Ghost Rider, Wolverine, Punisher: The Dark Design

Issue Date: 
December 1994
Story Title: 
The Dark Design

Howard Mackie (writer), Ron Garney (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Paul Mounts (colorist), Richard Starkings/Comicraft (letterers), Bobbie Chase (editor), James “Professor” Felder (assistant editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief), Dawn Geiger (designer), Ron Garney and Al Milgrom (cover art)

Brief Description: 

In Christ’s Crown, Ghost Rider and Norma Jean attempt to protect Lucy Crumm from the pursuing members of the Corrupt, Blackheart’s minions. They manage to escape but, during the battle, Ghost Rider is infected by the Corrupt and has to transform into the form of Dan Ketch to halt his transformation. Meanwhile, the Punisher and Wolverine meet up with each other after being telepathically called to the town by Lucy. Eventually, they meet up with Dan, Norma, Lucy and Lucy’s group of rebels. After discovering that Blackheart has returned to town, they agree to work together to stop him. Just then, Blackheart’s Corrupt attack and, during the battle, Ghost Rider and Lucy are whisked away. Making their way to his citadel, Wolverine and Punisher see Lucy wearing a wedding dress and Blackheart babbling about her being his savior. Before they can attack, Blackheart takes them captive and sends the three heroes into their own personal hells. When that doesn’t work and the heroes are able to fight back, their combined efforts defeat Blackheart easily. With the battle complete, Lucy makes her way over to Blackheart and forgives him. Once the heroes depart, Blackheart is confronted by his father, Mephisto, who tells him that he has shamed him. Mephisto offers for them to join forces but, rather than doing that, Blackheart stabs Mephisto with a knife poisoned by the blood of Lucy, an innocent child. With Mephisto dead, Blackheart takes his role as the new ruler in hell.

Full Summary: 

In the Midwestern town of Christ’s Crown, Ghost Rider runs. Not willingly, but he runs with the hope that the life of the young girl in his arms, Lucy Crumm, will be saved. His female associate, Norma, calls him flame-head and tells him to not even thinking about stopping to fight. They’re catching up to them again. A little bit further and she can get them to a place where they can lose them. They can’t let them get their hands on Lucy.

Just then, Ghost Rider is shot in the back by one of a group of five, all members of the Corrupt. The female lead, Vana, tells Hank nice shot. And the girl wasn’t even scratched. She then tells Lucy to come with them, enough running with those two. The master wants to see her. And doesn’t she know Blackheart can be so kind to young girls.

Enraged, Ghost Rider turns around and readies his chain. As he does, he tells Norma to protect Lucy. Pointing her weapon at Ghost Rider, Vana tells him that Blackheart does not want him; at least, not alive. Using his chain, Ghost Rider destroys Vana’s weapon and knocks her to the ground. Another member of the Corrupt calls Vana a fool. She wastes their and his time with her prattling. Let’s just kill him and be done with… Before he can finish his thought, he is shot in the chest by Norma who tells him that he talks a little too much too, but not anymore.

Upon seeing what Norma has done, Ghost Rider remarks that she took his life so easily. A thing he could not do. Continuing his battle against the Corrupt, he states that, for no matter how evil these are, he must remind himself that they are human beings, human beings who have been corrupted willingly by him. He will inflict pain upon them. Pain beyond their wildest nightmares, but he will not take a human life.

Observing the battle, Norma tells Lucy that they best keep moving. When Lucy asks about Ghost Rider, Norma tells her she wouldn’t worry; he seems to have things under control. Holding his hand up to his forehead, Ghost Rider says that these humans have been strengthened by Blackheart’s evil touch. So much that they take a toll on him. He has to find Blackheart, bring him down, but… not now. Getting Lucy to safety is all that matters.

