Agents of SHIELD Season 4 is finally here, which is good, since the season 3 finale featured too many questions in its cliffhanger to leave unanswered. The problem with the show coming back is that they need some extra juice. Brett Dalton is gone and the whole Inhumans gimmick lost its luster ages ago. It doesn’t help that they can’t even use the more well-known Inhumans due to a movie that might not even happen anymore.
So it helps that Ghost Rider will show up to dish out some vengeance. Finally, another character on the level of Absorbing Man instead of having to scrape the bottom of the barrel to give us the likes of “that one Von Strucker kid that nobody cares about.” But as everyone took a deep breath to let out their best Nicholas Cage joke, Marvel isn’t using the more iconic Johnny Blaze. Instead, it will be Gabriel Luna playing the latest Ghost Rider from the comics, Robbie Reyes.
Not counting the mostly-unrelated Wild West character with the same name, there have been four major Ghost Riders in Marvel Comics. First, you have Johnny Blaze, introduced in the ’70s, as a motorcycle stuntman who becomes host to the Spirit of Vengeance after making the deal with Satan…or Mephisto (who isn’t officially Satan, but totally is)…or angels. It’s confusing. He’s the guy we know from the two Hollywood movies starring Nicholas Cage being Nicholas Cage.
The ’90s gave us Daniel Ketch as the new Ghost Rider, eventually revealed to be Blaze’s secret brother. It also introduced the whole Penance Stare gimmick and gave us that cool New Fantastic Four story everybody loves where Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Wolverine briefly replaced the real team. Sadly, Ketch’s star died out so badly that Marvel didn’t even publish his series’ final issue for a decade. Then Ketch and Blaze teamed up together in Jason Aaron’s AMAZING Ghost Rider run, which everyone should read.
In 2011, while tying into the mostly-terrible Fear Itself event, Blaze gave his Ghost Rider curse over to Alejandra Jones, a Nicaraguan woman whose solo series lasted ten issues. Her only claim to fame was showing up in Venom’s series as part of a Dark New Fantastic Four team with X-23 and Red Hulk. She has since been depowered and forgotten about.
Only a mere three years after Alejandra’s introduction, they decided to roll the dice on yet another new Ghost Rider series. This time it was All-New Ghost Rider by Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore. While it’s a good read on its own, the series’ selling point was less about the world of Roberto Reyes and more about the crazy-ass Tradd Moore art. At least for the first few issues.
Robbie’s story is that he’s a teenager in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood who has to take care of his developmentally-challenged little brother Gabe while juggling school, work, and midnight drag races to make ends meet. He ends up being murdered by mercenaries working for Mr. Hyde (though I doubt we’ll be seeing him on the show again) and is reborn as Ghost Rider. Rather than riding a motorcycle, he’s become one with his sleek muscle car and uses it to become something of a slasher movie vigilante.
On the surface, Robbie’s run is comparable to Alejandra’s in terms of failure. While she was nothing but a .1 issue, nine regular issues, and a spot in a Venom crossover, Robbie had twelve issues and a couple of Secret Wars tie-ins. That raises the important question of why use Robbie. Why use him over the more popular versions of the characters from the ’70s and ’90s? Hell, why use him over the other new Ghost Rider?
Well, first off, I think stepping away from Johnny Blaze is probably for the best. We already got a mediocre movie and a terrible sequel to his name. Anyone shoved into that role is going to be compared to Nic Cage no matter what they do and I imagine people will favor the memorable batshit performance over whatever ABC prime time can offer us.
But more importantly, Robbie is a fresher take on the concept without the baggage. Ketch and Alejandra are legacy characters who get Blaze’s hand-me-downs. Robbie is similar, but he’s still his own thing. He’s more like comparing Alan Scott Green Lantern to Hal Jordan Green Lantern. Basically the same, but not exactly.
It’s not just the aesthetic of using a car over using a motorcycle (which is probably a LOT easier for the show to deal with in terms of action sequences and special effects) or his helmeted look. It’s about his power source and origin. All-New Ghost Rider is not possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance. He’s possessed by a vengeful spirit.
That’s…also probably for the best. We’re many years deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the more mainstream Ghost Rider is a loaded concept. They already added gray area to whether or not Asgardians really count as gods. Do they really want to go with a more biblical direction? Are they going to bring God and Satan into play, even if it means using the Mephisto “he’s really a cosmic being, not the actual Devil” copout? No, probably not, especially on a TV series that the movies completely ignore anyway.
Robbie’s powers come from Eli Morrow, who is ultimately just a man. Or was. A single, magical ghost is easier to swallow than everything that comes with using Zarathos. Plus it makes Ghost Rider’s name a bit more literal.
Eli’s whole deal is that he gives Robbie his awesome Ghost Rider powers, but at the cost of constantly goading him to kill and be more violent in general. Plus there are times when he simply takes over the body completely. That adds a bit more tension than a holy being that lives to punish the guilty. Hell, it’s very similar to Venom, but at least we’re dealing with an actual person being the voice and not a creature with primal urges. It probably would make for more compelling TV too, especially if you know what Eli’s deal truly is.
Not that I’ll spoil if you don’t know. Not only is it worth finding out on your own by reading the 12-issue All-New Ghost Rider series (which is available on Amazon), but they might also toss it onto Agents of SHIELD.
Gavin Jasper would rather have seen the Undead G-Man, easily the greatest Ghost Rider incarnation of all time. Follow Gavin on Twitter!