Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

X-amining Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness

"Hearts of Darkness"
1991

In a Nutshell
Ghost Rider, Wolverine & Punisher are tempted by Blackheart to destroy Mephisto.

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: John Romita Jr.
Inker: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: John Wellington
Asst. Editor: Chris Cooper
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
After a Satantic cult raises Blackheart, son of Mephisto, the demon slays the cult, then declares he will kill his father. Later, Dan Ketch arrives in the small town of Christ's Crown, and ends up staying at a boarding house with fellow new arrivals Mr. Logan and Mr. Frank. All three heroes - Ghost Rider, Wolverine and Punisher - have been lured to the town by Blackheart, who promises information important to each of them in exchange for their help killing Mephisto. All three refuse, prompting Blackheart to take control of the town and capture Lucy, the daughter of the boarding house keeper, to force the heroes into helping him. They fight their way to the demonic realm where Blackheart is holding Lucy, and Blackheart once again offers to trade information for their help killing his father, but they refuse, and manage to severely injury the demon. Just then, Mephisto appears and swallows his son, declaring its time to teach him a lesson, after which he returns the heroes and Lucy to Earth, where Ghost Rider declares that while they may come close to, or occasionally cross the edge of being heroes, so long as the innocent ar e protected, their cause is just.

Firsts and Other Notables
The villain of this issue is Blackheart, the son of Marvel's original Satan-stand-in Mephisto, who first appeared in Daredevil #270, during John Romita Jr.'s run on that book. When Mephisto appears at the end of the issue, it's in his weird dreadlocked pseudo-goatface, Buddha-belly form from the JRjr Daredevil run, rather than his more classic, more human form.


John Romita Jr. draws this issue a couple months before his one-off fill-in for Uncanny X-Men, and about year out from his return as that series' regular penciler.

This is a prestige format oneshot, printed on glossy paper, squarebound, with a cardstock cover.

The Chronology Corner
Wolverine wears his orange-and-tan costume in this issue, setting it before the events of Wolverine #49/X-Men #4, specifically between issues #3 and #4 of X-Men, and prior to Wolverine #48.

A Work in Progress
Wolverine is tempted by Blackheart with information about his past, specifically how he got his claws, something he says he's not interested in. He may be bluffing though, as recent events in both Wolverine and X-Men (set after this story, of course) are all about him wanting to explore his past.


No mention is made of Wolverine and Ghost Rider's shared time together in the New Fantastic Four.

Blackheart tempts Wolverine with information regarding the origin of his adamantium skeleton and claws (he claims to not care), Punisher with the whereabouts of the criminals who killed his family (he already knows) and Ghost Rider with information about the demon Zarathos (who possessed the original Ghost Rider, but not this one).

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
That a prestige format oneshot starring Ghost Rider, Punisher and Wolverine was a thing is one of the ten most 90s thing ever; slap a gimmick cover on this and it's pretty much the 90s in a nutshell.

The end of the issue affirms the notion that while these three heroes may skirt, or even cross, the line of traditional superhero morality, it's all okay so long as innocents are protected.


Austin's Analysis
The big draw of this issue (for me at least; for Marvel, the big draw was obviously the commercial appeal of putting Wolverine, Punisher and Ghost Rider together in an overpriced oneshot in 1992) is hands down the John Romita Jr. art, which has fully morphed into his new (relative to his original X-Men run) blockier style by this time. I know this style isn't for everyone and has plenty of detractors, but I love it; in fact, my appreciation of JRjr's art goes hand-in-hand with how close it approximates this style; the closer to it is, the more I like it. This is where my limited artistic vocabulary fails me, because I lack the ability to explain why I like this style so much. It's definitely not realistic, and definitely a move away from that style relative to his earlier work. Maybe it's just because I encountered it early in my comic reading days, so it kind of imprinted on me, but it seems like the quintessential superhero art, the perfect mix of realism, storytelling, and bombastic, larger-than-life figures. The plot and dialogue in this issue are pretty pedestrian (aside from a minor but mildly interesting bit of running commentary on the nature of heroes at this point in the 90s), but the art injects the whole thing with a lot of energy, and makes for a nice appetizer to the upcoming JRjr run on Uncanny.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Excalibur gets another oneshot in Air Apparent. Friday, the X-Factor/Hulk crossover begins in Incredible Hulk #390-#391. Next week, the X-Men return home in Uncanny X-Men #286.

