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Frank Castle, the Cosmic Ghost Rider, in Cosmic Ghost Rider #1, Marvel Comics (2018).

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In Marvel’s wild new comic, a ghost-ridin’ Punisher is the cosmic key to Thanos’ defeat

And it’s our #1 Comic of the Week

Donny Cates, Dylan Burnett/Marvel Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Welcome to #1 Comic of the Week, a series where our comics editor, Susana Polo, tips you off to a neat new story or series that kicked off in comics this week — just in time for some weekend reading.

The looming presence of continuity can be daunting for anyone looking to get into comics for the first time. Comics advocates usually try to get around this is by recommending stories that don’t come with a lot of continuity baggage.

Today I’m going in the opposite direction. Cosmic Ghost Rider #1 has a continuity behind it — a completely ludicrous confluence of fictional events in which Frank Castle (the Punisher) obtained the powers of Ghost Rider (the flaming skull motorcycle guy) and the Silver Surfer (who wields the Power Cosmic) at the same time. Then, despite all that, Frank died.

“Wow, Susana,” you’re saying, “that sounds really complicated. Does it matter?” No, my dear reader. This is a Frank Castle from an alternate timeline in which Thanos took over the entire universe, a tidbit I discovered only after devouring the entire issue. Writer Donny Cates and artist Dylan Burnett lay the backstory out in a narratively efficient and visually arresting way in the first three pages of the issue, and none of it matters.

What matters is that Cosmic Ghost Rider #1 begins with Odin kicking Frank Castle out of Valhalla because the man just can’t stop beating everyone up, and then gets even better from there.

An alternate timeline Frank Castle/Ghost Rider/Herald of Galactus in Valhalla, in Cosmic Ghost Rider #1, Marvel Comics (2018).
Frank Castle in Valhalla.
Donny Cates, Dylan Burnett/Marvel Comics

How could things possibly get better after this? Well, after Odin forces Frank to be subsumed by the cruel and manic spirit of the Cosmic Ghost Rider — and gives him back his flame-spewing space hog that has a singularity for a front wheel (seen at the top of this post) — he offers to send him to any place and any time that he desires, so long as it is not Valhalla.

Baby Thanos and the Cosmic Ghost Rider in Cosmic Ghost Rider #1, Marvel Comics (2018).
Baby Thanos and the Cosmic Ghost Rider.
Donny Cates, Dylan Burnett/Marvel Comics

So Frank decides that he’s going to do the one thing he’s been thinking about ever since he died: He’s going to go back in time and murder Thanos when the Mad God was an infant in his cradle, and prevent him from becoming his timeline’s galactic armageddon. Which results in the best single comic book panel I’ve seen this week, at right.

Burnett’s weathered art and expressive character designs make everything pop with slightly exaggerated style, while Antonio Fabela’s colors explode off the page and delight in details, like the starfield within the midnight black of Cosmic Ghost Rider’s armor.

While the art pushes the already exaggerated subject matter just that much further. Cates’ writing keeps the core pathos of Frank Castle, when he explains to Odin exactly why he is restless in Valhalla, the hall of heroes: He knows he doesn’t deserve a reward.

“When I’s doing what I did back on Earth... only way I ever made it right was ... was by tellin’ myself that my turn would come. My turn to be punished.”

Frank Castle in Cosmic Ghost Rider #1, Marvel Comics (2018).
Frank Castle and the Bifrost.
Donny Cates, Dylan Burnett/Marvel Comics

That establishment of the book’s emotional core gives Cates a foundation on which to go wild with time travel, Baby Thanos and flaming skulls. How wild does the book get? Well, if you loved Batman using Baby Darkseid as a weapon, or Cable hopping around time and space with baby Hope strapped to his chest, you will enjoy the final page of Cosmic Ghost Rider.

Because Cosmic Ghost Rider #1 does end with a baby bjorn made of Ghost Rider chains.


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