Ghost Riders: The History of Marvel’s Several Spirits of Vengeance!

Ghost Riders: The History of Marvel's Several Spirits of Vengeance!
Ghost Riders: The History of Marvel's Several Spirits of Vengeance!
Stick with the classic!

Hey, did you see that ABC has a new Ghost Rider TV series that guest stars the Agents of SHIELD? Easy now, I’m just kidding, but it’s going to be very difficult for Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to not turn into the Ghost Rider show because the history of the Ghost Rider is just so darn rich. For decades, Marvel has featured a number of different spirits of vengeance, riding their vehicle (or animal) of choice in the pursuit of justice.

So for those of new to the character and intrigued by the flame-headed hell raiser, allow us to present a history of the several Ghost Riders that have burnt, pummeled, and torn through injustice in the pages of Marvel Comics.

1. Western Ghost Rider

The Hell-Fueled History of Comics' Nine Ghost Riders!
I ride/terrorize the open plains!

First appearance: Ghost Rider #1 (1967)
Created by Ray Krank, Dick Ayers, Gary Friedrich, and Roy Thomas

Believe it or not, the very first comic character known as Ghost Rider wasn’t even a Marvel character. The first Ghost Rider appeared in western themed horror stories in the pages of Tim Holt #11 (1949) published by Magazine Enterprises. The character was a haunting figure of the plains and starred in many atmospheric western adventures.

When the trademark to this character came due, Marvel published a character identical in appearance. This new Western Ghost Rider was more superhero cowboy than straight up horror character and appeared in his own self-titled comic in 1967. This comic was the first of many Ghost Rider comics Marvel would publish and it all started with a man named Carter Slade. There was nothing supernatural about Slade initially. He fought outlaws and corruption with a phosphorescent suit, horse and weapons. So Slade was pretty much just a glowing cowboy in a full face mask and cape, but damn, did he look cool.

When Marvel introduced the present day, demonic motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider, it retroactively changed the name of the Western GR to Night Rider. When Michael Knight and KITT came along on TV, Marvel changed this glowing cowboy’s name once again to Phantom Rider.

There have been a crap-ton of western Ghost, Night, and Phantom Riders over the years, one of the more notable was Lincoln Slade, Carter’s younger brother and US Marshall. Sadly, Lincoln was once driven mad and kidnapped a time-lost Bobbi Morse, the Avenger also known as Mockingbird (hey, there’s a bit of an Agents of SHIELD tie in). Slade grew obsessed with Morse and essentially hypnotized her into loving him. This was tantamount to rape and when Morse regained her free will, she fought back against her rapist. During the struggle, Lincoln fell off a cliff and even though Morse could have saved him, she refused.

At the time, Mockingbird was married to Hawkeye and this incident led to the divorce of the two Avengers. So you see, the Western Ghost Rider has had a pretty big impact on some major Marvel players. The Western Ghost Rider has a complex history that spans multiple identities, comic titles, and even two comic companies, but this haunting rider of the plains has the distinction of being the hero (and sometimes) villain that started the comic book legacy of the Ghost Rider.

2. Johnny Blaze

Trail Blazing and Hair Raising: The Hell-Fueled History of Comics' Nine Ghost Riders!
Now this is more like it!

First appearance: Marvel Spotlight #5 (1972)
Created by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, and Mike Ploog

The most iconic of all the Ghost Riders, Johnny Blaze has been burning corrupt souls for decades. Johnny Blaze was a motorcycle racer and stunt rider who sold his soul to the devil in order to cure his surrogate father and mentor from a terminal disease. When Blaze sold his soul to Marvel’s granddaddy devil Mephisto, Blaze’s papa was cured. Like all deals with the devil, this one went south quickly as Blaze’s dad was soon killed in a motorcycle stunt.

Mephisto combined Blaze with the demon Zarathos and transformed the stunt rider into the Ghost Rider. This began a long, tragic career as Blaze used his demonic powers in pursuit of vengeance. Sometimes, the Rider was in control, and sometimes Blaze was at the wheel, but wherever the Ghost Rider went, evil burned. Through it all, Blaze became a hero in the Marvel Universe. As Ghost Rider, Blaze teamed with many Marvel heroes and even joined the team known as the Champions, but mostly, he was a man with no home and no purpose other than vengeance.

In recent years, it has been revealed that there have been many Ghost Riders from many different cultures over the centuries, but as far as Marvel fans go, Johnny Blaze will always be the original gasoline-fueled nightmare that has singed the souls of so many.