Once Ghost Rider looks over at Lucy and Norma, one of the members of the Corrupt grabs hold of Ghost Rider’s arm and tells him that Vana was wrong. Blackheart does want him. Come feel the pleasure of his dark touch! As Ghost Rider screams in pain, Norma rushes to his side and takes out his attacker with two shotgun blasts. Rushing to Ghost Rider’s side, Lucy mentions to him that he’s hurt. Grabbing hold of his arm, Ghost Rider tells Lucy to not touch his tainted hand. If she were to do so, Blackheart’s victory would be guaranteed. He then tells Lucy to stand back and tells Norma Jean that it is up to her to get them away from this place before more of the Corrupt show up. For now he doesn’t think he’ll be of help for a little while. Blackheart’s poison flows through his being. He must transform back to Dan’s body… must…

With a flash of light, Ghost Rider transforms into the human form of Daniel Ketch. Feeling his hand, Dan remarks that his hand is clean of the corruption but he can feel it eating away inside him. Rushing over to Norma and Lucy, he tells them that they need to go, the Corrupt will be back. Opening up a window to the basement in a nearby building, Norma tells Dan not to worry. She’ll get them both away from there. The others will help them hide her little cousin. They all know that Lucy may be the only hope this world has. Lucy and him. Entering through the window, Lucy reminds them to not forget about Mister Frank and Mister Logan. They know she will need their help again. They’ll be here, she knows they will.

Elsewhere, in Christ’s Crown, Mister Logan… Wolverine has arrived. Standing in an alley with his claws at the ready, Wolverine asks members of the Corrupt where they disappeared to. Are they gonna tell him that they let a few punctured arteries slow them down? C’mon, they were just getting started. They all seemed ready to throw down on him with that little ambush of theirs. He’s just a visitor to this town. He wasn’t expecting to be knocked off his bike by a bunch of gun totin’, zombie lookin’, make-up wearin’ rejects like themselves. So how’s about they finish things up?

As members of the Corrupt descend on Wolverine below, he immediately engages them in battle. The Corrupt were given orders by their master. Keep watch for Wolverine and when he enters the town – kill him. Expecting a man, a man they could easily dispatch, the Corrupt encounter Wolverine, member of the team of mutants known as the X-Men. It’s not long before it becomes obvious that the Corrupt have underestimated their opponent’s abilities – painfully obvious. In short time, the skirmish is over. The outcome is as expected.

Pulling out a cigar, Wolverine is surrounded by five more members of the Corrupt. Upon seeing them, Wolverine asks that they’re not goin’ to give him a stogie break, eh? Popping his claws again, he tells them they are like cockroaches, crawlin’ all over the place. Let’s get this over with. Before he can reengage in battle, the air is pierced by the sound of a single gunshot. Wolverine can feel the high velocity projectile pass by his head and ultimately finds its mark, one of the Corrupt. Four more shots in the space of a single breath and all the members of the Corrupt present are taken out. Few men, if any, could execute five clean kills in such a short span of time. His name is the Punisher. He could do it in his sleep.

Once the Punisher descends from his perch, Logan lights up a cigar and mentions to him that he was wonderin’ when he’d show up, “Mister Frank.” Frank replies that he’s been runnin’ recon for the past couple of hours. Grabbing hold of his bike, Logan asks him if he’s getting’ some sort of psychic messages from the kid – Lucy. Heading towards his van, Frank asks is that what they were. He thought he was just having a bad dream. Happens sometimes, occupational hazard. Rolling his bike over towards Frank’s van, Logan says yeah, he knows what he means. But even he has got to admit that something is going on there. Best he can remember, last time they were there, Christ’s Crown didn’t look like this.

Looking at the vastly different landscape with massive buildings and zombie-looking people roaming the streets, Frank agrees. It’s weird. He then remarks that they should find the kid and fast. Anything on Ghost Rider? Donning his yellow and blue uniform, Logan informs Frank that he picked up his scent, even through all the garbage that’s floating around this place, soon as he hit town. As he starts to say that they should get to work trackin’ them down before…, Lucy invades their thoughts and tells them to hurry. She needs them. Turning to Frank, Logan asks him if he’s still not a believer. Scowling, Frank replies let’s just find her.

What was once the town square of Christ’s Crown now serves as the focal point of the spreading corruption. Over it all reigns Blackheart. Upon seeing a bird, a dove, flying about in his citadel, Blackheart yells at it to go away. Reduce it to ash he would, but madness looms closer with every exertion of such powers. Cursed by father with this madness… by father. His power must be conserved… so that… doled out sparingly, amongst the Corrupt, with one purpose in mind… the death of Mephisto will result. Father… demon… evil!

