Ghost Rider #1 – Review

In this bumper sized first issue, Johnny Blaze is undergoing therapy after a motorcycle crash has left him without a clear memory of who he truly is.


Ghost Rider #1

Written by: Benjamin Percy
Art: Cory Smith
Released: April 2022
Published Marvel Comics

In this bumper sized first issue, Johnny Blaze is undergoing therapy after a motorcycle crash has left him without a clear memory of who he truly is. The idyllic life he leads in Hayden’s Falls as a husband and loving father of two children is shattered when he experiences horrific visions of demons. Are his family who they claim to be? Is the next-door neighbour’s dog a vaguely irritating yapper, or a demon in disguise? Is the white-picket-fence-apple-pie town he calls home a hotbed of supernatural forces? The big question that covers all of these, “Are there such things as monsters?” is repeated as a mantra as he drinks to forget that he might well be a monster himself. When Zeb, a scout for a group of night magicians, turns up in Hayden’s Falls, Johnny is shown what lies within himself and beneath the façade.

A well-executed story, it’s perfect material for a relaunch issue. Rather than dwelling for too long on the memory loss aspect, writer Benjamin Percy wastes no time in getting to the action. The first half of the comic focuses on Johnny’s therapy sessions, home life and visions, before the Spirit of Vengeance comes to the fore in a superb full-page splash.

Pencilled and inked by Cory Smith (with additional pencilling by Joe Bennett), the colour work by Bryan Valenza keeps Hayden’s Falls just the right side of dark, so even though a baseball pitch and supermarket look bright enough on the surface, there’s still a hint of the underbelly lurking beneath (think David Lynch’s picture-perfect town in Blue Velvet and you’ve got the right idea). Zeb’s walk down the main street while he ruminates on the falseness of it all is revisited when all hell breaks loose, with the people he passes by — including a mother pushing a buggy, a postman, a man mowing his lawn – reappearing later in a much different guise. Meanwhile, the anti-hero status that makes Johnny such an interesting character is realised through his bouts of drinking and hallucination-induced outbursts towards his wife and kids.


A very promising first issue that also introduces Talia Warroad, a former agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned FBI, whose claim that “I hunt monsters” is already proving to be as intriguing as Zeb’s interest in Johnny. If this is the last we’ll see of Hayden’s Falls, I’ll be sorry (the concept is rich in narrative possibilities), but that won’t stop readers glad to see Johnny break out of his false reality and get to some serious demon slaying. Nice to see Percy and Smith returning the Ghost Rider mythology back to its roots by focusing on the original Spirit of Vengeance. I eagerly await the next issue.


Review by Christopher Witty


The Swamp Thing #9 – Review

Following the events of ‘In My Infancy’, Ram V and company bring us to a new chapter, ‘Conduit’.

The Swamp Thing #9

Written by: Ram V
Art: Mike Perkins
Colours: Mike Spicer
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Published by DC Comics
Released -Nov 2021

The cover for issue 9 feels like a promotional poster for a title fight, more so with the tagline ‘Brother vs. Brother’. This continues a vibe established by Mike Perkins and Mike Spicer on the title page of last issue, only here Levi/Swamp Thing faces his brother Jacob as the warped, vengeful perversion of the Green he has become. It’s powerful stuff, exuding the inner turmoil of both characters. Perhaps fight promoters ought to be approaching these guys to do some poster work…

Following the events of ‘In My Infancy’, Ram V and company bring us to a new chapter, ‘Conduit’. Part one opens on Jennifer Reece (Levi Kamei’s close friend/love interest) being ‘escorted’ through an imposing facility to meet with the apparent mastermind behind the machinations of the Prescot corporation. Mr. Pilgrim seems to know a lot about her, Levi and the Swamp Thing and, perhaps more dangerously, hints at considerable knowledge of The Green.

We then cut to New York and Levi trying to visit Jennifer, only to discover her missing. What follows is classic Swamp Thing and shows a much more ‘in-tune’, self-assured Levi as he puts his abilities to work tracking Jennifer down.

The story goes from there, with Ram V giving us a matter-of-fact ‘villain’ in Mr. Pilgrim, who goes on to outline his version of the big picture. In his hubris, he is quite unaware of the doom that approaches. It’s not long before chaos unfolds, with Jacob arriving to lay waste to the Prescot site.

