45. Machine Man (94 points - 3 first place slots)
"Nextwave. Read it."
The robot X-51 was created from a top-secret U.S. military project that hoped to make a robot soldier that could think like a man. 51 experimental robots were engineered, but Dr. Abel Stack, computer heuristics programming specialist, knew that the robot could only think like a man if he was treated as one. He stole the 51st robot and began treating him as if he were his own son, calling him Machine Man and even creating an artificial face for him from simulated flesh and hair. Dr. Stack was proven correct: the other 50 robots began experiencing severe personality defects and were deemed too dangerous; the government ordered that the robots' self-destruct mechanisms be activated. Unfortunately, in the process of removing Machine Man's self-destruct, Dr. Stack himself was killed when it went off.
Vowing to fulfill Dr. Stack's dream, Machine Man adopted a human identity, Aaron Stack, and tried to find his place in the world of human beings. He eventually met psychiatrist Peter Spaulding and mechanic "Gears" Garyin, who would become his friends. He worked for a time as an insurance investigator for the Delmar Insurance Company, although his employer and fellow employees were unaware he was a robot.
Machine Man fought to preserve himself in a world that feared the machine, especially against Senator Miles Brickman and the costumed villain Madame Menace. The U.S. government attempted to hunt down Aaron, but eventually pardoned him after he stopped one of the Hulk's rampages.
On a later adventure, he met and fell in love with the robot Jocasta, but she was destroyed in battle with her creator Ultron. Later still, Machine Man was contacted by the robot Super-Adaptoid in joining Heavy Metal, a team of robots in order to fight the heroes known as the Avengers, although he then aided the Avengers in their fight against the Adaptoid.
Machine Man later aided the Avengers again, this time against the threat of the alien known as Terminus. At the time, the robot had acquired the head of Jocasta, which had been recovered and lost by agents of the villainous High Evolutionary. In the course of this battle, Machine Man narrowly avoided a confrontation with Madame Menace, who ultimately ended up with the Jocasta head. Machine Man again aided the Avengers West Coast branch, being accepted as one of their member so he could join them in the fight against the villains Doctor Demonicus and the Pacific Overlords. As a provisional member of the Avengers, he joined them on a couple more adventures, and was peripherally involved in the battle between the villain Graviton and the heroes of the Thunderbolts.
After several months, Machine Man was then captured by the international espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. who wanted to use his technology to further the creation of the new Deathlok cyborg. At the same time, the villainous Red Skull captured the techno-organic being Douglock and took over the S.H.I.E.L.D.'s helicarrier transport. Machine Man assisted the heroes of the X-Men in rescuing Douglock and the SHIELD agents trapped onboard, seemingly at the cost of his own life.
However, the evil mutant team called the Brotherhood recovered what was left of Machine Man and captured SHIELD Agent Jack Kubrick who was also searching for the robot. After discovering the remains, Brotherhood members Mimic, Blob, Mystique, Toad, and Post were attacked by the recently resurrected Machine Man. During the battle Post shot and seemingly killed Kubrick, but the agent merged with Machine Man's head and claimed that he was, in fact, X-51 in a new body. As X-51, he discovered his new body contained microscopic nanotech machines called "nanites" that could repair any damage instantly. X-51 also found that his new programming included remnants of mutant-hunting Sentinel programming, and thus felt compelled to attack and destroy any mutants that he came into contact with. He immediately tried to destroy the Brotherhood and then, afterward, Sebastian Shaw of Shaw Industries and the world-dominating Hellfire Club. When he sought the Avengers for help, he attacked their newest members Justice and Firestar before retreating.
X-51 recognized his internal systems were somehow affected and he sought help from his friends in the past, Peter Spaulding and his wife, Jill. The two tried to help the robot but X-51 had become targeted by the Sentinels, the same mutant-hunting machines that had corrupted his systems. The fight between X-51 and the Sentinels threatened to destroy the town if not for the timely arrival of the X-Men. Unfortunately, during the fight, the Sentinels' technology overwhelmed X-51, and he turned on the X-Men. The X-Men battled X-51 until he experienced a moment of mental clarity. In his final act of heroism, X-51, unbeknownst to the X-Men, willingly gave up his own life to stop the battle, allowing his robotic body to explode.
At the same time, the United States government had deemed X-51 a threat and ordered Jack Kubrick, agent of the Commission on Superhuman Activities, to investigate. Kubrick was presumably assigned the case because X-51 had been using his identity since presumably merging with Kubrick during X-51's encounter with the mutant Brotherhood. It seemed that the Kubrick absorbed by X-51 was in fact an android (a Life Model Decoy.) The real agent Kubrick investigated the circumstances of X-51's death and returned to the Commission with his report.
In fact, X-51 did not truly perish. The nanotechnology in his system rebuilt his body, this time free of Sentinel technology, as well as his mind. X-51's memories were lost, except for those of his father, which he purposefully retained. X-51 began wandering the country, but he soon encountered an alien monolith. The monolith somehow transported itself and X-51 away to an unknown destination.
X-51 has since reappeared and taken on a more human appearance than ever before, despite the fact that he is more open to criticize the lifestyles of the "fleshy ones" around him. Calling himself simply "Aaron Stack," he joined the H.A.T.E. organization, under circumstances yet to be revealed, working with other heroes such as Monica Rambeau (Photon) and Tabitha Smith (Meltdown) in Nextwave. When the heroes discovered H.A.T.E. was actually funding the terrorists they hoped to stop, Aaron joined Nextwave in dedicating themselves to stopping H.A.T.E. once and for all.
