Tag Archives: The Joker

Six Weeks of Punishment: Deadly Knights

 

 

Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!

I sure hope you enjoyed the first installment in our Six Weeks of Punishment leading up to Daredevil Season 2!  Emily and I had a ton of fun doing the podcast, and speaking of a ton of fun, the 90’s were saturated in the form of fun that only arrives in the form of an inter-company crossover!

Speaking of crossovers, you’re well aware that we’re heading quickly toward the Daredevil crossover with Punisher, but let’s also keep in mind that we are rapidly approaching the Batman/Superman movie as well!  We have’t seen this many crossovers since…well…the 90’s!

There were possibly too many crossovers at the time, but you couldn’t convince me so then, and you’d still have difficulty convincing me so now.  While there were some real stinkers and some cash grab crossovers, I was still entranced by the idea of characters meeting that rarely met.  I wanted to see the outcomes of these fights!  I wanted the supporting characters to interact. There’s something magical about these stories to me, and sadly, the first Batman/Punisher crossover, Lake of Fire, just didn’t capture that for me.  I’m not a big Denny O’Neil guy, and he wrote that one in a way that sort of embodied what naysayers say about crossovers.  The book did look good, and redemption was possible because Punisher/Batman:  Deadly Knights would emerge next.

Deadly Knights washed the bad taste of Lake of Fire out of my mouth with the ferocity of a fire hose.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the creative team of Chuck Dixon, John Romita, Jr., and Klaus Janson did what i feel is still the best Punisher story of all time, and Chuck Dixon certainly knew his way around the Batfamily as well, with long runs in that area of comics, including his excellent treatment of both Nightwing and Robin (Tim Drake).

Dixon knows how to craft an action story.  I probably read more of his stuff in the 90’s than anyone else’s.  Every month, I could expect MULTIPLE solid action tales from his pen alone than some writers could do in a year.  JRJR and Janson also certainly make his tale come to light.  They waste no time. From the moment the cover is opened, we see Punisher raining fire upon the savage mooks of Gotham City in his quest to find Jigsaw.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 5
People from NYC  in comic books talk about Gotham City the way people in real life talk about NYC.  (I kid, I kid!)

The place is surrounded by Gotham’s finest, but Commissioner Gordon doesn’t think any of this apocalyptic gunfire is worth risking any of Gotham’s finest over.  He’s probably right, as you can tell from the picture above, Punisher and these goons are in a gunfight, and as much as I love Punisher, he’s definitely not worth risking any cop lives over.

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Gordon is the most hands-on police commissioner in history.  He’s at every firefight.  How does he get any paperwork done?

After Punisher manages to plant a few rounds in some paint vats, he blows up the place BECAUSE PUNISHER.  He moves in to question the surviving mook (being the last guy to survive a firefight with the Punisher is like winning a lottery where the prize is being slow-cooked in a vat of creamed corn like on that one Halloween episode of Roseanne.  What did you really get?) when everyone’s favorite flying rodent-styled-vigilante arrives on the scene, as he is wont to do when people are shooting paint vats in Gotham City.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 9
Not gonna lie-Commissioner Gordon has a rather Cavalier attitude about his public responsibility.  If anyone is alive in there, shouldn’t public servants try and save them, even if they are criminals?  Also, note the capitalization of Cavalier; that’s a Batman joke for both of you who’ll get it.

Of course, Punisher has his own ideas, despite Batman’s presence.  What’s especially interesting about this crossover is that the last time Frank Castle met Batman, it wasn’t really Batman (Bruce Wayne).  It was Jean-Paul Valley, better known as Azrael, also known as THE CLAWED TANK WHO WOULD BE BATMAN.

azbats
No matter what he may say or think about Batman, I bet Punisher could get behind claws that fire rockets.

One of the first things Castle figures out here is that this Batman isn’t the same as the Batman he already fought with and beside.  For all of the stuff we love about Punisher, I feel like his detective skills are one of the things that we don’t discuss enough.  It takes him maybe 14 seconds to figure out what it took Gordon weeks to figure out; it’s also something I do not believe Superman ever figured out. (I’m possibly wrong about this.  Correct me in the comments if so!)

