If you watched the premiere of this season’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, you were probably psyched to see Ghost Rider burning his way into the Marvel TV universe. You also probably have a lot of questions. For example, what does this have to do with the Nicolas Cage movies? Is Nicolas Cage going to show up? What is Nicolas Cage doing now? Ok… maybe you had some actual character questions, but I’ll try and answer a little of both. Let’s learn!
WHO THE -HELL- IS GHOST RIDER?
Skipping right past the 60’s cowboy character, Ghost Rider as we saw him on screen in S.H.I.E.L.D. was originally introduced in 1972. The first rider was Johnny Blaze, Nic Cage’s movie character. Blaze sold his soul to the devil to save his father-figure from dying from cancer. Which worked. Then his father died in a motorcycle stunt anyway. The devil, in this case, is Mephisto (there are a lot of Marvel Comics devils and it’s complicated) who made Blaze into “The Spirit Of Vengeance” by bonding the demon Zarathos to him. This makes him into a flaming skeleton in a leather jacket who rides his flaming motorcycle around protecting the innocent, or at least avenging them.
Skip forward almost two decades and Johnny Blaze has lost the powers of Ghost Rider, possibly because someone finally noticed his name was a little on the nose. Lots of nominative determinism in the Marvel Universe, just saying. At this time Danny Ketch and his sister are caught in a battle between two rival gangs and run into a junkyard to hide. Barbara (the sister) is already shot and bleeding out, but Danny feels called to touch a mystical seal on the gas cap of a random motorcycle and boom, Ghost Rider #2.
Why is there a mystical symbol on a random motorcycle you ask? Well, that wasn’t explained at all for a long while. As often happens with comics continuity over time, both Ghost Riders were eventually revealed (or retconned?) as brothers. Their mother, who neither of them really knew, had the motorcycle, but how it ended up in that junk yard was never explained. Danny is not possessed by Zarathos either, but by his ancestor Noble Kale who was actually the first Ghost Rider centuries earlier. And again some of this history seems to have been retconned away but it’s not clear either way. That’s comics for you.
For a while, the brothers adventure together with Danny as Ghost Rider and Johnny as… well… himself, but with a hellfire shotgun. Blade was part of that team too. Midnight Sons was an odd but good book, check it out. Their adventures often centered around a powerful magical book called the Darkhold. You might have heard that name mentioned in the second episode this season. Interesting. Seems like this show might be getting us ready for the Doctor Strange movie as well.
From there, the continuity gets very confusing with both Ghost Riders losing and regaining their powers and possessing spirits. Danny was dead but got better, Johnny got to be full on Ghost Rider again. Eventually, a now-powerless Danny becomes a sort of Ghost Rider power addict and starts killing other spirits of vengeance to get a fix. This hinging on the reveal that there are lots more Ghost Riders all over the world. That kinda makes sense as vengeance isn’t only necessary in the American West. This storyline gives us some precious panels depicting Ghost Riders of all nations including an Atlantean Ghost Rider who rides a shark.
OK BUT WHICH ONE IS THE S.H.I.E.L.D GUY?
Robbie Reyes is actually the fourth modern Ghost Rider, after Alejandra Jones who only held the power for a little while before Johnny Blaze stole it back. Jones will probably return, as seems to be the way with Ghost Riders (and comic characters in general), but for now, the comics have turned their focus to Robbie.
Reyes became Ghost Rider in 2014 when he was gunned down in a street race by gangsters who were seeking drugs that had inadvertently been stashed in his car. He was resurrected by what appeared to be a spirit of vengeance who later revealed itself to be the ghost of his uncle Eli Morrow. Also he has a car, not a bike.
The ghost, Morrow, turns out to actually be a former satanic serial killer and Reyes and Morrow end up fighting for control of their mutual body. At one point, Johnny Blaze intervenes and uses his “penance stare” on the ghost. Eventually, Reyes and Morrow bond permanently and share Robbie’s body, forcing Eli to agree to a Dexter-like arrangement where they still kill people, but only those who deserve it.
SO WILL THIS BE HIS STORY ON S.H.I.E.L.D?
That’s not really clear. It wouldn’t be beyond the pale to imagine that the show will truncate all the Ghost Rider stories into one digestible chunk. So Robbie Reyes might be empowered by Zarathos or Noble Kale or some other unspecified “Spirit of Vengeance.” The powers could just as easily come from Asgard or some other plot-convenient place. If they are strict to the comics, we might actually see a Johnny Blaze character show up. I doubt it would be Nicolas Cage, but I want it to be.
THE BIG BAD HYDE CONNECTION
In the comics, the drugs that were in Robbie’s car (and led to him being shot) are the drugs used to make Calvin Zabo into Mr. Hyde. If those names ring a bell its because Calvin was Daisy Johnson’s Father in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Later in the comics, Ghost Rider wages a one-man war against Mr. Hyde, trying to take him down. Could that happen here? Maybe. But Kyle MacLaughlin would have to return and be written back into the fold. Unlikely.
OK, BUT WHERE DID HE GET THAT JACKET?
I know right! It’s so cool. No idea. It’s just good art design. Writer/Artist Felipe Smith and artist Tradd Moore created this version of Ghost Rider, but maybe they should open up a clothing line.
Did you enjoy Ghost Rider on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Were you a fan in the comics? Did you like the Nic Cage movies? What IS he doing right now?
Header Image Credit: ABC Television and Marvel Studios
Image Credits: Marvel Comics