Ghost Rider: A Weird Media History in Movies, TV, and Video Games

Before the spirit of vengeance brings Hell to Agents of SHIELD season 4, let's look at Ghost Rider's other exploits in non-comic media.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD season 4 upon us. In a way, it’s like a new beginning as the first three seasons were a contained arc about the final nail in Hydra’s coffin. More importantly, we got to see Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward go from bland hero to slightly-less-bland villain to interesting antihero to compelling villain to villain-who’s-run-his-course to undead tentacle space god to ashes floating in space.

What I’m saying is that Agents of SHIELD needs a real shot in the arm to find some real momentum in a Wardless world and it looks like they have exactly that with the hype that Ghost Rider will be driving around. Yes, driving, not riding, as they’re going with the latest Ghost Rider host, Robbie Reyes, who will be played by Gabriel Luna. Rather than use a motorcycle, Robbie thrashes evil with a Dodge Charger.

Agents of SHIELD Ghost Rider

It’ll be good to see Ghost Rider show up outside of the comic book universe again. A Ghost Rider, at least. Whether Johnny Blaze, Danny Ketch, Robbie Reyes, or Alejan—haha, sorry. Nobody cares about Alejandra Ghost Rider. Anyway, whichever the Ghost Rider, they usually tend to lead to some interesting media appearances.

I think it’s because Ghost Rider doesn’t really fit in in the Marvel Universe. He doesn’t quite blend with the superheroes and he doesn’t really coexist with the Marvel monsters enough to be a regular part of their gang. Usually, being a “loner” hero is meaningless because guys like Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Namor, etc. are regularly members of the Avengers and many other teams. Ghost Rider is mainly known for being on three superhero teams and they fall under the labels of “this totally doesn’t count” (New Fantastic Four), “haha, why does this even exist?” (Champions), and “this has nothing to do with the Thunderbolts, what the hell?” (Thunderbolts).

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Before Ghost Rider sends Coulson and Daisy on a highway to Hell, let’s take a look at his other media appearances.

GHOST RIDER VIDEO GAMES

As far as I can tell, Ghost Rider’s first video game appearance came in 1995’s Spider-Man/Venom: Separation Anxiety, which was actually based on the comic Venom: Lethal Protector despite there being a Venom story called Separation Anxiety around that time. And the game is a sequel to Maximum Carnage even though both Lethal Protector and Separation Anxiety take place before Maximum Carnage and I just went cross-eyed.

Ghost Rider in Spider-Man/Venom: Separation Anxiety

Anyway, Ghost Rider appeared as an assist, where he’d jump in, whip his chain around and leave. He had absolutely no connection to either Venom story, but whatevs.

He had an even more minor appearance in the 2000 Neversoft Spider-Man game. If you play in “What If Mode,” there’s a brief cameo of Ghost Rider riding around during a cutscene.

Ghost Rider mostly appears in ensemble Marvel games, rarely getting an actual spotlight outside of having a mission dedicated to rescuing him from Mephisto’s clutches in Ultimate Alliance. Otherwise, he has shown up with little fanfare in games like Lego Marvel, Marvel Heroes, Avengers Alliance, and so on.

There was a Marvel 2099 game in development that was going to feature playable Ghost Rider 2099, but that got cancelled early into its development.

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Similarly, in the mid-90s, Neversoft and Crystal Dynamics were going to team up for a PlayStation Ghost Rider game. It was going to be a side-scroller with 3D elements based around Ghost Rider whipping enemies with his chain and getting stronger from devouring their souls. The game was about a third done before Crystal Dynamics decided to exit out of the gaming business.

You can see more details, including some demo gameplay in this video.

Then in 2007, 2K Games and Climax Group teamed up to release Ghost Rider for PlayStation 2 and PSP. It’s a hack-and-slash game similar to Devil May Cry with added motorcycle-riding levels. While the game didn’t light the world on—wait, that pun is too obvious… While the game didn’t turn too many heads, it did at least have some cool stuff going on in terms of presentation.

Despite having Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti pen the storyline, it’s nothing mind-blowing, focusing on the resurrection of Blackheart while Mephisto is pulling Ghost Rider’s strings yet again. It acts as a sequel to the first Nicholas Cage movie while adding in the likes of Vengeance, Lilith, Scarecrow, and even Blade. In fact, you can unlock Blade as a playable character, which is a neat touch.

