Ghost Rider, Wolverine, Punisher: Hearts of Darkness

Issue Date: 
December 1991
Story Title: 
Hearts of Darkness

Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Klaus Janson (inker), John Wellington (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer), Dawn Geiger (designer), Bobbie Chase (editor), Chris Cooper (assistant editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief), John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson (cover)

Brief Description: 

In the small mid-western town of Christ’s Crown, another sacrifice is held which brings forth Blackheart. A few days later, Daniel Ketch arrives in the town and takes up residence in a boarding house where Logan (Wolverine) and Frank Castle (Punisher) are as well. Daniel also meets the owner of the boarding house Flo and her young daughter Lucy. All three of the heroes were invited there by someone who promised to give them the secrets they desire. In reality, Blackheart invited them to join him in destroying his father, Mephisto. When the heroes decline, Blackheart takes Lucy captive and the heroes give chase. Eventually, the heroes make their way to the thorn-covered hill where Blackheart resides. After denying Blackheart’s invitation to join him again, Blackheart summons his minions who drag Lucy underground. Following below ground, Ghost Rider begins to battle Blackheart. When Ghost Rider gains the upper hand, Blackheart goes after Lucy. Before he can get there, however, Wolverine slices off his arm and Punisher unloads his semi-automatic into him. A few moments later, Blackheart blows up but begins to pull himself together. At that moment, Ghost Rider sends Wolverine and Punisher away with Lucy and prepares to face off against Blackheart again. Just then, Mephisto appears, removes his son from the equation and sends Ghost Rider away; promising that they will meet again. Back on the hill, the townspeople are back to normal and the heroes determine that they do cross the line on occasion but, as long as innocents are protected, their cause is just.

Full Summary: 

In the Midwestern town of Christ’s Crown, a thorn-covered hilltop has been a place of worship and sacrifices for centuries. Standing around an altar where a young blonde-haired lady lays on the altar, a group of cloaked individuals stand around her. There, her, life is taken. Blood is spilled. It seeps into the ground to mingle with the blood of countless others. There it roils, and boils until an eruption springs forth. A putrefied emotion of hate and loathing named Blackheart!

Emerging from the ground, Blackheart says to the cloaked individuals that they dare summon him with their childish offerings of blood? This they give to the son of Mephisto? Unleashing his power, Blackheart tells them that he will take their offering and more. Blood, muscle, and flesh will be his. He will lick their ashen remains from their charred bone. Oh, yes, he does this because he can – arghhhh!

Blackheart angrily exclaims “you have done this to me father.” You have diminished me. Forced me to be worshipped as a petty deity and taken from him that which he most admired in man – free will. But he will take it no longer Mephisto/father. I will not be another of your tortured amusements. I am your assassin. Unfortunately, for him to bring him down, he must play the role that he set for him even further. He must become a corruptor of men. But he will be select in his corruption. Not the indiscriminate lout that he has become through the millennia. There is a new breed of man, one whose fall towards the corrupt that will not be so far. And one that, with the power he has foolishly allowed him to keep, he will be able to imbue with the strength to bring him down. Raising one of the skulls to the sky, Blackheart calls out to his father that he wants a game? He will have one. A game that he will win before madness overtakes him. The game begins, the pawns move into place.

Riding his motorcycle down the road, Dan Ketch thinks to himself that Christ’s Crown is a heck of a name for a town. He then wonders what a kid from Brooklyn is doing out in the middle of all the clean air. Continuing to drive through town, he determines that it seems nice enough.

Passing by Flo’s boarding house, Dan decides that he guesses he’d better find someplace to stay until his mysterious stranger contacts him again. Walking up to the front door, Dan introduces himself to the lady answering the door and tells her that he’s looking for a place to stay a couple of days. The lady, Flo Crumm, replies that he came to the right place. It seems to be their little town’s time for visitors. Two other roomers are with her right now. And this used to be the slow season. She guesses things are picking up. She then mentions to Dan that he sounds like he’s from back east. What brings him to their town? Dan replies that he’s meeting an old friend who lives near there.

At that moment, Dan is hit in the back with a basketball. As he turns around, a young girl apologizes and runs and hides behind Flo. Flo proceeds to tell Dan that she is her daughter Lucy and introduces her to Dan. Picking up the basketball, Dan tells her that, when he was her age, his sister used to throw her ball at his head. She reminds him of her. Taking the ball from Dan, Lucy asks Dan if his sister grew up to be as pretty as her mommy. Dan replies yes, she did. Giving Dan a hug, Lucy tells him that she likes him. He’s a good man, just like Mr. Logan and Mr. Frank.

