World-renown stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze made a deal with Mephisto in order to save the life of Crash Simpson. True to form, he was double-crossed and his soul was bonded to Zarathos, the evil bounty hunter when he was unable to claim his prize. Many unsuccessful attempts were made to claim Blaze's soul. Their deal was cancelled prior to this issue by an interested third party. That doesn't stop him from trying to steal it in other ways.
Currently Blaze is employed as a television stunt-man. A co-worker, Katy Milner, was injured on the set and sent to Cedars Of Lebanon Hospital. When Johnny hears of this he rushes to visit her, only to find that she is the victim of demonic possession.
A being called "The Challenger" who is behind this possession, announces his presence. Since Blaze walks the path between Heaven and Hell, he claims that his life must be called into account. He offers Blaze an opportunity to save himself and Katy by navigating the "deadliest race course ever devised".
As Blaze begins the course, Roxanne and Crash Simpson suddenly appear riding on either side of him. He knows this can't be real since Roxanne broke up with him and Crash Simpson is dead. "Crash" instructs him to follow his lead in duplicating the stunt that killed him.
The stunt involves jumping over 22 cars lined up side-by-side between two platforms. One is for take-off; one for landing - in theory at least. They ride together and launch themselves toward the opposite side. Blaze reaches the other platform with inches to spare; "Crash" comes up short and disappears in a cloud of black smoke. "Roxanne" appears and blames Blaze for the death of her father. As she turns to leave, Blaze follows her until a giant wall of flame appears followed quickly by The Challenger.
Blaze is reminded that he could pursue Roxanne; the flames will not harm him. But in doing so, he would forfeit Katy's life. He spits out a curse and continues.
His next obstacle is Copperhead Canyon, or more accurately, an incredible facsimile. He guns the hell-cycle and attempts to jump over the canyon. Just as before the cycle explodes in mid-air due to sabotage. Blaze saves himself from certain death and climbs out of the canyon. Once he reaches the top, he uses his hellfire to create a new motorcycle and continues the race.
His next challenge involves witnessing "a friend" who cancelled his debt to Mephisto, being crucified by "some of the deadliest super-foes" he has encountered. The list includes: The Orb, Snake-Dance, The Miracle Man, Aquarius, and Trapster [*snicker* Trapster. Whatever.] Blaze flies into a rage at this sight and quickly defeats them all but is unable to save his friend.
The next illusion involves direct attacks from The Thing, Iceman, Angel, and Hercules. Hercules grabs Blaze and throws him into the waiting web of Spider- Man [hey, the reason this issue is listed here!] They each take turns taunting him, trying to convince him he can't be a superhero since his life is so screwed up. The Black Widow appears and bites him on the neck and vanishes with the others, leaving Blaze to wonder why he's being put through this.
In Los Angeles, Stunt-Master is ordered to kidnap Karen Page by his master, Death's Head, who is secretly Karen's father, Paxton Page.
One thing that really disturbs me about the issue was the fact that GR had eyes in his skull. Personally I think having empty sockets is not only easier to draw, but seems more fitting. This is also much less creepier, which may have been the point for adding them.
For those that are curious, Blaze's "friend" that cancelled his deal with Mephisto is Jesus Christ. That's correct, True Believers; Jesus appears in a Marvel comic book. They don't mention Him by name, but it's quite obvious to whom they are referring. I think it strikes a nice balance having both sides of the afterlife represented.
The one aspect that intrigued me was the inclusion of Karen Page. I was never sure what happened to her after they dropped her from the Daredevil series. I always assumed that she went into character limbo. The sub-plot involving her is of interest to me, but I'm not sure about anyone else.
1 web. Storylines involving "complete this quest fraught with personal anguish" are tricky. If some new insight into the character can be obtained, or if it puts in into some historical context (e.g. 12 labors of Hercules), then this type of story can be interesting. However this is not the case.
All of the events can either be classified as "history rehash" or "make the hero doubt himself". It's done in a very straightforward way which makes it very dull.
Karen Page was the love interest of Matt Murdock (Daredevil). After he revealed his identity to her, she left New York to become a Hollywood actress. Karen is now one of the love interests of Johnny Blaze. They met (and made out) in issue #13 after he (as Ghost Rider) saved her from the Trapster. She will be a heroin-addicted adult film star once Frank Miller gets through with her in Daredevil 227-233, the "Born Again" storyline. While not covered on this site, this is a great read that should find its way into your collection.
Iceman, Angel, Hercules, Black Widow, Darkstar, and Ghost Rider comprised a group of heroes called "The Champions". The team was a total failure. These guys are basically the "Great Lakes Avengers" of the 1970's - minus the comedy.