Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.
A dying angel gives Johnny Blaze—Ghost Rider and host of the Spirit of Vengeance—a piece of silver and cryptic instructions to meet Daimon Hellstrom, supernatural investigator and bastard offspring of Satan. They track down leads as to the nature of the silver and why it should prove important to anyone. In doing so, they discover the sorcerer Necrodamus has found a loophole to exploit in the ongoing conflict between angels and devils, which he plans on manipulating to his own benefit.
To prevent the apocalyptic scenario, Hellstrom recruits his diabolical sister and (inexplicably) Blade to assist him and Ghost Rider as they combat sorcerers, demigods, and minions of the underworld who are all making a play to take advantage of the situation.
The plot is absurd, but that’s half the fun. The whole story unfolds like a series of jokes that everyone plays straight: a morbidly obese demon lives in the Bronx, vampire blood bank robbers try to make a score, amateur Satanists conduct human sacrifice in southern Indiana, a dwarf from Norse mythology lives in a Mexican volcano, and the weapon designed to kill angels is a rocket launcher.
These scenes exist side-by-side with monologues about the health effects of caffeine, divine and infernal bureaucratic protocols, the problem of referring to one’s self in the third person, and “how to draw Ghost Rider in six easy steps.” The world in which these events take place essentially turns Paradise Lost into Marvel canon and treats the divine conflict just as it would extraterrestrial invasions, ghosts, mutants living on an asteroid, or being bitten by a radioactive spider.
An element that seems missing from the whole endeavor, though, is a member of the Spirits of Vengeance who is largely clueless but game. Imagine the situations that would arise if Kamala Khan had to be part of the team. Her youthful exuberance and practicing Muslim identity would certainly add a new dimension to the events.
Similarly, the Miles Morales Spider-Man could be fun in the same way and act as a call back to when the Spirits of Vengeance teamed up with Spider-Man and Venom. Remember when Ghost Rider, Venom, and Spider-Man made an uneasy alliance to plunge into the sewers of Manhattan to fight Demogoblin, Spider-Man’s six-armed doppelgänger, and the Deathspawn? In any event, this graphic novel tries to have Blade fill in as an outsider, but it doesn’t always work.
Of course, the tone could have been cranked up to even more ridiculous heights by including Marvel A-listers that fit perfectly with the events of the graphic novel. Dr. Strange would make a nice addition. Victor von Doom, also, would make an inspired choice as he is also a sorcerer who has harrowed Hell and defeated demons with both his technology and his magic. The point is that if Victor Gischler, the writer, was already committing to a ludicrous premise, he might as well have taken it to its most extreme conclusion.
He’s Riding Through Your Town With His Head on Fire
The nature of Ghost Rider plays an important role in the graphic novel as he is neither angelic nor demonic. While this acts as a plot point, it also continues to characterize Ghost Rider as a sort of chthonic entity that undercuts the binary, Judeo-Christian cosmology that is taken for granted as the status quo. In an odd way, this development makes Ghost Rider and Blade the most human of the Spirits of Vengeance in part because their concerns are not about the cosmic dimension like those of most of the other characters.
The art is fairly well done and often over the top, especially where Ghost Rider is concerned. This isn’t necessarily a negative—the art style matches the plot and tone. There are some panels where the action is muddled, though, which can make following some of the events more cumbersome than it should be. The demons look demonic, and the otherworldliness of some parts recall Dr. Strange or Hellboy.
Catch a Ride
If readers don’t take it too seriously, Spirits of Vengeance is a lot of fun. It isn’t great or groundbreaking storytelling, but there is pleasure to be had in watching mismatched supernatural heroes get in way over their heads and try to solve a divine conflict.
Gischer, Victor; Mossa, Andres. Spirits of Vengeance: War at the Gates of Hell. Marvel, 2018.
© 2018 Seth Tomko