Now, there’s been some blowback by TV fans disappointed that ABC and Marvel aren’t using Blaze as the Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD, but think about it: with Robbie Reyes (and we’ll get to him in a minute) in place as the Rider on ABC, that leaves other media avenues open for Blaze. Now, this is just mindless fan speculation, but imagine a Ghost Rider for every platform. Blaze for film, Reyes for network TV, and on Netflix….

3. Daniel Ketch

Trail Blazing & Hair Raising: The Hell-Fueled History of Comics' Nine Ghost Riders!
I employ chains!

First appearance: Ghost Rider vol. 3, #1 (1990)
Created by Howard Mackie and Javier Saltares

During the time Johnny Blaze was cured of his demonic curse, another Ghost Rider rose to spread vengeance across the mean streets of New York. Daniel Ketch lived in Brooklyn. One night, Ketch and his sister were strolling through a junkyard when they were attacked by a group of gangsters led by the villainous Deathwatch. Daniel’s sister was gravely injured but Daniel hid. In this most desperate hour, Ketch saw a glowing gas tank. When he reached out to grab the mysterious object, Ketch was transformed into the newest Spirit of Vengeance.

Now, if you were reading comics in the 90s, you’ll remember that Ketch’s Ghost Rider was everywhere. Hell, man, if Marvel was publishing Strawberry Shortcake in the early 90s, Ketch’s Ghost Rider would have shown up to burn the soul of the Purple Pieman. This Ghost Rider was really, really marketable. With his spikes, flames and chains, he was like a Slayer album cover come to life.

Ketch’s Ghost Rider had a very cool power set as well. First, he could use his chain as a weapon, separating each link as a shuriken. Second, Ketch had a “penance stare.” When Ghost Rider cornered his prey, he could look into the souls of his victims and make any murderer feel the pain inflicted on his or her victims.

Ketch built up quite the rogues gallery as Marvel scraped every shadowy place in the MU to dredge up brutal threats in desperate need of a penance stare. This version of Ghost Rider had ties to Marvel’s mean streets due to many team-ups with characters like Daredevil and the Punisher, so wouldn’t it be cool to see Ketch show up on Marvel’s Netflix shows? Again, mindless speculation here, but these days of Marvel exploiting any and all media, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see this 90s sensation burning souls and kicking ass on streaming TV.

4. Spirit of Vengeance

Trail Blazing & Hair Raising: The Hell-Fueled History of Comics' Nine Ghost Riders!
Vengeance is IMMORTAL!

First appearance: Guardians of the Galaxy #12 (1991)
Created by Jim Valentino

Did you know that the futuristic Guardians of the Galaxy once had a Ghost Rider as a member of the team? Hell yeah, it did. Now, we’re not talking the modern day Guardians team with the green people, the tree, and the raccoon; we’re talking the old school future team with Vance Astro, Charlie 27 and those future cats.

In addition to all those cool cosmic characters, there was the Spirit of Vengeance, a future version of Ghost Rider that tooled around the galaxy on his Demon Cycle. Real name Wileaydus Autolycu, this future GR was dedicated to taking down the Universal Church of Truth, a corrupt yet powerful intergalactic religious sect. So even in the far-flung future, there will be a motorcycle rider of vengeance. Doesn’t that give you the arm and fuzzies?

5. Vengeance

Trail Blazing & Hair Raising: The Hell-Fueled History of Comics' Nine Ghost Riders!
He really, really means it.

First appearance: Blaze: Spirit of Vengeance #9 (1992)
Created by Howard Mackie

Vengeance, yet another Spirit of, well, Vengeance, was pretty much the most 90s character ever. He was all spikes and metal and fire and muscles. It was all kind of excessive really, but underneath it all was a pretty compelling origin.

When Lt. Michael Badilino (you know he’s 90s, he has “bad” right there in his name) was a young boy, his family was killed by the demon Zarathos, the very same Zarathos that once possessed Johnny Blaze. Badilino became a NYC cop and fought the good fight for justice. When Daniel Ketch’s Ghost Rider appeared, Badilino thought it was Zarathos and swore to bring the demon down once and for all. When he failed to stop GR, Badilino turned to Mephisto and sold his soul. Mephisto transformed Badilino into Vengeance, a dark reflection of Ghost Rider.

At first, Vengeance became Ghost Rider’s greatest nemesis, but the cop soon realized that Ketch was not Zarathos and became one of the demon biker’s most staunch allies. Despite all the gimmicks and character redundancy, Vengeance is actually a pretty cool character ripe for a comeback now that GR is back in the spotlight.

