***WARNING: This review contains major spoilers!***
1,000,000 BC, a young proto-human lives among his cave-dwelling tribe members, lonely with his superior intellectual prowess. One day a large man attacks his way into their territory, stopping only to tell the boy that he also knows what it’s like to be superior. Suddenly the stranger shapeshifts into a three-meters-tall monster and slaughter’s the rest of the boy’s kin, devouring them all in a single night.
The boy abandons his home to try and survive in the vast tundra, but the cold defeats him. As he lays down to die in the snow, a monstrous white snake constricts him, telling the boy that he can save him if he says his name. The boy utters “Mephisto”, he then shrieks as hellfire merges with his soul, burning his flesh away.
Vengeance drives this Ghost Rider to find the Wendigo and fight him. After a brutal battle, Wendigo is defeated, but he slays the Rider’s mammoth steed and escapes with his life. As he grieves the loss of his companion, Odin and Phoenix appear and offer Ghost Rider a place among them.
To begin, please understand that I previously published a review for this issue which I have since retracted. I talked about the Ghost Rider origins from memory, not from research, and my recollection was erroneous. With that said, I love this issue. Its intimate desolation and horrifying, elemental peril utterly sold me to the last page.
Now, if you would, allow me to take you down history lane for a bit of a Ghost Rider origin refresher. A titular Ghost Rider is NOT NECESSARILY an embodiment of one of the actual ancient Spirits of Vengeance (SoV). The latter were creations of God in response to the evil that survived the biblical “great flood”. They were led by Archangel Zadkiel, whose sole responsibility was to protect the denizens of Earth against the demons of Hell, which he did primarily through the command of the SoV-Ghost Riders (though in order to do so, he had to deceive them into thinking they were creations of Mephisto, and not of God). However, originally our dear Johnny Blaze was bound by Mephisto to the defeated demon Zarathos, giving him Rider-like powers as a mockery of his ancient foes, the SoV.
Now with that understanding, this issue begs the question, is this retcon or revelation? Though the idea of a “spirit of vengeance” is explicitly stated in the issue, is Mephisto the actual creator of the first Spirit of Vengeance, which were later, ironically repurposed by God to defeat him? Perhaps his Zarathos Rider-imposters weren’t exactly ironic mockeries, and his connection to them is more intimate. Or are the rest of the God-made SoV just stolen intellectual property? It could be that this Ghost Rider isn’t even the first, or that the Spirits of Vengeance are far older than we’ve been told. Digging into some of Marvel’s origins, I now have questions about the other prime Avengers. As far as we’ve been told, Agamotto wasn’t the first Sorcerer Supreme (Ororo Munroe’s ultimate ancestor was) and Jean Grey was the first human host of the Phoenix Force. Is this Phoenix some sort of physical avatar of the actual Phoenix, or is she a host? Maybe this issue’s proto Rider is some kind of tangential missing link between Mephisto and Zarathos heretofore unknown to us?
History aside, on its own merits, the writing and art are fantastic. Wendigo is genuinely terrifying and Ghost Rider and Hellephant are equally intimidating. I truly felt the desolation of the prehistoric tundra and the campfire-bound cavemen, struggling to survive. Wendigo’s dialogue is excellent, his mad logic and formidable presence are unnerving. The origin of the Ghost Rider namesake is well reasoned and cool! I feel compelled to rate this issue keeping those virtues in mind, also with the benefit of the doubt going to (and the onus upon) Aaron to connect the dots of what’s ultimately going on in the issues to come.
Though somewhat blindsiding to knowledgeable Ghost Rider fans, this well-done issue not only raises some questions, it leaves me anticipatory for answers to come!
Avengers #7: Hidden History of the First Ghost Rider Revealed!
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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