I fucking love Jaws. Enough so that I open up this column using a cuss when describing one of my favorite movie franchises. So, when I stumbled upon this issue of Ghost Rider #16 and saw the tease on the cover, I had to check it out. As I write this we are smack dab in the middle of the summer and what goes better with beaches and barbeques than our fear of man eating sharks. Thanks to novelist Peter Benchley and director Steven Spielberg, Jaws has become a tradition that terrifies and thrills fans all over the world. We’re all residents of Amity Island every July and Captain Quint is one of the most bad ass characters ever captured on celluloid.
Even if you put my affection for the flicks aside and just take this cover at face value, how the hell does someone with a flaming skull and a motorcycle fight underwater? That in itself makes it goofy enough to garner my attention. Written by Bill Mantlo with art by George Tuska, let’s see if its safe to swim with this story titled “Blood in the Water” from February 1976.
Johnny Blaze is fed up with Los Angeles. He has decided to hit the road and head for Mexico. Seems like a popular destination for the superhero set. Upon reaching the border, we discover our neighbors to the south are really only concerned with one thing. Dirty Hippies. That’s right, take your patchouli smelling ass and Grateful Dead records somewhere else pal. What do the customs agents like? Money. Johnny flashes some greenbacks and off to Baja we go.
“They may hate greasy gringo’s but are suckers for Cherry Garcia“
Cruising down the coast, he pines for a simple life and spots a cozy little pad on the shoreline. Looks like quite the tranquil little piece of real estate. Except for a dude hellbent on shooting dolphins from his back porch. While this nutbag tries popping a cap in Flipper’s ass, his daughter intervenes grabbing at his weapon. The stray bullet nails one of the tires on Johnny’s skull cycle, sending him tumbling to the sand. I know every time I fall, my first instinct is to yell “Yahoo” rather than “Wipeout” but different strokes for different folks I suppose.
“Watch the property value plummet before your eyes.”
Johnny is pissed off over taking a digger on the beach and confronts Mr. Jerkpants with the jazzy jaw. Despite being the type of guy who thinks it’s cool to pound on his offspring, he feels guilty about wrecking Johnny’s ride. He offers his shed for repairs but Blaze is all about the booty and would rather chill in a dune with the man’s daughter.
“Say baby, does your dad shoot at all the hunks possessed by demons or just me?”
Rather than get frisky, she feels the need to give her dad’s origin. You see, Frank Phillips is the Punisher of the Pacific. Frank was hired by the C.I.A. to strap bombs on dolphins and experiment with using them as living torpedoes. Crazy as it sounds, militarizing mammals isn’t just the stuff of comic book fiction. Obsessed with his work, one day he takes his family out to sea with him. His kid falls in the water and a tragic backstory is born.
“Former Miami Dolphins season ticket holder could stand the losing NO MORE…”
No sooner than we get up to speed on why Frank is stark raving mad, he’s at it again. This guy is on a mission to eliminate all of dolphin-kind. I’m fond of the next panel, not because I dig murdering harmless animals but rather how dramatic the poor little buggers are as they take hot lead. Seriously, eat your heart out DiCaprio. These dudes deserved an Oscar way before your token victory for The Revenant.
“We would like to thank the Academy and Mr.Limpett for paving the way.”
You read that narration box correctly, Frank uses a tape recording to lure them in. Had he played his cards right, there are much more beneficial ways to control ocean life with that technology. Just sayin’…
“Hey Namorita, I have a mix tape for you!”
Johnny isn’t pleased all this commotion just put the kibosh on his beach blanket bingo with blondie. So what to do? Take the Skull Cycle, despite a flat tire and ride that sucker right at Frank’s boat. Here’s where his plan gets really special. Hurl your leather clad frame on deck cannon ball style. Pretty slick. I believe he may have created the greatest take down of a gunman in Marvel history.
“As far as dramatic entrances go, ass first is pretty impressive.”
They duke it out as the boat drifts to sea but while the fists fly a rouge wave capsizes the vessel. A flaming skull did little to freak out Frank but he’s amazed that those finned foes that once felt his wrath are actually pretty friendly. No time for a tickle fest though as we are about to have our main event. That’s right, cue the dah dum’s and close the beaches. Ghosty has noticed a great white forgot his brown bagged lunch at home and needs a snack to hold him over.
“It must suck having no eyelids when swimming in the ocean. SALTY!”
Ghost Rider and Captain Quint actually have some things in common. Sure, they’re both some seriously macho dudes but when it comes to decision making, not so bright. For those who remember the first Jaws film, Quint let his emotions take control and ( 42 year old Spoiler alert ) ends up as shredded wheat. Ghosty’s first inclination is to shoot flames at the shark… underwater. While I commended the insane barrel roll to get on the ship, boiling the shark wouldn’t be my first choice. Serious loss of kudos points there.
“The look of a man determined to kill a shark or massive cocaine habit? You decide.”
His lone option exhausted, not only has my question been answered on Ghost Rider’s usefulness in water (NONE!) but now I’m not sure about the dolphins anymore. This whole issue I’ve been led to believe they are the victims. Sympathetic to the fact they had been led to slaughter while listening to smooth jams. To that, I now say nay. They are vicious little bastards! Swimming to Ghosty’s aid by ramming themselves into the belly of the beast. I realize they are saving Ghost Riders chaps but man, maybe Frank has been right all along. There is some evil up in those blowholes.
“Aww, he just wanted a S’more. Do you know how hard those are to come by down there?”
That’s pretty much it. The dolphins do all the damage and save the day. A little lackluster in the man v.s. shark department but we got something even better. Frank has realized the error of his ways. The whole time the true enemy came from within. We close on a tender moment, where he apologizes to an entire species. Alright, tender was a poor choice…cheesy, that’s better. We close on a cheesy moment where a crazy old man shouts at a wave. I’m not sure if the dolphins are supposed to be there in synchronized jump or if it’s just symbolic but let’s talk about if you should check this out.
“Believe it or not, this is the least absurd moment in the whole book.”
You may think I’m high on seaweed but I really enjoyed this tale. The pace was excellent and the art was seriously outstanding stuff. Ok, granted It didn’t live up to the hype promised on the cover but not being a Ghost Rider fan, I’m already more interested in his exploits from the 70’s.
You may be asking “Dave, didn’t you just claim the ending was a little dopey”? That I did but I also commonly say, remember the era it was released. You won’t get The Watchmen back in 1976, so enjoy things for what they are. In this case done fairly well.
If you see this one out there in the bins, snag it.
David Schultz is the Creator/Co-Host of the Parlipod Podcast. Give it a listen on Soundcloud or via the GWW Radio Network. If you have a comic you would like to see reviewed on Two Staple Gold or just want to harass Dave, follow @lavahog on Twitter. Unsolicited tip #852 for all the kiddo’s out there, skip high priced variants and go buy some bronze age stuff instead. You’ll thank me later…
By the way, I wouldn’t be much of a Jaws fan If I didn’t leave you with this:
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