Shocked, Dan thanks her. Flo then tells her daughter to go wash up, dinner will be ready soon. She’ll have plenty of time to chat with their visitors later. Entering the home, Flo tells Dan that sometimes it worries her how she just takes to some people. But then again, she truly believes that there isn’t a bad bone in that child’s body. She asks Dan that if he’ll just sign the register, she’ll show him his room and he can get cleaned up. Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes. Upon seeing a shadowy figure lurking in a room upstairs, Dan wonders if that’s the guy he’s supposed to meet.

Soon, a clean shaven Dan comes downstairs to the dinner table. Flo greets him and tells him to have a seat. They’re just about to start. She proceeds to introduce him to their two other boarders. Mr. Logan is from up north and Mr. Frank is from back east too. Both of them are there to take advantage of the fine hunting they have in these parts. When Lucy asks Dan if he hunts, Dan tells her no, he never has. Lucy says good. She thinks it’s yucky. Like in Bambi when his mommy gets… Flo tells Lucy to hush.

Looking over at Mr. Logan and Mr. Frank, Dan thinks to himself that there’s something about them, he feels like he’s met them before. Lucy remarks that even though they hunt, Mr. Logan and Mr. Frank are real nice. But she thinks they should take pictures of animals instead. She knows they don’t really want to hurt anything – right?

Later, Dan is alone in his room and thinks to himself that the kid is a cutie. He wonders how good she would think he was if she knew he was Ghost Rider. Would she think that Ghost Rider is good too? Does he? Sometimes he comes so close to the edge that he wonders. Reading a letter from somebody signed B.H. promising him the secrets of the Ghost Rider and the Soul Crystal, Dan guesses that’s why he’s here. He’s in search of some answers. He then thinks to himself the “Soul Crystal?” The only other time that he heard about the Soul Crystal was from Blaze…

Wait a minute, Nightmare mentioned it to him too. Could this all be another scheme of his? Even if it is, he has to take the chance. He’s got to know if he’s going to lose control to the demon within him, like Blaze did.

In his room, Frank Castle cleans his gun and thinks to himself that he’s taking no chances. No more than usual. Somebody sends him a note claiming to know where one of the slime who killed his family is holed up. He already knows that answer for certain. He put them under the ground himself. But somebody was able to find him, get the note to him. He doesn’t like that, not at all. Just then, there’s a knock at Castle’s door. Reading his handgun, Castle calls out yeah. The answer comes via a single claw going through the crack of the door and Logan asking “guess who.”

Opening the door, Castle mentions to Mr. Logan that he thought it was him. Didn’t think he’d recognize him. Logan tells him that his phony mustache ain’t that good of a disguise. Besides, he tells the Punisher, he’s got the stink of death on him, just like he does. Removing the fake moustache, Castle asks Wolverine what brings him there. Logan replies that he supposes the same as him and asks if he got any mysterious notes lately. Castle pulls out his note and asks “him too?” Logan tells him yup, and it was full of a bunch of moose dung tellin’ him that he could learn about who gave him his pig stickers, as though he cares.

Crumbling up the note, Castle asks if it’s some sort of setup. Logan tells him that it looks that way. But why both of them, they don’t exactly travel in the same social circles. Castle proceeds to ask Logan if he thinks the Ketch kid is involved. Logan tells him that he doesn’t know, something about him tickles his nose. He guesses they’re just going to have to wait. When Logan states that he’s a terrible waiter, Castle says he is too.

In his room, Ketch lies on his bed and thinks to himself that the waiting is killing him. He feels like he should be doing something other than sitting in the dark. And it is so dark there at night, so dark. At that moment, Ketch sees Blackheart appearing before him.

In his room, Castle begins to get dressed. He agrees that Wolverine had the right idea. It’s time to do a little recon mission. See what the night reveals. After pulling his shirt over his head, Castle sees Blackheart.

In his room, Wolverine stares out the window. He notices that there’s no stars or moon. Sniffing the air, he remarks that something smells like rotting meat. Smells like death! Popping his claws, Wolverine leaps into action.

In Ketch’s room, Blackheart tells him that he’s truly been looking forward to this meeting. He then tells him that there’s no need to be nervous. He’s come there to make him an offer. Secrets can be his. He will listen, won’t he? After thinking that he has to get to his bike, Ketch tells Blackheart that he guesses. Blackheart tells him good. He can see that he will be the most reasonable of the three.

