Possible spoilers for Ghost Rider (2007), World War Hulk, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Batman: The Movie (1966)
“Hell hath no fury like a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle.” Marvel vs. Capcom 3
A serial killer is riding his motorcycle, looking for a new victim. In the rearview mirror, he sees a bright light approaching fast. “Some idiot has their high beams on,” he thinks. As the light brightens, he sees another biker. Some dude dressed in leathers with a weird helmet. The other biker pulls out a chain (a chain? wheredidthatcomefrom?) and knocks the killer to the ground as his motorcycle crashes on the shoulder of the road.
The killer tries crawling away from the wreck, only to see the other biker’s on fire! The killer is forced to stare into the skull’s eyes and feels pain. He feels everything he has ever done to hurt another person. As the killer goes mad, Ghost Rider smiles and drives off.
One of Marvel’s greatest anti-heroes, Ghost Rider was everywhere in the 90’s. Nothing catches your eye like a skeletal biker who is on fire. But what is this apparition? How did it come to be? And why does it hunt the guilty? Time to find out. Buckle up, kids, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
Johnny Blaze: Deal With The Devil
There have been a few Ghost Riders, so we’ll focus on the two main ones and the new one that will be in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Johnny Blaze: I’m gonna own this curse, and I’m gonna use it against you. Whenever innocent blood is spilled, it’ll be my father’s blood. And you’ll find me there, a Spirit of Vengeance, fighting fire with fire.”- Ghost Rider (2007)
Johnny Blaze was the adopted son of stunt driver Crash Simpson and wanted nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. When Crash revealed that he had cancer, Johnny used an occult ritual to summon the devil. He instead summoned Mephisto, Lord of Hell (played by Peter Fonda), and sold his soul in exchange for Crash’s cancer being cured. Hell kept its word and cured the cancer, but Crash went out in a Johnny-Blaze of glory when a stunt went wrong. Mephisto explained that their deal was that Crash’s cancer would be cured, not that Crash would live for a specific time. Mephisto tried taking Johnny’s soul, but was thwarted by a mix of his girlfriend’s love and some handy-dandy magic she happened to know.
A furious Mephisto bonded a demon* named Zarathos to Blaze’s soul. Zarathos curses Blaze so that Johnny transforms into the Ghost Rider whenever he is in the presence of evil. Blaze defied Mephisto and used his new powers to fight evil, from crooks and supervillains to demons and monsters. Johnny eventually managed to gain control over his curse and sealed Zarathos away. Johnny settled down with Roxanne, but when he learned of a new Ghost Rider roaming the streets, he left to stop the new threat.
Danny Ketch: Pain and Penance
“Long have you played with fire, boy. Now, you’re playing with Hellfire.” Ghost Rider to Vergil
Danny Ketch was a normal guy until he and his sister Barbara were attacked by a gang run by the demon Deathwatch. Barbara was badly wounded and Danny fled into a nearby junkyard, where he saw a motorcycle with a strange symbol. When he touched the symbol, he transformed into Ghost Rider and used his new powers to destroy the gang. Danny was believed to be Zarathos reborn and was pursued by Mephisto and Johnny Blaze. Johnny fought Danny but stopped when he learned that they were long-lost brothers. From then on, Johnny mentored Danny as the brothers fought evil.
The pair learned that their family suffered from a curse that caused them to become Ghost Rider. Their ancestor, Noble Kane, had married a black woman in the 18th century. Noble was unaware that his father, Pastor Kane, was a follower of Mephisto. When Noble’s wife discovered Pastor’s secret, he framed her for witchcraft and burned her at the stake. The woman cursed the town to be destroyed by The Furies**, which Mephisto countered by turning Noble into the first Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider destroyed The Furies and killed himself so he wouldn’t be forced to harm innocents. Mephisto began taking Noble’s soul, but was stopped by his own brother, the archangel Uriel. The supernatural brothers agreed that Noble’s soul would remain in a void until summoned by one of his descendants. Danny Ketch was that descendant.