Just then, one of the members of the Corrupt appears before Blackheart and informs him that he has news of the intruders. When Blackheart orders him to speak, his minion tells him that Wolverine and Punisher have arrived and killed many of his Corrupt. They cannot find them or the girl. Grabbing him by the throat and choking him, Blackheart angrily asks him why he brings him this news rather than his head on a platter. Mutant… killer… spirit of vengeance… they all must die! Lucy must be his! After snapping the minion’s neck, Blackheart wonders aloud why can’t they… why can’t anyone… understand that he would be a far better ruler in hell than his father. As the bird flies by, Blackheart asks it that it mocks his words and begins to laugh maniacally. Mock him not! With that, Blackheart destroys the bird.

Just then, a larger than life Mephisto appears and tells his fallen son that he is sooooo proud of him. There he sits and plots his demise. And yet… in his ever-increasing dementia… he continues his work on the earthly dimension. How utterly delightful. Carry on, carry on. Blackheart exclaims that he was created to be his assassin. The prophecy will be fulfilled. He’ll kill him! He’ll kill him! He’ll kill him! He’ll kill him!

Elsewhere, in a hidden bunker, Norma asks Lucy how Dan Ketch is doing. Kneeling by his side, Lucy tells her not good, he’s burning up with a fever. She doesn’t know what to do for him. Norma replies that he was their… her… best chance of getting out of this living hell. But if he’s been corrupted there’s only one thing they can do for him. With that, Norma readies her rifle. Lucy then tells Dan that she’s so sorry she got him into this and begs him to please get better. Holding her hand, Dan tells her not to be sorry, he’ll be fine. And when the other two show up they’ll figure a way out of there. She’ll see.

Just then, the warning whistle sounds. Upon hearing it, Norma orders her followers to get ready. They are going to send the Corrupt back to that hell-spawned master of theirs in small pieces. Entering the room with Punisher, Wolverine tells them to hold their fire. They’re lookin’ for a little friend of theirs. Seeing Lucy, he remarks how grown up she is. Rushing over to them, Lucy happily gives Mister Logan and Mister Frank a big hug. She knew they’d come, she just knew it. Logan then asks if someone there wants to tell them what’s goin’ on around there.

Steadying himself up against a wall, Dan answers that they’re all trying to figure that one out. Logan informs Dan that he tracked them all to this place by his scent. But somethin’ ain’t right. There’s a stink of death on him. Dan replies that the Corrupt did something to Ghost Rider and somehow it’s affecting him, too. When Frank asks what happens when he transforms, Dan answers that he doesn’t know… yet.

A few minutes later, Logan, Lucy, Dan Ketch, and Norma sit around a fire while Frank Castle stands ever vigilant. Dan informs Logan and Frank that he arrived yesterday as soon as he could after getting Lucy’s messages. Before he could get any information they came under attack by the Corrupt. They are connected to Blackheart. That’s all he knows. Frank interjects that he thought they helped finish Blackheart for good. Norma states that obviously they didn’t do too good a job.

Turning to Lucy, Logan asks her what she knows. Lucy tells him that she doesn’t know. She began… coming of age… and things started happening to her. Powers… she still doesn’t understand them, but she knows she can help people. He knows it, too. Frank says to her that even if she does have powers, he doesn’t know why she called out to them. He likes her and all, but doesn’t she think that fighting this supposed supernatural stuff is out of their league. Maybe she needs someone like that Doctor Strange guy or the Avengers.

Holding his hand, Lucy tells him that it’s not what he does, it’s who he is. When Frank says he doesn’t get it, Logan remarks that it’s simple. The three of them are all real good at what they do. Sometimes they’re even called heroes. Frank tells him to speak for himself. Standing up and putting his arm around Lucy, Dan adds that along the way they all have come real close to going over the edge. So close they can taste it, so close that you can feel it reach out and threaten to grab hold of you. Lucy says that’s right, but they don’t. They never give in to the darkness. They walk the line that few beings can. They look into the abyss and stay on the side of good. This is what makes them such a danger to Blackheart and Mephisto. They just can’t predict what they will do.