Punisher manages to question the lone surviving mook, but Batman shows up, Punisher figures out who he is, and Batman proceeds to engage Frank in a fistfight.  Normally it’d be a huge mistake to take on a gun-wielding Punisher with just your fists, but this is Batman.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 11
Almost is underlined so you know just how almost Batman feels.

The mook Punisher was trying to question gets away and makes his way back to his boss, Jigsaw.  Jigsaw came to Gotham City in the last Batman/Punisher crossover, as he wants to move on the mobs here to get away from the heat of NYC.  It seems like he would have opened up shop somewhere not famous for having the world’s most prominent vigilante in it.  Maybe somewhere like Dos Rios, Texas?

eld2
Wait, this guy is in Dos Rios.  There’s no safe place for a crime lord, Jigsaw.

The mook promised Jigsaw that he said nothing about him to Punisher, but Jigsaw’s partner, The Joker, doesn’t believe him and shoots him.  Or maybe Joker did believe him and shot him anyway.  There’s no telling, y’all.  IT’S THE JOKER.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 15
We get it, Joker. We get it.

Of course, everything isn’t Joker’s-lips rosy between these two.  Jigsaw is mad about not having made more headway into the Gotham City gang scene, and he lets Joker know this in a very diplomatic fashion.  He tears the place apart.  Of course, Joker is an insane and evil clown, so he isn’t impressed and reiterates to Jigsaw that Joker’s plan is the best. Once they get in, Jigsaw will be entrenched.  Also, as a bonus, Joker has gotten Jigsaw’s face fixed.  I’d wonder why Joker doesn’t get his own face fixed, but then I’d be wondering about The Joker, and I am quite sure that doing so for too long will just render one mad.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how both Batman and Punisher find the other one to be crazy.  They each claim that they are the proper response to the criminal element and that the other is nuts.  It’s like watching Ed Gein and Jeffery Dahmer call each other cannibals.  You listen because it’s interesting while knowing that the pot is calling the kettle black, or in this case Bat.  Of course, in their worlds, the other is the one that is off his rocker.  Punisher doesn’t get it when it comes to Batman because he isn’t a wanton murderer, while Batman doesn’t get Punisher because Punisher IS a wanton murderer.  If this wasn’t about wanton murder, I reckon they could agree to disagree, but that seems like too an intense a topic to let drop easily.

Batman can’t let Jigsaw’s presence in Gotham City drop easily.  Of course, neither can Punisher, who’s brought Microchip with him to help gather information.  Both Microchip and Batman are asking and answering the most important question in this scenario…

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 17
Yeah, Micro, Batman’s the crazy one.
Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 18
Gang Wars that play it a little closer to the vest are ok, though.

Of course, the information that one can glean from a computer is limited, or at least it was in 1994, what with having to use an AOL floppy disc to get going.  Think about that; despite how impressive that Batcomputer looks above, it was still using dial-up.  You hearing the modem noise?  GOOD.

Since one can only learn so much, both Punisher and Batman take to the streets in their own ways to get more intelligence.  Of course, with Batman, this means we get to see the awesome and infamous MATCHES MALONE.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 22
Does Batman always drive with his pinkie or is that just something he does to throw folks off from thinking he is Matches Malone?

Frank Castle’s cell phone looks about 10 years ahead of its time, so perhaps the Batputer from earlier at least has DSL.  Matches is driving around a gangster, Jimmy Navarone.  Jimmy just happens to be the next target of Jigsaw and Joker in their bid to move up the Gotham Mob Ladder. (That should be either the name of a story of some sort of awesome Batman accessory.)

 A key point above is Frank asking Microchip to nose around in Navarone’s computer business, which it leads us to some Hackers-style…well…er…um…hacking between Robin (Tim Drake) and Microchip.  This is a neat little bit here, and it’s so cool to see Batman’s supporting cast in this crossover.  It’d have been much easier to just have Punisher and Batman punch each other in the shadows of the Bat-Signal, which has somehow been changed into a skull for most of the comic, but instead, by getting to see Batman’s supporting cast, even if it’s just seeing Alfred being delightfully snooty for just a second, Dixon has deftly given anyone who picked this up that didn’t already follow Batman a sense of Batman’s world that may entice them into pickling up another issue.  We also see all of Punisher’s supporting cast, which really just  means Microchip, once again, BECAUSE PUNISHER.

