Garth Ennis
Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears
Medium: comic
Year: 2007
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Clayton Crain
Format: 6 issues, 144 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 27 June 2023
ghost rider trail of tears
That wasn't what I'd expected at all. It's a Wild West revenge story with minimal involvement for the supernatural and none at all for superheroes, set around the time of the American Civil War. Ghost Rider himself is thus none of his usual incarnations, or even the unrelated first character of that name (a cowboy called Carter Slade). You could almost argue that shoehorning a Ghost Rider into this story weakened it, since his plot role overlaps with that of the protagonist (Travis Parham).
Personally, though, I'd call that a misreading. It's a deconstruction of revenge tales. It's about the fruitlessness of vengeance. A father wanted to protect his wife and children, but couldn't. A spirit of vengeance doesn't do that. All it does is kill the killers afterwards, plus also perhaps some innocents in the crossfire, not to mention the blood feud you're probably feeding.
Ennis doesn't glamorise the Old West. He's putting the boot in. The book's racists think it's almost their duty to commit literal war crimes (since this is a time of war) against black people. Or, as they describe them, "savages lower 'n beasts o' the field". The sexism's almost as horrific. Killing a whore is on a par with farting.
Travis Parham fought in the war, but he's not proud of it. "War is a trap for men like me. We enter it willingly. And the jaws slam shut, and the result is a thing to shame almighty God." He meets a good man. Issue #1 is quite a heartwarming story. This becomes a lot less so in issue #2, after which the vengeance trek kicks in. I was reminded of Ennis's The Saint of Killers, although the two stories are ultimately very different. There's hell. There are utter, utter bastards. There's a downbeat, unsatisfying ending that is undoubtedly deliberate.
I bet Ghost Rider fans were left nonplussed. The dark themes and tone are a million miles away from Marvel superheroics. Even the fully painted art isn't what you'd expect, even compared with what Crain did on Ghost Rider: Road to Damnation. This series isn't a crowdpleaser, but I found it quite interesting.