As ever, this is a compelling read, initially offering a few moments to breathe following last issue’s action packed, fast paced events. Ram V does a great job of revealing the man behind the curtain while also showing us a more confident Levi alongside a further portrait of his brother, Jacob. The history of Prescot an Mr. Pilgrim’s involvement with Swamp Thing and The Green unfolds over a fascinating and brilliantly executed double page spread; one of many highlights in this issue.

Mike Perkins brings us everything here, from clever use of organic structures as both frames and panel elements through to inventive action and intricately rendered human emotion. His artwork is consistently amazing and is always perfectly complimented by Mike Spicer’s colours, whose palettes guide our subconscious mind as we read. Every colour choice has a purpose, beyond the function of looking good. Spicer makes a lab seem cold, a person seem even angrier, a moment of violence all the more unsettling.

As an interesting side note here on the subject of colours, at a recent panel discussing Swamp Thing, Mike Perkins and Ram V talked about some of the palette used in the title and its predecessors. Apparently, forests and swamps are often rendered in shades of purple so that Swamp Thing can stand out against the backdrop (avoiding a green-on-green mush of confusion). We can see this on not only the cover of issue 9 but in several interior panels as well.


Verdict

From cover to cover, this is an outstanding experience, with one of the best creative teams bringing us one of the best titles. It holds so much for the reader to engage with and gives us characters and events that we actually care about. And after all that, it’s full of cool things that we can check out again and again and say ‘wow’ to. I know I’m a proverbial stuck record on this, but Swamp Thing really is just that good.


Review by Andy Flood, 17/1/22



The Swamp Thing #8 – Review

Reading ‘In my Infancy’ part 3, we open on a scene with Nightmare Nurse offering a warning to Peacemaker which serves as a strong reminder of the true nature of what Levi Kamei has become.

The Swamp Thing #8

Written by: Ram V
Art: Mike Perkins
Colours: Mike Spicer
Letters: Aditya Bidikar

Published by DC Comics
Released – October 2021

With the cover of issue 8, Mike Perkins and Mike Spicer bring a new, twisted meaning to the notion of becoming one with nature. We see the suggestion of Swamp Thing in the throes of emergence or rebirth, his features in a tortured scream as he regenerates from within an ancient tree in the Kaziranga forest. Perkins’ tangled, twisted lines are used to great effect here and are made all the more unsettling by Spicer’s unusual colour choices. We’re very much transported to the setting before we even open up the book.

Reading ‘In my Infancy’ part 3, we open on a scene with Nightmare Nurse offering a warning to Peacemaker which serves as a strong reminder of the true nature of what Levi Kamei has become. Her words are punctuated as we turn to the spectacular title page, depicting a ‘rumble in the jungle’ between Swamp Thing and Chemo. It’s a double page spread straight out of an old monster flick or kaiju movie, and is yet further proof of the quality of this title.

In order to save Kaziranga Forest and himself, Levi/Swamp Thing must now face the remaining members of The Suicide Squad along with powerful memories, not all his own. As he is ambushed by a frenzied Parasite, we see Parasite’s grim origin (featuring further DC cameos). This segues into a sequence of Levi’s memories as the two combatants share an osmosis of recollection.

It’s an interesting and uniquely ‘Swamp Thing-esque’ way to resolve a showdown, and while the two brutish forms still go toe-to-toe, the real battle is fought in the mind. In what proves to be an issue jam packed full of action and revelation, Levi then goes on to face not only Peacemaker but his brother too, who bears a warning and hints of the larger tapestry at work.

In a run that has been unfailingly good in every way, this issue stands as perhaps one of the most ‘non-stop’ reads. Certainly, the Swamp Thing versus Suicide Squad element of the ‘In my Infancy’ story has been full of crowd pleasing moments (particularly in light of Peacemaker’s appearance in the recent DC film). But while Ram V writes to entertain, filling each page with cool stuff, he also gives us food for thought, each and every time. That’s one of the really great things about his work.

In a similar way, the work of his teammates, from the art of Perkins and Spicer to the ever-inventive lettering of Aditya Bidikar can be appreciated on a number of levels. There’s the initial read-through that gives the ‘wow’ factor, and then there’s the times when you look again and see the really clever things going on throughout.


Verdict

Swamp Thing #8 is a superb comic, being hugely worthy of the series’ reputation. It’s an ongoing testament to the remarkable talent of its creators that we get to read something exciting, cerebral and immediately relevant to our current world. I recommend you take a trip to The Green, maybe even stay a while. You’ll be glad you did.


Review by Andy Flood, 13/1/22