Dan says whatever. They do good things for people, but along the way… Frank interjects that he’ll pretend to buy into all this supernatural garbage, but what are they supposed to be doing there. Norma replies that they need them to get them out of this godforsaken city, all of them. But the most important thing is to do whatever it takes to get Lucy out of his reach. Frank remarks that that is something he can get behind.

Meanwhile, Blackheart tells his hordes of Corrupt members to find the girl. Bring her to him alive. Ghost Rider, Wolverine, Punisher. He wants only their rotting corpses. Do this for him. Departing into his quarters, Blackheart hears Mephisto’s voice telling him that his grasp on sanity is becoming more and more tenuous. How delicious. Upon seeing his father, Blackheart leaps at him and exclaims that he’s going to kill him. Crushing him with the back of his fist, Mephisto tells him there he goes again, losing control. Here he labors so hard to become his assassin, as is his destiny, and yet he tries to attack him with his hands? He is on the right path, but beware as he teeters on the brink of insanity. Perhaps he spreads his powers amongst these Corrupt and dilute them overmuch. The darkness in the souls of these corruptible humans draws them to him like moths to a flame, waiting and eager to be burned by his wickedness. They may turn into a formidable force.

As Blackheart rematerializes from a puddle of ooze into his original form, Mephisto adds that he is powerful enough to storm the very gates of his realm but he will sacrifice his own power in doing so. What will he do if those three, the three whom he once chose to attempt an allegiance, decide to attack? Would he be able to fend them off in his current weakened state? Blasting his father, Blackheart exclaims there is strength in him yet. Dropping Blackheart, Mephisto asks is this all the power he can muster? He does so disappoint him. At least, in his failure, he will provide him with many souls. As Mephisto begins to disappear, he tells his son to carry on. Once Mephisto has departed, Blackheart defiantly states that he will not fail, not fail.

Beneath the city, Norma mentions to Logan, Dan Ketch and Punisher that none of this makes sense. These tunnels didn’t even exist a month ago. Then again, neither did the Corrupt. Logan proceeds to ask what is so important about the kid. Norma answers that none of them really know. One day they woke up and the Corrupt and Blackheart were there, the town had changed overnight. Most people found it easier to give in to the taint of his presence. Some tried to escape and they were killed by the Corrupt. Lucy’s mom, her Aunt Flo, was one of the first to fall. It looked like they’d all be killed when Lucy started calling out to them… psychically. She has a calming effect on people. With her around them, they feel like there’s hope. Those of them who survived had one thing in common – they had all been touched by Lucy’s presence. She has some power, something good. Something she can’t even describe, and doesn’t know how she believes in, but it’s there. She helped them survive as much as they helped her. He can’t be allowed to corrupt her. Just then Frank points out that they have company.

Just then, the heroes engage in fierce battle with the Corrupt. The attack is sudden and brutal. The Corrupt emerge from every shadow, every dark place. Wolverine and Punisher give as good as they get. The sounds and smells of the battle fill the tunnels. Claws and bullets tear through the bodies of these things that were once human. Their soulless screams pierce the darkness. But their ranks are never-ending. An army created out of darkness and determined to storm the very gates of hell with Blackheart leading them and the young Lucy Crumm at his side.

Looking down at his hand, Dan Ketch states that he has to release him. They need his strength. But the corruption is upon him. If he has succumbed, he has no choice. With that, Dan Ketch transforms into Ghost Rider. As Logan and Frank continue their vicious battle, Ghost Rider informs Lucy that he is there and that they will not pass. The Corrupt begin to fall before Ghost Rider’s blows. He is relentless. He stares into the swirling depths of the darkness in their eyes, a darkness which matches that which spreads on his own arm. The darkness spreads, threatens to overwhelm him. The Corrupt surge forward.

