Comics Watch: How 'Ghost Rider' No. 1 Could Inspire a Marvel Studios Team-Up
Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big screen. This week tackles Marvel's Ghost Rider No. 1, so be warned, there are spoilers below.
The Spirit of Vengeance is back with a, well, you know… vengeance. Wednesday sees the release of writer Ed Brisson and artist Aaron Kuder’s Ghost Rider No. 1, a relaunch of Marvel’s flame-skulled, motorcycle riding, supernatural antihero. The latest series has the additional draw of featuring not one, but two Ghost Riders: the original Johnny Blaze and his younger brother, Danny Ketch, who took over the series and title in the 1990s. The issue picks up with Blaze and Ketch both having accrued significant changes to their lives and their respective roles as the Ghost Rider. Ketch’s life is mostly in shambles and he tries his best to resist transforming into Ghost Rider, an impossibility that has driven him to alcoholism. Blaze on the other hand has replaced Mephisto as the King of Hell following last year’s Damnation storyline in Doctor Strange, making him one of the biggest threats in the Marvel multiverse. With the added pressures of a dozen escaped demons from Hell and longtime Ghost Rider villain Lilith angling to overthrow Blaze and take his throne, Ghost Rider sets the two brothers on an explosive collision course.
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The issue comes out just a week after news broke that Marvel TV's planned Ghost Rider project for Hulu had been scrapped. That series would have followed the comics’ most recent Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, with Terminator: Dark Fate star Gabriel Luna reprising his role from season four of Agents of SHIELD. But with the effort joining a heap of canceled and scrapped Marvel shows in the wake of Disney+, I can’t help but wonder if Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has big plans for the character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Reyes’ appearance on Agents of SHIELD neither prevents nor necessitates his role within the larger MCU, given that the Marvel TV created properties like SHIELD, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Runaways, etc., are only tenuously linked to the MCU and have never impacted the movies like the Disney+ Marvel series will. The loss of a Ghost Rider series, featuring a Latino superhero — which there have been few of in Marvel’s television and film properties — is a blow, but the character has long been deserving of a film that could fully capture the spirit of his vast mythology.
We’ve had two Johnny Blaze films, Ghost Rider (2007) and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011), both starring Nicolas Cage. Yet each left a lot to be desired for fans of the characters. Both films took a disappointingly reserved approach to Ghost Rider’s mythos, with both Mephisto (Peter Fonda) and Blackheart (Wes Bentley) bearing no resemblance to their comic book counterparts. The sequel, which had even less interest in the comic books, saw Ciaran Hinds as Mephisto, again bearing little resemblance to the comics. Cage certainly put in the effort by doing the most with his performances, but even he was a far cry from the Johnny Blaze of the comics. Given the two films, there’s sentiment, much like with the Fantastic Four, that we’ve never really seen Ghost Rider onscreen as all that he is and can be.
One of the key things that stands out in Brisson and Kuder’s first issue is how much mileage there is in going all out with Ghost Rider’s mythos. From a multitude of different demons to deep-cut continuity references, Ghost Rider No. 1 achieves what all great comic relaunches should achieve in that it creates a desire to go back and read years of back issues. And it puts the focus on classic characters best known for the mantle, without killing off or jeopardizing the position of contemporary characters and the inclusivity they provide. Although he doesn’t appear in the issue, Robbie Reyes remains Ghost Rider, and in the pages of Jason Aaron and Stefano Caselli’s Avengers, he’s set for his own conflict with Blaze and Ketch. The biggest takeaway from the current approach to Ghost Rider, is that, like Spider-Man, more than one is comics' best bet.
As the MCU moves into the realm of horror with the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Blade, it only makes sense that Ghost Rider will soon make his presence known. The Doctor Strange sequel could presumably have a role for Mephisto, the shared nemesis of both Stephen Strange and Ghost Rider, setting up the story of the Spirit of Vengeance. And Blade, served on a team, Midnight Sons, with Doctor Strange, Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch. Ghost Rider showing up in the post-credit scene of Blade has the potential to rival Thanos’ appearance at the end of The Avengers (2012) in terms of fan enthusiasm. As Marvel Studios commits to using their superhero properties to explore other genres, there’s a variety of horror subgenres that Ghost Rider could cover, from demonic possession to a demon-hunting road trip. So how does Marvel Studios choose which Ghost Rider to go with?
In terms of legacy characters in the MCU, there’s a lot to be learned from the approach taken with Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and the threads we’ll continue to see play out in The Falcon & the Winter Soldier. Time was taken to build up Steve Rogers' mythology and lay the groundwork for Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson to play their own part in the character's legacy. While the contemporary positions of characters like Wilson, Miles Morales and Robbie Reyes have created an immediate desire for their importance to come to fruition on film, the reason why the characters work so well in the comics was because they were built on years and years of mythology. Even going by the truncated timeline in which the MCU operates when compared to comics, there is a greater payoff when these characters are heading towards their claim on a familiar namesake. Because of this, Marvel Studios should start their Ghost Rider story with Johnny Blaze, but set up Danny Blaze and Robbie Reyes in the process. Given that Ghost Rider is a mantle that goes back to the 18th century, there’s no reason why Ghost Rider’s appearance in the MCU couldn’t build up to a film titled Ghost Riders that gives the spotlight to Blaze, Ketch and Reyes. Hulu’s Ghost Rider project may have gone up in flames, but as the latest volume of Ghost Rider proves, there’s a chance for an even grander storyline to be built up from the ashes when Ghost Rider is approached as more than a single character.
by Graeme McMillan
by Pamela McClintock