By Jason Aaron (writer), Tan Eng Huat (artist), Jose Villarrubia (colorist)
If you’ve already seen the movie adaptation of this comic starring Nicholas Cage, you’ve probably made up your mind a long time ago to never take a chance on this book for as long as you may live. I can’t blame you; I still have nightmares about Cage’s hair plugs spontaneously combusting. But when I first read that Jason Aaron would be coming on board to revamp the title, my interest was fiercely piqued. I was already an avid fan of Aaron’s gritty work on the Native American crime comic Scalped, and admired his command of tough, noir dialogue and uncompromising characterization. Could Aaron bring that same sensibility to a struggling franchise like this? The answer, I confirmed after reading this later volume of his run on the title, is a resounding hell yes!
Aaron’s tale shakes up Ghost Rider’s status quo by revealing (in the excellent trade paperback “Hell Bent and Heaven Bound”) that Johnny Blaze was not, in fact, an agent of the devil but rather a tool of the rogue angel, Zadkiel; in his bid to overthrow Heaven. As “Last Stand” begins, Blaze’s quest for answers and justice puts him in the crosshairs of his own brother Danny Ketch, a former Ghost Rider himself who has been crossing the globe killing foreign Ghost Riders (you didn’t think Blaze was the only one on the planet to bear that mantle, did you?) to fulfill his own mysterious agenda. Blaze, along with the gun-toting Caretaker, Sister Sara, meets the surviving Spirits of Vengeance deep in the jungles of Africa to plan their final assault against Zadkiel before he and his forces start knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s door. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
What makes Aaron’s run on this title, and especially in this volume, so much fun is that he abandons many of the melodramatic, moody trappings that have turned me off this book for so long. Instead, he embraces a tone that is bawdy, rough-edged, and delightfully lewd. In short, he’s turned Ghost Rider into a grindhouse comic. Every page is saturated in lurid entertainment, from shotgun-wielding nuns to elephants blazing with hellfire, right on through to Mr. Blaze himself, striding across the panels with a cocky and reckless attitude, as he purses a vicious cycle of overwhelming odds.
Aaron is aided in his efforts by the unique renderings of Huat and dynamic colors of Villarrubia, a creative team whose distorted, unsettling art style would look inappropriate on a more conventional superhero comic, but seems right at home on a dark, supernatural title like this. When I first looked at their splash page of the Tibetan Ghost Rider, I grinned like a madman with all the fun I was having with this book.
From cover to cover, “The Last Stand” is solid entertainment that hits all the right notes; and more importantly, it succeeds in getting me interested in reading more about Ghost Rider. If a graphic novel can achieve that, I’d say buying it was money well spent, wouldn’t you?