44. Sentry (96 points - 1 first place slot)
"I know....I know, but for some reason I am always intrigued by this character."
"Crazy Junky Superman! Wants to be good, but is destroyed by power and addiction. Tragic and horrifying but trying to be great. I understand the hate, and you're wrong."
In 2000 a character by the name of Bob Reynolds suddenly recalls that he is the superhero known as the Sentry the man with the power of one million exploding suns. With this recollection he realizes his arch-nemesis the Void is returning to this world and Reynolds immediately begins seeking out Marvel's most prominent heroes to warn them of the coming threat.
Various hero's memories of Sentry were restored as Reynolds talked to them individually. Peter Parker had taken a photo of Sentry that had earned him a Pulitzer prize. Sentry had also flown countless times with Angel to help him overcome his fear of falling. And Hulk had never forgotten Sentry whom he only ever referred to as Golden Man. Sentry had helped Hulk keep control of his rage, later this was to be revealed to be due to a calming aura the Sentry had, and work to be a force for solely good and gaining him public approval. The people eventually remember their own memory about the Sentry, even his former sidekick, Scout.
Most importantly Mr. Fantastic remembers that he and Robert Reynolds had been best friends and that Sentry had often teamed up with the Fantastic Four to fight the world's greatest threats. Over time the general public slowly remember the Sentry and the good he had done for the world.
During the course of an investigation into why the world had forgotten Sentry, Richards and Reynolds make a discovery. That Void and Sentry are two parts of the same torn psyche, and that the reason behind the world forgetting the Sentry had to do with Reynolds using his power to erase the Sentry from the world's memory including his own thus destroying Void once and for all. With the heroes of the world united and waiting for the Void to come, Reynolds comes to the realization that he must make the sacrifice again. With the help of CLOC, Mr. Fantastic, and Doctor Strange he once again erases the memory of Sentry from the world.
In the first issue of New Avengers it is shown that Robert Reynolds is a prisoner in the Raft, a prison built specifically to house super-villains. He had voluntarily imprisoned himself for the murder of his wife, Lindy Reynolds. During a jailbreak at the Raft, Sentry turns and defends several of the Avengers from Carnage who had beaten several members to a standstill. He easily overpowered Carnage, flew him into the depths of space and tore him in two.
Taking a great interest in the now free Sentry, the Avengers begin investigating his dark persona. They soon realize that the Void is actually the result of a cerebral virus created by Mastermind who was under the direct employment of Crazed General, a villain from the original Sentry story arc. This virus damaged the Sentry's ability to remember any facts of his life, in a cry for help and an amazing show of power, Sentry transferred his memories into comic book writer Paul Jenkins, who transferred those memories into a popular comic book series. Emma Frost released Sentry from the bonds of his virus and he recalls much about his life including that he never actually killed his wife and that his Watchtower stood atop Stark Tower, where he had hidden it from public view subconsciously all along.
With his memory re-instated he joined with the Avengers and began fighting alongside them.
Sentry is introduced as a beloved super hero who has accomplished dozens of heroic acts and saves hundreds of lives on a daily basis. However, his psychological problems have worsened drastically. Unable to deal with the fact that Robert Reynolds, Sentry, and The Void are the same being. Sentry locks the Void in a vault deep with the Watchtower forever. At CLOC's urging, Reynold's psychologist, Dr. Cornelius Worth, enters the vault to find nothing more than a chair and a large mirror. When Reynolds is confronted by Worth about his problems, he flees immediately to the fairground where he first gained his power and often does battle with the Void.
When Worth catches up to Sentry, he instead finds the Void, who claims that he is indeed the true transformation of an ultimately evil Reynolds. Sentry is simply a byproduct of moral guilt for all the lives that Void has claimed. The Sentry emerges as the prominent persona and with only half of Reynolds' memories (Void has the other half) he isn't truly sure that the Void is incorrect in his statement. He reveals to Cornelius that he actually hired him to reveal the Void's existence to the world so he would no longer be forced to deal with the struggle of hiding him. The Sentry then reveals the true way he gained his powers. He ingested a super soldier serum developed in order to get high as a teenager. He finally reveals that he knew all along that the Void has not in the vault, but that as long as Reynolds believed so, that the Void would remain dormant.
In a battle in the Antarctic the Void reveals that the serum Sentry ingested was actually super-saturated, exponentially more potent super soldier serum than what created Captain America. This was considered dangerous by SHIELD because Sentry's blood could be used to create enough serum to power the entire world population and that several attempts had been made on both the Void and Sentry to kill him. Enraged by this news the Sentry flies into space and hurls the Void into the sun, claiming that he was no longer needed to balance out his acts of good. The Void swore to return.
Sentry allied himself with Tony Stark and the Pro-Registration Mighty Avengers. He fought alongside Iron Man on many occasions, often being considered the most powerful member, but untrained in the use of his powers. When confronted by Wolverine regarding his choice of alliance Sentry claims that he must stop this messy business even if it means becoming part of it for a while. He knocks him out and leaves him for SHIELD agents to bring into custody. Believing that for every action he make cost the lives of everyone he knows, Sentry then left earth and confronted the Inhumans. He was ordered to be in Black Bolt's presence and Sentry told them about the events of the Civil War dividing the superhero community and also tried to continue his romance with Crystal. Iron Man came to him and agreed to sign up for registration. He appeared in a press conference supporting the Super-Human Registration Act just before the final battle.
