When I first read this book as a teenager, I felt like I was peeking into a window I wasn’t yet allowed to look into. Looking back on it now, I’m sure it’s not as frightening as it was then, but when you deal with the power of the Devil, at least for me it makes your skin crawl just a little bit. This was my first real look at the soul of a Marvel character. I’m almost positive it had been done before in issues I had read, but this was the first time I had noticed it. Hearts of Darkness takes you down a road that I think few Marvel characters, or any of us for that matter, would dare to travel down. If you had the chance to know that one secret that would change your life, no matter the cost, would you do it? Would you step over that edge that could plunge you into total darkness just to find it out? Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and the Punisher must face exactly that.
The issue starts out rather harshly. In the dead of night, in the middle of a graveyard, a sacrifice is made. This sacrifice along with countless others brings forth the son of Mephisto, otherwise known as Blackheart. With hatred for his father filling his soul Blackheart slaughters his disciples without remorse. A plan forms in his head to overthrow and kill his father so Blackheart seeks those he feels are perfectly suited for this task. Wolverine, Punisher, and Ghost Rider. These three, above all else, are unafraid to go take it to the limit and Blackheart feels he can push them past that.
I really enjoyed how this issue moved. Though it was kind of generic that each of the three main characters received a note from Blackheart to meet in a town called Christ’s Crown (the son of the devil has much better ways of communication than a note), the fact that they did it says much about them. Wolverine and Punisher both knew it to be B.S., but yet they went. It was still early in this new Ghost Rider’s career as a Super Hero, but he went too. Curiosity got the better of them, and it was that curiosity that eventually will took them straight to hell.
Howard Mackie’s writing, though 90’s cheesy at times, comes across rather wonderfully. There are points in the book when his writing not only makes each character take a look into their own souls, but for a moment, us too. Why are they here? Is it for the reasons they say it is, or could Blackheart be right? Mackie does an amazing job with each of the three; Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and the Punisher in making them answer that. Blackheart is written very well as a spoiled child, while the three heroes hold true to their own personalities and morals.
I honestly feel that this could be some of John Romita Jr.’s best work of the 90’s. The effort he puts into his work is nothing short of astounding, but here, especially with Ghost Rider, I think he puts in that extra bit of effort. I think my favorite scene in the issue is when Wolverine and Punisher are pushing through this ungodly amount of thorns and bushes, when all of the sudden, Ghost Rider bursts though, clearing a path for them to follow. That scene, as it was drawn with Ghost Rider screaming Blackheart’s name, is one of my favorite panels. I think there is where Romita captured Ghost Rider in his purest. That utter need for vengeance of the innocent can be seen in that one panel. Amazing.
I’ve read in other places that this issue really isn’t what it was intended. I’d have to disagree with that. This issue brought the magic of comics right to me. I was enthralled from the moment I picked it up, until I put it down. That still holds true today. I love reading this issue and I still get a chill from time to time, and I have to look and, well, just make sure that Blackheart isn’t coming to offer me some kind of deal. Would I turn it down like these three? I hope so. If it was sweet enough though… would you?
Parental Concern: Orange for dark themes.