I suppose Jigsaw could sort of count, as he’s been around Punisher for quite some time.  I honestly think he has the superpower of being the only guy throughout all of history and time that Punisher is unable to kill.

Back to the story, Navarone is living it up at the clubs, and Punisher has grown tired of waiting.  He walks by Matches, but he doesn’t make him.  Also, let the hack-duel begin!

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 23
I don’t know if what Robin is saying is really computer talk or not, and I don’t care.  That sounds cool as hell!

Despite seemingly having an open invitation to the depraved (I’m basing this on the crazy look that duck is giving us in the lower right panel), The Toy Box actually is very selective in regard to its clientele, as Frank Castle learns very quickly upon entering the establishment.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 24

Punisher has a scar but Jigsaw doesn’t.  Nice.

Yep, that’s Jigsaw, and he is looking good!  Jigsaw just can’t resist messing with Frank Castle before he offs him, and I just had to show you the best possibly glimpse at Jigsaw’s new face as he does it.

As you see above as well, Batman is on his way to The Toy Box, where you just know that this “conversation” between Jigsaw and Frank Castle isn’t going especially well.  Of course, we can’t forget that the reason that Jigsaw and Joker are even there is because they are chasing Navarone in order to remove him from the Gotham City Mob power structure.  First, though, let’s get Punisher some guns.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 26
Somehow Joker peering between the piano and its cover is one of the creepiest Joker panels I have ever seen.

While all this is going on, the Hack-Joust between Microchip and Robin comes to a close, and you see just why he’s the Boy Wonder!

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 27
If your name is Microchip, you’ve sort of got to win your computer battles; it’s all you have got.

Robin seems to think that Batman is missing all of the action, which is sort of like thinking that someone on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean could miss all the water.  Dude, the action is all around him.  Batman being Batman, he jumps right in, with Bat-Bombs flying.

Batman doesn’t recognize Jigsaw based purely on his voice, but he does recognize someone else’s voice despite the cacophony that must be reverberating in this building, what with all the gunfire, explosions, Bat-Bombs, and ninja kicking going on.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 29
Wouldn’t it be more mysterious if he left his logo off of everything?  On the other hand, I’m totally in for the Bat-Bomb Batman action figure variant.

The world catches fire as Punisher and Batman join forces to get out of this maelstrom, although neither of them seem to be especially happy about it.  Of course, how happy is Punisher supposed to be?  It’s barely 18 seconds into this fight and he has already gotten shot.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 30
Only The Punisher would call Batman a Boy Scout.

In the midst of all the fighting, Punisher gets Batman some breathing room by, you know, blowing folks away.  This distracts Punisher enough to enable Jigsaw to sneak up on our beloved vigilante, but it also costs Jigsaw dearly…

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 33
Yep, horseshoes and buckshot grenades.  Just like they say, close counts there.

I think there are three moments in this book that everyone was waiting for, and we’re about to hit all three of then in rapid order.  The first one happens right now, as the shit has hit the fan, there are mooks everywhere, and the only thing that can save the day is Batman and Punisher, side-by-side, taking out or taking down every Gotham mobster in sight.

Of course, what fun would this be if our two vigilantes didn’t toss a barb or two at one another, and how could this guy be Batman if he didn’t tell Castle to leave town when his immediate killing is over.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 34
Um, that’s why he has Robin, Frank.

The fight breaks down, and Batman winds up taking on Jigsaw while Punisher chases down The Joker.  The Batman vs. Jigsaw fight is as uninteresting as it sounds like, and I don’t find this to be the fault of the creators.  The fracas looks and sounds as good as it could, but at the end of the day, it’s Batman vs. Jigsaw.  Even with Jigsaw’s facial road map, I am sure that dealing with Two-Face the second of every month has Batman finely attuned to the nuances of dealing with those afflicted with severe facial scarring.  He shows it by making short work of Jigsaw.