As a single dark wave they sweep over Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider will not be separated from Lucy. And then, as suddenly as it began, the battle is over and lost. At that moment, Logan points out to Frank that they’re gone and that they took the kid and Ghost Rider with ‘em. Blackheart ain’t givin’ them much of a choice. He then asks Mr. Frank if he’s ready to go toe to toe with the big ugly guy again. Frank tells Mr. Logan that he is game. And if Ghost Rider has gone over, he’ll find a way to take him out, too. Logan says let’s move it then. Norma, with her followers in tow, tells Logan and Frank that they’re going with them. She can move them through the pit of darkness and take them straight to him. None of them are leaving without Lucy. When Frank tells her to lead on, they begin their journey.

Elsewhere, in Blackheart’s citadel, Blackheart, wearing a coat, stands in front of Lucy, who is wearing a wedding dress. As he does, he tells her that her beauty, her purity, must be seen in the light. With that, Blackheart bathes the room in light when he pulls the curtain away from the window. After Lucy asks Blackheart what he wants with her, Blackheart kisses her hand and tells her that she is the pure foundation upon which he is building his realm. She will be his anchor during battle, will help him maintain a grasp on his sanity, and she will be his redemption after daddy dearest is no more. Together they will rule in a kinder and gentler version of his father’s realm – together!

Outside, the assault on Blackheart’s stronghold begins and those who have willingly forfeited their souls, their humanity, to the son Mephisto now forfeit their lives. After slaughtering the members of the Corrupt, Wolverine asks Punisher if he’s ready. Punisher replies “always.” As they leap through the citadel window, Blackheart informs Lucy that it appears her would-be liberators have arrived. Standing behind Lucy and holding a knife to her throat, Blackheart tells the heroes to not take another step. Dead or alive, she will serve his purpose either way.

Pointing his sniper rifle at Blackheart’s forehead, Punisher remarks that he can take him out. Gritting his teeth, Logan tells Blackheart to let go of the kid. Blackheart asks threats? He thinks not. Now, in the past he offered them power, power to join him. They refused him then as he presumes they will refuse him now. He then tells them to observe what happens to those who refuse him. He tells them to behold Ghost Rider who is ensnared to a nearby wall with spikes and chains. Blackheart tells them to behold his pain. Nothing? A comrade in arms is in pain and yet they do not waiver from their true course? Could it be that, despite their heroic guises, their own journeys into the abyss have made them apathetic to the pain, the true pain of others? Is it that they only perform these gestures of heroism to justify the pleasure that they receive by releasing their dark sides?

Turning towards Frank, Logan tells him to pull the trigger. He thinks Blackheart’s lost it – his mind and his powers. Before Frank can do so, Blackheart ensnares the heroes and pins them up to the wall on either side of Ghost Rider. As he does, he tells Wolverine to think again. His power is diminished but it is far from lost. Now, shall they all journey to the abyss once more and seek out the darkness which dwells within them?

As they become free from their bonds, Logan tells the others to be ready. It’s a mind game. Just the kind of garbage that Blackheart would try to use to put them over the… edge?

Just then, Logan finds himself naked in the north country woods of Canada. He tells Blackheart that it’s pretty original takin’ him back to his roots. It’s been tried too many times. He doesn’t even know what’s real himself anymore. He doesn’t really care. Logan then yells at Blackheart to get out of his mind. He’s not in the mood to play tonight.

Frank Castle, Punisher, finds himself in Hell’s Kitchen surrounded by a bunch of men with guns pointing at him. He remarks that he knows them. Every one of them are killers. Like the ones who killed his wife and kids. They’ve got to die… tonight!

Ghost Rider, discovers himself in the cemetery where his quest for vengeance began. Barbara, Dan’s sister, is buried there. Seeing a figure kneeling before her gravestone, he asks that Blackheart sends one of his minions there to defile her grave? Vengeance will be served.

In the woods of Canada, Logan asks Blackheart that this is it? This is all he’s got to throw at him? His powers really are runnin’ low, huh? It’s gonna take more than a trip down memory lane for him to give it all up, to go berserker. It ain’t gonna happen this way. In Hell’s Kitchen, Frank shoots his attackers. As he does, he tells them that he knows them all. He’s killed them all before, and he’ll kill them all again until they stay dead. At the cemetery, Ghost Rider wraps his chain around the man’s neck and exclaims innocent blood, vengeance, never enough.