Ghost Rider (2007 Game)

The cutscenes are realistic paintings with elements of animation (ie. the flames around Ghost Rider’s head), transitioned through comic book panels. All throughout, there are voiceovers for the different characters. While Johnny Blaze neither looks nor sounds like Cage, they do a really good job making Mephisto look and sound like Peter Fonda, as well as emulating Sam Elliot and Wes Bentley.

It’s fitting that the game is in the same genre as Devil May Cry. In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Dante’s ending shows him having a showdown with Ghost Rider. Dante talks up video game logic and how opponents are meant to get more and more challenging. Considering this is something he’s saying after having slain Galactus, it certainly says a lot about Ghost Rider. It’s also fitting because…actually, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Ghost Rider would appear in the upgrade, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. He has all the necessary attacks. Spitting flame, whipping his chain around, running over enemies with his bike, and – of course – the Penance Stare as a level 3 super.

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Ghost Rider, Dante, and Trish capturing Mephisto

In his ending, he’s become good friends with Dante and Trish, using them to capture Mephisto so they can “renegotiate” their contract.

One of the coolest things about Ghost Rider’s appearance in this game is the voice. They got Richard Greico to reprise the role. Greico voiced the version of Ghost Rider that appeared in the various ’90s cartoons and got roped back in 15 years later. It’s a good thing, too, because Greico’s whispery Ghost Rider is phenomenal. Everything he says is creepy, foreboding, badass, and just a little bit sexy.

Here are some choice quotes from our hero:

Vs. Wesker: “Hell is calling, Albert.”Vs. Amaterasu: “The sun does not rise in Hell, goddess.”Vs. Dante: “Leave the demon fighting to the experts, fool.”Vs. Trish: “I eat demons like Mundus for breakfast.”Vs. Phoenix Wright: “Do you have any idea how many lawyers are in Hell?”Vs. Morrigan: “Not so amusing now, is it?”Vs. Thor: “If you can’t handle Loki…I will.”

Ghost Rider in Capcom game

No wonder demons hate this guy. He threatens to freeze Hell over with his rampant coolness.

GHOST RIDER MOVIES

In early 2007, we got Mark Steven Johnson’s Ghost Rider starring Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze. For this article I revisited the film for the first time since seeing it in theaters and…it’s one of those movies that’s good, but you’re kind of mad at it for not being great, when it easily could have been. See also: the RoboCop reboot (wait, don’t rush to the comments section to chew me out, I—! Shoot, I’m too late).

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But yeah, when the movie gets things right, it’s really fun. Nicolas Cage is…Nicolas Cage, which is always entertaining. For some reason there’s a scene of him eating jellybeans out of a martini glass while laughing uproariously at a chimp doing karate and it makes sense because it’s 100% on-brand for our star actor. There’s also a post-shower scene that appears only to exist so Cage can show off his epic six-pack and he’s right to do so because holy shit, dude. Good for you!

Watch Ghost Rider on Amazon

On the upside, you have Sam Elliot as the Caretaker and Peter Fonda as Mephisto (having the guy from Easy Rider as the villain in a movie about a guy on a motorcycle is the most inspired casting). On the downside, Wes Bentley’s Blackheart and his minions are a huge waste no matter how many creepy demon teeth overlays they do over Blackheart’s Twilight-looking face.

Ghost Rider in 2007 movie

Really, the biggest problem is the fight scenes. The big selling point of superhero movies is the hero vs. villain battles. The origin stories are a means to an end. Sure, we want pathos and exposition, but mainly if it gives us Batman vs. Bane or Captain America vs. Winter Soldier at some point. Those fights should be dramatic and cathartic while giving good use to the choreography and special effects budget.

Ghost Rider vs. Blackheart’s goons is like… Ever seen a speed run video of an NES game when the player cuts through a boss in two seconds? It’s exactly that. The stuff where Ghost Rider evades the police completely rocks my socks, but seeing him take out the elemental demons with zero effort just robs the movie of its momentum and excitement.

