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Includes Issues: Original Graphic Novel  / Prestige
Issue Dates: December 1991
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This review contains spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

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.

The story was silly, but also self aware in some interesting ways. I haven’t read much by Howard Mackie, though, so I didn’t know what to expect. John Romita Jr., though, is a legend.

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.

I love the way Romita draws Ketch’s two day stubble or Logan’s bristly arm hair. Top notch chins and noses all around.

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.

3 out of 5. A silly plot with a boring villain. But some enjoyable reflections on the comics of the time along with a lot of fun art.

A must for anyone who collects Romita Jr work. Good for someone interested in Marvel during the 90s.

Essential Continuity:
Not really essential unless you’re a collector. Possibly important for fans of the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider.

Read first:
Some familiarity with the main three characters would probably help you enjoy this.

Read next:
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.

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22 Comments Post New »

  1. Marc wrote on at December 13, 2010 10:32 am:

    Nice, I’ve always been morbidly curious about these team-up OGNs. Hopefully one day Marvel will round them up in a Marvel Premiere Classic hardcover, if not in some more deluxe format.

    For Ghost Rider, the logical thing to read before and/or after this OGN would be the two Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch Classic trades. I haven’t read them myself, but I’m impressed at how quickly Marvel followed up the first trade with the second, and hopefully we’ll see a third solicited soon.

    There’s some other Romita Jr. Punisher from around this time that might be worth checking out as well (namely Punisher: War Zone), though I haven’t read that either so I can’t comment on the quality of the writing. There’s also Punisher War Journal Classic (only one trade so far), collecting the early-’90s Carl Potts/Jim Lee run. I have that book and it’s enjoyable for what it is. It can be found for pretty cheap too (I got my copy new for around $8).


    Ian replied on December 13th, 2010 at 12:33 pm:

    Thanks for the advice, Marc!

    I’ve heard of the Ketch classic trades and actually have a saved search for Punisher: War Zone, because I’ve heard it’s good. It’s often pretty expensive though and I’d like to find it for under 10 dollars.

    I’ll add in the links to this post when I get a second. It’s good to have someone who knows their marvel around.

    Totally unrelated, but I just got the first Agents of Atlas and The Pulse trades in the mail. Mainly because they were 2 bucks each in a stack of other books, but do you think I can dive right in to those? Or should read something else first?

    Man I need to get that marvel list up to answer my own questions haha


    Marc replied on December 13th, 2010 at 4:17 pm:

    Agents of Atlas: You should be fine diving right in. It focuses on characters who hadn’t been seen much since the 1950s. It also has a bunch of reprints of older appearance in the back, which is cool, though I can’t remember what all there is.

    The Pulse: You’ll get a lot more out of it if you read Alias first (either the Omnibus or the two Ultimate Collections). The Pulse is basically just a non-mature readers continuation of Alias, but with a new name. The second trade also ties into Secret War, which you’ll want to read first. All of that said, you would probably be okay if you read the first Pulse trade with no background if you want to wait on getting Alias (I’m not sure whether the Ultimate Collections are in print — I have the Omnibus, personally, but it’s most definitely OOP and routinely sells for hundreds of dollars these days). But yeah, the first Pulse trade is actually one of my favorite modern superhero stories…as in, it would most likely get a perfect score from me if I ever decide to review it. As much as it’s an Alias story, it’s also probably the best non-JMS Spider-Man story to have been published in the first half of the 2000s.

    Also, if you do get your hands on Punisher: War Zone, could you let me know what the indicia says? There are varying reports of it being simply “Punisher: War Zone” and “Punisher: War Zone Vol. 1.” The latter obviously would indicate that Marvel had some intention of collecting more of the series, although the trade came out in 2002, so I doubt it’ll happen without a reissue of the first volume and probably a rebranding of the line (Punisher: War Zone Classic, most likely).


    Ian replied on December 13th, 2010 at 7:37 pm:

    actually, it looks like it’s the second Atlas trade, and with Alias coming first I’ll have some hunting to do before I can get to these.

    I do want to get Alias, since it’s look interesting to me for a long time, so I guess I’ll wait on that. It’s ok, I’ve got a lot of books to read and can be patient! Glad to hear Pulse is good though, it looked intriguing.

    Ughhhh there’s a lot for all five Amazing Spider-Man by JMS ultimate collections right now for 95 bucks and it’s soooooo hard to resist. I haven’t gotten into spiderman for such a long time. I kind of miss the bastard.