What’s much more interesting is Frank Castle vs. The Joker.  Of all of Batman’s opponents, The Joker is the one that you routinely hear come up in the constant “should Batman kill?” debates.  There’s a very strong argument that he is a deadly force that should be eradicated.  To Batman, the stronger argument is that he is a person and so he’s entitled not to be murdered.  This is sort of what makes Batman Batman at his core.  Despite his brutality, there’s a core of decency that enables Batman to provide even The Joker with respect for him as a human being.

Punisher, of course, is bereft of all of that, and thinks the best thing he could do for The Joker is put a bullet right in his brain.

Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 41
I am pretty sure the joke is that they’re both nuts.
Punisher & Batman - Deadly Knights #446 - Page 42
IT’S BATMAN, PUNISHER

Castle was this close to killing The Joker, but Batman stepped in to stop him.  Of course, Punisher isn’t going to take that lying down, which leads to our final of the big three moments, which is Punisher hitting Batman with a punch; you gotta buy the book to see that one!

As much as I love The Punisher, I’d be the first to admit that Batman could take him in hand-to-hand combat.  I think it’d be a little harder than most folks that I know, but that may be because of my love of the character.  I honestly wish we had seen a bit more of the two of them fighting in this book, but the story moves along well without it.  I don’t miss it as I read it, but afterwards, I notice it in reflection.

In the last of their encounter, Batman takes Punisher down again, saying that while Punisher may have been entitled to one punch, it’s just going to be the one.  Batman takes advantage of one last opportunity to call Frank Castle crazy.  So he responds by calling Batman crazy.

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I’m not sure who wins the scowl-off here.  Both competitors are quite impressive.

The books ends with Punisher leaving Gotham City and heading back to a New York City that he knows and understands, which is the only ending the book really could have had.

All in all, this was a quite satisfying read.  Some of it moves a bit fast for my tastes, but there was a lot to squeeze in here, especially when considering that there’d be no opportunity for a follow-up issue.  Fans of both Batman and Punisher will be happy, and a fan just looking for an event would get those three big moments.

I have to give credit to Richard Starking and Comicraft for the lettering job as well.  The captions for Punisher and Batman really stand out and add a level of depth to this story.  I love it when I get to see creators take advantage of the little things that only comic books can do to add depth to a story.

That’s it for Round 2 of your Six Weeks of Punishment, Legions! Thanks for coming to Gotham City with Frank and I! Be here this weekend when Emily Scott shows us how Punishment will work in the future world of Marvel 2099!!!!

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Madness as Futility: Ghost Rider #33

Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!  I hope the month of March is treating you very well!  March is a favorite month of mine!  Spring Training is in full gear, and we get to see the Madness of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, both men and women’s!  There isn’t a time of year like it for me, and while I am sure that all reading this agree with me that they hope the Kansas Jayhawks win it all (ROCK CHALK…for real, post who you’re pulling for in the comments!), we decided to delve into Madness of the 90’s comic book variety here at The Unspoken Decade!

I think it is illegal for us to call it “March M*****s”, due to NCAA trademarks, and if you think those cats don’t care about the best 90’s Comics Book website on the planet due to its relative small amount of influence in comparison to the monolith that they are, well these are the folks that suspended a player for NOT BEING HOMELESS, so I would not put anything past them.  They make the Age of Apocalypse look like McDonaldland.

mcdonaldland
The only tyrant that could ever truly strike fear into Apocalypse’s heart is Mayor McCheese.

The NCAA would intimidate even Dr. Doom, Juggernaut, or Magneto, but the villain of Ghost Rider #33 would not care one whit about their infinite wave of minutiae in regards to rules and regulations.  Madcap is mad, you see, and so he would appreciate our “Madness Month,” although I am not sure what he would think of being featured in it!  He would certainly appreciate the McDonaldland reference, however, as no matter how mad, depraved, or evil one may be, the idea that a mayor with a cheeseburger for a head will always bring a smile to anyone’s face, even if your face looks like this:

For not having many features, that face sure is frightening.

