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Ghost Rider and the Spirits of Vengeance

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BY April 27, 2020
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What’s better than one Ghost Rider, the spirit of Vengeance? How about a bunch of them scattered throughout time and the current MCU. We’ve had ancient spirits of vengeance, a western ghost rider, a cosmic ghost rider, ghost riders with cars, motorcycles. Throughout the years, the legacy of the Ghost Rider has grown bigger and bigger. So, who are these spirits of vengeance, and how did they create an MCU mythos just as big as Thor’s—despite not having an established mythology to fall back on?

In the beginning, there was one (or five) Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider Western (image via commons.wikimedia.org)

Most people would say that Johnny Blaze was the first Ghost Rider, but the history of the Spirit of Vengeance actually dates back to the character Rex Fury in 1949, from a western-horror comic called Tim Holt that died with the creation of the Comics Code Authority. When the rights lapsed, Marvel debuted the character as…not Johnny Blaze. Before Blaze, there was Carter Slade, the iconic western Ghost Rider, later renamed to, unfortunately, Night Rider (a KKK title), and then to Phantom Rider. Slade wasn’t the only Phantom Rider, either.

Following him, we had Jamie Jacobs, Slade’s former sidekick, Lincoln Slade, and ancestor, Reno Jones, who battled a KKK unit called the nightriders, J.T. Slade, another ancestor that Nick Fury recruited during Secret Invasion, and Jamie Slade, the first female Phantom Rider, and one of Mockingbird’s villains. But the Ghost Rider that we are most familiar with started a few years after Carter Slade’s 1967 debut.

Three Men, One Woman, and Ten Wheels: the Main Ghost Riders

Johnny Blaze, the Stuntman of Vengeance

Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider (image: Marvel Comics)

The Ghost Rider as we know the character, with the flaming skull head, motorcycle, and industrial chain-turned-whip first appeared in 1972’s Marvel Spotlight #5, created by Roy Thomas, and Friedrich, and Mike Peng. Johnny Blaze came as the big decade of Marvel legacy debuts was winding down. We’ve already had Iron Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc. It’s also one of the earlier character creations in Marvel that doesn’t have Stan Lee or Jack Kirby’s names on it. But Blaze actually has a similar backstory to Spider-Man, of all characters.

Before becoming Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance, Blaze was orphaned at a young age. Instead of his aunt and uncle taking him in, he was adopted by close family friends, Crash and Mona Simpson. In Spider-Man’s story, his Uncle Ben dies because of a mistake Peter Parker makes. In Ghost Rider’s story, Crash Simpson also dies because of a mistake Johnny Blaze makes. When Crash is diagnosed with cancer, Johnny makes a deal with Mephisto. In return for curing Crash’s cancer, Johnny would serve as the demon. Mephisto cured Crash—only to have him die in a stunt accident. Johnny wasn’t specific enough in his request. With a heart of vengeance, Ghost Rider was born.

Danny Ketch, the Ghost Rider of the 90s

danny Ketch Spirit of Vengeance (image: Marvel Comics)

Ghost Rider didn’t run from 1983 to 1990, which is amazing because regardless of the era, the Spirit of Vengeance always looks like an 80s character. Ketch’s beginnings as Ghost Rider is a bit more sudden and violent. In fact, he almost accidentally gets the flaming skull. When he and his sister Barbara are attacked by gangsters, Danny flees to a junkyard where he finds a motorcycle marked with a demonic symbol. He touches it and BOOM, flaming face. He tries to save his sister, but fails when the demon Zarathos kills her.

After dying a few times, coming back, seeing more friends die, finding out Johnny Blaze is his long lost brother, Ketch slips into alcoholism, which he still suffers from in the latest Ghost Rider comic. Oh, there is a lot more to Ketch, like how he had multiple spirits of vengeance stuck in him at one point and merged with other characters, but this is a Ghost Rider profile, not a Danny Ketch profile.

Alejandra Jones, More than A Woman with Vengeance

Alejandra Jones Ghost Rider If Ghost Riders are skeletons…how does she still have breasts? (Image: Marvel Comics)

Jones is by far the most interesting Ghost Rider to wield the spirit of vengeance, and it’s not just because of the gender flip. Her backstory is particularly messed up. The daughter of an American human trafficker, Alejandra was sold to Adam—a cult leader in Nicaragua who bought children so that he could train the next Ghost Rider. Adam’s plan? Use the Ghost Rider to eliminate all sin from Earth, which in turn would eliminate all free will and make everyone more mindless than the mindless ones. His plan nearly works, as Alejandra is given Johnny Blaze’s spirit of vengeance, becoming the next Ghost Rider. But she eventually sees how evil Adam is and rebels against him.

