Pros: Super bleak, violent, awesome, extraordinary and original visuals
Before there was Johnny Blaze as Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance went around trying to enact its own forms of vengeance.
Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears takes place right after the Civil War where a Confederate Army Lieutenant is rescued from death by an ex-slave who he grew to respect as a friend until he had to leave to find his family. Upon his return later he finds his friend and his family murdered brutally by a gang of slave owners going around the country side spreading their hatred and killing anything in their paths.
Travis Parham decides to roam the countryside and find these men and get revenge on the wrong they've done his friend, but if only he knew there was another being on the same quest: the Spirit of Vengeance. Only, its motivations don't exactly parallel the mortal man's sentiments.
I was never big into Ghost Rider except for some issues I randomly collected years ago and the terrible Nicholas Cage movie that I forced myself to finish last summer...but this story intrigued me for a few reasons. Garth Ennis penned the story and being the guy behind the magnificent Preacher series and a slew of amazing Punisher titles I trusted him to bring a story that delivered-he certainly doesn't disappoint. I was also intrigued by the time in which this is set.
It doesn't star Johnny Blaze or motorcycles or any of that business--it's a ruffian time period where dudes are on horses, guns are blazing, and the violence is so realistically strong that you wouldn't even need to have the supernatural Ghost Rider character in it to make it a little more sinister. The Spirit of Vengeance is a haunting image set against the post-Civil War backdrop with this Wild West attitude. It all boils down to the revenge story and what's great is that the plot would've worked extraordinarily well if Ghost Rider was omitted. When I was finished reading it the bleakness was so overwhelming that I can only describe it as an Edgar Allan Poe-esque story set after the Civil War.
When I first picked up the book and flipped through some of the pages I was afraid I would drool all over the book and ruin it entirely. I'm talking about the art courtesy of Clayton Crain. I wasn't familiar with his work at the time, but he's the guy responsible for the art in the Spider-Man: Venom vs. Carnage trade written by Peter Milligan as well as a few X-Force titles and another Ghost Rider book he did with Garth Ennis titled The Road to Damnation.
This guy is super talented as he brings a terrific grittiness and atmosphere that the book would have been sorely needing if he wasn't on. His art has this ultra-realistic tendency to it as if he took a lot of pictures of facial expressions, actions, and violence and transposed them onto page. There's a large hue of dark colors and brooding browns and blacks that overwhelm the senses as he backs up Ennis' equally drab story. The artwork is also really creepy and highlights how scary this period was and the mortal villains and their terrible ways. I could've just browsed through the book without reading one measly word because of how good the art and ink job was...but good thing Ennis' writing is entertaining.
Speaking of that, this isn't young adult comic book literature. I'd recommend this for older audiences because there's a lot of bloodshed, excessive swearing, thematic content that younger kids might find really upsetting, and overall the story is very dark for a Marvel title. In the end, no one really wins and I was struck by not only how ballsy Ennis was with this story, but how he took a tried and true formula of revenge and enhanced it with the Ghost Rider moniker to give us something that could fit in the Marvel universe as a cool bonus to the decades-old character. It's a very entertaining read throughout all six issues collected and it plays out like a movie in that grand fashion. Anyone who are fans of Ghost Rider will dig it, but it's not really a Ghost Rider book as much as it's a really awesome supernatural western revenge tale.
© Jason Haskins, 2011
Ghost Rider (2007)