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"Carnival of Souls"
WRITER: Steven Grant
PENCILER: Pat Broderick
INKER: Bruce Patterson
COLORS: Geroge Roussos
LETTERER: Jim Novak
SYNOPSIS: It's the end of the carnival season, Peter Parker and friend Glory Grant are wandering around, taking in the sights and munching on cotton candy. For a laugh, the two decide to take in the carnival's freak show, which boasts such things as a six-armed spider man, a gorilla woman, and a muck monster, which Peter swears is Man-Thing, but he quickly dismisses it as a man in a costume. However, when The Blazing Skull takes the stage the entire audience takes this fiery skeleton to be a fake. A thrown box of popcorn that catches fire help put all the doubts to rest. Peter quickly outs the stage act as Ghost Rider, causing a disturbance that gets him and Glory promptly removed from the carnival. The Blazing Skull takes a moment to react to Peter's words, as if it might stir a memory, but a quick word from the act's host puts any unrest to ease.
That night, Peter returns to the carnival, but in the guise of Spider-Man. He has come to try and find the answers he couldn't get as plain Peter Parker. No sooner than he drops from a roller coaster, he is attacked by the carnival's guard dogs. Spidey makes quick work of them, but his encounter has alerted the rest of the carnival to his presence. He turns to face a crowd of carnival workers and performers, all silent and still except for the host of the freak show from earlier. He makes it clear than he and Spider-Man have a history, but Spider-Man just can't quite recall the turbaned magician.
From above, the six-armed spider man drops down. Even though Peter tries to dodge, the man still manages to latch on! However, he's no match for Spider-Man's quick flip up a nearby wall. Peter's only safe for a moment before a fireball crashes close to him. He turns to see what he had suspected--Ghost Rider! He appears as frightening as ever, but silent as the grave with an intense gaze that seems to stare into Peter's soul.
Spider-Man tries his best to catch Ghost Rider off-guard, but his webbing melts in close proximity to Ghost Rider's flames and swinging in for an attack proves to be a foolish plan as he simply bounces off Ghost Rider's chest. The mysterious villain behind the whole thing demands Spider-Man surrender or die, but Spidey quickly leaps above the crowd and climbs up the roller coaster he was on before. Ghost Rider summons a motorcycle of pure demonic flame. Ghost Rider starts up on direction of the roller coaster track in pursuit while some of the magician's lackeys rider a coaster car up the other direction. Spidey knock's the lackeys off into a well-placed web net and tries to jump Ghost Rider. The biker pops a wheelie in time to send Spider-Man flying off course. However, Spider-Man shoots a webline in order to swing back around and catch Ghost Rider from behind. Ghost Rider has no fear of falling, though, and sends out more flame to melt the webbing again as they both plummet to the ground. A shadowy figure knocks Spider-Man unconscious before he can do anything more.
Peter wakes up to find he is chained to the wall in a dark study with on a brazier for light. The magician enters to reveal he is actually Moondark the Magician, a foe Spider-Man once left for dead, or so Moondark claims. Moondark then goes on to reveal how he sold his soul in order to return to life and collect other souls for use by his dark master. Most souls he collects in his mystic orb, but special souls are reserved for his ring so that he doesn't chance losing them. He tells Spider-Man of how Johnny Blaze just so happened to get a job at the carnival where Moondark was collecting souls and how he managed steal Johnny's soul and keep it in his ring.
As Moondark tries begins the spell to capture Spidey's soul, Spidey pulls the chains free of the wall. But it's too late! Moondark's magic mist is covering Spidey! Spidey's only chance is to shoot out webbing and snag Moondark's ring. Yanking the ring from the madman's hand, Spider-Man smashes it to the floor, fearing he may have doomed both Johnny's soul and his own in the process. Just then, Ghost Rider bursts into the room, interrupting the spell and proclaiming that Moondark no longer has power over the Spirit of Vengeance. Moondark commands his other thralls to attack Ghost Rider, who retaliates with blasts of hellfire against those attacking him. Spider-Man tries to convince Ghost Rider to show mercy, explaining that these are innocent vitcims, but Ghost Rider ignores his pleas as Moondark laughs. The magician is actually walking through the hellfire unharmed!
Moondark blasts the heroes with a magical force and summons his demonic master in order to sacrifice Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. As a last ditch effort, Ghost Rider reaches out and blasts Moondark's mystic orb with his hellfire, releasing all the souls trapped within. The demon, seeing no more usefulness in Moondark, reaches out and collects the magician, killing him a second time. Ghost Rider looks on, saying that it is just punishment for one such as Moondark. He summons his motorcycle again before riding off, promising to bring justice to those who deserve it. However, this leaves Spider-Man to ponder that Ghost Rider may have gotten darker in the time without Johnny Blaze's soul.
NOTE: This story is reprinted along with a backup story about the freaks in Marvel Tales #256.
Holy mackerel, that is a dense story for no longer than it is!
Even though this story is full of some typical tropes of superhero team-ups (i.e. fighting before partnering, mind controlling the guest hero, etc.), this is still an engaging and fun read. Steven Grant knows how to cram a ton of story into a small space without it seeming too rushed or awkward. There is no point in the story where I became bored or lost. Personally, I found it amusing to see how well he worked in other elements of the overall Marvel Universe, like Man-Thing. And for those continuity enthusiasts, I'm sorry, but there's no definitive moment where this story occurs, but Gloria was only introduced about 5 years prior to publication, so make of it what you will. Really, it doesn't matter too much. This story is self-contained and flows smoothly with a definitive conclusion. The only hang-ups might be a few points that work only because the plot demands they do (Johnny just so happens to get a job at that particular carnival, etc.) but in the case of a fun and compelling adventure story like this one I can easily forgive such minor hiccups.
The art is pretty much Marvel standard for the era. Pat Broderick does an amazing job on art duties while Patterson's inks and Roussos's colors really take command of the images. Special attention should be paid to Patterson's inks as there are a large number of shaded scenes in this issue. Without those darker scenes the eerie sense of foreboding would be lost. Plus, what good is a mystical lair of evil without creepy shadows?
Ghost Rider's look, especially without Johnny's soul, stands out most to me. When he first appears on stage it is a sight to see, for sure. When he shows up in full gear to attack Spider-Man, that look of soullessness in his eyes...BRRRRRRRRR. Sends shivers. I really dug that one.
I originally got this as a reprint in Marvel Tales. Gotta admit, I liked that cover better. Otherwise, I really can't complain about this issue. Two contrasting heroes meet up, they fight, they team up, they win. Pretty standard stuff, but darned if it isn't a heck of a story along the way. This would be a great episode of a TV series. If you see this one floating around out there, snag it up folks, even if you aren't huge fans of either hero. It's definitely worth the read.
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MoonDark? Wow, what a name.ReplyDelete
Dude got created in the 70's. What more can you say? Somehow he kept making random appearances throughout the years, though.Delete
Pretty interesting issue of MTU; nice review! I followed the title pretty regularly, but apparently missed this one. Very sharp panel of the webslinger you share, in contrasted black with red webbing...ReplyDelete
It was my first experience with MTU (reprinted at Marvel Tales). Definitely a good one with tons of story for your money. Yeah, I love that shadowy Spidey panel. The art team was amazing.Delete