Blaze: Apache Autumn review

Blaze Apache Autumn

Blaze Apache Autumn

So here we have an interesting cross-section of my comic-book knowledge: a character I know very little about, while at the same time know quite a bit about.It’s an odd confluence of circumstances that allows that to occur.

Blaze — otherwise known as Johnny Blaze — is a character many of you will remember was played by Nicolas Cage in both Ghost Rider movies and that is because he is, of course, the original Ghost Rider. In fact as of this writing he is currently Ghost Rider again, but this series takes place during a period of time during which Danny Ketch had taken up the mantle and Blaze had been freed from his curse.

And there in lies where my gap in knowledge comes in: I know a lot about Ghost Rider, but just about the only thing I know about Blaze the man is that he’s Ghost Rider’s alter ego. I’ve read him a little, as Ghost Rider was very popular when I was young and I myself had an affinity for the Darkhold title and the Midnight Sons line in general. I know he has that flaming hellfire shotgun and that he cares for his wife and children back home at the old circus saw from the movie.

So i guess I’m not coming into this arc, which covers issues 4-6 of Blaze’s monthly title, completely blind. I’m reading it now as part of my journey through every X-Men comic or appearance ever, so nobody should be surprised the Warpath from X-Force features prominently here in Apache Autumn.

… And in diving right in, we discover that many of those preconceived notions about the character that I stated above are just: wrong. The main premise of this series is that Roxanne is dead, having been killed off by some unknown demon, who has also kidnapped Blaze’s children. The series revolves around his hunt to find them and him traveling around America road-warrior style trying to accomplish that. And I can get behind that, and the series wins some favor with me right off the bat by surprising me.

When we pick up, Blaze is in the middle of a fairly hardcore fever-dream spirit-journey trying to ascertain the location of his children. You can read that as a drug-induced freak-out if you really want to, but within the context of Blaze’s narrative all that stuff is very much real, so we’ll accept it as such. Blaze is abruptly awoken from his spirit-journey by X-Force’s Warpath and some other guy.

And it’s here that the story quickly introduces it’s cardinal flaw.

Warpath and the other guy stop Blaze as he’s about to trespass onto reservation land, specifically the site of some ancient Native-American right-of-passage. I didn’t realize who this other guy was at first, he’s generic-enough looking that he could have been anybody: could have been Sunspot, or perhaps somebody had miscoloured Cannonball’s hair. But no, this guy is named Wyatt Wingfoot, a perennial of Fantastic Four and She-Hulk’s supporting casts.

As I said above, I’m reading this as my trek through the X-Titles, so I know this guy has no reason to be there via his place in X-Force’s continuity. So I assume he’s a part of the ongoing Blaze narrative I’m jumping into and head forward… but it becomes apparent part of the way in that he isn’t. And after the second chapter when Warpath quickly vanishes from the story… so does Wyatt.

I tried to figure out what this is, and resulted to wikipedia. Allow me to quote the first sentence of his plot summary:

Wyatt, son of “Big Will Wingfoot — the greatest Olympic decathlon star this country ever had!”, was born on the fictional Keewazi Indian reservation in Oklahoma.

So he’s there because he’s Native-American.

This creates a rather large hole in the story, and it’s one created by blind ignorance. See, until now I had assumed that the reason Warpath had stopped Blaze from entering the Native-American land was because — secretly — X-Force is currently headquartered in that land. That makes sense. He doesn’t want Blaze stumbling upon his secret headquarters, and kicks him out under the pretense of “Indian and Stuff.”

But with this new information, it seems like Warpath and Wyatt were just hanging around until Commissioner Buzzkill flashed the Native-American Symbol onto a passing cloud and they both ran out to help. Let me be frank: there is no reason these two characters should know each other. Even from a fictional-narrative standpoint, they aren’t from the same tribe. This stinks of that all-too-placid type of ethnocentrism “they’re both Indian, they must know each other” the same way people think I know “Bob from Canada” just because I’m from there.It also creates a problem in that it assumes Warpath doesn’t have anything better to do than sit around a wait for some white guy to stumble upon their land, as though he’s it’s natural guardian. He is very busy saving the world from G-Men over in X-Force, let me assure you.

