A hero published by Marvel Comics
. The Ghost Rider
was created by Roy Thomas
and Mike Ploog
and first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5
A number of heroes have used the name Ghost Rider over the years. The first were cowboy heroes, but in the early 70's seemingly inspired by the flaming skull images that were popular with a certain segment of motorcycle riders, a new hero appeared on the scene. With origins steeped in the occult and possessing a sort of anti-hero, Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect, Ghost Rider became an intriguing hero, though he never became one of the A-list heroes.
The origin of the Ghost Rider has been reworked in the past few years, but originally, the origin involved an up-and-coming motorcycle stuntman named Johnny Blaze. Blaze was apprenticed to the great cycle stuntman Crash Simpson, who possessed one of the most ill-advised nicknames for a stuntman in history. Blaze worked with Simpson, who was his adoptive father, in a cycle show. Simpson discovered that he was dying of cancer and Blaze was determined to do what he could to save him. Blaze found and performed a ceremony to summon the devil, in this case the Marvel version of the prince of darkness Mephisto. Blaze made a deal, promising his soul in exchange for Mephisto not allowing Simpson to die from the disease.
Unfortunately, Blaze obviously had not read enough about deals with shadowy netherbeasts, because he was kind of loose with the wording. During the next show, Simpson attempted to jump his cycle over 22 cars and died in the attempt. Mephisto arrived to collect Blaze's soul, explaining that he had only agreed to keep Simpson from dying from the disease, not dying at all. Blaze's fate seemed sealed when Mephisto was driven off by Simpson's daughter, Roxanne, who used Blaze's Big Book of Occult Practices to perform a spell that protected Blaze. In revenge for this, Mephisto created a bond between Blaze and a demon named Zarathos. Zarathos appeared as a fiery skeletal figure, who could use his flames to burn the very soul of his victims. Blaze began to transform into Zarathos at night and in this form became known as the Ghost Rider.
Though initially the transformation only took place at night, Blaze later would transform when he encountered evil (bank robberies, murders, child abuse, Fox News anchors, James Carvell, and other evils in various forms). During this time, Blaze retained some control while in the form of Ghost Rider and became a member of the short-lived hero group known as the Champions. Also during this time, Ghost Rider road a special cycle with a large skull on the front.
As the Zarothos and Blaze shared one body, Zarothos grew in power and became more demonic. Ghost Rider abandoned the use of the special cycle and began riding one created of hellfire. This cycle could ride up walls and perform other actions that no real cycle could perform. As Ghost Rider became more and more unpredictable, Blaze was forced to break off many of his human relationships in fear of them being hurt by Zarathos. Finally, Zarathos was confronted by an old enemy named Centurius, who had given up his soul in ages past to be able to combat Zarathos. The two battled and Zarathos was able to trap his enemy inside a crystal prison. Zarathos decided to live within the crystal to fight his enemy, thereby freeing Blaze from Zarathos' influence and effectively ending the Ghost Rider.
Having shelved the Ghost Rider character for a number of years, Marvel reintroduced the character in a different form in the early 90's. This Ghost Rider also possessed the requisite flaming skull, but his mode of operation was slightly different. A teenager named Danny Ketch discovers a motorcycle in a graveyard where he and his friends are hanging out. When the friends are caught in a battle between two groups of criminals, Danny's sister is mortally wounded. The gas cap of the motorcycle begins to glow and when Danny touches is he and it are transformed. Danny becomes the Ghost Rider who desires vengence for wrongs wreaked on the innocent. To aid in this, the Ghost Rider uses his "penance stare" which causes his victims to experience the full weight and measure of the pain they have caused, a mystic chain that he uses as a weapon, and his motorcycle which now possesses flames for wheels and can ride up a wall or across water.
Danny adventures as the Ghost Rider for a while though the true origin and purpose of his version is not revealed. The inevitable meeting between Danny and Blaze finally comes about with Blaze seeking to make sure that this new version is not Zarathos. Thus convinced, the two fight together for a while, even joining with other dark, supernatural heroes in a group called the Midnight Sons.
Eventually, the origin of the Ghost Rider is reworked so that he is the result of an age old curse upon the Kale family. The curse caused the creation of the Ghost Rider and he could be called upon by the decendents in that family. In true comic book fashion, it is discovered that Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch are actually brothers separated at an early age with no knowledge of the other and they are decendents of the Kale family.
In early 2006, writer/director Mark Steven Johnson brought Ghost Rider to the big screen in a production starring Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes.
***Potential Spoilers to Follow***
Cage stars as Johnny Blaze with Mendes filling the role of love interest Roxanne Simpson. The origin is basically the same, though Crash Simpson is replaced by Barton Blaze, Johnny's father and Roxanne no longer has anything to do with Johnny's origin apart from being his love interest. When Johnny learns that his father is dying from cancer, he is approached by Mephistopholes, played with scenery chewing goodness by Peter Fonda. Agreeing to sell his soul to return his father to health, Johnny is again betrayed by a gaping loophole and spends the next years of his life waiting for the Devil to return to call in his debt.
Years later, Blaze is an national star in a version of America where stunt riders are like rock stars. In one amusing scene, Blaze stops traffic on a busy Texas highway and the people flock to him for autographs instead of beating him within an inch of his life. Blaze reconnects with Roxanne just in time to be sent off as the devil's bounty hunter to track down and stop Mephistophiles's son Blackheart and his henchmen.
The studio does a fine job in bringing the Ghost Rider to the screen and even though the storyline is not terribly strong and purists will probably decry the mixing of classic Ghost Rider with the Danny Ketch version, as long as you enter the theater not expecting MacBeth, but a fine popcorn movie, it is worth watching.
Source: Don Markstein's Toonpedia (www.www.toonopedia.com/ghrider3.htm)
Unofficial Handbook of the Marvel Universe (marvelbook.topcities.com/efghi/grider2.htm)
Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com/title/tt0259324/)