Sentry's watchtower, on top of Stark Tower, was destroyed when Hulk and Iron Man first fought in New York. Mister Fantastic make a machine that will duplicate the soothing aura Sentry use to calm down Hulk but he wasn't fooled by it. All the while, Invisible Woman and the President tried to call the real Sentry but ignores their plea. After seeing Hulk in the TV deciding judgment to force Mister Fantastic to kill Iron Man, in roman-style of gladiator battle, Sentry finally decided to fly to New York to stop Hulk remarking, "It's time to play God." When Sentry arrived, he engaged the Hulk and so much energy was being released that they both reverted back to their normal human state and Bruce was able to knocked out Robert with a weak punch.
After the Civil War, Tony recruited Robert to the Mighty Avengers, the new incarnation of the Avengers. He was described as the most powerful member but is inexperienced in using his powers. In a battle against Ultron, this proves to be a draw until Ultron sends a virus to take down the Helicarrier. After which she initiated an assassination of Sentry's wife.
Enraged and looking like the Void persona, Robert attack Ultron mercilessly until Ares had to knock him out and let Ant-Man introduce a virus in Ultron programming to shut her down. But Sentry would not relent on attacking Ultron, so much so that he almost decapitate her head while the virus has not yet been completely uploaded. It wasn't until Ms. Marvel knocked him out. After Ultron's defeat, Sentry rushed to his watchtower to see his wife alive and well. Later, Tony was shocked and terrified on Lindy's request to either de-power or kill her husband.
When the Mighty Avengers confronted Doctor Doom for the Symbiote attack in New York, a time machine took Iron Man, Doom and Sentry back to the "Silver Age". Sentry goes to the Baxter Building to retrieve Mr. Fantastic's time machine in order to return to the present time line. After knocking out the Thing, the trio returned to the present and resumed their fight. Sentry then subdued Doom and took him in SHIELD custody.
When the Mighty Avengers investigated a Skrull spaceship that crashed in the Savage Land, They discovered whets inside the ship are some of the superheroes that could have been possibly replaced by Skrulls. When Sentry battled the Vision, he transformed into the Void. the Void told him that the invasion was his punishment for wiping out everyone's memory. Sentry panicked on his what he saw and fled in the middle of the battle to Saturn where he dealt with his fragile mind. The Skrull thought that the Sentry is the most powerful and that the only way to deal with him is to induce a mental breakdown. When the Skrulls invaded New York, they attacked the watchtower where Sentry's wife is in. When the Skrull was about to attack, Lindy was defended by Sentry in the form of the Void. He boasted to her that whatever he cannot do, he could as the Void. After the Invasion, Sentry was approach by Norman Osborn and they talked about Reynold's mental issues. Norman tells the Sentry that the Void is just his imagination and that he will help deal with these issues on the condition that he join in the newest incarnation of the Norman's Avengers, the Dark Avengers. Robert agrees.
The first mission of the Dark Avengers was to help Doctor Doom and the rest of Latveria as they were under attack by Morgan Le Fay. As the Dark Avengers and Sentry arrived in Latveria, they saw Victor knocked cold on the floor. They see Morgan and Osborn tells Sentry to go all out. Sentry easily rips off Morgan's head. Sentry wondered if what he did was a good thing or a bad thing and Osborn told him that what he did was right. The Dark Avengers seemed successful in their first mission as they defeated Morgan. Sentry started to scream and there was a big explosion. After it cleared, Morgan Le Fay was seen back and Sentry was gone. After Morgan's later defeat, the Dark Avengers head back to Avengers Tower. As they arrive, there is a brilliant flash of light, and the Sentry is seen alive and whole hovering in front of his tower. Norman manages to calm the Sentry's confused state with his words.
The next time Norman calls upon Robert, it is in response to an Atlantean terrorist cell's attack on US soil. Robert is surprised when Norman doesn't ask for the Sentry, but instead suggests that the Void was needed to kill all but one of the terrorists in an act of vengeance. He counters, "But you said there was no Void," and Norman only repeats his request for what needed to be done. As a result, the Sentry performs the bloody task, leaving one to wonder if the Void is once again in control.
Sentry and the Dark Avengers went to San Francisco to quell the riots that was happening between humans and mutants. When the Dark Avengers and the Dark X-Men fought the X-Men, Emma Frost entered inside Robert's mind and released him from the Void's control resulting in Sentry flying away from the battle. When Emma's hold over the Void was relinquished, it chased after Sentry but left a small behind a small part of itself within Emma, trapped inside her diamond form.
When Sentry made his way to the Avenger's Tower, he was shot in the head by his wife with a ray gun. He was later seen arriving at the end of a battle between the Dark Avengers and Man-Thing in Louisiana. Sentry was sent out to an energy disturbance in a little town called Dinosaur, Colorado. Once there he noticed a man in a cowboy hat and tried to get his attention. Suddenly his hand began to glow black, almost as if on fire. Energy erupted from his eyes until he exploded. Osborn immediately assembled his Dark Avengers to find him.
Sentry was again shown alive, in what appeared to be a high school gym. On the ground, energy continued to emanate from him, even appearing to be dissolving, leaving him in great pain. Molecule Man entered and spoke about how he had never experienced molecules like Sentry's, before he ripped him to pieces. He then appeared to disintegrate. Later Bob again reformed himself and confronted Molecule Man. He was not only able to stop him but after having him restore everything back to the way it was banish Molecule Man. He then explained he realized the source of his power was that he could control molecules as well. Again Norman and the Avengers where both in awe and deeply afraid of his power. After witnessing his power Ms. Marvel told Norman that Scarlet Witch's mental break was nothing compared to what Sentry may do.