The movie was fine and got a sequel five years later as Neveldine/Taylor directed Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. The writing credits mostly go to David S. Goyer, who is responsible for like half of all superhero movies, but notable to me is how one of the co-writers is Scott M. Gimple. Gimple is responsible for my all-time favorite comic book story, a seven-page tale in What If about Thanos transforming Galactus into a human being who looks and sounds exactly like Elvis Presley.

Just trust me, it’s amazing.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

But Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance? In some ways it feels like an improvement over the original, but then it falls even further from the finish line.

There are parts of the movie that are delightfully batshit. These bonkers moments that you’d expect from the Crank directors having Nicholas Cage as an unhinged biker possessed by a corrupted angel. Idris Elba is a delight too.

Unfortunately, it’s all buried in a dull slog of a movie.

When Ghost Rider shows up, it kicks ass. Not only does the skull look better, but his jerky, reality-shifting movements and restrained dialogue make him seem more like a horror movie villain than an actual superhero. He gets to take part in better action sequences and be more of a badass.

Watch Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance on Amazon

Too bad he’s only Ghost Rider three times in the entire movie, not counting his peeing flashback. Everything that isn’t Ghost Rider in action or Elba-related is dire and badly-paced.

Not to mention, the guy playing Mephisto/Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) looks like Robert Deniro trying to look like the Tall Man from Phantasm. I can’t not see it.

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Mephisto/Roarke and the Tall Man from Phantasm

Coincidentally, Nicolas Cage also starred in Drive Angry a year earlier in 2011, about a man who escapes Hell to hunt down a Satan-worshipping cult while being hunted down by a demon. Despite having no actual connection to the Marvel character, it’s so thematically similar and over-the-top grindhouse that some have called it the best Ghost Rider movie. At the very least, it makes for a good leg for a triple feature.

That would be it for cinematic Ghost Rider, anyway. A year after Spirit of Vengeance’s release, Columbia Pictures allowed the rights to Ghost Rider revert back to Marvel.

GHOST RIDER ON TV

Supposedly, there were plans at one point to get Ghost Rider his own animated series in the mid-90s. While that never came to fruition, nor did plans to have him show up on the ’90s Spider-Man cartoon, he did make a handful of appearances in the Marvel Animated Universe, starting with the X-Men season one episode “The Final Decision.” In it, Xavier taps into Gambit’s mind, searching for a memory of Henry Gyrich. Among the random images, we see Ghost Rider creeping forward in a sewer.

Ghost Rider on X-Men

This is a nice little reference to the X-Men/Ghost Rider crossover Brood Trouble in the Big Easy, a comic where Gambit and Ghost Rider teamed up against Brood aliens.

A few years later, Ghost Rider showed up on Incredible Hulk in an episode called “Innocent Blood,” where he has kind of a chunky skull head. As mentioned earlier, Ghost Rider was voiced by Richard Grieco. Ghost Rider sees the damage caused from a Hulk rampage and decides to hunt the beast down. They get in a scrap, Hulk escapes, and there’s a whole subplot where Glenn Talbot is sent after Hulk with a faulty tranquilizer ray that will surely kill Hulk instead of knocking him out.

Ghost Rider on Incredible Hulk

Because fellow biker Rick Jones is proven to be pure of heart, Ghost Rider comes to realize that Hulk is misunderstood and not evil. This leads to a great moment where Ghost Rider uses the Penance Stare on Talbot. Apparently the length of Talbot’s sins start and end with, “Was a dick to the Hulk over the course of the previous four episodes,” which is honestly pretty impressive for a high-ranking soldier.

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Talbot does have a moment where he looks horrified at his actions and mutters in defense that he was only following orders, which is rather profound for a kids show.

Overall, it’s not all that good and the final moments are about Hulk having to burn through the tranquilizer by having everyone piss him off. This means a tacked on brawl with Doc Samson and Ghost Rider that seems to exist for the sake of filling up the runtime.

What I find funny in all of this is how people have shown such attitude for Agents of SHIELD using the Reyes Ghost Rider. In the cartoons, the host’s identity was so secondary that it’s never truly established whether we’re even dealing with Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch. The one time we see Ghost Rider’s human form, he has stubble, so I guess it’s Blaze? Because he seems more likely to be unshaven?

Though I suppose Marvel vs. Capcom 3 using Blaze solves that mystery, late as it is. Unless they both sound like that. They are brothers, after all.

