The dimensions Tradd Moore gives All-New Ghost Rider hero Robbie Reyes threaten to become interesting. With the angular lankiness of a Brendan McCarthy drawing, Reyes’ human form is high eyebrows and punk-skunk hair. As Ghost Rider he becomes even more exaggerated, rictus teeth transforming the trademarked flaming skull from a bony replacement head to Dia de Muertos-themed facepaint. With the leather daddy outfit and a souped-up Dodge Charger, there’s even a resemblance to David Carradine’s masked killer driver Frankenstein from Death Race 2000. Moore couches this new Rider in the visual language of car-racing movies, particularly Speed Racer and the Fast and the Furious franchise: frenetic transitions go from aspect-to-moment-to-action, breaking the 180-degree rule with impunity as different tiers change the direction characters are facing. A clear departure for an IP traditionally associated with biker culture, yet Ghost Rider has always been an aesthetic-driven concept, a cool image propping up a core idea too thin for ongoing serialization–as opposed to Spider-Man, Batman, etc., whose personalities and backstories are strong enough to be preserved through numerous reinterpretations. Ghost Rider can, and should, be able to swap out key parts, scrounging up whatever it can to get an eye-catching new visual.
Problem is, Moore and writer Felipe Smith peddle caricature instead of character. They borrow the inner-city dynamic of Howard Mackie and Javier Saltares’ 90s Ghost Rider relaunch in a plot structure similar to the recent Ms. Marvel #1 (daily routine, which is broken at night, with an activated super-powers cliffhanger), only to paint with the broad brush of miserablism. Robbie sulks and broods over drive-by shootings, thugs bullying his mentally-handicapped younger brother, and a boss who attempts to cheat him out of pay. This melodrama is contrasted with the brother’s depiction as a screeching, bug-eyed Nickelodeon cartoon with rubber band arms and retrograde naivete (inconsistently, he goes from being scared when Robbie attacks the bullies to proud of him after he gets beaten up, thinking Robbie “showed them”). It’s easily the most insulting attempt at preciousness from Marvel Comics so far. Yet, even this (ill-thought) “levity” is meant to highlight how awful Robbie has it–he cries at his brother’s misunderstandings–justifying a reckless attempt to win $50K in a street race. This narrow worldview, where the brothers exhibit only comical obliviousness or noble suffering, mistakes mockery and pity for empathy. Why would anyone waste a punk design on something so maudlin and cruel?