When a demonic force seeped into New York City without warning it seemed as if all Hell had been let loose on the unsuspecting metropolis. Countless people became ensnared body and soul to the seductive power that consumed their minds. As the advent of a dark new age loomed on the horizon, victory over the encroaching darkness rested on the shoulders of three of the Marvel universe’s most ruthless heroes.
1995’s Ghost Rider; Wolverine; Punisher: The Dark Design (by Howard Mackie and Ron Garney) pit the titular heroes against Blackheart, son of Mephisto and aspiring ruler of Hell. Each of the heroes was put to the ultimate test as they fought not only for the life of an innocent girl and all of New York City but for the preservation of their very souls.
The comic began with an explosive battle between Ghost Rider and a horde of armed soldiers. Bullets and laser fire ripped through the air as Ghost Rider, with a young girl in his arms, raced to keep from falling into the hands of the soldiers. Knowing that running further is a futile effort, Ghost Rider turned and fought the soldiers, buying himself and the girl a small amount of time.
Simultaneously to Ghost Rider’s battle, Wolverine was caught in the midst of a heated battle against more of the soldiers. Covering fire from The Punisher ended the battle quickly as Wolverine inquired if he, too, had been receiving psychic cries of help from a mysterious girl named Lucy. The two men teamed up, realizing something truly dire is developing in New York City.
Wolverine and Punisher discovered a makeshift base of resistance fighters with Ghost Rider and Lucy resting within. It’s revealed that Ghost Rider himself had also received Lucy’s psychic message, and almost immediately after finding her, was attacked by the soldiers, now known as The Corrupt. They learned that Blackheart was the force behind The Corrupt, his power coursing through them. What Blackheart wanted with Lucy was unknown, but each of the heroes knew they must keep her safe.
As Ghost Rider, Punisher, and Wolverine began to guide Lucy to safety, a horde of The Corrupt swarmed over them. A fevered battle erupted with Wolverine and Punisher becoming separated from Ghost Rider and Lucy. Ghost Rider fought with everything he had, but it wasn't enough, and they were captured. Knowing that there could be no delay, Wolverine and Punisher rushed off to rescue them from Blackheart’s clutches.
Deep within Blackheart's chamber, the heroes faced off against the demon prince. Subjected to illusions designed to kill their connections to humanity and purity, Wolverine, Punisher, and Ghost Rider battled for their very souls. Each of the heroes broke free of Blackheart’s illusions and unleashed a three-way attack on him. The demon was defenseless against the onslaught and fell before them. The comic ended with Mephisto gloating over Blackheart’s failure, too slow to prevent his son from putting a knife coated in Lucy’s blood deep into his chest. Blackheart cackled with devilish glee, proclaiming himself the new ruler of Hell.
What's interesting about the story was how unsuited Punisher and Wolverine were for the fight against Blackheart. Aside from Ghost Rider, none of the heroes had an extended history of battling supernatural forces of Blackheart's nature. The question was even asked as to why heroes such as Doctor Strange or The Avengers weren't called in to save the day. As was the style at the time, having gritty street-level heroes shoot bad guys was all that was needed for a riveting story. It didn't matter if Punisher was wildly out of place fighting demons: having him pair up with Wolverine was a sure-fire hit, and adding Ghost Rider to the mix made it all even sweeter.
Ghost Rider; Wolverine; Punisher: The Dark Design was a quintessential 90’s comic. It was rife with bullets, attitude, anti-heroes, and guns that looked like they were designed by an eight-year-old who had a vague understanding of what guns actually were. Mashing three of Marvel’s grittiest anti-heroes together against a duster-wearing demon was as edgy as you could get. It’s nice, though, that the story ends not with more attitude, but with each of the heroes remembering what it means to be human.