Robbie Reyes: The All-New Ghost Rider
“This is the tale of an ordinary kid named Robbie Reyes, whose life is about to become a hell of a lot less ordinary. Get in. LET’S RIDE.” –All-New Ghost Rider Vol. 1
Robbie Reyes was a mechanic who participated in a street race. He wanted the prize money so he and his brother Gabe could escape gang-ridden Los Angeles. Robbie is gunned down by mercenaries hired by Mr. Hyde (Kyle MacLachlan in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) to retrieve his transformation pills from the car Robbie was using. A ghost named Eli Morrow revives Robbie as the new Ghost Rider and helps him defeat Mr. Hyde. Eli is revealed to be Robbie’s estranged uncle… and a satanic serial killer. Must be fun at family reunions. They soon wind up permanently bonded and fight for control. The two reach a truce, Robbie will kill for Eli, but he will only kill evil people.
Spirits of Vengeance: Ghost Rider’s Powers and Personality
“It doesn’t matter if there is an edge, or if we occasionally cross it. As long as the innocent are protected, our cause is just.” – Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness
Ghost Riders are super strong and almost impossible to kill. They all have a vehicle wreathed in Hellfire that can outperform conventional models. They can even drive up walls. Despite what Stan Jones may tell you, Ghost Rider can’t fly***. Each Ghost Rider also has unique abilities.
Johnny Blaze started out with super strength and a magical motorcycle, but eventually gained some of Danny’s abilities as well. Johnny is able to breathe Hellfire, flames that burn the soul, and uses a shotgun that can shoot Hellfire. During World War Hulk, Dr. Strange claimed that Ghost Rider is one of the most powerful superheroes and sends him to fight Hulk. Ghost Rider was able to beat the “Green Scar” Hulk, The Hulk at his absolute strongest, but drove away because he realized that Hulk was innocent.
Danny Ketch was the first to use several of Ghost Rider’s now iconic powers. He uses a magical chain that responds to his mental commands. His ultimate weapon however, is the Penance Stare. If Ghost Rider locks eyes with a victim, he can make them feel all the pain they have ever caused. Just for fun, imagine all the pain you’ve caused today. Every insult, every injury, everything. Got it? Now imagine that, multiplied by your entire lifetime. Yeah, Ghost Rider ain’t someone I’d want to screw with.
Robbie Reyes is not a true Spirit of Vengeance, but has several similar abilities. He can manifest chains with knife-point tips, teleport to his car, and even merge with it. He doesn’t appear to have things like the Penance Stare, but in comics, you never know.
The Actors Who Played Ghost Rider
Johnny Blaze was played in Ghost Rider (2007) by noted Hollywood madman, Nicolas Cage. Cage is a major fan of comics in general and Ghost Rider in particular, even having a tattoo of Ghost Rider. He reprised the role for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Danny Ketch was planned to have his own cartoon in the 90s. To build interest for the show, Ghost Rider cameoed in Fantastic Four, where he was voiced by Richard Grieco. He was a deus ex machina**** who easily defeated Galactus with his Penance Stare. Ghost Rider also appeared in the Incredible Hulk, where he pursued the Hulk for an episode. Sadly, Ghost Rider never got his own show.
Robbie Reyes only debuted a few years ago, but appears in Season 4 of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., played by Gabriel Luna, who was always gonna be a superhero with a name like that. This might be a bad idea, as casual fans who saw the Ghost Rider movies might get confused over Robbie’s identity.
Didya Get All That?
(Probably not in this case.)
A demonic legacy of vengeance that protects the innocent.
* Later retconned as an angel masquerading as a demon.
** Creatures from Greek Mythology that torment anyone who kills family members.
*** Stan Jones was a country singer who wrote a song called “Ghost Riders in the Sky”.
**** Latin for god from a machine, a term for when something solves an unsolvable problem in an sudden, unexpected way. To give an example, In the 1960s Batman movie Batman and Robin were restrained on a buoy. The villains had just shot two torpedoes at the dynamic duo and Batman detonated them with a gadget. The villains fire a final torpedo, but the gadget is out of power. How do Batman and Robin survive?!!?
Robin: Gosh, Batman. The nobility of the almost-human porpoise.
Batman: True, Robin. It was noble of that animal to hurl himself into the path of that final torpedo. He gave his life for ours.
WTF. There’s subtlety, and then there’s 1960s Batman.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.