On the surface, the pairing of Madcap and Ghost Rider seems odd.  Ghost Rider is firmly entrenched in the occult corner of the Marvel Universe, cavorting about with heroes like Dr. Strange, Morbius, Blade, Werewolf by Night, and others.  I always wondered why they did not marry this world more strongly with the darker street level titles like Daredevil and Punisher.  They tried with the “Marvelution” when they made the Edge imprint (which I plan to take a look at in depth in the future!), but the big 90’d boom had less breath than a lungless walrus by that time.  Too little, too late, and it isn’t like we never got to see Punisher and Ghost Rider or Daredevil and Dr. Strange team up in the 90’s, but I feel like characters with multiple titles in the 90’s could have benefited by having a brand that meshed with a brand for which the character was not known.  How awesome would a Punisher Midnight Sons title or a Spider-Man title set in the cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe be?  The answer is so awesome that if I don’t stop talking about it right now then I will NEVER cease talking about it.

As I started talking about before in the prior paragraph meandered more than the Mississippi herself, on the surface, Ghost Rider and Madcap are an odd pairing.  Madcap is highly frivolous to the point of being a walking work of Dada, while Ghost Rider is the SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE and is quite grim, which I do not mean in the pejorative sense that many would use that word in, but I mean that Ghost Rider does not make a ton of jokes and is generally almost as personable as a walking stick.

What it lacks in personality, it makes up for by creeping the hell out of you.
What it lacks in personality, it makes up for by creeping the hell out of you.

Then all of a sudden, two things are obvious, the first of which is that these two characters aren’t too different once one takes a gander past the surface.  Both are nearly indestructible, both have trouble feeling, and both are engaged in a mission with a singular focus usually only seen in things that cannot think, like thunderclouds.  Madcap spreads madness, and this version of  Ghost Rider avenges the spilling of innocent blood.  There’s not a lot of subtlety to either guy, and it really works for both of them.  The other thing is how awesome the clash over their differences shall be.  Madcap believes in the idea that everything is meaningless, while GR believes that humanity must be worth something, lest he would cease avenging the innocent and start using his powers to run a furnace or something.

I am glad he didn’t go into furnacing because this is a fantastic issue, and Ghost Rider overall was a splendid title!  Ghost Rider #33 is one of the first issues of GR after the conclusion of the “Rise of the Midnight Sons” saga.  After several months of intertwined stories with the other Midnight Sons titles as well as guest stars in his own title (such as Dr. Strange saving Dan Ketch’s life in the very issue prior to this one!), this issue stands alone, and it also sets up some major changes in Danny Ketch (Ghost Rider)’s life!  This issue can also be read alone without reading prior GR issues; there’s a subplot involving ladies from H.E.A.R.T. getting attacked that would make a lot more sense had one read a few more issues, but it isn’t so opaque as to ruin the comic.

I miss the 90’s because they may have been the last era when we would get this sort of comic book, where a superhero story from the Big 2 would begin and end in the same issue.  There were still fill-ins here and yon, and these type of issues were a great gateway for someone who did not follow a title to get into a book.  For instance, I was familiar with Ghost Rider before this issue, but I didn’t follow it closely. I saw this on the rack at Kroger when I was in 7th grade, and I sat down and read it. Sitting and reading a comic book was preferable to walking behind Mom and somehow always being in the way in the flour aisle, and this cover drew me in.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 1
Oh, I forgot to mention earlier that they both have stares that cause mental illness.  My bad.

I wound up following Ghost Rider for about a year after this issue, which I do not think I would have had this comic contained some convoluted story that continued subplot after subplot that I could not catch up with while being a part of 74092980234 different stories as well.  Conversely, though, I would not have given this much of a look had I not been hooked in by the “Rise of the Midnight Sons,” so I guess it works both ways.  Normally, I hate it when things have it both ways, but this is delightful.

Speaking of delightful, how about the inside cover of this bad boy featuring an ad for everyone’s favorite animated band of mutants, the Uncanny X-Men?

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 2
Jesus, 12.95 for two episodes on VHS? Before torrents, they made out like kings. Now they only make out like bandits.

