3 out of 5
It’s… amusing how often Marvel and DC have repurposed some basic concepts for ekeing out entries to fill publishing needs throughout the year. When first getting in to comics, these things seem sort of novel, until you’ve been around the block enough times to identify these things at a glance. And sadly, for the character power-mashup issue – these are generally one-shots or mini-series that justify grafting two or more characters’ powersets on to one person – that glance acknowledges that these books don’t matter in the scheme of things, as there’s very little chance that status quo is to be disturbed, and so except a story that’s heavy on setup, and light on most other things. These books can be fun distractions, if the creators lean in to their ephemeral nature, and they can also be good grounds for giving newer or non-brand name writers and artists places to play in the Big Two sandboxes.
Given that I’m not a current Marvel reader, I have to rely on the inside-cover blurb of this character power-mashup to lay out the rules: Gamora has the Infinity Stones, and she’s “folded the universe in half,” which translates to books like Ghost Panther, in which T’Challa has Johnny Blaze’s rider-demon in tow.
To writer Jed MacKay’s credit, he treats his whole two-issue run like a setup, instead of frontloading it, then trying to stuff in some major plot arc, climax, and conclusion as well. It still has an arc – Killraven still wants to usurp the Wakanda throne, and T’Challa gets in his way – but MacKay makes that whole process the journey of the prince accepting his role in the kingdom, which also means accepting the bargain to become the Ghost Rider. Interestingly, there’s also some tippy-toeing toward possible commentary, with Wakanda being “free” at the price of its isolation, though there’s not enough room to really delve in to that, so MacKay wraps that in T’Challa’s personal journey as well. Even with this more paced structure, though, the lore that needs to be worked in to this, which includes Martians conquering the rest of the world, and reworking the Ghost Rider in to Wakandan myth, presses the book’s two-issue length, so we can’t really have any story ebb and flow so much as a constant drip-drip of narration.
Artist Jefte Palo has an interesting style which combines a Mignola-ish, blocky simplicity with Jae Lee-style inks. It’s fascinating, especially with some striking color work from Jim Campbell, though the detailing beyond the panels’ main focuses are minimal, which can lend itself to looking a little samey after a few pages.
An interesting couple of issues that uses the oft-repeated power-mashup template effectively, by not just coasting on the mash-up, but trying to tell a story, even if we’re still ultimately limited by this being a here-today-gone-tomorrow miniseries.