Ghost Rider - the demon bonded to the soul of Johnny Blaze - has become more and more powerful over the years and is able to assert more control when he is "released". Johnny has practically no influence over the crazed demon while he dispenses punishment.
The Ghost Rider's recklessness has turned Blaze into a nomad, moving into a new town and taking odd jobs until Ghost Rider is unleashed, forcing Blaze to move on or answer some difficult questions. Recently Blaze has found employment in the Quentin Carnival as well as pseudo-reformed Elliot Franklin aka Clown. There have been unexplained attacks on the carnival lately. One of these involved a tent fire, in which Elliot's father, Corky, was seriously injured.
The remaining members of the Circus of Crime have been leaving notes for Elliot, requesting that he rejoin their group. With his father's mounting hospital bills, Elliot returns to the corrupt performers. Blaze uncovers Elliot's return to crime, but is knocked out by Strongman and tied up.
From deep within Johnny Blaze's subconscious mind, the Ghost Rider rants at his inability to escape his neurological prison due to the fact that Blaze is unconscious.
The Clown gathers the Circus members and leads them back to the Quentin carnival where he publicly declares that he's taking over and has a private talk with owner Ralph Quentin.
Later Quentin gathers all his employees together and begins to describe the finanical problems that they've recently had - and reveals that the Circus of Crime is responsibile for all of it. They did it to force Elliot back into their ranks. Elliot admits he brought the Circus to them so they could have some payback for the misery they caused. The Quentin carnies need little else in the way of motivation and a major fight breaks out.
While various other carnies take on the members of the Circus, Elliot faces down the Fire-Eater who was (obviously) responsible for the fire that hospitalized his father.
Blaze frees himself and reluctantly releases the Ghost Rider to prevent the Quentin carnies from being killed. Ghost Rider ultimately catches the Clown, who he incorrectly believes is responsible for causing this situation. Using his "cold flame", Elliot is forced to relive the worst parts of his life again and again, causing him to collapse on the ground, apologizing to his father for being a failure.
Ghost Rider cackles in delight at his handiwork, but it is short-lived. A carnie informs him that the Clown brought the Circus back here and double- crossed them, allowing them to be captured.
Surprised at this development, Ghost Rider begins to doubt himself and allows Blaze to regain full control.
The majority of the issue involves the fight between the Quentin carnival and the Circus of Crime. Since I prefer to say "there was a big fight" than to describe it in detail, there's not much to this review.
I like the fact that the Clown was able to put the few pieces of the puzzle together and turn on his one-time associates. Since this is a Clown-centric story, it paints a better picture of him than in the past. He's not a goofy minion here; he actually wants a better life. This is short-lived of course.
2 webs. The big battle scene - occupying most of the issue - was acceptable, but not great. All the elements were juggled properly. (A) happened to (B) to get them to point (C). A minor twist on the "let's have a giant brawl" scenario. Nothing bad, but nothing that stands out either.
The Spider-Man reference occured in the "cold flame" flashback. Their first meeting occurred in Amazing Spider-Man #22.