Sentry appears to have escaped death yet again, when he appeared behind Noh Varr claiming that Osborn needed to speak with him. A battle ensued in which Noh Varr began to shoot and throw cars at Sentry, which had little effect. Sentry claimed he didn't want to fight, but that Osborn claimed he want Noh Varr back "Dead or Alive". Noh Varr refused to go to Osborn, claiming that the whole Dark Avengers team consisted of criminals or the insane, to which Sentry claimed he was neither. Sentry was than blasted out of the sky, by a girl using one of Noh Varr's weapons. He dodged the continuous assault of energy blasts and flew straight up through the clouds until a giant green explosion was seen from the ground. Sentry once again landed in the city, and was later joined by the rest of the Dark Avengers. When asked to find Noh Varr again, Sentry stated that he had an Aura which is no longer present so he couldn't.
Eventually it was revealed Osborn was able to awaken the Void inside of Sentry and it slowly attempted to take control of his body. Boasting that it was God the Void was able to get Bob to give up control of his Sentry form. He tried to cause massive chaos but was reminded by Osborn that such actions may cause his own downfall and so he once again calm's his rage.
Osborn deciding to cement his power basis over America choose to attack Asgard under the guidance of Loki. As Norman's Secret Weapon Sentry was the first to attack the city and even fought Thor. Ares became aware of Norman's darker motives for attacking Asgard and turned on him. Norman sicked Sentry on him and in the resulting fight tore Ares in half.
As it was later revealed the Void was Norman's secret weapon which he 'used' to wipe Dr. Doom out from the Cabal since he refused to join them. Later Sentry found out that his wife Lindsay Reynolds 'committed suicide' although it was revealed that Bullseye killed her and threw her out of the jet over the ocean near Los Angeles as Norman Osborn ordered him.
During the Siege of Asgard, Sentry helps in the take down of Thor and goes on to enter a brutal fight with Ares. The fight comes to a bloody end when Sentry rips Ares in half and seems to barely hurt at all. After Captain America and the avengers arrive and his armor is shut down by Iron man Norman Osborn orders the Sentry To tear down Asgard around them. When Norman was finally taken down by Captain America and co, he reveled that he was the only person keeping Sentry in check. It now seems that Sentry has merged with the Void once more.
What happened next? Read Siege #4 which came out yesterday, foo.
43. Ghost Rider Blaze (98 points - 4 first place slots)
"Those terrific scare the shit out of you looks. Loved it. Still do. Also
the later blood of innocents and force of nature almost quality was a plus."
"He's a dude with a flaming skull riding a badass motorcycle straight from Hell, fighting Satan and other assorted demonic foes, cursed because of a sacrifice he made to save someone he loved. I know the writing hasn't always been great, but it's the single best character design in comics. So simple, and it appeals to the 10 year old in all of us. Thank you Jason Aaron for giving us long suffering fans a run that actually lives up to the potential of the character, even if it retcons much of what was thought to be true."
I will admit, I was a mediocre Ghost Rider fan but Aaron made me into a hardcore one.
Long ago, the demon Zarathos began building a tremendous power base for himself. His penchant for human souls led him into conflicts with foes such as the Blood cult and the vile Mephisto, who saw Zarathos as a rival. Mephisto ultimately tricked and enslaved Zarathos, rendering the demon amnesiac and trapping him in various mortal forms over many years. This torture eventually dovetailed with another pastime of Mephisto's - the search for the Medallion of Power, a mystical artifact crafted by the Blood that housed the essence of the original Spirits of Vengeance. The medallion had been broken into shards and embedded into the spiritual bloodline of two families. One of these bloodlines, the Kales, attracted Mephisto's attention in the 18th century when Noble Kale's shard of the Medallion transformed him into a Spirit of Vengeance, the Ghost Rider. Mephisto failed to corrupt Noble at this time, but he kept track of the Kale clan from then on, watching as Noble manifested in the firstborn of every generation.
John Blaze was born into a world of motorcycle grease and cheering crowds. The son of Barton Blaze and Naomi Kale, Johnny spent his early years in the Quentin Carnival, where his parents starred in a stunt show with Craig "Crash" Simpson. His idyllic home life ended abruptly, however, when Naomi abandoned John, taking his younger siblings - Barbara and Daniel - with her. Naomi's decision to leave had been difficult, but she felt it was necessary because of the family curse. She feared that her own firstborn would suffer in the same way that she had, so she left him behind and placed her other children in the care of a woman named Francis Ketch.
The pain of losing his mother caused John to repress many of his memories of Naomi and his siblings. When Barton died in a stunt shortly thereafter, John was adopted by Crash and Mona Simpson, who helped fabricate a past for Johnny, one that they hoped would be less painful than the truth. Believing that his real mother - "Clara Blaze" - had passed away, Johnny became an enthusiastic member of the Simpson clan, growing close to their daughter, Roxanne. The two became inseparable and, as they grew older, their love for one another moved beyond familial.
Naomi Kale returned to spy on John; while glad to see him grow into a happy young man, she still feared he might eventually succumb to the family curse. Naomi bargained with Mephisto to spare John, hoping this might end the curse. Unfortunately, Mephisto betrayed her in the final moments of her life, swearing that even though Johnny would not become the true Ghost Rider, he still could become "a" Ghost Rider.
Unaware of the mystical forces swirling around him, John followed the Simpsons into their own traveling stunt show - the Crash Simpson Stunt Cycle Extravaganza. Crash had become a true father figure to Johnny by this time, teaching him how to ride in the hopes that the younger man might eventually succeed him as the star of the show. This dream came to a fiery end when Johnny was fifteen. While practicing a dangerous stunt, Johnny was nearly killed and Mona Simpson was mortally wounded. When Mona asked John on her deathbed to quit riding, he swore to her that he would.
