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Let’s have some fun and compare and contrast terrible derivative characters (Part 2) – Ghost Rider 2099 #1

September 28, 2012

Before we get to anything else, let me apologize for the blue sheen in the above cover scan. There are two variant covers to Ghost Rider 2099 #1, and I happen to have the foil-“enhanced” — and hence more expensive — one. When the scanner light passes over it, it activates the hologram effect of the foil, negating the normal silverish coloring and — you know what? I give up. I hate variant/enhanced covers, and the early to mid 1990s belonged to them. Anyway, SORRY.

Okay. Let’s not beat around the bush. Let’s dig right into this, like Laura Dern going elbow deep on a pile of Jurassic Park dinosaur dung. The preliminaries of this hard-hitting two-part series were laid out in the previous The Punisher 2099 post, which presented us with the futuristic awfulness of Jake Gallows and his skull kneepads. That title didn’t exactly cover itself with glory in its premier, and one can only imagine what’s in store for us with Ghost Rider 2099. Just think of this: it was published a year later, so Marvel had a full turn of the calendar in which to hone its suckocity. And we know how bad Ghost Rider stories, whether on a page or on a screen, can be. MY GOD THIS COULD GET UGLY.

Well, there’s a shocker coming our way. Folks, Ghost Rider 2099 #1, while pretty damn bad, actually has some good points to it. And I cannot believe I just typed that. But there you go. (Don’t get me wrong. It’s still an ungood comic.)

Before we get to the good, let’s go over the general outline of the character. This iteration of Ghost Rider was, unlike the Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch models, a non-supernatural being. There was (will be? — I hate this future crap) no spirit of vengeance possessing a motorcycle-loving mortal. Instead, the new Ghost Rider was a machine, with the consciousness of a hacker (Kenshiro Cochrane) — who’d downloaded his mind into cyberspace after a lethal poisoning — for a brain.

And yes, as the cover suggests, the new Rider had a lot of a Terminator in him. Remember that scene in the original Terminator movie, after the semi had crashed and the flames had burned off the T-800’s flesh, and it climbed out of the wreckage surrounded by flame? That’s what you think of, subliminally at the very least, every time you see this guy. Those red eyes really seal the deal. It’s not the most blatant Terminator endoskeleton ripoff ever by any means (at least this guy has the decency to wear a jacket), but it’s pushing it. Hell, with a human brain inside a machine body, you’re getting deep into Robocop territory too. So maybe someone read Robocop vs. The Terminator and got themselves an idea.

Whatever. Let’s get to what’s good — or less bad — about this thing. It comes down to one factor, and that’s that the artwork isn’t terrible. Chris Bachalo pencilled and Mark Buckingham inked this first issue, and their style, why not my normal cup of tea, is at least visually interesting. Here’s our new Rider as we first meet him, riding his future-bike with a full head of fire, a scene so explosive it needs two pages:

There’s detail which at least makes it appear like someone actually gave a damn. I mean, Punisher 2099 looked like it was drawn on napkins at a TGI Fridays.

You want more Rider? Here he is scaring the piss out of some poor sap (and looking a bit like Simon Bisley’s Lobo):

There aren’t many certainties in life, but I’m certain of this: I don’t and never will give a rat’s ass about “who paid the Artificial Kidz to grease the Hotwire Martyrs.” This gets us into the big problem of the first issue: Len Kaminski’s script is laden with cyberpunk language, and instead of giving an edge to the corporate espionage infowars that form the Rider’s milieu, there a forced clunkiness to it. Writing future dialogue is a tricky business. I get that. But it’s one that, like high-wire acts, should only be performed by trained professionals. You can count the number of times a writer has successfully crafted future-speak, without it sounding dumb to we primitive past-dwellers, on one hand. Anthony Burgess with A Clockwork Orange is a prime of example of it being done well. Hell, maybe that blew too, but I seem to remember the “droogs” and such working.

What you read in this comic does not work.

This first issue, much like the Punisher introduction, tells the origin story through flashback. Which is probably just a coincidence. OR IS IT? Whatever the reasoning, this sequence is moderately entertaining, as our hacker hero’s brain takes a Lawnmower Man trip and finds its way into a corner of cyberspace populated by sentient programs called the Ghostworks. They make the man who was once Kenshiro (I almost typed Zefram) Cochrane an offer he can’t refuse (a chance for righteous vengeance on his killers that will help the Ghostworks cause as well), and use some familiar faces, including David Letterman and Jean-Luc Picard, to do the convincing:

Cochrane is downloaded into a souped up robot, and the new Ghost Rider — the moniker is bestowed because of the reminiscent look — is born. In case you haven’t had enough of him yet, here he is on the final page:

I think he might be giving us the finger with his arm-mounted flaming chainsaw. Not sure.

And that’s that.

I went into these two comics wondering which one I’d wind up hating more. I fully expected both to be abominations, and the new Punisher certainly didn’t disappoint, or did disappoint, depending on how you look at it. It was a flat, silly affair, one that could insult the intelligence of plankton. The artwork had all the zest of sauceless pasta. This first installment of Ghost Rider 2099 was no great shakes either, but at least Bachalo and Buckingham gave the eyes something to look at. Artwork is always less important than story, because the latter can rescue the former, but the former can never truly salvage an awful latter (is that formulation confusing enough?). The artwork here can’t lift the script off the ground, but at least the effort is there.

So GHOST RIDER 2099 WINS THE BATTLE! HUZZAH! And I am officially done with Marvel 2099 for what will hopefully be a very, very long while. Perhaps until 2099 itself.

Just so you know, if we had needed a tiebreaker, this comic came with BOUND-IN SPIDER-MAN MARVEL MASTERWORKS TRADING CARDS:

Collect them all! Put them in your future-bike spokes to make it sound like Ghost Rider 2099’s future-cycle!

[Edit: When I first posted this, I forgot to include something that a comic shop owning friend of mine told me when I mentioned that I was writing a couple colums about the old Marvel 2099 line. He said that lately he’s noticed a few more people here and there buying cheap-o 2099 comics out of the bargain bins, with them saying that they remembered reading the books when they (the readers) were young. Which would seem to indicate that there’s no accounting for the bounds of nostalgia. “Gosh, I remember when I used to get kicked in the head before school every day. With a steel boot. In the mud. Man, THOSE WERE THE DAYS.”]

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