Ghost Rider 2099 #1
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Damian Couciero and Dono Sanchez-Almara
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Sometimes, dead really is better.
25 years after the original series’ debut, the return of Ghost Rider 2099 comes not with a roar, but a whimper - writer Ed Brisson and artist Damian Couciero deliver a passable but unassuming read that pales in comparison to Len Kaminski and Chris Bachalo’s truly off-the-wall adventures back in 1994. This new take on Ghost Rider 2099 is less new-and-improved, and instead sands off all the grit and edginess that made the character such compelling nightmare fuel.
Similar to many of the previous 2099 one-shots, Brisson and Couciero remix Kenshiro “Zero” Cochran’s origin story - but unfortunately, if you’ve got the long boxes to really take a trip down memory lane to the original 1994 series, you’ll find that Brisson’s updated version not only adds little to the mix, but actively waters down the core concept. Usually, it’s unfair to compare a story to its predecessor, but Brisson goes out of his way to evoke Easter eggs like the Artificial Boyz, D/Monix, or the Ghostworks - but it’s all surface-level homage at best. Neither Brisson or Couciero are able to channel the Heinlein-by-way-of-Frank-Miller’s-Robocop acid madness of Len Kaminski’s original scripting, not to mention the way that Chris Bachalo’s insane riffs on Sam Keith, Doug Mahnke, and Mark Texeiria.
Instead, we get a superhero story that feels about as run-of-the-mill as it gets - granted, Brisson and Couciero hit all the predetermined beats, but there’s little soul in this machine. While Brisson deserves points for tying in Johnny Blaze’s Ghost Rider mythology into the realm of the Ghostworks, nothing compares with the truly bizarre, avant-garde world of artificial intelligence having transcended our world itself, into some sort of shape-shifting virtual reality purgatory. But without that iconoclastic voice to breathe life into the guts of 2099, most of Brisson’s characters come and go with little fanfare or tension, largely cast aside to be a body count while Zero goes after the father who left him for dead. But everything feels so convenient and predetermined that there’s little to engage with - out of all the 2099 storylines so far, Ghost Rider 2099 feels the most like a total retread.
But perhaps most unfair is to throw an artist like Damian Cuciero into a book like this, when he has to fill the shoes of artists like Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, or Kyle Hotz. There’s just no way for him to compete - instead, Cuciero tackles this like a traditional superhero story, and it just completely craters this book’s potential from the jump. Everything in this book looks so clean, even in a road-raging dystopia like this - even when he manages to evoke some of the cooler bits of the original series, like Zero’s quicksilver form as he traverses cyberspace, he’s quickly forced to shift gears towards something else. The actual Ghost Rider machine - rather than being a fabricated war machine - feels polished and edgeless, with even the graffiti on his bike lacking a true rebellious energy. In general, it’s a far cry from Bachalo’s original pages, which had the Ghost Rider’s exaggerated limbs and flaming chainsaw evoke some true terror.
While many of Marvel’s 2099 one-shots have been hit or miss, Ghost Rider 2099 is one of the first to feel like it’s coming out of the gate already running on empty. For a character as inherently nightmarish as a digital ghost piloting a chrome-skulled avatar on a mission of death and violence, it’s a shame that Brisson and Cuciero take so few chances, especially on a one-shot that didn’t have any future issues to potentially alienate readers. But moreover, this exercise in nostalgia feels like it’s missing the point - if you’re getting so thoroughly lapped by a 25-year-old comic book, why dredge its memory up in the first place? If anything, one can only hope this series can inspire some readers to go through their dollar bins to find the truly incredible storytelling on display from Kaminski and Bachalo, because unfortunately they won’t find it in the new modern take on Ghost Rider 2099.