As Wolverine and Punisher fight against Blackhearts in their rooms, Blackheart tells Ketch that the other two’s rage is good, exactly the kind of ferocity that he hopes to tap into, though he hopes to turn it against a more deserving target. All three of them represent humanity’s newest breed of hero. A hero that isn’t afraid to approach the edge when the need arises. It is an intangible thing, a gray area which resides within each of them in a place that his father would call their soul. It allows them to override the human emotions that often get in their way and go for the jugular. He can help them tap further into that place, with their consent, and expand upon their powers. Enough so that he truly believes they could kill his father. Think of what a boon that would be to the human race. Join him, and bring down the greatest evil their race has ever known, his father Mephisto.

Wolverine remarks that Mephisto is way out of his league. Maybe he should talk to Thor or the Silver Surfer. He’s sure they’d be more than happy to help. Blackheart states that they wouldn’t do. Punisher asks what is this crap. Does he think he’s buying into all this mystical mumbo jumbo? Get rid of the hologram and he’ll show him some hidden places inside of him. Blackheart tells Punisher that he of all people would love what he could give him. After they are done with his father he could take his punishing crusade to new heights of glory, of which he’s only dared to dream.

Ketch asks what about him, he doesn’t see how he fits into all this. Blackheart asks Daniel can he be so naïve. Does he really think it was an accident – chance, perhaps? – that brought him in contact with the Ghost Rider? Can they not look inside themselves, all of them? Can they not see this place that he’s talking about? See the desire that he has to let it emerge and take them all to a higher destiny? Join him now and he will show them. Individually, Wolverine, Punisher, and Ghost Rider all defiantly tell Blackheart no.

Blackheart exclaims that he is the son of Mephisto, their world’s devil. He offers them the chance to be rid of him and they deny him? He has sent him amongst the humans as punishment for challenging his archaic ways. He wants him to see the errors of his ways. He wants him to become him and he will not have it! He’s made a very generous offer to each of them. They dare spurn it? Well, now he’ll have to convince them in a different manner.

After he disappears, the three heroes hear Lucy yelling out “No! Mommy! Don’t!” Rushing down the stairs, Ketch asks Wolverine and the Punisher if they think Blackheart’s gone after Lucy. Wolverine says that’s what they aim to find out. Heading out of the house, they witness Lucy pulling on her mom’s arm and begging her not to go. She tells her he’s bad. He’ll hurt her, make her do bad things. With tears in her eyes, Lucy tells Mr. Frank and Mr. Logan that they have to help her mommy… the bad man…

Looking down the street, Ketch points out that it looks like the entire town is in the same kind of trance. What are they going to do? Turning to Lucy, Logan tells her not to worry. They’re going to help her mommy and bring her back safe and sound. Lucy begins to ask about the bad man, and Logan tells her to just get in the house and leave him to them. As he and the Punisher head off, Ketch says to himself “what are we going to do?” What a dope he is. He’s not even close to Wolverine and Punisher’s league. But Ghost Rider, on the other hand… He has to get to the bike. Running around the side of the house, Ketch finds it gone.

Upon hearing Lucy scream, Ketch decides that he’s got to try and do something. He’s… Once he reaches the location of Lucy’s screams, Ketch sees Blackheart sitting on his bike, holding Lucy captive, and surrounded by the town’s residents. Blackheart sarcastically asks Daniel if he lost something. It’s a bit emasculating, isn’t it? That is how his father has made him feel, condemned to live amongst his inferiors. He will help him, all three of them. They will see it his way, the right way.

Attempting to make his way through the crowd, Ketch thinks that this thing is nuts, a lunatic. Seeing Wolverine and the Punisher attempting to make their way through the crowd, he notices that they are having just as much trouble. Blackheart proceeds to say to them that they so want to hurt him – don’t they? Why let the townsfolk stand in their way? They are corrupted. Cut, slash, shoot, pummel. This is what they do best. Do it, they want to. He can smell their blood boiling. Go through them and they can have him. They are nothing. Isn’t it worth hurting, killing a few of them to get to him? It is such a gray area. Go there, tap into it. Come to him!

Unleashing his power, Blackheart kills some of the townsfolk and then warns that many more will die if they don’t come to him. Holding up Lucy, Blackheart says to them that perhaps they need additional incentive. He believes the three of them have become attached to this thing, the one uncorrupted soul in the town. When Lucy calls out for mommy, Ketch calls out to her and Wolverine pops his claws.