The worst part is, this is written by Larry Hama. Larry Hama! Of one of the best Wolverine runs in history Larry Hama! GI Joe Larry Hama! I’ve met Larry Hama: he’s a great, professional, credit to the field. But more perplexing in this instance… he’s not Caucasian. I don’t want to make a big this of this, because I’m aware it’s going to paint a target on me, but… Larry Hama should be aware of this type of ethnocentrism and that it is not okay! I can only assume that he was rushed, as Marvel worked their writers to the bone in the ’90s, and he was definitely writing Wolverine and god-knows what else during this period.

Moving past this, the story revolves around the three heroes investigating one of the shared aspects of Blaze and Wingfoot’s spirit-dreams: the Weindigo.

So apparently the story isn’t letting me move past this. Weindigo is yet another Native-American trope central to Marvel Comics lore, adapted from a real folk legend involving the repercussions of cannibalism. He was introduced in Hulk but is mainly known as a Wolverine villain. Here he’s used… very out-of-place. The Weindigo is a a violent brute usually, you have to be in order to make the Hulk look like the favorable option. Here he’s used as some sort of pseudo-spirit animal, able to travel between dimensions, including to the alternate dimension where Blaze’s children are being kept.

Now on the one hand I want to give the story credit for including Weindigo, because he’s a character I’ve always enjoyed and that doesn’t get used a whole heckuva lot (and for that scarcity, his appearances are all the better). But then it sinks in that he’s another Native-Peoples trope… and that he isn’t even an American Native-People’s trope. Weindigo is a mainstay of Canada, which is why he’s typically relegated to Wolverine and Alpha Flight villainy, and that one time Spider-Man went to Canada. So what his use here is saying, to me, is “not only is one Native-American as good as another” (with the Warpath/Wingfoot issue) but that “any Native-People is the same as another.”

As mentioned above, it turns out that Blaze’s children are being held captive in another dimension. The Weindigo travels through this plane (because reasons) and they give him a magical nail-file that has the number seven on it, which is a lucky number, so it’s magical. This seems to have some relevance to the series before Apache Autumn, so I’m going to suspend my disbelief on this point.

Eventually the kids get it into their heads to follow the Weindigo out of their cell by holding onto its fur as it passes through the wall. This works and the children are free, clutching the beast’s back. Good thing this isn’t a cannibalistic monster, or they’d be screwed. Ha. No, they’re fine. The captions let us know that the Weindigo is a benevolent protector of nature. It isn’t, but whatever.

And I mean it isn’t, even from an anthropological Original-People’s myth/legend standpoint. It definitely isn’t in Marvel continuity, which is really what I’m going by here (in that, I’m not trying to make an ethnography on the Weindigo with this review, although that does sound pretty cool). The Weindigo is a violent beast that kills people, and it got that way by killing and eating people as a human. Sometimes that’s portrayed as a survival just-did-it-to-live eating, sometimes not. But the creature itself — regardless of how sympathetically we view the victim of the curse that made it — isn’t a Care Bear.

It turns out though that this escape is just what the demon that kidnapped the Blaze children wanted, as now it can follow them in much the same way and escape to our dimension. What follows in the final chapter is an issue-long chase where Blaze rides his motorcycle after the Weindigo with his children clutching on (why don’t they let go?) and the demon chases Blaze. Eventually the creature is stabbed by the aforementioned mystical nail-file and is defeated, but the kids and the Weindigo vanish into a dimensional rift on the Weindigo’s back and out of Blaze’s grasp, so that the series has a reason to keep going.

Adding to the issues above, Warpath and Wyatt Wingfoot are absent from the final chapter… meaning that as soon as the action leaves Native-American soil, they cease to give a shit. That’s pretty offensive given their track-record as heroes, that they wouldn’t follow a try to help in the rescue of children.

Despite the loooooooong list of grievances above, I will admit this is a competently paced, decently-dialoged story. Where it falls apart are those instances of Original-People reference, which sadly seems to be Apache Autumn‘s premise: let’s have Blaze meet all the Native-American stuff floating around the Marvel Universe at once.It’s even worse considering Warpath’s overt efforts to negate those stereotypes in X-Force.

Blaze: Apache Autumn (Blaze, # 4 -6)Blaze: Apache Autumn by Larry Hama

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

” I will admit this is a competently paced, decently-dialoged story. Where it falls apart are those instances of Original-People reference, which sadly seems to be Apache Autumn’s premise…”

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