Transforming into his yellow and blue costume, Logan calls out to Ghost Rider and Punisher that they’ve got to fight him. He’s tryin’ to play with their heads – fight it. Continuing to fire upon his attackers, Frank says they keep coming. He knows their faces. He’s killed them before. He then asks killed… before…? As he pulls the chain harder around his foe’s neck, Ghost Rider is stopped by Barbara who tells him that he doesn’t have to do this. She then points out to him who Blackheart is having him kill. It’s Dan; it’s his bridge to humanity. Fight him.

At that moment, Logan points out to his comrades that Blackheart’s losin’ it. They can do it. He’s weak. With that, the heroes break free of their bonds. As they do, Logan tells Blackheart that all he’s done is made them mad. Looks like he loses… again. Blackheart says no, will not lose. Not this time. He still has the child, she is the key. Her innocence, her light, will be his weapon, his salvation. Before he can reach Lucy, Ghost Rider wraps his chain around Blackheart’s chest and pulls him back. Unloading his rifle into him, Punisher remarks look at him dance. Maybe bullets won’t be such a waste after all.

Just then, Logan tells Frank to stand down a second. He wants a couple of shots. As Logan jams his bone claws into Blackheart’s gut, Blackheart pleads with them not to take the girl. He begs them to help him slay his father. Standing over him, Frank answers that they’ve been through this before. He knows the answer. With that, Frank shoots Blackheart in the chest at close range. On his hands and knees, Blackheart pleads with Ghost Rider to help him. He must know that he’d be a better ruler of hell than his father. He tells him to think of the innocent souls he would save from an eternity of anguish. Please?

Putting his foot on Blackheart’s head, Ghost Rider tells him no. He has shown them that he is no better than the father he wishes to slay. This town has been corrupted, innocent blood stains the street, all in his name. Hundreds call for vengeance from beyond the grave. Theirs are the pleas which will be answered tonight. With that, the heroes again viciously attack Blackheart.

In short time, the battle ends and the only sound that fills the cavernous room is a brief exhalation of relief from Lucy. The three heroes accept her thanks in silence. Norma and the rest of her group or rebels arrive to report that the Corrupt are dead or abandoning the city. And still the heroes are silent. Silent, as they reflect on the darkness within themselves that they have confronted. The dark and hidden place which is a hidden source of strength for all three. Every time they tap into the darkness it costs them another piece of their souls. Each cannot help but ask himself “Is it worth it?” Today a child was saved. For these three heroes, that is enough. It will always be enough. In the silence, the child, so full of goodness and light, runs toward the fallen devil. Kneeling before him, she offers the last thing he had expected – forgiveness.

As the heroes depart the citadel, Blackheart weeps as his world becomes undone. Standing over him, Mephisto tells him that he has ashamed him in this failure. But is it not the duty of a father to forgive his son in all things? He tells him to submit to him and he will help him restore this fledgling kingdom. United they will be powerful. It will be a firm foothold into this dimension.

Watching the heroes leaving Christ’s Crown, Mephisto tells his son to submit. Blackheart tells him no, this game is not played out yet. Mephisto says to him that he is mistaken. His role of assassin is now lost. Say the word and he shall bring back those humans. Their souls can be his. When Blackheart tells him no, Mephisto turns around and asks his son what is he holding – a knife? Blackheart says it is a gift for him. After Mephisto asks what is on the blade, Blackheart informs him that it is blood. The means of fulfilling his destiny has been given to him. He does not need the child. Only this, the blood of a child, innocent blood. Mephisto asks innocent blood? He then tells Blackheart not to do this. If he does, the price he will pay will be great.

Jamming the knife into his father’s chest, Blackheart exclaims prophecy fulfilled. A new order has been established in hell this day. Now he will surpass the role filled by Mephisto. Mephisto, king of hell, is dead. Long live the new king!

Characters Involved: 

Ghost Rider (Danny Ketch)



Norma Jean and various other unnamed residents of Christ’s Crown

Lucy Crumm



Various members of the Corrupt (Vana and Hank are the only ones named)

Story Notes: 

This one-shot is a follow-up to the December 1991 released Ghost Rider, Wolverine, Punisher Hearts of Darkness one-shot.

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

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

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