If you’ve read many of these Marvel Madness posts, one thing becomes abundantly clear. The 1970’s were a wild time at Marvel Comics. It seems like anything went, and all sorts of truly insane stories were being pumped out, full of appearances by real celebrities, cameos of the creators themselves, and occasionally just straight-up ripoffs of famous movies. And, it’s that last one that brings me to the issue we’ll be discussing today. Because I have grown quite fond of stumbling upon these weird movie parody issues, which can run the gamut from Moon Knight stopping a villain whose plan is more or less the same from Live and Let Die to Spider-Man fighting a giant mud-man that ends up riffing on King Kong to the point that the old webhead even just turns to the reader at one point and admits that that’s what’s going on. It’s not exactly the easiest subset of comics to seek out, so it’s just a pleasant little surprise while working my way through various series, so you can imagine my delight when I pulled up this issue of Ghost Rider, which by all accounts appeared to be a parody of Jaws. It features Ghost Rider fighting a shark, it uses the word “Jaws” on it, and it came out months after the movie became an absolute blockbuster. So, you can imagine my absolute shock when it turned out that this issue was more of a parody of the George C Scott classic, Day of the Dolphin.
The issue begins with Johnny Blaze happily driving through Baja, California, taking a much-needed break from his new gig as a stunt-man on a television show filming in Hollywood. But, he’s been given a small vacation, and he’s decided to head South into Mexico to drive around and get into motorcycle-themed shenanigans. But, he immediately reaches a bit of a speed-bump when he reaches the border, because the Mexican officials running the checkpoint seem to be deadset against letting “motorcycle gangs” in. Johnny tries to explain that he’s just a guy on a motorcycle, not a gang member, but that doesn’t seem to do anything. So, Johnny just bribes the guy, and gets let into the country. He’s a little irritated about that, but that irritation starts to fade away as he rides down the highway, looking at how beautiful the landscape is, and how wonderful things are outside of Los Angeles. And, he has this realization while driving past a small cottage on the sea. And, we end up seeing that zooming inside of that cottage to see the two perfectly normal people inside. Namely, a father and daughter getting into a heated argument while the father prepares to start sniping a group of dolphins who are swimming by.
Johnny is obviously a little put off by the sudden gun-shot echoing down the bay, and begins to drive towards the cottage to investigate. Meanwhile, inside the cottage, we see the father, Frank Phillips, getting into an argument with his daughter Nancy. It’s clear the shooting dolphins is something that Frank does on a regular basis, and it’s really starting to bother Nancy. But, Frank, an obviously unhinged person, doesn’t really care about Nancy’s opinions, and ends up smacking her and yelling about how he’s the father, and he’s in charge. He then takes aim at another dolphin, getting ready to just keep killing them, when Nancy attacks him again, slamming into his gun right as he pulls the trigger. This sends the bullet way off of its trajectory, missing the dolphins completely, and hitting Johnny’s motorcycle.
Johnny crashes his bike and wipes out in the sand. And, he’s not happy. He pulls himself up out of the sand, and begins storming off to the cottage, wanting to figure out why people are shooting at him, and punish them for it. And, when he gets there he ends up finding Frank beating up Nancy again, and he can’t abide that. So, he starts yelling at Frank, and throws his gun off into the sand, while trying to figure out what in the world is going on. But, while Johnny is getting ready to beat up Frank, Nancy stops them. She tells Johnny that her father didn’t mean anything, and that he’s a very unwell man, and storms off. Johnny’s pretty confused by all of this, but follows Nancy after he’s told that she has tools he could use to fix his bike. But, before doing this, he just ends up talking with Nancy, asking her what’s going on, and why her dad hates dolphins so damn much. And, the answer is fascinating.
See, Frank Phillips was apparently some sort of famous marine biologist, specializing in dolphins. He and his wife Clare, and their young daughter Nancy, lived on the sea, and worked to try and communicate with dolphins. They recorded dolphin sounds, and began repeating them back to the dolphins to speak with them. However, this wasn’t some sort of experiment for enlightenment or better understanding of their species. No, this whole experiment is apparently funded by the military who want Frank to train dolphins to become soldiers so that they can strap magnetic bombs to their back for them to deliver to enemies.