I also have to wonder about the upper-left-hand corner of this ad, where they let us know that this is an “advertisement,” as though people either thought there was a magic comic book that would open up from the INSIDE COVER of another comic book, or that this comic book page was a VHS tape, and that they had somehow lucked out and did not have to pay 12.95 for two measly X-Men episodes.

To be fair though, I would have paid.  X-Men was such a huge part of my life in 7th grade.  Everyone watched it, and by everyone, I mean all the people at the losers’ lunch table with me watched it and discussed it.  LOUDLY.  Actually, as I have gotten older, I have found out that even the kids at the cool table were watching, but I had no idea at the time.  If I had, I probably would have done much better with girls….no, no I wouldn’t have.

The issue starts off with a bang, as not only do we get GR shoving some mook through a window, but we also get existentialism from the get-go!

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 3
I feel like if we changed these two out for teenagers, and it was just a regular push instead of a choke slam through a window, this would be the start of an ABC Afterschool Special also entitled “What Does It Matter” as “WHY?” is bellowed.

Ghost Rider’s absence during the Rise of the Midnight Sons has led certain criminal elements to begin to retake their former territories.  They thought they were safe due to GR being gone, but now he’s back with a vengeance!  (Sorry, I had to!)  I do wonder how these guys dodged the attention of the other Marvel street-level folks at this time, such as Punisher or Moon Knight, whether GR was there or not, but I guess even the lowly street thugs of the Marvel Universe are more resourceful than the ones of our world.

One way or another though, they are no match for Ghost Rider, who dispatches them quite easily, and then uses his insanity-inducing gaze, the Penance Stare, to make these criminals feel the fear and pain of their victims.  That’s such a stellar idea.  The fact that you get the Penance Stare from a flaming skull face makes you feel even more sorry as well, and it gives the Penance Stare a visual that the reader not only will notice, but would FEEL.  Every time I saw GR do it, I resolved to be a better person.

However, that same visual that gives GR the edge in the form of inspiring bowel-emptying paralysis in street level criminals also makes it hard for him to assist the victims of the crimes, no matter how much he wants to.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 5
Even if the Penance Stare was nothing but shooting hellfire from GR’s eyes into someone else’s, it would still be awesome.

The beginning of the issue is very accurate; Ghost Rider and Dan Ketch are having an existential crisis.  Howard Mackie is really good on this title, and he scripts Dan Ketch very well.  Dan muses that, “There has to be more to our lives than waiting for the innocent to die.”  I never really thought about it, except possibly in the case of Spider-Man and The Last Avengers Story, about how much that must weigh on heroes.  There isn’t much for a hero to do but react, and if one is a hero, then the only reaction one would have would be to villainy.  Villainy in superhero comics involves massive property damage and massive attacks on civilians, which would result in massive casualties.  That’s got to weigh heavily on many heroes.  They are powerless to do much of anything but react, and by the time they do that, the damage is done.

Dan Ketch is also dealing with having died, so he has more on his mind than even the crisis mentioned above.  Between all that and a recent encounter with Nightmare, Dan is having issues sleeping, and I have to say that this is the best comic book page in history representing the feeling of not being able to sleep.  Bret Blevins, Al Williamson, and the colors of Gregory Wright really make me scared to lay down tonight, not due to anything monstrous in this horror/superhero mash-up, but rather because I will be haunted by floating digital numbers.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 8
The floating numbers also remind me of a 1980’s commercial, and I mean that in the best way.

Nothing is simultaneously as mocking and haunting as digital numbers when I can’t sleep, whether they be on an alarm clock from the 90’s or my smartphone today.  I want to point out that Gregory Wright got the color of the digital clock display perfect.  The numbers aren’t just red on those clocks; they’re INSANITY-INDUCING red, and Wright nails that color here, especially against the totally black background.

Seeing as how Ketch can’t sleep, he decides to do some physical training, which means hitting a bag again and again.  This is the middle of the night, and so his mom emerges to give him some life-changing news.  Before she can do that, though, Madcap becomes the envy of just about every body modification aficionado as he laments being misunderstood by the consumers of his art.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 12
This is what your parents were worried would happen when they taught you not to play with sharp items.

