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Friday, July 8, 2016

Is Ghost Rider coming to Agents of SHIELD?

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We are now about 2 weeks out from San Diego Comic Con, the biggest event of the geek media calendar year.  It’s basically Christmas in July for the geek world, the point in the year where we catch a glimpse of everything that’s going to dominate our social media conversations and news feeds for the next year or so.  Lately, each year has been marked by some major announces from the good people at Marvel Studios, even though recent offerings have been a little sparse given their greater focus on the Disney Expo.  As we all impatiently salivate for the latest major announcement from the little multi-billion dollar business that could one of the more shockingly relevant Marvel properties up at bat this year is Agents of SHIELD. 

Despite spending 3 years hemorrhaging viewers and slowly becoming the least integral aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the show has managed to turn quite a few heads with a shocking train reveal of their new logo design which features a flaming chain.  While there are several Marvel heroes that use both chains and flames as weapon most fans have taken this to mean that Agents of SHIELD season 4 is planning to introduce Ghost Rider to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Firstly let’s be clear here: some burning chains on a bus are, in no way, confirmation of Ghost Rider coming to the show.  It’s a unique image and vital to Ghost Rider’s mythos certainly but it’s hardly concrete, especially given that one of the already introduced Secret Warriors also has flaming chain powers.  However, if it is Ghost Rider there are two major possibilities. 

The first possibility is that Agents of SHIELD is changing its genre focus, trying to switch from aliens and Inhumans to monsters and the supernatural.  This would make a lot of sense, especially given Marvel Studio’s announced reluctance to actually make an Inhumans movie.  Dropping that old news in favor for the kind of urban fantasy stuff that’ll inform Doctor Strange and Iron Fist would be a great way to tie back to the MCU without needing cameos.  The other possibility is that this is the start of a Ghost Rider relaunch. 

Ghost Rider has always been an unfortunately mercurial property for Marvel.  When they hit upon the original idea in 1972 it was the perfect storm of dominate fads of the era.  The skeleton set-up tied the whole creation into the last elements of ‘60s kitsch for the spooky trappings of previous decades, his deal with the devil added an element of the infernal that played well to the satanic panic craze, and this was right when motorcycle gangs were really dominating the national consciousness, even more so than when they did in the ‘50s. 

Since his debut in the ‘70s Ghost Rider has been a consistently lucrative part of the Marvel Universe, eventually reaching shockingly major levels of popularity in the ‘90s to the point he even managed an action figure line and cameo appearances on a bunch of Marvel’s animated shows of the time.  So, when Marvel’s triple threat of Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man revitalized the superhero genre going into the 2000s it seemed like Ghost Rider was finally going to get his shot at the big time, at which point disaster struck. 

As you probably already know, the Ghost Rider movie ended up headlined by Nicholas Cage as Cage was a big Ghost Rider fan and pushed heavily for the film to be made.  The film was awful and bombed badly, a failure so terrible that Cage and co. decided to immediately attempt the same thing with the same mistakes all over again in 2012.  After that the rights returned to Marvel but the brand has been pretty badly damaged at this point by the endless memes of Nicolas Cage making weird and stupid faces as he mugs his way through his performance. 

Normally that kind of failure would be pretty damning, certainly bad enough that the studio wouldn’t try making a new film for at least 5 years but things are different now, and this is where things get important.  Marvel has found that they can rehabilitate characters with embarrassing pasts like Daredevil and Punisher by filtering them through a gritty remake and dropping them in 13 hour sagas on Netflix.  Given Ghost Rider’s previous popularity and the very fun nature of his conception Marvel would be a fool not to try and slot him into their emerging Netflix home for previously disappointing superhero properties. 

So, how does all of this add up to Ghost Rider appearing on Agents of SHIELD?  It all comes down to the simple and unavoidable fact that Agents of SHIELD has driven itself into a creative ditch.  The show has spent 2 seasons spinning its wheels on Hydra and the Inhumans and stuff that’s only proved interesting to its dwindling audience.  What’s more, the bad blood between Marvel TV and Marvel films is basically keeping Agents of SHIELD in a bubble, unable to connect to the movie universe in any meaningful way. 

So, if the show wanted to try and regain some aspect of its lost audience of Marvel diehard fans or appeal to a new audience of binging fans they could achieve that by acting as the launch pad for Marvel’s second phase of Netflix heroes.  Bringing in characters like Moon Knight, Blade, or Ghost Rider for big, splashy first appearances before spinning them off into their own Netflix show would be a brilliant way to turn Agents of SHIELD from bemusing curiosity to must watch TV. 

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