Clare apparently wasn’t a big fan of the whole “murder dolphin” thing, but she went along with it because it paid for their life, and her husband seems to find purpose in porpoises. But, this all changes one fateful day when little Nancy is playing on Frank’s boat while he’s busy doing his dolphin terrorism experiments, and she slips and falls into the water. Frank begins to panic when he recognizes one of the bomb-carrying dolphins swimming towards her. And, not wanting to see his daughter blow up, Frank ends up taking a shot at the dolphin, triggering the bomb anyway. It caused the boat to capsize, and while Nancy and Frank were fine, Clare was never found. This caused Frank to become a lunatic who regularly shoots dolphins in order to punish them for killing his wife. And, as the story ends we see that Frank is back to his dolphin murdering.
After hearing this story Johnny decides that he can’t let Frank and Nancy remain in this psychotic cycle of guilt and dolphin murder. So, he decides he’s going to stop Frank from all the wanton killing, and runs off, hopping on his motorcycle and racing towards Frank’s boat, where he’s heading towards with his gun. The motorcycle doesn’t work great, since a tire was shot out earlier, but he’s still able to use it as a battering ram, launching it and himself towards Frank. Frank ends up brandishing his gun at Johnny, which in turn triggers his transformation into Ghost Rider, since back in the day he used to only turn into Ghost Rider when he was in direct danger, like a more metal version of Spider-Sense.
Seeing a man with a flaming skull for a head certainly shocks Frank, even more so when that man just socks him in the face. Unfortunately, the motorcycle slamming into the boat has caused it to become un-moored, and it begins floating off into the bay with Ghost Rider and Frank aboard. Frank’s furious about this, and begins screaming at Ghost Rider, because now he’s even closer to those goddamn dolphins. Which, gets much worse when a wave manages to capsize their boat, dumping both of them into the ocean. And, while Ghost Rider is trying to right himself, he finds something a little shocking occuring. A bunch of dolphins are indeed in the area, but so is a shark, who immediately wants to start attacking Ghost Rider.
The shark swims straight toward Ghost Rider, possibly drawn by his magically flaming head which is still ablaze even underwater, acting as a beacon. Johnny isn’t quite sure how he’s going to deal with the shark, until the dolphins arrive and start attacking it for him. But, the shark still manages to fight its way towards Johnny, where he’s forced to improvise. And, he accomplishes that by absolutely blasting the shark with his hellfire, which also is still able to exist underwater. But, once again, it doesn’t have that much of an affect on the shark.
Thankfully, the dolphins have returned and are giving it another shot. They begin pummeling the shark until they successfully manage to drive it away. The shark swims off, beaten and burned, and Johnny is able to swim towards Frank. And, he ends up learning that Frank has had a complete change of heart, because upon spending actual time with dolphins once more he has found them to not be cold-hearted murderers, and actually pretty cool. So, Johnny grabs Frank and they begin to swim to shore, where they’re helped one final time by the dolphins who essentially carry them back to Nancy. Johnny then brings the crazy old man back to his daughter, who is a little put off by the fact that this man she just met is some sort of supernatural skeleton man, but she’s mainly just thrilled that her father is alive. Frank then happily proclaims that he’s no longer furious at dolphins as a species, and Johnny gets to go about his way, having done some good in the world.
A question I find myself asking every time I read an issue of the original Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider comics ends up being “What even is Ghost Rider?” Like, what the deal with these comics. Because, more than any other 1970’s Marvel book I’ve ever read, with maybe the exception of Howard the Duck, I feel like I’m constantly struggling to explain what the hook of the book is. Ghost Rider is a cool character, motorcycles are cool, and the Devil was a big deal in the 1970’s. So, I understand why the character exists. But every issue I read of the guy is pure chaos. Just wildly different tones and styles, telling absolutely insane stories, and having almost no connective tissue. Johnny Blaze just drives around the country getting into insane adventures. Sometimes he deals with the personification of Death, sometimes he fights a weirdo wearing a giant eyeball for a helmet, and sometimes he stars in loose reenactments of Day of the Dolphin. And, it’s great. It’s just pure 1970’s cheese, just a bunch of drive-in exploitation idea mashed together, and more often than not it ends up working. Part of me does wish that I’d come across an issue where Ghost Rider helps a small resort town deal with a terrible shark attacking beach-goers by heading out in a small boat with Richard Dreyfuss, but seeing him stop a crazy old man who tries to kill the dolphins that he trained to be assassins is a pretty good consolation prize.
Ghost Rider #16 “Blood in the Waters” was written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by George Tuska, inked by Vince Colletta, colored by Janice Cohen, lettered by Karen Mantlo, and edited by Marv Wolfman, 1976.
Categories: Marvel Madness