6. Ghost Rider 2099

Trail Blazing & Hair Raising: The Hell-Fueled History of Comics' Nine Ghost Riders!

First appearance: Ghost Rider 2099 #1 (1994)
Created by Len Kaminski, Chris Bachalo, and Mark Buckingham
It’s like Ghost rider but in the fuuuttttuuuuuureeee. Seriously, Ghost Rider 2099 was published in the pre-internet immersed days of 1994, and the character was a bit ahead of its time. Ghost Rider 2099 was like a Marvel comic slammed together at super-speed with a Neal Stephenson novel.

In the year 2099, Kenshiro “Zero” Cochrane was horrifically injured during a shooting. A computer genius, Cochrane downloaded his mind into cyberspace where he met any entity known as the Ghostworks. Before you can say Mr. Robot, Cochrane agreed to allow his mind to be downloaded into a robot. Of course, the robot looks like a futuristic version of the classic Ghost Rider and a future hero was born. It was kind of cool that Marvel moved away from the supernatural with its future Spirit of Vengeance.

Since the 2099 line faded, Cochrane has made very few appearances, if any. But you never know; with Spider-Man 2099 kicking ass every month for Marvel, maybe the Robot of Vengeance will ride again. Hey, in 1994, creators thought that cyberspace would be used to house a person’s consciousness and not be used to share cat memes, fight over movies, and make sweeping generalizations about politics. So naïve.

7. Shark Rider

Trail Blazing & Hair Raising: The Hell-Fueled History of Comics' Nine Ghost Riders!

First appearance: Ghost Rider Vol. 6 #31 (2009)
Created by Jason Aaron, Roland Boschi, and Arthur Suydam

In Jason Aaron’s must-read run on Ghost Rider, the writer introduced the Ghost Rider of many cultures. He created an African Ghost Rider named Baron Skullfire, an Indian Ghost Rider that stomped around on a flaming elephant, and a Depression-era gangster Ghost Rider that cruised around in a flaming Dick Tracy-looking car. And we had Shark Rider, an Atlantean Ghost Rider that cruised the oceans seeking vengeance on a, get ready for it, giant flaming shark. This is why we love Ghost Rider, this is why we love Jason Aaron, and this is why we love freaking comics. Flaming shark for the win!

8. Alejandra Jones

Ghost Riders: The Hell-Fueled History of Marvel's Several Spirits of Vengeance!
She was bred for it!

First Appearance: Ghost Rider Vol 7 #1 (2011)
Created by Rob Williams and Matthew Clark

Alejandra Jones was the daughter of a Mexican human trafficker and an unknown Mexican woman. Jones was sold into slavery in Nicaragua but was taken in by an order of monks that trained her to be the next vessel of Ghost Rider.

For a time, Alejandra rode beside Johnny Blaze, who took her as a student to train her in the ways of vengeance. It was all pretty kickass and Zen (but Zen with motorcycles, flaming chains, and soul-burning hellfire), but Blaze and his pupil soon had a falling out and Alejandra was killed. Blaze rescued Alejandra from Hell, but in doing so, accidentally stole her Rider powers.

Now, Alejandra is a former spirit of vengeance but who knows, perhaps she will one day flame-up and ride again. Of all the Ghost Riders, Alejandra Jones was one of the coolest designs. A lithe female figure, all flames and leather that continued the grand tradition of vengeance.

9. Robbie Reyes

Ghost Riders: The Hell-Fueled History of Marvel's Several Spirits of Vengeance!
New kid!

First Appearance: All-New Ghost Rider #1 (2014)
The world met Robbie Reyes on the premiere episode of season four of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, but in truth, Reyes’ Ghost Rider has been cruising around the MU for a few years now. In the comics, Reyes is portrayed as much younger than he is on ABC. He does have the special needs brother, but the comic book Reyes is much less experienced than his flaming TV counterpart.

In the comics, during a street race, Reyes was gunned down by thugs led by the villainous Mr. Hyde. As Reyes laid dying, his body was possessed by the spirit of serial killer Eli Morrow. Together, Reyes and Morrow transformed into the 21st century Ghost Rider, a fiery street racer that violently punishes the guilty in order to feed Morrow’s thirst for death.

Reyes and Morrow constantly struggle for control of the Rider as Reyes tries to do right by his beloved brother. There is a very cool duality to this newest Spirit of vengeance, one I can’t wait to see play out on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. And hey, it was Mr. Hyde that attacked Reyes and kick-started this whole Ghost Rider thing. As AoS fans know, on TV, Hyde is Daisy Johnson’s father. Perhaps this little bit of business could come into play on TV.