Gabriel Luna's #GhostRider has absolutely transformed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Ushering in an era of the supernatural, the character has forged an uneasy alliance in order to deal with the threat of the 'ghosts'. The last two episodes, though, have begun dropping hints that he may not be the first Ghost Rider in the #MCU...
Ghost Rider as an 'Urban Legend'
In "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire", Coulson finally meets Ghost Rider. Where other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have been thrown by the supernatural being, Coulson seems to run through a mental checklist. Incredibly, he then makes a pretty significant comment; he says that he'd thought Ghost Rider was just an "urban legend".
Urban legends are essentially modern-day folklore, usually transmitted by word-of-mouth — although, in this digital era, they've also started trending on Facebook! They often contain elements of the macabre, and sometimes even have moral lessons, but they're always — well, let's just say, 'highly questionable'. Urban legends happen to someone other than the teller — "a friend of a friend", for example — and, because each person tells them slightly differently, they never quite match up.
Probably the most famous urban legend is that the New York sewers are home to a race of (sometimes albino) alligators, descended from infant alligators that were flushed down the toilet when they started to grow up. This particular urban legend is clear nonsense, given that the sewers get terribly cold in winter, and alligators thrive in hot places. There may well be the occasional alligator that turns up in the sewers, but it's likely to abandon them when winter comes.
Some urban legends will actually have a shred of truth to them. For example, a couple of German tourists really did discover a body under a bed in a Las Vegas hotel!
How Long Has Coulson Been Hearing About the Ghost Rider?
We know that Robbie Reyes's Ghost Rider was active before Season 4 kicked off, but that wall mural is no testimony to an urban legend - it's a statement that tells you exactly who's died at the Ghost Rider's hands. In contrast, urban legends are shadowy and ephemeral, avoiding specific details like names and times. No, Coulson would need to be referring to something else — something that predates Robbie Reyes's tenure as Ghost Rider, but that makes him discount tales of brutal violence and flaming skulls as 'more of the same'.
The comics have clearly established that there are many versions of the Ghost Rider, from Johnny Blaze, to Danny Ketch, to Robbie Reyes himself (although, in the comics, Reyes is actually bonded to a murderer's spirit rather than to the Spirit of Vengeance itself). Still, the point remains that every generation seems to have its own Ghost Rider — an idea that slipped into the Ghost Rider movies. The first Ghost Rider film even introduced us to an older Ghost Rider who rode a flaming horse!
It would stand to reason that this legacy is the 'urban legend' that Agent Coulson has been hearing about. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Ghost Rider is an urban legend — a modern-day myth, of a man who rides a motorcycle or drives a car, and of a fiery skull.
Who Were These Previous Ghost Riders?
Robbie Reyes is the newest, least-developed Ghost Rider in the comics (he's soon to star in a second solo series). Many fans have expressed annoyance that they're not going to see the classic Ghost Riders — say, Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch — on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Coulson's comment opens up the possibility that there could be more than one Ghost Rider roaming the East Coast; just as in the Ghost Rider movies, there could be other, older Ghost Riders who are keeping their heads down and trying to stay out of the vengeance game.
This brings me to the second major Easter egg, though, which is one that you could easily miss in the episode "Lockup". In a flashback scene, we see Lilli Birdsell's Lucy Bauer back when she first retrieved the Darkhold. As my fellow Creator Paul has pointed out, the scene is absolutely chock-full of teasers to Johnny Blaze's Ghost Rider. It's strongly implied that Johnny Blaze had retrieved the Darkhold from its previous owner (and killed him); he'd then secreted the Darkhold away for an unknown amount of time.
Right now, it's too soon to say whether or not we'll see Johnny Blaze's Ghost Rider in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. It's possible that, instead, 2007's Ghost Rider and 2012's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance could be incorporated into the wider #MCU. Marvel has historically considered tying previous non-MCU movies into their shared universe; early drafts for 2008's Iron Man toyed with the idea that Tony Stark designed the metal tentacles used by Doctor Octopus in 2004's Spider-Man 2! At present this is only a possibility, but it would be a fun continuity nod all the same — one which retroactively extend the supernatural into the history of the MCU!
- Hellfire and Brimstone - Everything You Need To Know About Marvel's Ghost Rider!
- Who Is Robbie Reyes's Ghost Rider?
- Our First Look At Ghost Rider on 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Is Exceptionally Faithful to the Comics
Whatever the truth may be, we've now had two nods to a history of Ghost Riders in the MCU. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 is clearly aiming to dive deep into the realm of the supernatural - and establishing that S.H.I.E.L.D. know about the Darkhold, and believe Ghost Rider to be an urban legend, helps embed the supernatural in the fabric of the wider MCU. What will be next? What other 'urban legends' could exist in the MCU, and what dark and deadly truths could lie behind them?
Do you want the Ghost Rider movies to be considered part of the MCU?
Poll Image: Marvel Comics