Hello again Creeps and Ghouls! In my last article, I explored one of the more esoteric characters of Marvel’s supernatural pantheon, Son of Satan. This time around I’m going to examine someone a little more mainstream, a character that exudes cool and preternatural menace all at once, The Ghost Rider!
One company that always managed to capture the nation’s zeitgeist in the 70’s was Marvel comics (for indisputable proof of this, they inked a deal to produce Star Wars comics six months prior to the film’s release, when there was absolutely no buzz surrounding the project whatsoever). Another thing they were masterful at was combining genres into exciting new concepts (such as the aforementioned Son of Satan, a heady blend of super heroics and The Exorcist). So in 1972, Gary Friedrich, with an assist from legendary writer/editor Roy Thomas (Conan the Barbarian) and master artist Mike Ploog (Marvel’s Frankenstein), combined the daring theatrics of Evel Kinevel (whose ambitious, though not always successful acts of motorcycle stunt riding had captured the nations heart), with the occult elements so popular in the movies and books of the time, and sprinkled a little Faust on top to create The Ghost Rider.
The story of the Ghost Rider concerned Circus motorcycle performer Johnny Blaze, who enters into a deal with the Devil (later revealed to be a lesser demon named Mephisto when Marvel editorial once again got cold feet) in order to save the life of his terminally ill mentor/step father “Crash” Simpson . Crash’s daughter, Roxanne, learns of the deal, and thwarts Mephisto’s plans by professing her love for Johnny, thereby denying the demon Blaze’s soul. In a blinding rage, Mephisto binds Johnny to the demon Zarathos, thus creating the preternatural creature Ghost Rider (whose name was taken from an earlier Marvel Western hero). Throughout the series long run (81 issues that ran from 1972-1983), Blaze became an unwitting enforcer of Mephisto’s will, defeating various demons and sending them back to the demon’s domain in Hell (a popular concept in comics, mirrored in everything from the Japanese Devilman, to the more modern anti-hero Spawn), before finally freeing himself from Zarathos, who left Blaze to pursue Centurious, a man born without a soul.
While the story may borrow heavily from long established tropes, visually Ghost Rider could not have been more fresh and exciting. Clad head to toe in black leather (reminiscent of Elvis Presley’s attire in his renowned ’68 comeback special), and topped with a flaming skull for a head, Ghost Rider is a testament to economy of design working toward an iconic end result.
Strangely enough, my introduction to the character did not start with the comic book series. I first encountered the Rider on a visit to my cousin’s house in 1976. Always savvy on the newest comic book trends, he showed me his newest acquisition, Fleetwood toys Ghost Rider figure, which featured ol’ Ghostie perched atop a red chopper with chrome everywhere. I was immediately hooked!
The legacy and appeal of Ghost Rider continues to this day. After his initial series ended, The Ghost Rider made a huge come back in the 90’s (although a new avatar, Danny Ketch took on the mantel, before teaming up with Johnny Blaze in the Spirits of Vengeance series) with a new series that ran for 93 issues, and a finale issue that arrived a decade after the series ended its run! Other takes on the character have appeared over the years as well, such as a cyberpunk version that appeared in the Ghost Rider 2099 series, an intergalactic version that appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, and most astounding, a zombie version that appeared in the Marvel Zombies series. The character appears to this day in other mediums as well, such as in video games (Capcom’s upcoming Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom), to major Hollywood releases (the second Nic Cage Ghost Rider film is due out next February). And, of course the Rider still has a presence in today’s comic market as well, as he is currently featured in a new series from Marvel.
If you are interested in reading the original Ghost Rider adventures, check out the Marvel Essentials Ghost Rider Volume One, which contains 560 pages of 70’s supernatural excitement. Also, please check out my debut horror novella, The House of Thirteen Doors for some more supernatural motorcycle excitement!!
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