

It's narrative-heavy because it's from a movie script, and there isn't much dialogue occasionally, but overall it's a solid read. I kept getting lost in the story even though I’ve been familiar with it for years. I got the feeling it was the same for the author. Ghost Rider was a shared love, and Cox delivered a bang-up read.

I may have lost the mystery of what's going to happen in the film, but I'm still looking forward to all the special effects and seeing Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider on the big screen.

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