Having had enough, the Punisher states enough with the mystical bull, and proceeds to unload his machine gun into Blackheart. As the bullets bounce off of him, Blackheart laughs and asks if this is the best they can do. He then tells Punisher that he overestimates his abilities. He said he had the potential within him to help assassinate his father. He is not there yet, he is unarmed. He, Blackheart, must have access to their very souls. He must bond a part of him to them. Driving off on Ketch’s motorcycle, Blackheart dares the heroes to be courageous, go over that edge, follow him. When Lucy calls out not to let him, Blackheart’s barbs cut her arm and splatter blood on Ketch’s face. Blackheart tells them to follow him to the very gates of hell itself. His father’s death awaits them. He then asks Ketch how the warm and salty innocent blood tastes upon his lips. Vengeance must be served. Follow him! Release him!

As Ketch runs off after Blackheart, Punisher remarks “stupid kid.” He’ll never catch that thing on foot. Wolverine mentions that he, Punisher, has wheels. He wants a ride; he’s in the mood to cut something.

As he runs down the street after Lucy and Blackheart, Ketch quickly learns that he can’t keep up with them without his bike. He knows that Blackheart’s doing this to torture him. He needs transportation. He needs a bike. Looking at a nearby motorcycle store, Ketch tosses a metal trashcan through the window. Sitting on the bike, Ketch wipes Lucy’s blood off of his face and off of his hands. Staring at his hands, Ketch notices the Ghost Rider symbols appear on his hands. He wonders aloud if Blackheart is right. As he begins to transform into Ghost Rider, Ketch wonders what if the transformation comes from within him. What does this mean, what does this say about him? What does this say about Ghost Rider? Fully transformed, Ghost Rider calls out to Blackheart that it is his turn to suffer. The blood that he has spilled cries out for vengeance. The cries will be quieted.

Reaching their destination, Wolverine quips to Punisher that it’s too quiet. Punisher agrees. Exiting the van, and toting a machine gun, Punisher states that maybe it’s time they made some noise. He then tells Wolverine to grab a weapon, he’s fully stocked. Wolverine tells him thanks, but he carries his own. With that, Wolverine pops his claws. As they begin to ascend the hillside, Punisher asks who they are doing this for. Wolverine replies “the kid.” He doesn’t like seeing kids hurt. Punisher replies “you and me both.” He just wanted to make sure before they started wading into this thing.

Entering the thorn covered hill, Wolverine adds that it’s gonna get bloody. Punisher says he’s seen it before. Wolverine responds that he doesn’t doubt that. It’s just this time it’s likely to be their blood. Punisher says he’s seen his share of that, too. Wolverine tells him welcome to the club. But if they don’t get through the thorns, theirs is gonna be the only blood they see. Punisher points out that they’re like razor wire. How did Blackheart…

Just then, Ghost Rider appears and drives his motorcycle through the thorns, clearing a path. Once they reach the other side of the thorn patch, Wolverine asks Ghost Rider? He doesn’t recognize the bike. Punisher says so, he picked up a new one. He does it all the time. Does it really matter? He’s cleared a trail for them.

Standing before the heroes, Blackheart asks Ghost Rider that he has a new motorcycle? Interesting! There is much about him that remains a mystery. He wonders if even his father truly knows who or what he is. But he guesses they can find out before they kill him. Back to the business at hand – they now stand on the doorway to hell itself. He invites them to step through with him, cross the edge. He did not lie to them in their notes. He can fulfill their greatest desires. He tells Frank that his family can be his again. Join him or continue to see their deaths every time he closes his eyes. His family and the death of the greatest evil earth has ever known. Think about it.

Blackheart then asks Wolverine what it is that he desires. How about that missing part of his life? The secret of those adamantium bones that allow him to rend flesh, bone, and anything else that pleases him? He will help him for his assistance. Slashing the pile of bones before him to pieces, Wolverine tells Blackie that he ain’t interested. What’s done is done. Blackheart replies they’ll see and then turns his attention to Ghost Rider. Zarathos! If that is who he is, his memories, his power, his former greatness can be restored. The secret is within the Soul Crystal, with his father. Help him and he will tear the secret from him. He can once again be a devourer of souls.

When Blackheart asks them what their answers are, the heroes respond by attacking him. Blackheart angrily tells them that he offered them a chance at greatness and they ask for death – it will be theirs and hers. With that, a number of faceless minions emerge from the ground and converge around Lucy. Fighting the minions, Punisher asks what they are. Wolverine tells him don’t ask, just get through them. They’re trying to get Lucy. When the minions grab hold of Lucy and pull her into the ground with them, Ghost Rider exclaims no! Blackheart will not have another innocent soul!

As he enters into the chasm on the ground, Ghost Rider exclaims that he will follow wherever the inhuman fiends may lead him. She will be saved. Once under the ground, Ghost Rider kills two of the minions. Blackheart then appears and tells Ghost Rider that he was hoping he’d feel that way. Though he also hoped his two companions would have the wherewithal to join him. No matter, he has him where he wants him. He is teetering on the edge – the edge of greatness, the edge of power. He tells him to take the final step and join him.

