Villains Month: Blackout

There is something charming about an underdog. The idea of coming from behind, and having to rely on cleverness or will instead of pure brute strength speaks to the place in all of us that doesn’t feel like we had it easy. Underdogs are much more likely to be heroes, as in order for a story to feel like there are appropriate stakes and that the victory means something, the villains are usually in the position of greater power. However, once in awhile, a good underdog villain comes along and forces us to respect them for their ability to keep up against a hero they should have no chance of beating. Blackout, one of Ghost Rider’s nemeses, fits this bill rather well.

Blackout is a hired assassin who, while not in fact a vampire, has a modus operandi remarkably similar to one. He has had his teeth and nails surgically enhanced to be razor sharp, and the superhuman ability to snuff out all light sources in his presence. He is also a remarkable hand to hand combatant, able to outmatch foes with greater physical prowess than him through speed and leverage, and he extremely stealthy, which fits his darkness-based power. For all this, he is a very frightening and effective killer. Blackout also subscribes to the theory of leaving alive no witnesses to his crimes, or anyone who might have been a witness, or anyone who might have seen his face in passing, so he is also hard to track. All of these are impressive abilities, but unfortunately, against a nearly unkillable flaming skeleton like Ghost Rider, his powers are not particularly effective. To his chagrin, Blackout learns this when he attempts to bite through Ghost Rider’s skin and has his face disfigured for his trouble.

In many cases, this might have been considered a warning to Blackout that he was out of his weight class and should perhaps stick to assassinating ordinary people for money, but instead it drove him to seek greater revenge. He chose to rely less on brute force and more on his natural stealth abilities, following Ghost Rider and searching for a weakness. What he found was quite rewarding, as he learned that Ghost Rider became a human, Dan Ketch, and Dan was far more vulnerable than his alter ego. Thus did Blackout decide he would make Dan suffer for Ghost Rider’s crimes, and after some cursory scouting, he murdered Dan’s sister Barbara, who was comatose but close to recovering. He proceeded to follow Dan around and murder anyone he spoke to, starting with acquaintances, and planned to work his way up to closer and closer loved ones until Dan (and consequently Ghost Rider) had no one left and feared for his life. While he did not fully succeed in his plans, Blackout did eventually go as far as to mortally wound Dan Ketch by tearing out his throat, forcing him to change into Ghost Rider and remain in limbo for a long time.

Blackout eventually learned that he was only half human, and was one of the demonic Lilin. While this did not yield him any new powers, it did give him a number of new allies in his vendetta, including demon queen Lilith herself. Indeed, one of Blackout’s later tactics against the varied Ghost Riders he fought was making allies. Eventually, however, Blackout decided that his vendetta against Ghost Rider was getting him nowhere and he asked for a truce, saying that he would leave Dan and his family alone if the hero would not interfere with his killings, an offer Ghost Rider refused. This led to the cycle between the two being revived until Dan’s story as the Ghost Rider ended.

There was always a part of me that wished Blackout had eventually gained some ability to harm Ghost Rider given that they were always such personal rivals, but much like Lex Luthor was always lame in that green armor, Blackout would have lost his charm if he was put on equal footing. The character is interesting because he’s not Ghost Rider’s physical equal, and yet he is still dangerous. Blackout has to find clever ways to win, and because he’s a particularly nasty individual, he strikes in ways that even a superhero can’t stop. He goes for Dan’s family and friends, because the hero can’t protect them at every moment, and sooner or later, everyone lets their guard down. That is when Blackout strikes.