Over the next five years, Johnny's relationship with Crash deteriorated as John refused to take part in the show. Not understanding John's motivations, Crash grew increasingly frustrated, even accusing his adopted son of cowardice; however, John continued to practice at night, honing his skills until he surpassed his mentor. He had another secret, too: he and Roxanne had become lovers. When Crash revealed he was dying of cancer, he asked Johnny once more to take over the show, but Johnny refused despite Roxanne's disappointment. Distraught, John turned to the occult in search of answers. His studies ultimately led to a spell that supposedly could summon Satan himself. John didn't realize it, but the entity he summoned was actually the same Mephisto who had cheated Naomi Kale years before. Mephisto cured Crash of his cancer in return for Johnny's promise of servitude. Crash died almost immediately afterwards, however, in a failed attempt to set a world's record by jumping over 22 cars. Despairing over the loss of his adopted father, Johnny attempted - and made - the jump himself, seeking to honor Crash's memory. Johnny was still at Mephisto's mercy, though, and would have lost his soul outright if not for the heroic intervention of Roxanne, who proclaimed her love for Johnny and drove the demon away with the purity of her emotion (though Mephisto would return).
One night after Crash's death, Johnny found himself transformed into a skeletal being with a flaming skull. Fearing at first that this demonic form was a manifestation of his own evil side, he soon realized that he had bonded with some wholly separate entity. This merger of Johnny Blaze and a demonic force became known as the Ghost Rider, which amused Mephisto greatly. Transforming nightly into the Ghost Rider, John became involved with a local motorcycle gang, Satan's Servants. Their leader, Curly Samuels, had gained the Ghost Rider's trust, until a shocked John discovered that the soul of Crash Simpson lurked within Curly's form. Mephisto had offered Crash a new life in exchange for betraying his adopted son, and Crash had eagerly accepted. The Ghost Rider's spirit was cast into Hell, where he managed to reawaken Crash's sense of honor and love. The older man sacrificed himself to help Johnny escape, making Ghost Rider promise to protect Roxanne.
John and Roxanne then journeyed into the American Southwest, where Ghost Rider battled the Satanist known as Witch Woman, Linda Littletrees. Remaining for a time near Copperhead Canyon, Ghost Rider also fought Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. This began a long period of roaming the West, as John sought to avoid Mephisto and protect Roxanne. While in San Francisco, Roxanne was tricked into renouncing her love for John, and Mephisto nearly claimed John's soul in full; however, a long-haired stranger saved the day, driving Mephisto away at the last minute. This bearded mystery man identified himself only as "a friend", and Blaze came to view him as a heavenly figure, offering hope and salvation. This stranger would appear several more times before finally being revealed as another falsehood of Mephisto.
Discouraged over the revelations about the "friend" and fearing his growing lack of control over the Ghost Rider, John left Roxanne and spent years wandering on his own. During this time, he teamed with the Black Widow, Angel, Iceman and Hercules to foil one of Pluto's evil plots, and the five heroes founded the Champions. Though billed as "super heroes for the ordinary man", the Champions were beset by internal tensions and never truly gelled as a team. After a few months, Ghost Rider realized that he was too much of a loner to remain with the group and he bid them farewell when the Champions disbanded.
By this time, the demonic half of the Ghost Rider was exerting more and more control over his actions and personality. John found it increasingly difficult to continue his stunt rider career, surrendering the title of World Champion Stunt Rider after losing a series of grueling challenges to Flagg Fargo. A demoralized John found a sense of peace by joining the Quentin Carnival, a place he did not remember from his childhood, but which nevertheless felt like home. Blaze forged a friendly rivalry with fellow rider Red Fowler and engaged in harmless flirtation with Cynthia Randolph, a journalist for Woman magazine assigned to follow the Carnival. While traveling with the Carnival, John also ran afoul of the mad Centurious, who fed off imprisoned souls using an ancient artifact called the Crystal of Souls; this encounter stirred dark memories in the Ghost Rider. Shortly thereafter, the demonic Nightmare captured John and revealed the name of the demon within Blaze: Zarathos.
Blaze and Zarathos continued to struggle with each other for dominance until Roxanne Simpson returned, seeking aid for a town overrun by Centurious and his agent, the Sin-Eater (Ethan Domblue). Ghost Rider clashed once more with Centurious, learning that he and Zarathos had a feud going back centuries. In the end, Zarathos and Centurious were bound within the Crystal of Souls and John Blaze was free at last. With a gracious donation from his old friend the Angel, John was able to purchase the Carnival and marry Roxanne, with whom he had two children, Craig and Emma.
Years later, John heard about a new Ghost Rider in New York. Fearing Zarathos was free, Blaze captured the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider, but soon realized the entity within Dan was not Zarathos. During their clash, a burst of Ghost Rider's Hellfire was conducted through Blaze's shotgun into John himself, who discovered he could now discharge Hellfire from the weapon. Armed with this shotgun and a mystical motorcycle, John became a mentor of sorts to the new Ghost Rider, trying to guard Dan against evil forces.
Against his wife's wishes, John was immersed in the supernatural again. When he allied himself with the Midnight Sons against Lilith, Mother of Demons, the Carnival became a target for John's enemies. It was attacked by Vengeance, who blamed John for having ruined his father's career. John and the Midnight Sons later thwarted an alliance between Centurious and Lilith, though their schemes led to the return of Zarathos. When Centurious's agent Carver tried to remove a Medallion of Power fragment from Blaze by slashing him, Blaze's wounds burnt with Hellfire, and he was encased in a cybernetic shell to save his life. Shortly thereafter, the Blood known as Caretaker revealed that John and Dan were brothers, strengthening their bond further. Together, they helped destroy Zarathos' physical form, though Dan was temporarily lost.