Ghost Rider exclaims “No!” He, Blackheart, talks of an edge, of the dark place in all souls. How can he see into a place that even he cannot? He tells him to look into himself. Tossing his chain into Blackheart’s chest, Ghost Rider tells him to see the purification, the rot, the madness that his father has forced upon him. See the pain that he has caused. Removing his glove, Ghost Rider punches Blackheart with his flaming fist and proceeds to tell him that he offers him power and souls. He has no desire for these things. The knowledge he seeks will be his without his help, without his madness.

Continuing to pummel Blackheart, Ghost Rider states that his edge means nothing to him, he cannot see it. His offer is a hollow one, his threats are hollow, he is hollow. Picking himself up off the ground, Blackheart tells Ghost Rider that he cannot be the great soul devourer Zarathos, the one with the power to rival his father. He is a self-righteous fool who has spurned the power and now will see that his threats are not hollow! Rushing towards Lucy, Blackheart tells Ghost Rider that he will be bathed in the blood of the innocent child he seeks to protect. He will bind it to the very fiber of his being. He will live with the folly of his decision for the rest of his undying days!

Before he reaches Lucy, however, Blackheart’s arm is cut off at the elbow by Wolverine’s claws. Backing away, Blackheart tells them that they dare? They think they can stop him with their pitiful weapons, their claws, their guns? Punisher remarks that they’ll give it a try and begins to unload his gun into him. Continuing the pull the trigger, Punisher states that they’ll keep trying until phonies like him shut up. He can take his edge and shove it. It doesn’t exist! No gray area! If he ever had a soul, it’s long gone. There is just right, wrong, and punishment! At that moment, Blackheart explodes.

Looking over the broken pieces of Blackheart, Wolverine remarks that he thinks the point his friend is trying is trying to make is that they all have their personal limits. They may be close to an edge but it’s an edge that they choose never to go over. Too bad he didn’t make the same choice. He allowed his father to push his buttons. He played him like a puppet. He tempted, he tortured, he threatened, he became his father. “Welcome to the real world, Junior!”

Kicking Blackheart’s head, Punisher points out that this thing, whatever it is, is starting to try and pull itself back together. What is it, some sort of mutant? No offense. Wolverine replies “none taken.” Ghost Rider then tells Wolverine and Punisher to take the girl back. He will make sure that Blackheart doesn’t follow. Once they leave with Lucy in tow, Blackheart pulls himself together and tells Ghost Rider that it is funeral.

At that moment, the monstrous Mephisto appears and tells Blackheart well done. He has become exactly what he had hoped. His father is proud. Perhaps now he can stop with all his talk of his archaic ways and accept what he is. Learn that he cannot change himself any more than he could change these heroes. Turning his attention to Ghost Rider, Mephisto tells him that he is an enigma, even to him. He senses that it is a puzzle over which they will come together in the future. But today is for his son. Time for a father to help him reflect on the lessons learned. Mystically destroying Blackheart, Mephisto picks him up and places him into his mouth. It is time for him to show him his love. He will learn. Mephisto then tells Ghost Rider to go now but they will meet again. Soon. And there will be no gray areas involved. The truth will be revealed.

Back on the hill, Punisher points out that Ghost Rider is back. Wolverine adds that so is Lucy’s mom. Punisher then asks Wolverine if he thinks this was all for real. Wolverine replies that stranger things have happened to both of them. Punisher says that all this talk about them being close to the edge – what do they really think? Looking over at Lucy hugging her mom, Wolverine says who knows. Ghost Rider replies that it doesn’t matter if there is an edge or if they occasionally cross it. As long as the innocent are protected, their cause is just. With that, Lucy grabs hold of Ghost Rider’s hand and looks at him with gratitude.

Characters Involved: 

Ghost Rider (Danny Ketch)




Various residents of Christ’s Crown (all unnamed except for Flo Crumm and her daughter Lucy)

Story Notes: 

Blackheart’s first appearance was in Daredevil (1st series) #270.

Daniel Ketch became Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider (3rd series) #1.

Zarathos is a demonic being who tortures and devours souls. His first appearance was in Marvel Spotlight #5. Appearance-wise, he looks a little like Ghost Rider which would explain why Blackheart would believe that Ghost Rider is him.

The back of this issue indicates that the town of Christ’s Crown is in the Midwest. The first Christ’s Crown where Blackheart appeared was in New York State. It is undeterminable if they are connected in some way or if it is an error on the back of this issue.

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