Later on, Jones confronts Mephisto to get the souls of the Nicaraguans back. She actually threatens to end hell by destroying his heart, and Mephisto lets the souls free. But when she realizes that she used the spirit of vengeance for selfish reasons, she attempts to kill herself by way of lava, only for another Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, to save her. As of now, however, Alejandra is dead. During the recent Absolute Carnage event, Carnage rips her soul out in an attempt to become a spirit of vengeance himself. Thankfully, Ghost Rider: Symbiote of Vengeance didn’t last long.

Robbie Reyes, Vengeance on Four Wheels

Robbie Reyes Vengeance Marvel (Image: Marvel Comics)

In a way, Reyes is a mix of Blaze, Ketch, and Jones. Like Jones, he is a Hispanic-American. Like Blaze, he is a thrill-seeker, often competing in illegal street racing. And like Ketch, he has a history with gangs, which leads to him becoming the first Ghost Rider to drive a car instead of a motorcycle. The one thing all Ghost Riders have in common is that they start with the best intentions. Ketch wants to save his sister. Blaze wants to save his adopted father. Jones wants to save…everyone. Reyes just wants to save his little disabled brother from living in a dangerous part of East LA. To do this, Reyes “borrows” a muscle car from the shop he works at to compete in a street race.

But there’s one problem—the trunk is full of supervillain drugs. A gang stops him and guns him down, but in doing so, awaken a spirit of Vengeance, and turning Robbie into the most recent Ghost Rider. Reyes was an instant hit too, and his popularity grew so quickly that he became a recurring character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and is now a full-fledged member of the Avengers. And really, his story is just beginning.

Best Ghost Rider Stories Per Spirit of Vengeance

Johnny Blaze:

The End Of Ghost Rider

End of Ghost Rider Marvel (image: Marvel Comics)

When J. M. Dematteis finished his short run on Ghost Rider, he did so with a dark battle between Johnny Blaze’s soul and the spirit of vengeance itself. Trapped in a soul crystal, they fight for control of Blaze’s body. The battle is so extreme that they break the crystal—and Johnny ends up free of the demonic possession that has cursed his life. Of course, it wouldn’t last, but it’s a great end to a series anyway.

Danny Ketch

Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness

Punisher Wolverine Ghost Rider Marvel Comics Hearts of Darkness (Image: Marvel Comics)

This was one of the best team-ups in Marvel Comics history. Blackheart tries to trick Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Punisher into killing Mephisto—not his best idea. And John Romita Jr.’s art makes it ten times crazier.

Alejandra Jones:

Circle of Four

Alejandra Jones Ghost Rider Venom Red Hulk X23 Fantastic Four Wolverine Spider-Man Hulk (Image: Marvel Comics)

Remember the Fantastic Four? No, not that one, the other one. Wolverine, Hulk, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider. Yes. For a few issues in the 90s, this was THE Fantastic Four. Well, in 2012, Rick Remender, Jeff Parker, and Rob Williams took all the new versions of those characters to give us a brutal story set in a Las Vegas trapped in Hell. Red Hulk, Agent Venom, X23, and, of course, Alejandra Jones, Ghost Rider. This turned out to be a fantastic team, and it’s too bad Marvel didn’t utilize them more afterward. Also, Red Hulk borrows Venom from Flash Thompson and the spirit of vengeance from Ghost Rider, and yes, it’s as awesome as you’re picturing.

Robbie Reyes:

Engines of Vengeance

 Robbie Reyes (Image: Marvel Comics)

Though he’s a popular new character, he’s still a new character, which means he hasn’t had a ton of stories yet. Still, his debut is one of his best, as we see a desperate teenager trying to do his best in some harsh conditions. What also makes it great is the art from Tradd Moore—it’s some of the most electric art you’ll see in comics.

So, who’s your favorite Ghost Rider, and which spirit of vengeance wins the coveted “best head on fire” award?

And yes, there is a Cosmic Ghost Rider. We’ll get to that.

(Featured Image: Marvel Comics)

COMICSMarvelAlejandra JonesDanny KetchGhost RiderJohnny Blazemarvel comicsRobbie Reyes

Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.

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