Lilith (the Mother of All Monsters!) has risen from her slumber, and a new group of antiheroes form to challenge this age-old threat. They are the loosely connected Midnight Sons, and each one of them will play a role in fighting off the demonic Lilith and her many horrifying children.
With an influx of scary villains, extreme action sequences, and earnest looks into a reluctant hero’s tortured inner world, the early days of the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider era infused contemporary superhero comics with a sort of hyper-violent neo-noir sensibility. This created a series that suited the overall vibe of Marvel Comics while featuring a uniquely sensitive and conflicted hero. Leading into Rise of the Midnight Sons, we’re following the path carved out by Danny Ketch’s earlier appearances, making this a rare crossover that successfully juggles the introduction of many new premises while remaining entrenched in a sense of undeniable history.
Ghost Rider #28 is the first title ever to be released under the Midnight Sons imprint, which would last just a few short years as this line briefly boomed with popularity but overall failed to find resonance with readers. These issues came bagged with “mini-posters” that could be pushed together to form a bigger picture once all parts of the story were collected.
This crossover features the first-ever appearance of the Caretaker, a straight-shooting old gent on an antique motorcycle with surprisingly intricate knowledge of the Ghost Riders. Likewise, it’s the first appearance of this version of Lilith (there are many Liliths in comics), as well as several of her children and many members of The Nine, a group of mystically appointed defenders destined to stop Lilith’s inevitable play for power. Though the group included mainstays like Blade and Morbius, it also boasted newcomers like Victoria Montesi and Louise Hastings.
Ghost Rider #28 kicks off with a bang as Ghost Rider finds a woman who has been killed during a robbery and seeks to bring harm to all those involved in her death. Danny Ketch is apparently deceased and appears only in spirit form, thereby making the mounting turmoil between Johnny Blaze and the Ghost Rider as they struggle to save him a focal point for the entire arc.
Blaze returns to the book with a shotgun that shoots hellfire and a very ’90s trench coat and ponytail combo. Though Johnny has tried to settle down with Roxanne and their kids, the apparent death of Danny leads him to accept a team-up with the Spirit of Vengeance, who is more violent than ever now that he is detached from Danny’s sense of morality. Blaze isn’t happy to be there, and takes zero guff from the vengeance-driven Ghost Rider.
Also, Doctor Strange is in this crossover, though he mostly just lurks around at the end of issues saying ominous things and not doing too much. He gets involved eventually, somewhat, but let’s face it, this is all a “it must be Tuesday” situation for Stephen Strange.
Escape from New York into Visions of Hell
During this time, Johnny Blaze has his own circus, the Quentin Carnival. He consults the fortune teller Clara Menninger, who tells him that Lilith is a major threat and that he’d better get used to the idea of team-ups because that’s the only way he stands any chance of stopping her. The villains Creed, Pilgrim, and Blackout follow the team to the carnival under Lilith’s orders, which for some reason surprises Blaze. Menninger advises him to seek out Martine Bancroft, who long-time Marvel fans might recognize as the long-suffering fiancée of Michael Morbius.
Morbius: The Living Vampire #1 kicks off with our protagonist looking especially unnerving, with bloodshot eyes and lips drawn back over his fangs. He immediately commits murder, feeding on a random person off the streets. When Blaze and Ghost Rider find Bancroft, she makes it clear that she’s going to find Morbius, and she’s going to either deliver a lifesaving serum that cures him of his vampirism or kill him. Sadly, none of this comes to be, and Bancroft is fridged in this story. This is a huge bummer because she’s one of the main ingredients that would be required to get me to read a second issue of this series. Still, she is one of the most compelling parts of the entire crossover, and she adds a raw sense of emotional vulnerability to the story as Lilith’s children continue to close in on our heroes. RIP, Martine.
This crossover is a lot of fun in general, but the underrated gem of the arc goes to Darkhold #1. This series would enjoy a fourteen-issue run, and it’s highly worth revisiting for an offbeat supernatural mystery that combines Marvel Horror canon with Twin Peaks vibes and ends up creating something truly special along the way. The Darkhold is an immensely powerful magical book which has been placed under the protection of the Montesi family, specifically Vicki Montesi, who we meet when she and her girlfriend Nash barely survive an explosion in their apartment in Rome. With Sam Buchanan, Vicki goes to a house she saw in a series of visions, where she finds her old friend, Louise Hastings. As you may have inferred, this story is fully off the rails, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. In the end, Blaze and Ghost Rider help save our protagonists from increasingly demonic threats, but the fight against Lilith continues.
Starring Danny Ketch as a Disembodied Spirit
Dr. Strange steps out of the shadows in Nightstalkers #1, gathering together Marvel Horror mainstays Hannibal King, Frank Drake, and Blade. He frees Blade from the mental institution where he is being held, and Blade goes to visit King at his Borderline Investigative Services. Lilith disguises herself as a human and attempts to hire King, Drake, and Blade to kill Blaze and Ghost Rider, which they attempt to do before realizing that Lilith is their shared enemy and teaming up to stop her.
Ghost Rider #31 concludes this bonkers story, and the last issue is exactly the chaotic mess it would have to be at this point to justify the rest of this wild trek across the globe. The Darkhold Redeemers, the Nightstalkers, and the Spirits of Vengeance all meet in the arctic circle to battle Lilith and her many children. Massive battles rage throughout the issue, and Lilith is, of course, not truly beaten in the end.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a better kickoff for a line. Despite being at least somewhat defined by the conventions of its time, Rise of the Midnight Sons makes for a pleasantly dense, enjoyable read full of new characters and interesting twists. Naturally, the tempestuous interactions between Blaze and Ghost Rider make for some of the greatest moments in the whole crossover. An edgy, brooding Johnny Blaze with a hellfire-shooting shotgun at his side quipping with a vengeance-obsessed demon is a match made in comic book heaven. Blaze attempting to reason while the demon calls for nothing short of epic revenge in every scenario makes for a lot of fun, and their shared concern for Danny is tangible. Ghost Rider may be somewhat comically single-minded, but his outrage gives an edge of complexity to his pursuit of justice.
Lilith is a by-the-numbers demonic supervillain, but she works well within the context of the story, which would be bogged down by a more relatable or sympathetic boss. Still, she is uniquely gross, covered in insects and crawling out of the Earth at one point in a sort of PG-rated ode to Hellraiser. Scenes where she expresses an interest in speed metal and considers sticking around on Earth after destroying it for the luxuries it could provide make her an exceptionally fun bad guy.
New characters like Vicki Montesi and Louise Hastings are incredibly interesting and should still be around today, while seeing classic Marvel Horror properties like Blade and Morbius be reimagined for the ’90s makes for a compelling read. There are a few moments of filler, but they’re surprisingly sparse, and very much worth it for a story arc that introduces so many new concepts and directions. Though Midnight Sons would end up being short-lived, it isn’t due to lack of potential. The plotting, the villains, the action, and the character beats make this one of the best crossovers of its era.