Cosmic Ghost Rider spins the breakout mash-up from Thanos Wins into his own wild adventure with Baby Thanos Must Die.
After the implosion of his own timeline, the future Frank Castle, who had become the Cosmic Ghost Rider, was snatched for a place in Valhalla. But restless Frank can’t settle there and is sent back to the real world, once again the Cosmic Ghost Rider. He goes back in time with the intention of killing the toddler Thanos, but realizing the future villain is still innocent at that point, instead kidnaps him, with the insane idea of raising Thanos himself. A small army of alternate versions of familiar heroes come back in time to take on Frank, before his own visit to the future brings him to a crucial turning point.
The cover copy for Baby Thanos Must Die proudly proclaims the collection as “absurd” and the story that unfolds inside is absolutely that, as well as outrageously entertaining. Writer Donny Cates keeps his hot streak going with this feverishly daffy concoction that, against all odds, finds a way to work (and does so quite nicely). Cosmic Ghost Rider is aimed squarely at those fans who bemoan that “comics aren’t fun anymore.” Because if you can’t have fun experiencing this wild ride, you’re incapable of it.
Fans who lived through the comic book world of the ’90s might be forgiven for never wanting to see a book with either Ghost Rider or the Punisher in it ever again. Both characters were emblematic of the era and were badly overused. So it’s a triumph that Cates finds fresh and interesting aspects of those concepts, mixed with a healthy dose of Silver Surfer/Galactus elements, that he not only works interestingly, but makes absolutely winning. In many ways, this is an old-fashioned caper, with a screwball sensibility and a profane, bemused protagonist who just misses the point of what’s going on. For fans used to seeing Frank Castle as the dourest persona on the page, seeing the off-kilter version used here is an eye opener. Cates just piles one random absurdity after another onto his plot, but mixes things so expertly that it all comes together with a lot of wit and style. It’s ambitious and hilarious in equal measures.
Dylan Burnett is a great choice for this kind of story. His exaggerated, cartoony approach, with hints of Manga influence and a flair for horror-tinged comedy, serve the material in exactly the right way. His characters are elastic and expressive, selling the over-the-top moments with just the right style to make them work. This is not a book where restraint is needed, or even desirable, and Burnett has tons of fun with the absurdities on display: space sharks, a Valhalla bar fight, Baby Thanos chained to Frank’s chest and an alterna-Thanos that can’t be spoiled are just some of the concepts that Burnett renders with a scratchy charm and simpatico visual wit. He’s well paired with Antonio Fabela on colors. Fabela has a lot of ground to cover, from pages drenched in shadows or cold blues and purples, to sun-drenched vistas and scenes of a blazing Frank popping with reds and oranges. It’s a book of contrasts, specialized effects and extreme concepts and Fabela’s careful work ensures that Burnett’s images always pop to maximum effect.
Also included in this collection is the Thanos: Legacy special, from Cates and the art team of Brian Level and Jordan Boyd. It’s an action-light issue that spins out of the Infinity Wars event and mostly serves as a set-up for the new Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing, but is well-executed and provides a couple of interesting moments.
If you’re looking for a fun twist on some familiar concepts, Cosmic Ghost Rider is an entertaining romp worth reading.