While one side of John's family grew closer, the other began coming apart. When Emma and Craig were kidnapped by rogue Blood member Regent, John rescued them, but was shocked to learn that Roxanne had bargained the children away years earlier in hopes that Regent could remove the Kale curse. John and Roxanne were just moving past this painful revelation when she was killed by Anton Hellgate, one of Ketch's foes, and their children were kidnapped again. After slaying Centurious, Blaze swore on Roxanne's grave that he would rebuild the Carnival and find their children. After shedding his cybernetic shell, Blaze confronted undead serial killer Icebox Bob, who revealed that the kids were being held by the Mesopotamian god-turned-demon Ba'al. In a dimension-spanning adventure involving the mystic Wendigo spirit and the angelic Uri-El, Blaze was reunited with his children; but within months, the children went missing yet again. While helping Dan Ketch learn the full origins of his Ghost Rider spirit, John discovered that the sorceress Jennifer Kale was their cousin. She helped Blaze seek his missing children, but they were ultimately forced to admit defeat, calling off the search. During this time, Roxanne was revived as a demonic servant of Blackheart's, bearing the name Black Rose. Though she had no memory of her past self initially, Noble Kale restored her memories during his time as Ruler of Hell. Apparently feeling that John had moved on, Roxanne decided to let John continue believing that she was dead.
Starting over, John found a new job as an accountant and a new girlfriend, Chloe; but he was still linked to Zarathos, and the demon began to reconstitute within him. Regularly transforming into Ghost Rider again, John quit his job and hit the road. However, the reborn Ghost Rider's personality was different than before, less talkative and more indifferent to the welfare of innocent bystanders. Desperate to escape this renewed curse, John hired mercenary Gunmetal Gray to kill Ghost Rider, whom Gray pursued with malicious glee. Finally cornered at the Sturgis biker convention, John Blaze and Zarathos seemed to make peace with one another and merged in a new way, defeating Gray. Ghost Rider rode off into the sunset, seeking more innocents to avenge.
Ghost Rider was eventually cast back into Hell where Lucifer plotted to allow Blaze to escape and unknowingly pull the devil out into the mortal world with him. Once there, Lucifer's body was separated into 666 pieces, and those slivers of his essence would reanimate random corpses of the recently deceased. Each time Ghost Rider destroyed one avatar, its power would be divided to the rest. It was Lucifer's hope that Blaze would destroy every piece of him until only one remained with enough power to bring Hell to Earth. Ghost Rider, during his hunt, encountered others such as Doctor Strange and Numecet that warned him of the consequences should Lucifer become whole again, but Ghost Rider was determined to kill every tainted piece of his tormentor. Blaze even found himself in Sleepy Hollow, Illinois fighting Lucifer in the form of a deceased Jack O' Lantern. After defeating Lucifer and his zombie army, with the help of a local sheriff, Blaze forced the Ghost Rider entity to go to New York and help the other heroes oppose the Hulk during the war he waged in Manhattan. With Blaze in control, the Hulk had no trouble defending himself, but once Ghost Rider exerted his control over Blaze, the Hulk almost a fight on his hands. However, Ghost Rider only avenges the innocent, and he did not deem the members of the Illuminati blameless for what they did to the Hulk. Ghost Rider left Manhattan immediately and resumed his search for the last remaining avatars of Lucifer. Blaze eventually did what he said he would and drove the devil back to Hell, but the effort cost him the life of a friend and lover in the form of a trucker named Dixie.
Just because Lucifer was conquered, it didn't mean life would get any easier for Ghost Rider. With the devil's defeat, came the revelation of who was really behind Blaze's suffering. The devil had help in the form of an angel - a rogue angel by the name of Zadkiel. Zadkiel and his minions waged war in Heaven because Zadkiel thought he could prevail where Lucifer had lost. Only thing was Zadkiel bonded Heaven's greatest weapon to the soul of Johnny Blaze which also became Johnny's curse. Now Blaze is on a mission to hunt an angel, and pay him back for ruining his life. Ghost Rider's hunt for Zadkiel brought him to a place in Montana called New Beulah where Zadkiel's earthly servants, the Cycle Nurses almost put a premature end to the Spirit of Vengeance's plans. Not only that, but a horde of flesh eating ghosts almost made a meal out of Blaze, but nothing would deter him from his goal. Ghost Rider did away with both threats, but he didn't know about the one person from his past that would come back into his life as a possible enemy - Daniel Ketch, the other Ghost Rider. Johnny then broke into a maximum security penitentiary where he thought he could find answers on how to make it to Heaven to face Zadkiel, but all Ghost Rider found was another enemy in the form of the Deacon. Although quite formidable, the Deacon was defeated, but Blaze wasn't out of the woods yet. He was closer to Zadkiel than he'd been before, but now he would have to get through his brother, Daniel, to get to the rogue angel.