7 comments:

  1. Romita's figures just have a WEIGHT to them. I feel like they're actually three-dimensional figures that could conceivably exist at any angle. Romita also managed to find a balance between the '90s style of exaggeration and more traditional comics art. Little moments, like Wolverine lighting that cigarette in the panel above, just feel real. He's the perfect artist to draw all three of these characters.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It should really be Ghost Rider and Friends. The connection of Mackie's story to the other guys' own books is passing and even contradictory, but for Ghost Rider we're deep in what's going on his own title(s): there's the ado about Zarathros, Johnny Blaze will soon enough adopt the other Ghost Rider bike premiering here for himself, and the 90's Mephisto will make good of his word to meet GR on some other day soon.

    I'm not such a big fan of this version of JRjr, but I still can appreciate the tan&ochre Wolverine Uncannily jumping at Blackheart in the boarding home. And whatever they say of the 90's Wolverine, of these guys he's the only one who has but one title to his name around this time.

    ReplyDelete

  3. I do like the art here much more than on JRJr.’s first X-Men run — and given what else I’ve seen of his work in this later style that’s clearly not due just to Dan Green making way for Janson, although I think most of said later work I’m familiar with was inked by Janson or Al Williamson.

    // No mention is made of Wolverine and Ghost Rider's shared time together in the New Fantastic Four. //

    They didn’t want to make Punisher jealous?

    While I get putting Ghost Rider, Punisher, and Wolverine together based on them all being characters on that proverbial edge — and being hot for largely that reason — I really think we needed a scene within Blackheart’s visions of what the characters could gain by joining him of him souping up Wolverine and Punisher with mystical/demonic tactical gear to account for how they could possibly join him and Ghost Rider against Mephisto, which is a fairly well-worn trope but certainly no more of one than is the whole story around it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As Artistic Achievements go, the logo (I assume they used on the inner cover or somewhere) that incorporates Punisher's skull emblem with the top side of it on fire and three ripples as cut with adamantium claws for the lower part certainly is one.

    I tried to image googling for it but instead was shocked to learn that there was an actual "Hearts of Darkness" action figure series.

    I kind of awkwardly love the bit where Wolverine and the Punisher are stuck in the wall of brambles but then the Ghost Rider just mows through it clearing a path for them. It pretty much underlines the power discrepancy between GR and the two others.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This issue is notable for me only for the fact that I bought it immediately after having my wisdom teeth pulled. "I'm going to need some comics!", I thought, still completely out of it from being knocked out and with a mouth still full of gauze. This was one of the ones I grabbed and mutely paid for, before heading home and sleeping the entire rest of the day on the couch.

    Other than that, I do have an appreciation for JR Jr.'s art, though I think I still mostly preferred his earlier X-Men work. And it's pretty much "how much more 90's can this be?" "None. None more 90's." At least they're all legacy characters. I suppose they could have crammed Cable in there.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This issue is notable for me only for the fact that I bought it immediately after having my wisdom teeth pulled. "I'm going to need some comics!", I thought, still completely out of it from being knocked out and with a mouth still full of gauze. This was one of the ones I grabbed and mutely paid for, before heading home and sleeping the entire rest of the day on the couch.

    Other than that, I do have an appreciation for JR Jr.'s art, though I think I still mostly preferred his earlier X-Men work. And it's pretty much "how much more 90's can this be?" "None. None more 90's." At least they're all legacy characters. I suppose they could have crammed Cable in there.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Was this Blackheart's second appearance, after he appeared in the Daredevil/Spider-Man crossover issue? That means in the space of only two comics, Blackheart managed to cross swords with five major Marvel superheroes.

    I mainly liked this comic because I had already read the other Blackheart issue, being a fan of Nocenti/JRJr.'s Daredevil.

    ReplyDelete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Am mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!