Some of Marvel’s strongest output in the last ten years has come from new and vibrant characters taking on mantles from legacy heroes: Kamala Khan as Ms Marvel. Miles Morales as Spider-Man. Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. Lunella Lafyette as Moongirl. Sam Wilson as Captain America. Jane Foster as Thor. And… Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man?
With 2014’s All New Ghost Rider, Tradd Moore and Felipe Smith aimed to do the same with Robbie Reyes, a new iteration of everyone’s favourite Nic Cage character: THE GHOST WHO RIDES HOT THROBBING METAL MACHINES FOR BUSINESS AND PLEASURE. Rather than selling his soul to the devil ala Johnny Blaze, Robbie dies trying to use a haunted muscle car in an illegal street race and he’s brought back to life by the evil spirit of his dead uncle who just happens to be a serial killer. The book was well received by fans and had a strong twelve issue run, its biggest impact probably being Tradd Moore’s awesome redesign of the classic flaming skull. As with many modern Marvel titles, the book was canned. Thus Robbie Reyes and another Ghost Rider ongoing comic were laid to rest until…
…someone at Marvel realised that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D was incredibly boring and no one cares about Inhumans (except Lockjaw or you know, maybe that’s just me) and decided that what the show needed was a flaming-headed golden-hearted demon from hell. So Robbie Reyes was reborn in the guise of a real-life human on the television, and, as is the way of modern comics. we knew it wouldn’t be long until he appeared back on the new comic book day shelves.
That day has arrived, mere months after his appearance in AoS. He’s back in Robbie Reyes: Ghost Rider, a comic book that’s been titled in the grand tradition of other Marvel series featuring a person of color taking over the mantle from a white superhero… just so you know it’s not that same white guy in the suit and to ultimately remind us all that there’s no real permanence in a mantle change.
Felipe Smith, one of the co-creators of Reyes, returns as writer. His fellow co-creator, Tradd Moore, returns for a (pretty and promising, though ultimately problematic) backup. But main art duties for this ongoing are taken on by Danilo S. Beyruth. The art style is a throwback to early 2000’s comics and definitely has the feel of a movie-tie in book, though the interesting layouts and great sound effects mixed with expert colours from Val Staples and Jesus Aburtov, create a visually engaging book that has all the energy you’d hope for from a story about someone whose power partly manifests itself through driving a really fast car.
I enjoyed the All-New Ghost Rider run and was happy to find out that Robbie was returning in a regular book, even more so when Marvel announced that the first issue would also be starring everyone’s favourite gross teenage boy/scientific genius/Totally Awesome Hulk: Amadeus Cho. Amadeus has been a bright spot in Marvel’s All-New All-Different relaunch, which started a year ago only to be relaunched again as Marvel Now! but not to be mixed up with Marvel Now! from six years ago… or the one from like a decade ago. Unlike Marvel’s many unnecessary relaunches, Amadeus was a needed one. His Hulk is fun, interesting, super smart, and a generally authentic teen voice.
So I was most disappointed that instead of the promised meeting between the “High-octane Hothead and the Jade Genius” from this issue’s solicit, instead we get two stories that are seemingly unconnected until a small last page teaser. In the issue, Amadeus is busy being Amadeus whilst investigating a symbiote-esque new element. For Robbie, it’s more of a recap as he’s reintroduced as the caring older brother who also happens to have the voice of a dead evil serial killer in his head whose power he harnesses to fight evil. The book on the whole seems a little off balance to me, with Amadeus’s plot thread acting as the more interesting of the two. Hulk and Ghost Rider share page space pretty equally so it reads more as a crossover book than a straight Ghost Rider title, though there’s a very cool cameo on the last page which hints at an interesting direction for a potential legacy mantle team-up.
Tradd Moore returns to his creation with the book’s backup story, “Pyston Nitro Strikes.” For me this plot is far more fun and engaging than Robbie’s in the main story, and it introduces a new female villain (and love interest?) for Robbie. Staples’s colours are a wonderland of neon strip lights fighting with flames and Tradd Moore’s overly stylised art is, as always, very fun to look at.
Unfortunately there were more than a few panels where Moore’s rendition of Pyston Nitro veered worryingly close to outdated racist caricatures of asian people. With the slow but constant death rattle of the racist misogynistic comics old guard as the seemingly eternal soundtrack to any comics fandom, it’s incredibly important that these problems are spoken about and corrected.
More than ever there’s an accountability for artists to actively create authentic and accurate representations of people of color rather than falling back on racist stereotypes. Moore’s depiction of the unmasked villain made it hard for me to enjoy the backup, which was a shame as Pyston seems like she has the potential to be an exciting new character and a great foil for Robbie.
With the popularity of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D and the all-ages appeal of this book, I’m sure that Robbie Reyes will ride those ghosts for a while. I just hope that the main creative team have a more streamlined, focused vision for the future of our leather jacketed, bad boy with a heart of gold, or else it could be very easy for this series to go off the road.
Four To The Floor: Part One
- Writer: Felipe Smith
- Artist: Danilo S. Beyruth
- Colorists: Val Staples and Jesus Aburtov
- Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramanga
Bonus Story: Pyston Nitro Strikes
- Writer: Felipe Smith
- Artist: Tradd Moore
- Colorist: Val Staples
- Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino