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I’ll be honest. I pulled this one off the shelf looking for something to pan. I’ve been so positive in my reviews lately and thought that an early nineties prestige (with four page spread fold out cover) starring Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Punisher would be pretty terrible.
Hearts Of Darkness! C’mon!
But damnit, I kind of liked it.
One of the things that threw me is that there was absolutely no indication of who was working on this book on the outside or in the front, and I finally found it on the last page after reading the whole thing. (I did notice JRJR’s signature on the front later.)
This book is so short and I don’t think the plot is going to be a factor in a purchasing decision for most people, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers.
Blackheart, a weird oily porcupine type dude, is summoned on some hilltop (and of course immediately kills all the worshipers.) He’s the Son of Mephisto (Marvel’s Satan) and he hates his dad.
While ranting to himself, he decides he can show that he’s better than his father by corrupting some people. Don’t worry about the logic.
He’s smarter than his dad (he thinks) so he’s going to go for those new heroes – the ones that operate in a gray area. Their willingness to kill and walk “the edge” will make them easier to corrupt.
Hence he gets Wolverine, Ghost Rider and The Punisher to come to this small town and tries to convince them to help him kill Mephisto. They say no, he kidnaps a little innocent girl, they fight, yada yada yada.
It’s pretty predictable. They’re tempted by visions of what they truly desire. They all say no.
The dialogue is often terrible, with boring, longwinded, and sometimes confusing speeches by the villain, along with weird statements from our heroes (Punisher is especially bad, acting like he thinks Blackheart is a hologram and spewing lines like “Until phonies like you shut up!” that just don’t seem particularly dark or edgy.)
Plus the bad guy seems to have some pretty awesome powers and somehow gets put down by a hail of bullets? Budda Budda Poom Poom!
But while the book had me rolling my eyes at times, I still thought the characterization was right and enjoyed the premise. It’s a bit metafictional, letting the “darker” heroes themselves talk about the “gritty” era of marvel comics. I enjoyed that aspect.
Part of me can’t help it. I grew up with these guys. I was the target demographic for all this craziness. This book does a nice job of bringing me back to that era, without being as bad as the worst of it.
As far as continuity goes, Hearts of Darkness leans the heaviest on Ghost Rider, who is really the main character. It’s Dan Ketch on the bike here and he seems relatively new at it. But while it seems there are a couple of important moments here for him (self discovery, interaction with Mephisto), the story doesn’t rely much on previous knowledge.
Likewise, I don’t know much about Blackheart, it doesn’t seem necessary. He’d only been around a couple of years at this point and introduces himself pretty well.
Wolverine and Punisher just do their thing – doesn’t matter where this fits in continuity for those two.
What really brought this book up a notch was the art. Instant flashbacks. Childlike joy.
Romita, Jr in the early 90s. Great stuff!
Sure, the little girl and her mother sometimes look like retarded muppets, but our heroes look excellent.
Ghost Rider’s skull is always amusing, extremely expressive for bare bone. Similarly, Blackheart shows a fair amount of emotional versatility for a face that seems to be a black maw.
The action carries explosive energy, whether its delivered by claws, guns, or Ghost Rider’s (kind of awkward by definition) chains. Massive hordes of little demons and bubbly pink skin melting off Ghost Rider.
My favorite scene is a brief push through a thorn patch (shown above) that sees Wolverine and Punisher rendered under intense marks vaguely reminiscent of Braque’s cubism.
Not to talk it up too much. The art was supposed to be fun, exciting to young readers. I think it still is.
So, this book. Right in the midst of all the crap pouring off the presses in the “dark age” of comics, a book about the edgier heroes at Marvel.
In the end, it’s not about more senseless violence for amusement. Neither is it a deep comic or one written for those with a high reading level.
It’s aware at least, with a little point.
I’m not sure it’s the right one, but for kids suddenly surrounded by heroes with questionable morals, it was probably worth addressing.
At the very least, it’s nice to have a book to point to – “This is what the early 90s was like. This is what comics were about when I was a kid.”
And look, I did my best to put the four page cover spread together for you, which is what took this review so darn long. You’ll may have to open it in a new tab to see the full size.
A must for anyone who collects Romita Jr work. Good for someone interested in Marvel during the 90s.
Not really essential unless you’re a collector. Possibly important for fans of the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider.
Some familiarity with the main three characters would probably help you enjoy this.
I haven’t read any Ghost Rider since I was a kid, and without the Marvel list up, I’m not sure where to go next for him.
For Wolverine, I always like to recommend the Wolverine Classic books. They took place around this era.
For Punisher, I’d go later. Garth Ennis had a long fan-favorite run on Punisher and Punisher MAX. The Omnibus is a great place to start if you can find it.