This issue teams Spider-Man up with the Ghost Rider. This Ghost Rider, who made his debut in Marvel Premiere 5, is stunt rider Johnny Blaze. Because of a contract he made with Mephisto, Johnny is occasionally possessed by the demon Zarathos, turning him into a flaming skeleton. Although later in his own series Zarathos would become a more distinct personality, at this point Johnny has full control over his demon form.
Something significant in this issue, in hindsight anyway, is that it shows Peter and Mary Jane on what I think is their first actual date since Gwen was killed.
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #254|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Marvel Team-Up #1|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Treasury Edition #18|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #1|
Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers and one of the most famous venues in the world. Our story opens here, as Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson prepare to see "Ghost Rider's Motorcycle Extravaganza!" Anxious not to miss any of the show, MJ hustles Peter to their seats just in time to see the Ghost Rider make his appearance.
Ghost Rider comes bursting into the arena, clad in black leather with a blazing skull where his head should be. The cycle he's riding is a bona fide Cultural Time Capsule by the way. It's a "chopper", a motorcycle with a huge seat and an almost comically extended front wheel. Although these days they've given way to "crotch rockets", this style of bike was all the rage in the 70's. Anyone old enough to have paid cover price for this issue no doubt had one to go with his Evel Knievel action figure.
As Peter wonders how on Earth Ghost Rider manages such a make-up job (wink, wink), the performer readies his first stunt, the Headsman's Run! As a staggered row of 5 riders makes it's way across the arena, Ghost Rider approaches them at a right angle and leaps over them as they pass between two ramps. Peter thinks the stunt is spectacular, and we see him wearing a smile for the first time in a while as he enjoys the show.
As the troupe readies for it's next stunt, we see that one of them is not a man at all. It's Roxanne Simpson, the daughter of the show's founder and the love of Johnny Blaze's life. Before the show can continue, a new group of motorcycle riders enters the show floor, led by a man with just a one giant eyeball for a head. It's the Orb and his men! A courageous security guard draws his gun and orders them to stop, but when the Orb fixes his gaze upon him and commands him to put his gun away, the guard complies. Obviously the orb has some kind of mesmeric power, as we see when he sweeps his gaze over the crowd and they all fall perfectly still.
All but one, that is. Alerted to the danger by his spider-sense, Peter averted his eyes in time to avoid any ill effect. Since no one in the crowd is going to notice, he zips off a webline and climbs up into the rafters to change into his Spider-Man outfit.
While he's doing that, the Orbs cycle-riding henchmen are boxing in the Ghost Rider to keep him away from their boss. Freed up by their distraction, the Orb grabs Roxanne and starts to flee the arena with her as his prisoner!
Spidey makes the scene at this point, bowling over one of the riders. This gives Ghost Rider an opening to head after the Orb, but our villain is prepared for this possibility. Since the crowd is still under his hypnotic command, he orders them to leave the stands and start milling about the arena floor. Unwilling to run over innocent people, Ghost Rider puts the brakes on hard and lays his bike down. Afraid for Roxanne's safety, Ghost Rider stops Spidey from following the Orb himself.
Both heroes are now surprised to hear the crowd, still under the Orb's control, speak as a chorus to deliver a message from him. The Orb demands that Ghost Rider meet him, where he will release Roxanne in exchange for full ownership of the motorcycle show. Seeing little choice, Ghost Rider agrees.
Our scene changes now to the Orbs secret hideout, where he's telling the tale of his origin to Roxanne, and the reason he's undertaken his plan. The Orb's real name is Drake Shannon, and it turns out that he was the partner of Roxanne's father, and co-founder of the show. After a while though their partnership soured, and the two men agreed to a winner-take-all cycle race for ownership of the show. Something, maybe a grease spot, maybe a loose rock, made drake lose control of his bike. At 95 M.P.H. he sailed over his handlebars and hit the pavement, sliding 25 yards along the road on his face! Although Roxanne's father visited him in the hospital and tried to mend fences, Drake would have none of it and the two men parted bitterly.
To finish up his tale, the Orb removes his helmet to show us the effect that sliding on the road had on his face. I give Ross Andru high marks for giving us a truly horrific visage.
Right on cue the Ghost Rider shows up, bearing the deed for the show. Of course, as he takes Roxanne's hand and turns to lead her out the Orb double crosses them, ordering his goons to shoot them down. Of course, Spider-Man may have something to say about that! Leaping from concealment, Spidey commences to hand out beatings to the gunmen like they're going out of style, even as Ghost Rider administers a few well placed bolts of hellfire. But in the confusion the Orb has scooped up Roxanne and is making good his escape.
Ghost Rider leaps astride his bike, knocking a goon silly in the process, and takes off in pursuit. After securely webbing up the remainder of the gunmen, Spidey takes one of their motorcycles and follows (remember, Peter owned a bike of his own for a few issues after starting college so he knows how to ride one).
The chase leads them through the New York City subway and up into Grand Central Station. Knowing that the Orb will keep them at bay as long as he holds Roxanne hostage, the heroes act to free her by having Ghost Rider blast the Orb with a fire-bolt, and Spidey snags her with a web-line as she falls from his grasp. Spidey stays with her as Ghost Rider takes off after the Orb.
Back down into the subway tunnels they race, and all along the way the Orb is ranting about how he finally has the cycle show and he won't give it back. He's so busy ranting, in fact, that he ignores Ghost Rider's warning that there's an oncoming train. He plows into it, seemingly to his death, a fate Ghost Rider narrowly avoids by leaping off his bike and grabbing an overhead beam.
And it was all for nothing. The ownership papers were fakes anyway, as Ghost Rider informs us, and the Orb died for a "hollow dream". On that note, Spidey swings off into the sunset.
Next Issue: Spidey and Captain Marvel team up to take on the Basilisk!
Well, let me say right off that I'm a big fan of the Bronze Age Ghost Rider. Though certainly not as edgy as his 1990's counterpart, the character nonetheless has a charm to him that I always appreciated. The Orb is an interesting villain, even if his shtick is almost identical to the Ringmaster's, and as I commented above his deformity is masterfully rendered by Andru. His plan to acquire the cycle show, which could easily have been ridiculous, actually makes perfect sense when the revenge aspect and his general insanity is factored in.
While it may be a small thing, I'll also say it's nice to see Peter on a date with Mary Jane. Spidey's main title has been getting precious little acknowledgement in these pages, so the inclusion of a supporting character is a welcome change.
Elsewhere in Spidey's world: In Amazing Spider-Man 126, the Kangaroo is making a very brief comeback.
And meanwhile, in the real world: President Nixon utters his immortal phrase "I am not a crook" at an AP meeting in Orlando. Late in the month Albert DiSalvo, the convicted Boston Strangler, dies in prison after being stabbed by another inmate.
I really enjoyed this one. A fine single-issue story, great art and interesting characters. I'll give it 3 webs.