Hello, I’m Will. I’m new here. Today I will be talking about one of my favorite comic books, Spirits of Vengeance #13. Not because it’s exceptionally good or popular, but because it left an impression on little 11 year old me. So considering it is one of a handful of issues I’ve kept from back then I think it’s pretty freaking awesome. I won’t be talking about the writer (Howard Mackie) or the artist (Adam Kubert). Not because they aren’t important (they’re both superbly talented individuals), but because I want to focus on this specific issue and my recollection of being the 11 year old boy that read it for the first time.
SPOILER ALERT: Yes I’m giving you a SPOILER ALERT for a comic book that is almost 24 years old. (originally published August of 1993)
Recently after conversing with some friends about comic books and stories that we read when we were younger, I started feeling nostalgic about some of the books I read, specifically Ghost Rider. In my younger years I would beg my parents for comic books, usually when we were at the mall. The mall’s bookstore, a Waldenbooks if memory serves me correctly, offered bags of comics for some small price. These would be random assortments of issues from different stories. An X-Force here, a Ghost Rider there. What’s this? Some random Marvel UK book you’ve never heard of? Plenty of those too. Sure there was a lot of crap to be found mixed in with the good, but the good was solid gold. In one such grab bag was a copy of “Ghost Rider/Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance #13.” This particular issue was one of my favorite bits of gold. So treasured by my younger self that I sought out the other four parts to the story, only finishing the collection 3 years ago.
The first moment I held it I was intrigued. Sure, I was familiar with Ghost Rider and Johnny Blaze, (issue 5 had come in another grab bag) but this book was different. No flaming skull on the cover, no motorcycles, no demons, no anything, just black, heavy duty textured paper. The title “MIDNIGHT MASSACRE” in gold, brilliantly contrasting against the black, like an invitation to a formal event. As I recall, this single issue jump started my interested in the macabre, grotesque dark things and places most 11 year old’s shouldn’t be looking into. What about the aforementioned issue #5 you ask? That was a crossover with Spider-Man and Venom, a superhero story for all intents and purposes. Issue #13 was dark magic and death and destruction and a hero gone mad.
The “Midnight Massacre” was a five part story told over various books in Marvel’s Midnight Sons line: Nightstalkers #10, Ghost Rider #40, Darkhold #11, Morbius: The Living Vampire #12, with Spirits of Vengeance #13 as the main event. The story revolves around the vampire hunter Blade (yes Blade, later to be portrayed by Wesley Snipes, Blade) getting hold of a page of the occult book known as the Darkhold. The Darkhold is not, what I would call “a nice book” and that was before someone went and ripped a bunch of nasty pages out of it. These pages often confer upon the reader, an offer of power or wish fulfillment usually at the cost of their soul. So that’s bad, bad news right? So bad in fact, that Marvel even created a comic with the purpose of tracking down these lost pages, “Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins.” So what could be so awesome on that page that Blade would be willing to trade his soul for it? The only thing Blade truly cares about, the destruction of all things occult and supernatural. The page in question bestows the ability to track, kill and absorb the abilities of those slain like some twisted, occult Mega Man. How is this a bad thing? Let’s not forget the fact that Blade is a very violent man who does very bad things to some very nasty and troublesome creatures that go bump in the night. Furthermore, he works with a vampire, Hannibal King, and the descendant of Dracula, Frank Drake. These associations aren’t bad but they are constant reminders of what he’s fighting to rid the world of, things that killed his own mother. At this point Blade was just a powder keg waiting to go off. And when he read the page and accepted the offer, Blade stopped differentiating between friend and foe. At the start of Spirits of Vengeance #13, the narration boxes inform us:
“Blood has been spilled.
Though few would ever say that it was innocent blood.
Blaze, Demogoblin, Werewolf by Night, Modred, Victoria Montesi, and Hannibal King.
All slain by a man with a vendetta against all things supernatural.
A man called Blade.”
Hmmm… while I’m typing this and looking at the book. The list of names needs one more added to it, Morbius the Living Vampire. All of these characters are lying dead amongst a sea of blood on the first page of the issue. I had previous exposure to Johnny Blaze because of other issues. Morbius I knew from the Spider-Man Animated Series. But these other characters were all new. What I wanted… no NEEDED to know was, why was Blade killing everyone and what was Ghost Rider going to do to stop it?
Ghost Rider dies. That’s what he does. Old flaming skull up and dies. Over the course of 4 pages, 16 panels total, we are treated to a epic, one-sided spanking where Blade proceeds to shoot Ghost Rider with Blaze’s hellfire spewing shotgun, once, twice, three times. Turn the page… Blade is standing over Ghost Rider with swords drawn. Typical villain dialogue, yada yada… “I want to finish you off up close and personal with the weapons I chose to name myself after!” you get the idea. Turn the page… Stab number one, there goes Ghost Rider’s spine. Stab number two is through his skull. Well damn. Our hero and only hope is defeated. Blade is now doing his best Shang Tsung “Your soul is mine” impression. Absorbing Ghost Rider’s strength and abilities.
Blade: “This is good! That’s right… DIE! Let it all flow into me! Your hellfire… Your strength… Your Penance Stare.”
That right there is the fly in Blade’s soup. Ghost Rider is THE Spirit of Vengeance. Protector of the weak and innocent, and Blade has killed a few innocent people in his quest to eradicate the supernatural. The Penance Stare, for the uninitiated, is when Ghost Rider stares a baddie in the eyes and forces them to endure all the pain and suffering that they had inflicted onto the innocent. So Blade is experiencing a feedback loop of sorts after absorbing the Penance Stare and the Spirit of Vengeance, his own sins burning away at him. While Blade is not much more than a babbling drool bucket writhing in pain long enough for Louise, one of the guys from that Darkhold comic I mentioned earlier, to read a counter spell and effectively strip Blade of all his powers and bring everyone he killed back from the dead. The last few pages hint at larger events in the Midnight Sons line I haven’t educated myself on quite yet. But as much as I love this comic, there is one thing that has always bugged me about it: Why the bloody hell does super-powered Blade have lobster claws for hands?