How can you not love a character like Ghost Rider? A spirit of vengeance with a flaming skull in tattered leather duds, riding a motorcycleâ€¦and thatâ€™s just the visuals. Beyond the fact that he â€œlooks coolâ€ thereâ€™s an extensive mythology behind the origin and legacy of Ghost Rider. While he may have been created to cash-in on a 1970â€™s fad (much like the Punisher) he has come into his own as a unique, intriguing and entertaining character (much like the Punisher).
The original Ghost Rider was considerably different than the one we have today. The very first Ghost Rider, appearing in Ghost Rider #1 in 1967, was a Western Outlaw hero named Carter Slade, who was a schoolteacher by day and masked vigilante by night. Carter Sladeâ€™s origin went that he was shot by some bad guys when he accidentally stumbled upon one of their operations. An Indian medicine man named Flaming Star found him, nursed him back to health and took his speedy recovery as a sign that Slade was to become a champion of justice due to some wacky prophecy. Slade then donned a white mask, cape and outfit as well as an angry white horse named Banshee. Using glowing meteor dust and other optical illusions, he would defeat his enemies by scaring the Hell out of em.
The Ghost Rider has become one of Marvelâ€™s most memorable Western characters (no doubt thanks to his spiffy costume and the name). However, after his series was cancelled, he became mostly forgotten. When Marvel created the motorcycle-riding, flaming skull-Ghost Rider we recognize today, they retroactively changed the Western Ghost Riderâ€™s name to â€œPhantom Riderâ€. The Phantom Rider made several appearances in the Avengers (thanks to time travel) and even had an entire legacy added to his history (there have been at least 3 or 4 different Phantom Riders).
The Ghost Rider as we know him today first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5 in 1972. In this re-imagining, Johnny Blaze was a rebellious young man who worked in a stunt cycle show with his adoptive father, Crash Simpson. Although Johnny was a motorcycle master, he swore never to ride again after the mother of Roxanne Simpson, his girlfriend, was accidentally killed in an accident he was involved in. Crash Simpson continued the motorcycle show without him, though he began to look down on his adopted son as a wimp for not wanting to ride anymore. Then, a few years later, Crash Simpson was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a month to live. Johnny was determined to save Crashâ€™s life, and turned to black magic. He summoned the demon Mephisto (though he originally thought it was Satan), who would remove Crashâ€™s illness in exchange for Johnnyâ€™s soul.
Crash recovered from his illness, only to die a few days later in a motorcycle accident during one of the stunts. Johnny had been betrayed, and refused to give up his soul when Mephisto came to collect. Mephisto was going to take his soul anyway, but was forced to depart when Roxanne showed up; her pure heart driving Mephisto away. Before leaving, Mephisto bound Johnnyâ€™s soul to the demon of vengeance, Zarathos. From then on, every night, Johnny would transform into the Ghost Rider and seek vengeance against wrong-doers.
The series continued for 81 issues, with Ghost Rider proving to be so popular he cameoed in numerous books and even joined the failed super-team, the Champions. Eventually, Johnny was separated from Zarathos in the last issue of his title (1983) and he and Roxanne went on to start a family. With his story completed, the Ghost Rider then fell into obscurity through-out the rest of the 80â€™s.
In 1990, Marvel decided to bring Ghost Rider back for a new generation. However, they would give a new character, Danny Ketch, the powers of the Spirit of Vengeance. Danny, while being chased by the mob, came across a run-down motorcycle in a junkyard. He accidentally activated a mystical seal on the bike, transforming himself into the Ghost Rider. As the series progressed, Danny met up with former Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, who now had two kids with his wife Roxanne. Johnny and Danny teamed-up on numerous occasions, as it was later revealed that they were brothers separated at birth. While Johnny had been cursed with the demon Zarathos in his day, Danny had been bound to the demon Noble Kale, the true Spirit of Vengeance.
This second volume proved to be the high-point in Ghost Riderâ€™s story-telling as well as his popularity. Through-out the series, new characters were introduced (like Vengeance, the â€œEvil Ghost Riderâ€), the Mythos behind the Ghost Rider was fleshed out, Roxanne Simpson was murdered, Johnnyâ€™s kids were kidnapped and Johnny left the title to search for his lost children. The series ended in 1998 with issue #93, which was actually one issue SHORT; Marvel having pulled the plug on the title before it could be finished.
