Taking The Punisher and bestowing on him the powers of the Ghost Rider and the “Herald of Galactus” in a colorful, cosmic future full of flying sharks, aliens, gods and time-traveling superheroes, Donny Cates’s Cosmic Ghost Rider is a book that takes Frank Castle multiple notches further on a wacky scale we haven’t seen yet. With recent confirmation by Cates that Cosmic Ghost Rider takes place directly within Earth-616, the implications of this miniseries just got a hell of a lot more ridiculous: TWO FRANKS IN EXISTENCE AT THE SAME TIME! If you thought the first two issues took Frank too far into the realms of weird, this current issue throws the gauntlet down in reprisal with hilariously murderous results.
Set-Up: The issue kicks off in action with Frank facing off against the future Guardians of the Galaxy (Cable, Captain Marvel (Kamala Khan), Iron Groot (Rocket Raccoon in Groot armor), Juggerduck (Howard the Duck/Juggernaut) and Jubilee), who are hellbent on killing infant Thanos to prevent a future wherein a Frank-raised Thanos apparently wreaks mad havoc for its denizens. With the addition of Galactus on the same infanticidal quest, things get complicated and very bloody. As the authority on vengeance and punishment, Frank judges infant Thanos innocent of all future charges and is ready to kill to give him a fighting chance to grow up and change.
Characters: The true star of the issue outside of Frank is Cable. With his time-sliding capabilities and semi-immortality, Cable really brings EVERYTHING and EVERYONE from his reality to combat Thanos. The literal decades-journey that Cates takes Cable on is wonderfully shown without dense exposition through his aging/degradation and the heroes (LOTS OF CAMEOS!) he brings back with him. It’s great to see how impassively mission-oriented, sarcastic and relatively reasonable Cable remains in light of it all.
The other stand-out is Galactus. Every time they’re together, there’s a fun chemistry between the two that speaks to the bond and sense of fulfillment they’ve created over their untold centuries of partnership on the hunt for Thanos. In light of how far Frank fell in his time serving under Thanos, there’s a epic pathos to that relationship that reminds me of Star Wars’s treatment of Boba Fett or the open-ended future of Jack Burton and his friends in the ending of Big Trouble In Little China. Galactus’s time in this issue is brief, but hilariously “explosive” and “disintegrating”. Perhaps there’s more power in the things left unsaid, but I hope to see the two together in more adventures or backstory in the future.
One of the main criticisms of Cosmic Ghost Rider has been that Deadpool could have easily been the Cosmic Ghost Rider with little impact to the story. I disagree. While it doesn’t help that this Frank cracks wise in a Wade Wilson-like fashion and that Deadpool 2 was a recently released film about Wade defending an innocent teenage Firestorm from Cable, Cates has built a plausible backstory for the character drawing on canon lore and sensible characteristics such as Frank’s need for vengeance and the immeasurable impact that centuries of existential nothingness can invoke.
The entire premise of the book in Frank deciding to raise infant Thanos is entirely fitting in light of the loss of his family and his relationship with children. The way that Frank protects, speaks and takes to infant Thanos as his own child in recognition of the centuries of terror and inhuman behavior he’s witnessed serving under him is truly, stubbornly full of heart (and kinda adorable). It’s mainline Frank Castle, through and through. On top of that, Cates’s inner Frank monologue, although brief, continues to be spot-on: anguished, referential and cutting enough to be from the man himself.
Pacing: Despite the density of characters (nearly a hundred or so in this issue) and plot, Cosmic Ghost Rider remains a fun, light read with an easy to follow movement and smart paneling. As soon as you start to wonder why Jubilee is teaming up with a Rocket Raccoon in Groot armor or how pym particles enter the mix, the plot moves along and re-centers itself on Cosmic Ghost Rider and his quest to protect infant Thanos, leaving those devices and characters elaborated upon just enough to tell the story (and possibly be elaborated on in the future).
The issue creates a huge journey that feels like it could have taken two or three issues instead. There’s time for some Uatu, parenting from Frank, brotherly interaction with Galactus, persuasion and conflict with Cable, some infant Thanos in action and one hell of a stinger ending. Building off of what we’ve seen in “Thanos Wins”, this issue truly unleashes the Cosmic Ghost Rider, with Frank taking on the smoke of an entire dimension’s worth of vigilantes, webslingers, vampires, mutants, wizards, teleporters, hulks and gods with absolute ease and finality.
Art: Antonio Fabela kills it with the colors in the issue. From the intro splash page of Uatu in its deep blues and purples to the characters and battles on the interior, everything is vividly colorful and cosmic. Against the brown and sandy environment, the colors of each character and their powers (hellfire, time-sliding, Nova force, plasma bike) just shine. I felt like a kid opening up a new ToyBiz X-Force figure again and just admiring the card.
Dylan Burnett unleashes. Each character is drawn with identity and awesomeness. Environments, explosions and grand action sequences are shown from wide angles with distinct movements carefully framed and focused. Artwork isn’t heavily shaded or ridiculously cross-hatched to oblivion. Like an “I Spy” book, there’s just so much value and detail crammed into each page, giving even a single battle panel its own story. Panel-wise, we get a whole chocolate box: full page chase sequences, multi-panel standoffs with pulled guns and grim closeups, insane full spread death montages and snap from some great abrupt before-and-after panels. The work and passion in this issue are something rare to find in the world of comics today. Straight cinematic.
Overall Verdict: With practically free reign from Marvel, Donny Cates writes with a sense of humor, creativity and absurd chaos that just sets Cosmic Ghost Rider into its own category of fun. It’s a grand cosmic story with a strong smidge of Punisher in the middle. If there’s any issue to change your mind on the series, pick this one up!