Daniel Ketch, a former Ghost Rider on the right side of justice, was now a servant of Zadkiel's, and he was hunting other Spirits of Vengeance throughout the world. He was hunting and killing them, so Zadkiel could have their power as his own. Ketch even allied himself with Ghost Rider's enemies. Blackout, Death Ninja, Doghead and the Orb paid Caretaker a visit with a tragic ending. Caretaker was killed, but his granddaughter, Sara took his place as the new Caretaker. Blaze eventually caught up with Daniel in Tibet, but not before Ketch could take the life of another Ghost Rider. Blaze confronted Daniel, and the resulting fight left Blaze begging Danny to end his burden and take away the curse of the Ghost Rider. Much to Daniel's frustration, Sara would not let this happen. Wallowing in self-pity, Blaze began to think Daniel was right in his actions. However, two more Spirits of Vengeance, Molek and Bai Gu Jing, came to Blaze and forced him to take a trip with them. The first stop was Tokyo, Japan where another Ghost Rider, Yoshio Kannabe was stationed. The group arrived too late to help their mystical brother-in-arms, however, for they found Yoshio terrified and defeated, the Ghost Rider entity no longer within his body. Blaze then accompanied his associates to the Congo where Baron Skullfire and Marinette Bwa Chech were waiting. These were the last two remaining Ghost Riders, and they were eager to bring Zadkiel to his knees. Unfortunately, Ketch and the Black Host proved to be too strong for even their combined might. Ketch stole all the Ghost Rider powers from everyone, including Blaze, and delivered them to his master. Zadkiel revealed he was playing Ketch for a fool and cast him out of Heaven, so Daniel took back as much power as he could - keeping some for himself and giving some back to Blaze. Sara and Blaze went their separate ways, and Blaze all but gave up on himself and Heaven. His travels led him to a small town under siege by a demon calling herself the Skin-Bender. Blaze was immune to her maniacal manipulations because of the power of the Ghost Rider, and once unleashed, the Skin-Bender didn't stand a chance. Ghost Rider defeated the monster and reunited with Sara. Blaze had to be reminded where the souls of his deceased children were before he decided to renew his war with Zadkiel and retake Heaven.
Blaze's search for Zadkiel took him and Sara all across the country. Finally, a piece of the puzzle was revealed to him - Zadkiel was going to kill the Antichrist. Usually one step behind the son of Satan, Blaze finally caught up to him in New York. He was nearly killed by the minions of Zadkiel, but Jaine Cutter, and a hesitant Hellstorm, rescued him. The Antichrist attempted to escape his protectors, but Daniel Ketch caught him and brought him back to the others. Ketch explained he made a deal with the devil to keep his son safe in exchange for the keys to Heaven. All were reluctant but realized they had no choice but to work with each other. Splitting up, Blaze and Ketch were attacked by Big Wheel and Trull, the Mighty while Jaine and Hellstorm had to deal with Madcap and Scarecrow, leaving Sara alone with the Antichrist. Trull got stomped and Big Wheel received the Penance Stare, but when the Ghost Riders reached a gateway to Heaven, the key was nowhere to be found. The two brothers pressed on to find another doorway, unaware the Antichrist had one with him all along - Sara, the new Caretaker. Blaze and Ketch found the lair of the Gun Nuns, but once they arrived they were thrown into battle with the Orb and the new Vengeance. After the battle was finished, the Ghost Riders were permitted to enter Heaven, and Johnny Blaze and Daniel Ketch finally stood face-to-face with their tormentor, Zadkiel. Their confrontation was quick and furious, leaving the Spirits of Vengeance defeated. Blaze, ready to give up hope, was encouraged by the souls of his wife and children to stand up to Zadkiel again and told him there were others willing to help. Blaze led Danny and an army of Ghost Riders to finish Zadkiel and his Black Host. Old allies as well as others long thought dead - such as Ghost Flyer, Undead G-Man and Knuckles O'Shaugnessy, Devil Rig and his partner Hell-Driver - were anxious to deliver vengeance on the evil which inhabited Heaven. Zadkiel was bested, but the Antichrist used Sara to gain entry into Heaven, and he brought numerous demons with him. To his surprise, the Ghost Riders were ready, and each and every vile creature was put down, to the cry of, "Bring it on, you sumbitches!" by one unidentified Ghost Rider. Heaven was safe in God's hands once more and Blaze and Ketch were returned to Earth. Sara, after gaining some vengeance of her own, rejoined them, and the three rode off into the sunset.
42. Songbird (101 points - 3 first place slots)
"The heart of the Thunderbolts during the Busiek/Nicieza years."
"A great story of a character who redeemed herself and chose the right path when given the choice. And, if Avengers Forever is to be believed, destined to become one of the greats. She's very underrated, but a strong and fascinating character."
"I don't read Spider-Man. I don't read Batman. I don't read Wolverine. I don't read Superman. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of those characters well enough. But if I'm going to spend money on a book on a regular basis, it needs to be about characters with evolving personalities and ever changing dynamics. Corporate Icons that are kept in a perpetual status quo simply don't cut it. The Thunderbolts exemplify what I am talking about more than any other comic. Songbird's journey from a loser villain to a confident, capable hero is a character arc that I would match up against anything the superhero genre has ever done, and damn near anything that the comic book medium has ever done. To put it simply, she's my all time favorite comic character from my all time favorite comic run, and it is about time she made the transition into becoming an Avenger, preferably in a series written by my all time favorite comic writer. You listening, Brubaker?"
You should give ol'Songbird here a round of applause. Not only did she break the Top 50 (which I was worried for a while when the list were coming in) but she is the first to crack the 100 point mark. Neato.