With the series never being properly completed, several threads were left dangling and, as a result, Ghost Riderâ€™s carefully plotted-out continuity began to unravel. At the end of the series, Ghost Rider journeyed into hell, teaming-up with Vengeance to defeat Black Heart. In the battle, Noble Kale was separated from Danny, resulting in Dannyâ€™s death. After Black Heartâ€™s demise, Ghost Rider became the new ruler of Hell. Without a proper send-off, future appearances of Ghost Rider in other Marvel comics would only prove to cause further confusion.
In July of 1998, Howard Mackie attempted to close-up the loose threads from the incomplete Ghost Rider series by having the character cameo in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #93. In this story, Noble Kale rises from Hell and lays siege to New York City, apparently having gone completely nuts. He claims that everything he ever knew was a lie and that the entire Ghost Rider history, legacy and mythos was a fraud. Danny Ketch shows up at the end of the comic, somehow alive and well, and reunites with Noble Kale. With Ghost Rider â€œwholeâ€ once again, things were set to return to the status quo. Time would prove that not to be the case, however, as this was the last appearance Danny will ever make (at least as of July 2006, when this article was written).
In 2001, writer Devin Grayson attempted to resurrect Johnny Blazeâ€™s Ghost Rider in a 6-issue miniseries. However, she would admit in interviews that she knew nothing of the characterâ€™s history, only that he â€œlooks coolâ€. Bad idea. Her story, â€œThe Hammer Laneâ€, proved to be one of the worst moments in Ghost Riderâ€™s history and buried the character back into obscurity for another 4 years. In this story, Johnny Blaze has been working as an accountant for 3 years (apparently, he gave up searching for his kids). The Ghost Rider entity overcomes him (although Zarathos was no longer bound to him) and he takes to the streets, writing wrongs across the country. The characterization of both Johnny and the Ghost Rider are completely off, as are all recollections of their origins (Johnny doesnâ€™t appear to know very much about Danny), and by the seriesâ€™ end, Ghost Rider decides to become the â€œSpirit of Forgivenessâ€.
In 2005, Punisher and Preacher author (and all-around raging lunatic), Garth Ennis, decided to bring Johnny Blaze back one more time for a new miniseries titled â€œThe Road to Damnationâ€. With Clayton Crane (Venom vs. Carnage) providing the stunning art, the miniseries resulted in a complete success. In this story, Johnny has been trapped in Hell shortly after the events of the Hammer Lane, and despite his best efforts, canâ€™t escape. A rogue angel offers Johnny his freedom if he can help stop the return of a demonic monstrosity on Earth. The miniseries was such a success that not only was a new miniseries announced (this one taking place in the old west), but a new on-going series began in July of 2006.
Outside of the comics, Ghost Rider has made few appearances in other Marvel media. He had brief cameos in the early 90â€™s Saban-produced X-Men cartoon (and by â€œbriefâ€, I mean 1 second-long glimpses). He appeared in the 1994 Fantastic Four animated series, in the episode â€œWhen Galactus Callsâ€. Voiced by Richard Grieco, Ghost Rider appeared toward the end and used his penance stare to force Galactus to feel the pain of every living being he had ever killed (that would be a LOT). Ghost Rider appeared again in the mid-90â€™s Incredible Hulk animated series in the episode â€œInnocent Bloodâ€. Richard Grieco reprised the role, with the Ghost Rider hunting down the Incredible Hulk. Supposedly, these two appearances by the Ghost Rider were intended as a sort of pilot for a Ghost Rider animated series, which unfortunately never happened.
With a live-action Ghost Rider film (starring Nicholas Cage) on the way in early 2007, now is as good a time as any to get reacquainted with one of the better characters of the Marvel universe. Ghost Rider has a lengthy and detailed history; I could only touch slightly upon it in my article. So, for all your Ghost Rider needs, I recommend you check out Vengeance Unbound, the Ultimate Ghost Rider website.