By: Felipe Smith (story), Tradd Moore (art), Val Staples (colors)

The Story: Potential side-effects include: dizziness, shortness of breath, destruction of all you hold dear.

The Review: This just confirms how little I know about Ghost Rider, but it didn’t occur to me until just now that radical as the changes Smith made to the character’s age, race, and background are, equally as radical is the change to his ride. Giving Robbie Reyes a car instead of a cycle flies into the face of decades of continuity, which is comic book speak for tradition, so why do it? If nothing else, a car seems like it’d slow a person down and impede his movement—more so than a cycle, anyway.

At the same time, the bigger size and heft of a car makes it more of a threat by itself, which is not such a bad trade-off for the loss in speed and agility. Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch barreling towards you on their cycles might not seem so threatening at first if you happen to be in a bigger vehicle, but even soldiers in armed cars have reason to fear the sight of a sleek, black racer heading straight their way. And the way Robbie maneuvers his around, flipping, jumping, rocketing in impossible directions at crazy angles, you certainly don’t notice any loss in speed and agility.

There’s also the question of how he fares outside the car, which turns out to be pretty damn well, deflecting bullets—off his face—closing gaps with his enemies in mere moments, crushing their hands and breaking in their legs. For all that, Robbie only asks of his car, “What are you?”

“No,” the car replies. “The real question is…what are we?“—which isn’t exactly the right question either. What does it really matter what they are? They can be demon-fairies from the alterna-universe of Narnia and it wouldn’t necessarily change anything. What matters is how they came to be what they are and who made it happen. Those are the important questions because they get at what kind of hero the new Ghost Rider is going to be, whether involuntary servant of hell or something else altogether.

We don’t get much of a clue in those regards from Dr. Zabo, the man who sent the squad of military thugs who shot up Robbie last issue. From everything you see here, he fits pretty squarely in the mad scientist mold, specifically the Mr. Hyde type, of which the Marvel U already has too many of from both sides of the moral divide. He might be a little more passive-aggressive in scientist mode than others of his ilk, but he’s no less preposterously brutish once he hulks out. That degree of power is just enough to give Robbie a decent first challenge, especially if it’s multiplied by the number of transformative pills that Zabo’s men failed to retrieve.

Robbie’s neighborhood is pretty volatile already without the introduction of experimental substances into the populace. Of all things in this title, Smith does the best job at creating a setting we don’t see too often in fiction. As a suburban born and bred, I’m in no way qualified to tell whether the gangbanging L.A. depicted here is actually true to life. But Smith clearly makes efforts to draw out the street culture Robbie comes from, down to the painstaking dialect work in the dialogue: “Ayo. I know you don’t heal that quick, bro. You wearin’ foundation on your face, like a beeya-tch?!

By far, however, the force that keeps Ghost Rider running smooth is Moore’s art, which has such need for speed that it can barely contain itself. The energy practically crackles on the page, with lines flickering off his figures as if they’re impatient to get a move on. And once they do, they build up momentum fast, quickly shifting into overdrive, and burning their way through the issue. With Moore at the wheel, the title loses none of its ferocity from the switch in vehicles, and Staples’ bright, brassy colors bring home just how hot the world of Ghost Rider really is.

Conclusion: There’s not much substance to the issue, but it proves that it can run on nearly pure adrenaline alone.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Substitute teacher Daniel Wakeford seems an incidental character here, but since he gets a name, we better expect a bigger role to come.

– If only all women could turn into ogres when threatened. Date rape would probably drop in a hurry, I betcha.