    Don’t know if I’ll see War Zone for a while (also dangerous for me to start having Punisher trades) but I’ll let you know if I grab it.


    Ian replied on December 13th, 2010 at 8:12 pm:

    oh wow, I just found the first Alias ultimate collection for 8 bucks on ebay. I’m doing a best offer on the second right now. Guess I’ll be getting into that Pulse sooner than I thought.


    Marc replied on December 13th, 2010 at 11:57 pm:

    That’s great, best of luck on the second volume! Alias is an absolutely wonderful series. Bendis was writing Daredevil at the same time, and there’s a point when Jessica Jones is acting as Matt Murdock’s bodyguard in DD, and the two start showing up in each other’s series a bit. But I hadn’t read DD when I read Alias and had no trouble, so you’ll be fine even if you haven’t read the Bendis/Maleev stuff.


    Ian replied on December 13th, 2010 at 11:59 pm:

    cool, thanks. I also was reminded that a title from my childhood was Marvel Comics Presents (the ones that flipped over) and I impulsively ordered all four MCP Wolverine trades in the hopes of finally finding out what happens in those books. I had like 10 issues from random places in the series and never got any endings.


    Marc replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:09 am:

    Well in that case, get ready for more Danny Ketch Ghost Rider! He shows up in one of the MCP trades (Vol. 2 or 3, I think).

    And yeah, I had quite a few issues from that series as well. I think I got most of them for pretty cheap; I don’t think it was a huge seller after the early days. It’s only sparingly collected today, with the Wolverine stories obviously getting the most attention.


    Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:11 am:

    I was never quite sure what ghost rider I knew as a kid, but seeing as this is the Ketch era, I suppose it was him.

    The issues I had were Ghost Rider features on the backside, often.


    Marc replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:23 am:

    It was most likely Ketch then. Throughout the ’90s and up until the early 2000s, the original Ghost Rider (that is to say, the 1970s version) simply went by his given name, Johnny Blaze. He still had some sort of powers, I think, along with a gun that shot hellfire blasts, but his head wasn’t on fire. :)


    Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:28 am:

    When I was a kid I didn’t really get there could be multiple versions of a hero. Ghost Rider was just Ghost Rider to me.

    So the books that I had, which usually didn’t state his alter ego’s name, since he was battling in hell or something, were just Ghost Rider Books.

    The only one I had that dealt with his other life at all was an older one, maybe early 80s or late 70s, which called him Johnny Blaze. So I always thought that was who he was. Only in the last couple years did I learn there was more than one Ghost Rider (corollary to this is that I always knew there was that white outfitted western one, which is one of my most vivid comic memories from my childhood. Just him riding alongside a train and hopping up.)

    On the review note, someone needs to recommend something really terrible to me because we’re so relentlessly positive over here, and my upcoming reading list (mostly Sandman Mystery Theatre) looks pretty sweet as well.


    Marc replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:52 am:

    I was the same way about not grasping that there could be more than one version of a given character. That’s probably why it blew my mind when, in the very first Spider-Man comic I ever purchased for myself, Peter Parker quit being Spider-Man and Ben Reilly took up the mantle!

    And if mediocrity is what you’re looking for, just keep reading the Wolverine Legends trades…it becomes painfully average, even boring, by the third trade.

    I’m actually considering some books that look out and out horrible at the moment (including the Witchblade and The Darkness Compendiums), just because I’m bizarrely fascinated with crappy ’90s comics. They’re so bad that I think I derive just as much enjoyment out of them as the people who thought they were legitimately good back in the day.


    Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 12:54 am:

    It seems like those books still have quite a following. The sheen of the art kind of hurts my eyes though – how can a world exist where everything is just so shiny?

    Maybe kids raised on that stuff have totally different feelings about art, though. Glossy paper is a whole nother world.


    Marc replied on December 14th, 2010 at 1:05 am:

    I really think they do. I saw a 12-year-old kid post this on a fellow blogger’s site the other day (actual quote): “When did they stop using those weird color dots in comics and switch over to full color filled?”



    Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 1:18 am:

    haha oh man, yeah. I guess his reasoning is kind of sound even if the terminology and understanding of the process is so off. Comics certainly look different now.


    Ian replied on December 14th, 2010 at 1:18 am:

    PS. I actually had to increase the comment threading limit for us again, haha


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