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So, it’s official; Ghost Rider is coming to Agents of SHIELD and will be played by Gabriel Luna. In retrospect this was pretty much inevitable. Agents of SHIELD remains Marvel’s most prominent failure, especially with how much the show has struggled to keep up with a cinematic universe that’s consistently leaving it in the dust, so this kind of shake up was badly needed to try and win back an audience and make the show relevant once more.
Let me be clear on this, even if you like Agents of SHIELD the show is definitely not what Marvel wanted it to be in terms of ratings or importance, especially compared to the blossoming CW stable of shows or Marvel’s own vaunted Netflix series. However, the Ghost Rider they’ve conscripted isn’t quite the one everybody knows which means we’ve got to dive into the history of the character to get the full view of what’s going on here.
Okay, the original Ghost Rider that most audiences might know from the Nicholas Cage movies is Johnny Blaze. He popped up in the ‘70s when Marvel was really trying to diversify their stable of comics. Both companies were doing this at the time but Marvel’s efforts were more obsessed with slotting characters of new genre into their over all universe.
This was the period that gave them stuff like Conan the Barbarian vs. Thor or Dracula teaming up with Dr. Doom, it was a very fantasy and horror oriented time. Ghost Rider was technically a revamp of an old cowboy hero but aside from the name they have nothing in common.
Johnny Blaze’s deal is that he and his dad were stunt men and he ends up selling his soul to Satan in order to save his dad’s life only for his dad to die of something completely unrelated. Now, Blaze is cursed to morph into the flaming skull motorcyclist that is the Ghost Rider and carry out Satan’s will, till eventually he managed to slip the bonds of the curse and broke out as a hero in his own right.
Ghost Rider was a popular hero throughout the ‘70s but faded away somewhat in the ‘80s. So, in the ‘90s when Marvel realized his particular brand of extreme machismo was now very marketable they decided to revamp the character yet again, this is where things get weird.
Rather than just revive Johnny Blaze, who had ditched the Ghost Rider in a previous adventure, Marvel decided to invent a new character with a similar look and powers named Danny Ketch. Danny had been involved in a satanic deal as well but now Marvel had to figure out a way to square the Danny/Johnny circle, especially because the ‘90s were a big time for older fans returning to comics and wanting to see their heroes.
The answer Marvel came up with was that the “Ghost Rider” was actually a demonic spirit of vengeance that inhabited different humans. The idea was that there had always been a Ghost Rider and always would be one and that Johnny and Danny were just two different hosts.
This kicked off the ‘Spirit of Vengeance’ era for Ghost Rider, hands down the character’s most profitable era. The ‘90s were a big decade for supernatural anti-heroes like Spawn, Blade, and the Crow and Marvel cleaned up big on that, with Ghost Rider leading the charge on a whole sub-universe of characters called The Midnight Sons.
Ghost Rider even got his own action figure line, something no other Marvel hero at the time enjoyed unless they also had an animated series. Speaking of, this was also the era where Ghost Rider was a consistent guest star across Marvel’s entire 5 show animated universe.
In the 2000s Ghost Rider was phased out as figure, not really finding a place in the wake of Marvel’s bankruptcy or the era of Brian Michael Bendis kicked off by Avengers Disassembled and Civil War. However, authors kept coming back to the idea of there being multiple Riders, exploring the concept throughout time and eventually into new heroes.
You had Riders in the past, the distant future, other spirits of vengeance, and, eventually, new Ghost Riders of the present day. The first was Alejandra Jones, a personal favorite even though no one really seemed to like her. After that came Agents of SHIELD’s preferred Ghost Rider: Robbie Reyes.
Reyes popped up as part of Marvel’s more recent multitude of branding initiatives, specifically popping up as one of the final Marvel NOW titles. He’s the most visually unique when it comes to revamped Riders, swapping the motorcycle look that had previously defined the character for a flaming low rider hotrod. His basic story is pretty simple, though if I’m being honest his status as a Ghost Rider has always seemed very confused to me.
A high school student in East LA, Robbie is tasked with also taking care of his developmentally disabled brother Gabe. While he mainly works in an auto garage (another thing he has in common with Jaimie Reyes, the Blue Beetle) Robbie also street races on the side to help make ends meet. One night, things go pretty wrong and Robbie gets killed only to return from death as a flaming skeleton monsters known as the Ghost Rider.
So here’s where things get weirder; Robbie Reyes is only kind of a Ghost Rider. See, even though he’s got the flame powers and the skull Johnny Blaze is ALSO Ghost Rider at the same time. What’s more, we never actually see Robbie make any demonic dealings but rather it seems that he may be possessed in some manner. It turns out the car he’s been racing in used to belong to Robbie’s estranged uncle Eli Morrow.
Eli was a Satanic serial killer in life who murdered 37 people and pushed Robbie’s mom down the stairs while she was pregnant, causing Gabe’s developmental problems because subtlety and flaming skulls don’t go together. It’s not exactly clear if Eli’s spirit is what saved/is possessing Robbie or if Eli simply summoned the Ghost Rider spirit and now haunts it, just that either answer is needlessly convoluted and deeply unrewarding.
That’s part of why I’m, overall, so disappointed by this choice. I don’t mind Marvel wanting to push a Hispanic Ghost Rider, diversity is a good thing, but everything about Robbie Reyes is just completely un-engaging. His family struggles are terribly clichéd, his supernatural elements are confused and unwieldy, and his core visual (the flaming muscle car) just isn’t as powerful as the flaming motorcycle.
Personally I hope that this is just the set-up for a Ghost Riders show, featuring other Ghost Riders as well like Alejandra, Danny Ketch, and Johnny Blaze as they’re really the interesting characters when it comes to this property. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong but given what a hash Agents of SHIELD has made of other good ideas I’m not hold my breath.
Agents of SHIELD Season 4 premieres September 20th, 2016
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