Madcap is definitely one of the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Players with that knife stuff.  I can’t help but feel bad for him, though, because I can feel, and apparently, he cannot.  That’s more than sad.  I’d rather be able to wrap myself in all the sad times I have had rather than be unable to feel anything, no matter what teenage me said as he listened to the same Nine Inch Nails songs over and over again.

There are situations, however, where anyone would prefer not to have feelings so that they could deal with heavy stuff better.  For instance, Madcap would not really understand the gravity of the situation that Dan Ketch faces with his mom’s big reveal.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 13
There was probably a better time to tell Dan Ketch this besides right after he just died.

Dan needs to go on a motorcycle ride to clear his head now, which in our world would work out perfectly.  In the Marvel Universe, though, it just leads to angst for our hero and a fight with a villain to boot.  No hero ever gets to just clear their head; they are required to run into trouble and then deal with it.  I am certain that is a physical law in superhero universes.

Trouble isn’t quite the word I would use for Madcap, who is certainly the epitome of madness.  Perhaps even more so than The Joker, though, not because Madcap is crazier, but because he is indestructible.  The Joker is mad, certainly.  No one would dare call that cat sane, unless he demanded you did or else. Even then, everyone reading this article knows that all calling The Joker sane (even at his request) will get you is the “or else” he is threatening, whether that is getting drowned by a clownfish or having to eat the world’s funniest poison.  At the end of the day, though, The Joker is still cognizant that he is alive and can be hurt or killed.  Madcap is alive, but he can’t be hurt or killed.  In fact, he can’t feel much of anything.  That’s the catalyst for his madness.  If you couldn’t even stub your toe and feel that awful pain, you’d go nuts, just like Madcap.

Madcap, though, is really interested in making other people nuts.  Especially folks in Grand Central Station at rush hour.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 18
Madcap says there’s no reason for anything, but obviously his calling in life was to come up with different spins on the word “cop.”

Madcap’s spree spills innocent blood, and that triggers Dan Ketch to become Ghost Rider. Of course, we have to listen to Madcap’s philosophy on life before he gets there, and I wonder how much of this is madness – I mean, other than him inducing the cop to shoot innocent people; that’s firmly in the “Madness” category.

His idea that everything is pointless, however, carries some weight with many people I know.  One can question what is meaning itself for a long time, and if one can’t answer, does that make things pointless?  The folks I know who adhere to this philosophy tend to not be mad (although they are fairly morose and forlorn: think Goth Talk from SNL), but they aren’t very cheery.  They just seem to think that there can be no lasting sort of legacy, and therefore, most everything is pointless.  Yes, I know some weird people; thankfully, I find enough purpose in bringing the Legions of the Unspoken all these fantastic comic books, so I am not like them!

Ghost Rider’s staunch belief in the sanctity of the innocent really flies in the face of Madcap’s philosophy, so they decide to settle it the best way possible; they trade philosophy while punching each other.  Also, Ghost Rider looks cool as hell on that motorcycle.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 20.5
Some of them will just find other ways to destroy themselves, Ghost Rider.

Madcap has the ability to not get hurt, but he isn’t really known for much else.  He doesn’t know, say, Madness Karate, so Ghost Rider and Madcap lock up, it doesn’t last long, and it is decidedly one-sided.  Madcap has no chance against the Spirit of Vengeance!

The highlight of the fight has to be when Ghost Rider and Madcap swap stares!  Madcap’s madness inducing gaze could possibly give him the edge in this battle.

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 26
Make you own “Hanging Around” joke here. Mine involves Counting Crows’s third album.

I really cannot describe what a huge deal it was to see Ghost Rider execute the Penance Stare in the 90’s.  I never, ever got tired of it, although I guess others did.  The idea of a FLAMING SKULL staring fire into someone’s eyes that makes said someone feel the pain of all the evil they have done fascinated me, and it continues to fascinate me to this very day.  The 90’s may have gotten some things wrong, but for a good 2-3 year period, they got Ghost Rider in a way that has never been equaled, before or since, and Howard Mackie’s writing has a lot to do with that, in addition to the great art by Mark Texeira and Javier Saltares on the book’s first few years as well.  Bret Blevins is terrific here; the art really gave GR that Horror Hero look you have to know they were going for.

