Back again for another round! Two comics (this time two entire series) that you should read – like, right now, and the other to avoid like the plague. Back in the 90’s Marvel handled series in a few ways and we’re going to explore two very different approaches. One that I think they handled amazingly well and the other… not so much. Let’s begin:
Ghost Rider & Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance (1992-1994)
W: Mackie, Hama, Quinn
A: Kubert, Giarrano, Manley, Martinez, Williams,
Earlier in the year I highlighted “Spirits of Venom” an absolute blast of a Spirits of Vengeance/Web of Spider-Man crossover event that used every character, including Ghost Rider, Blaze, Spider-Man, Venom, Hobgoblin, DemoGoblin and the Doppleganger, to absolute perfection. Mackie weaved an amazingly fun, hilarious and exciting story about the two world colliding as Ghost Rider and Blaze trying to stop the reincarnation of Deathwatch run into Venom and ultimately their paths cross with Spider-Man trying to protect/turn in Hobgoblin. This event was so much fun that I decided to collect the rest of the series and make my way through it seeing if the entire run was as entertaining as this 4 issue mini.
The first thing to note is that this series was just part of the Midnight Sons line of the Marvel Universe that included Ghost Rider, Spirits of Vengeance, Morbius, Night Stalkers, Darkhold and even some issues of Dr. Strange. Trying to read Spirits of Vengeance without reading the other titles is like an exercise in futility. You just read small parts of a story that continues, and most of the time ends, in a different series – so you have NO idea what the hell is going on. Something that Marvel was very aware of and used to pump up the whole line. Unfortunately, this was a failed experiment as the most people read just the titles they want to read and don’t like being forced to have to buy extra books just to understand what’s going on in their series. Case in point, I have come across Spirits of Vengeance #1 more times than I can count – and issue #23 (the last) I have seen exactly 3 times. That counts the one I own. I can remember more than one instance of reading a story line where Ghost Rider and Blaze were taking on a big bad only to have the story complete in another series and the boys were off to the next adventure in the following issue – leaving me scratching my head on what the hell just happened. Because here’s the rub – I don’t want to read Nightstalkers, or Morbius. I have no interest in Darkhold or even Dr. Strange. I just wanted to read Ghost Rider and Blaze’s adventures in the pages of their own comic. The other thing to note is how hard the whole run is to find.
In a recent post I expressed frustration with how reboots and relaunches sort of punish the loyal readers and how I loved the good old days of straight numbering. Marvel has pretty much destroyed their numbering system and to make heads or tails of it you need a doctorate in Marvel Continuity. I think most readers are just as much to blame as Marvel though as #1’s sell through the roof and the last issues of a series are actually more valuable than most of the series as they are rarer and harder to find due to low print runs.
Now, it’s not all bad news for this series – in fact, the original 11 issues or so are really fun and entertaining with fantastic art provided by Adam Kubert. The art from there on out can be hit or REALLY miss. Kubert, before his departure, did create what I consider the ultimate 90’s character, Vengeance! his look was Ghost Rider – just more Ghost Ridery. Spikes? Yup – but bigger. Did I say bigger? I mean – bigger than what could be reasonably expected to actually work! Flaming head? Yup – with SHARPER TEETH! And blacker! Yup – a black skull! This was 90’s exaggeration spewed all over your eyeballs!
I know some people will say that Marvel doesn’t care about back issues – as they sold whatever issues they did back in the 90’s – they make nothing off of back issue market. While that is true I sort of look at the bigger picture. Let’s just say I picked these up on the cheap and really enjoyed them – it may persuade me to check out what’s going on in the current series. But this mess of a series not only turned me off of checking any other Midnight Sons titles – I have zero interest in picking up any new adventures starring the flame head. Grade: D
Venom Mini-Series (1993-1995)
The other way Marvel went in the 90’s was to release shorter mini-series that continued the stories told previous. It was a brilliant move as they could decide to eliminate the upcoming series if the sales weren’t there or keep them going is people keep buying. Fortunately, for them – and us – they continued. After the events of Amazing Spider-Man #375 where Venom and Spidey spark a truce and Eddie Brock head to San Francisco and start a new. He is pursed by Spidey for the first mini titled Lethal Protector but also, Eddie becomes acquainted with an underground society of homeless people (who technically aren’t homeless) and tried to protect them from an evil mogul. The guy also took bits of Venom and made an army of little Venomites – who were pretty easily beaten.
Then, The symbiote inflicted ex-reporter crosses paths with The Punisher in The Purge, gets poisoned and battles the Juggernaut in The Madness – also meets up with Hobgoblin and Morbious in The Enemy Within. Each mini-series has something really worthy of reading. My personal favorite is The Madness showcasing Venom with the snaked out tiny Venom heads coming off the costume.
This was a brilliant move by Marvel. Instead of making a whole new series that they might cancel in a few years they continued to release 3 issue story arcs that showed off a new Venom adventure. If readers lost interest they didn’t have to cancel a whole series – AND, to boot, even easier to read! Back issue bins are filled with these minis that, most of them, are easy to find a complete run for every series! That’s sort of a big deal only because you don’t have to search everywhere for that rare final issue! So, if you’re looking to spend a bit of money on some 90’s comicy goodness check out these great stories.
Lethal Protector: B
The Purge: C+
The Madness: A-
The Enemy Within: C+
The Mace: B-
Separation Anxiety: B