Melissa Gold began her career as a super-villain under the name Screaming Mimi with the Grapplers and Masters Of Evil. She has since then been trying to redeem herself by joining the Thunderbolts. When Melissa was young, she did not experience the best childhood. Her mother had gone to prison for robbery and her father was a drunk. It did not help that many of her peers teased her until one day she simply couldn't take anymore of it. So she ended up running away from home and living on the streets, creating a tough personality. She also took up her mother's name of Mimi and as she got older, she became involved with a criminal named Mike. He set her up by reporting her to police with stolen goods, causing her to be arrested and sent to jail, just like her mother. Once there she met Marian Pouncy. Marian got Mimi involved in masked wrestling and she soon joined a team called the Grapplers. The Grapplers became renowned for their colorful personalities and ringside antics, but the wrestling federation denied them the opportunity to make the amount of money their male counterparts made. When the group decided to turn to crime in order to make more money, they were tried and jailed after a defeat by the hero known as Quasar. Once the Grapplers were free, they found that without them, the world of female wrestling had slowed down to a halt. So they continued to commit crime in order to generate income until two members, Titania and Letha, were killed. After the team's dissolution, Melissa met Helmut Zemo who let her join the Masters of Evil. Here she met someone by the name of Angar the Screamer. The two became close since they had similar powers, however one day Angar was killed during a robbery and died in Melissa's arms. This caused Mimi to become so upset that she screamed for 43 minutes until she nearly destroyed her vocal cords. Zemo later got The Fixer to give her a technology that would recreate some of her powers, while allowing her to now make sound into constructs that had some properties of solid objects, including wings allowing her to fly. That's when the Masters of Evil became known as the Thunderbolts (as part of an elaborate plan to acquire the Fantastic Four's technology, among other things) and Mimi began going by Songbird. In that time she fell in love with Abe Jenkins, (the former Beetle) who was also her trainer. Songbird later rebelled against Zemo so she and the rest of her team could show that they had indeed reformed. But after that MACH-IV went to jail to prove his good intentions, the Thunderbolts disbanded, leaving Songbird to go to jail as well, until she joined the newer version of the Thunderbolts with MACH-IV.
During the superhuman Civil War, the Thunderbolts were assigned by the government to locate and arrest unregistered Heroes. The Thunderbolts then became a way for former villains to redeem themselves if they agreed to participate in the program. Norman Osborn became the leader of this assignment and demoted Melissa, stating that she was too moralistic, thus giving her position away to Moonstone. Songbird was against this idea and dislikes most of the team's villainous members, however, she remains on the team for fear of imprisonment. She also noted that, in the field, Moonstone is a less-than-capable leader and has at times taken the lead anyway, such as when the team attempts to capture the Steel Spider. Here, Songbird is forced to take command when Moonstone is injured, and misleads Bullseye into believing that he is able to escape, causing him to become paralyzed. After the team returns to the Thunderbolts mountain, Songbird berates Moonstone and the team's performance, although Osborn has no desire to listen to her complaints.
When four psychic super villains invade the Thunderbolts mountain, they manipulate Osborn into returning to his Green Goblin persona and force him to rampage through the base, killing a handful of the human soldiers that work there. The psychics then convince Melissa into defeating Osborn herself, hoping that the two of them will kill each other. Songbird manages to defeat Osborn without killing him, although she is extremely exhausted after the battle. After the team recovers, she demands that Osborn allow her to lead the Thunderbolts, or else she will release the security tapes that reveal him killing the humans as the Green Goblin. Once Osborn agrees, Songbird leaves the office with a smile on her face, until Norman tells her that Bullseye had been heard stating that a little bird (implying Melissa) told him he was free in order to have him injured during the Arizona mission.
After the Secret Invasion, Osborn is given control over HAMMER and makes the Thunderbolts into her own personal hit squad. However, Songbird is still a liability, so Moonstone and Bullseye plot to have her killed, but only after they manipulate her into sending her only ally, the Radioactive Man, back to China. Songbird is then hunted by Bullseye and Venom, although she manages to evade them both and even blows up a section of the mountain. She ultimately escapes with the aid of the Swordsman who helps her fake her own death and go into hiding. Now free from Osborn's machinations, but well-aware of what his new status as Director of HAMMER means, Melissa plans to thwart Osborn's plans anyway she can.
She reappears in the public eye when she stops HAMMER forces from performing a forced relocation of homeless people in Cleveland, Ohio. She punishes a HAMMER officer who harmed a homeless war veteran, and then proceeds to defeat the entire HAMMER unit. She then flies off with a plan in mind: to bring together the old band of Thunderbolts together and deal with the team of killers Norman had assembled as the new Thunderbolts.
Her first stop is to seek Abe (Mach IV) and Norbert (Fixer), who are working on the Mach V version of the flight armor. Abe pledges to help her, and gives her the location of Chen. Melissa kisses him in thanks before leaving. Some time later, she is intercepted and fired upon by the Thunderbolts on board their jet. She grabs a missile in midair, and sends it back into the Thunderstrike. The explosion sends the plane crashing, but stuns her enough to send her to the ground. Still stunned, she is taken by surprise by Norman's Black Widow ( Yelena Belova), who points a gun at her head. She is even more surprised when the Black Widow says that she's extracting Songbird to safety. Melissa remains skeptical, until the Black Widow reveals that she's not really Yelena, but rather Natasha Romanova.
Barely surviving the crash the duo try and escape into the woods but have a run in with Mister X. After defeating him and eluding the rest of the Thunderbolts the two go to a meeting place where they are suppose to meet Nick Fury.
After they reach Fury meeting area the group were apparently followed by Ant Man and captured by the Thunderbolts. When returned to the T-bolts base Fury was revealed to be a LMD and Natasha and Melissa are ordered by Norman to be integrated and exposed of. At this moment Headsman, Paladin, and Ghost help free the two escape where they are saved by Abe in Mach armor.
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