But I got distracted, which is quite a rarity when super-powered beings are duking it out with madness inducing beams that they emit from their eyes!  As you can see above, Madcap’s beam has no effect on Ghost Rider at all, but the Penance Stare on the other hand…

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They should start having motorcycle lasso competitions at rodeos.

Ghost Rider follows up his Montana impression by saving the baby while telling us that the baby’s life is full of meaning.

That's a pretty tall order, Ghost Rider.  Never let it be said that GR doesn't set the highest of goals.
No blood has been spilled? Didn’t the cop that Madcap turned insane shoot like six people?

I love tying Ghost Rider’s role as the Spirit of Vengeance to protection of the innocent, and I think that is what separated him from other vigilantes like Punisher.  I mean, sure, Frank Castle saves some innocent folks, but his mission isn’t tied to that role the way Mackie is presenting Ghost Rider’s as being.  Of course, his anathema towards killing also separated him, but I like my horror heroes with a smattering of hope.  I am not sure that horror of any kind, even the awesome amalgam of horror and superheroes, works without hope.

An unexpected side effect of Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare on Madcap is that it made him feel something.  Feeling anything to Madcap is better than feeling nothing, and therefore, getting that feeling is more important than anything else.  Madcap acts in the manner one would expect, as he wants more of it.  The idea that anyone would want more of the Penance Stare put Madcap in to an upper echelon of villainy in my eyes.  I could not imagine someone wanting to feel the pain of their actions over and over again, but I also cannot possibly imagine the insanity that goes along with being unable to feel.  I mean, the effects of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation as torture are well known.  Madcap has been under these conditions for years, and what’s even worse than the fact that he wants the Penance Stare again is the fact that he is willing to go to extreme lengths to get it…

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 31

I would call that creepy, but that would just not be a word with enough weight to describe how I feel about this image and about Madcap in general; truly very few characters personify madness the way Madcap does, and few stories would bring you the Madness you crave in the third month of the year (TAKE THAT, NCAA)!

Dan Ketch has different things on his mind, though, and on the last page of the book the genius in getting folks to pick up another comic book can be seen. The comic had a beginning, middle, and end all of its own, but it also dangled enough subplots to get you to buy that next issue.  That’s a lost art in today’s comics, where just about everything is written for the trade.  Mackie nailed it here, though:

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 32
That is the sort of next issue blurb that hooks me every time!

Before I finish this up, I also want to point out a really cool tidbit from the letters page.  This issue of Ghost Rider came out at about the time that Doomsday killed Superman, and there aren’t many that come more innocent than The Man of Tomorrow!  So, in the bottom right corner of the letters page, we get to see Ghost Rider’s thoughts on the situation!

Ghost Rider - Vengeance Unbound #33 - Page 33

We talked about how cool and brutal Doomsday was in a prior article here at The Unspoken Decade, and I think just about every superhero fan of the 1990’s would have loved to have seen Superman’s killer tangle with everyone’s favorite burning skull-faced hero?  That would have been beyond epic!  I wish that DC and Marvel had managed to do that when they were crossover happy in the 90’s!

I loved this panel; I think it is the equivalent of an Easter Egg on a DVD.  I did not have to work as hard to find it, but I also certainly was not expecting it.  Ghost Rider’s mourning of Superman also made the overall issue even more enjoyable, and I am too embarrassed to tell you of the crossovers this inspired that I played out in my action figures or in the backs of my notebooks at school when I should have been learning Algebra, which I made a “D” in that semester.  My mom was mad, but I managed to keep my comics!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the NCAA Tournament as much as I do!  I’m ready to enjoy some madness, some Cinderella teams (as long as they don’t beat Kansas!), and attempting to eat more snack food than is humanly possible as I hope for a deep run for my Jayhawks!  Stay tuned this week for Mr. Hero from Emily Scott, and Venom:  The Madness from Darry Weight!  Have a great big dance, everyone!