It is worth mentioning that around this time, there were some Ghost Rider action figures featuring Ketch as Ghost Rider, accompanied by Vengeance and a non-powered Blaze. I have to imagine this was in conjunction with the attempt at getting Ghost Rider his own animated series. At any rate, I like to pretend that the commercial voiceover isn’t just Wolverine’s VA, but Wolverine himself because he believes in the product.

Speaking of commercials, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service did a rather unconventional tie-in ad to the 2007 film by having Ghost Rider get a loan. How W2 forms work when you are Satan’s rogue bounty hunter is beyond me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqM5mc-p0yo

More recently, Ghost Rider appeared at the end of the Hulk and the Agents of SMASH series. For the uninitiated, this is the animated series about Hulk, She-Hulk, Red Hulk, A-Bomb, and Skaar being a team. Which is really weird considering in the comics, She-Hulk is the only one who isn’t depowered or dead right now.

Ghost Rider first appears in the episode “Spirit of Vengeance.” As the Hulks drive an incarcerated Abomination through Death Valley, the supposed urban myth Ghost Rider appears to deliver judgment. After overpowering the Smashers, he tortures and depowers Abomination for his crimes against humanity. Then he spends the rest of the episode kidnapping Red Hulk and preparing to make him pay for creating both Abomination and Hulk.

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Despite being a kids show, there’s a third act where they go to Hell to fight a demonic vagina with tentacles coming out of it and they make jokes about how Red Hulk takes the biggest, nastiest dumps. Not kidding, the last line of the episode is about how he clogged the toilet yet again.

Ghost Rider on Hulk and the Agents of SMASH

Ghost Rider is voiced by Fred Tatasciore, who also voices Hulk. Coincidentally, he voiced the Caretaker and Blade in the Ghost Rider video game from 2007. On this show, he’s just doing his best Dr. Claw impression.

This is the last episode before the two-part series finale, “Planet Monster,” which also features the damned enforcer. All the different heroes from throughout the series band together to help fight off a Kree invasion. Guys like Spider-Man, the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhumans, Dr. Strange, and so on. This includes Ghost Rider, who only shows up for five seconds.

I’m going out of order on this, but I had to save this for last because it is the BEST. Not only is this Ghost Rider’s best non-comic appearance, but it’s my favorite superhero cartoon moment that isn’t from the DC Animated Universe. Ghost Rider showed up in the second season of Fantastic Four, back in 1995, in an episode called “When Calls Galactus.”

The main plot is about Terrax going after Galactus with the Fantastic Four coming to the space god’s aid. Late in the episode, Galactus is overcome with hunger and plans to devour Earth, because that’s his thing. The Fantastic Four can’t stop him and even guest hero Thor is of little help.

Now you have to keep in mind that by this point, Ghost Rider’s only televised appearance is that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it X-Men cameo. That Incredible Hulk episode won’t be for another year. Fantastic Four has not referenced Ghost Rider before and they won’t reference him ever again. He’s only on the show for less than a minute and a half and, sweet Jesus, he makes it count.

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Ghost Rider and Galactus

Ghost Rider rides onto the scene and whispers who he is and what he does. He avenges the innocent and being that Galactus’ everyday routine is genocide for breakfast, Galactus is #1 on Ghost Rider’s shitlist. Galactus doesn’t have time for this and tells him to piss off. Instead, Ghost Rider blasts him with the Penance Stare and makes him feel the anguish of his cosmic sins stretching back for eons.

“Feel the torment of a billion billion…extinguished souls… Experience the pain…of eternal guilt…”

Galactus goes down. Ghost Rider tells him off and rides away. In other words, Ghost Rider – a character who has had absolutely nothing to do with this show whatsoever – arrives, says cool stuff, one-shots one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel universe, says more cool stuff, and leaves without even getting off his motorcycle.

Dante was right. Ghost Rider truly is like a boss.

Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD

The ball is now in Agents of SHIELD’s court. Their Ghost Rider might not be dropping Galactus-level threats any time soon, but hopefully they can play by his strengths. Namely the strength that Ghost Rider is metal.

Just let him be metal and all will be well.

Gavin Jasper wonders what’s the big deal about having a non-white Ghost Rider. Mortal Kombat’s had a Japanese Ghost Rider for years and nobody gets on their case. Follow Gavin on Twitter!

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