Excitement is building for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, which features the MCU introduction of a brand new Ghost Rider! Revealed at SDCC 2016, Ghost Rider's presence marks the moment Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dives into the realm of the supernatural. I'll keep you up-to-date on the news and rumors...
Who is the Ghost Rider?
Traditionally, the Ghost Rider is a man cursed to travel the highways and byways of the Marvel Universe in pursuit of vengeance. Every Ghost Rider has a slightly different origin - perhaps they made a dodgy deal with the Devil (or Marvel's equivalent, Mephisto), or they touched the Ghost Rider sigil, or they were killed in the presence of a vengeance spirit. The most common vengeance spirit associated with the Ghost Rider is Zarathos, but there are others.
The 2007 Ghost Rider movie simplified Ghost Rider's origin, establishing that the Rider is the Devil's champion, seeking out the guilty and casting them to Hell. In that film, the Devil chooses a Ghost Rider time and again throughout history, tricking his unfortunate chosen into signing a contract with him.
What Can the Ghost Rider Do?
A Ghost Rider transforms into a demonic being of fire and fury, typically characterized by a blazing skull. Every Ghost Rider has had different powers, but is typically associated with the devastating fury of Hellfire. This blazing inferno sears the souls of sinners, and several Ghost Riders have used chains to channel their Hellfire. Ghost Riders typically drive bikes (or a car, in Robbie Reyes's case), and their vehicle becomes wreathed in the same ethereal flames. These vehicles can perform impossible feats, including driving up walls or across oceans!
In the 1990s, writers granted the Ghost Riders a power known as the "Penance Stare" - if a Ghost Rider locks eyes with a guilty man or woman, then they feel all the pain and suffering they have made the innocent endure! The 1994 Fantastic Four animated series included an arc where Ghost Rider locked eyes with Galactus, devourer of worlds, and the Penance Stare was even effective against him!
So Who Have Been Marvel's 'Ghost Riders'?
The first Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, made his debut in 1972. Just as in the 2007 Ghost Rider movie, stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze made a deal to save his father's life from cancer. But you should always check the fine print when you make a deal with the Devil - Johnny's father died in an accident anyway. Johnny Blaze remained Ghost Rider until the late 1980s, when the demon Zarathos abandoned his body in order to pursue Mephisto's servant Centurious.
The next Ghost Rider was Danny Ketch, eventually revealed to be Johnny Blaze's brother, and Ghost Rider lore was switched up by establishing that the brothers were under a generational curse. Under Danny Ketch's tenure, we learned that the power of vengeance was dangerously addictive. 2011's "Fear Itself" event introduced us to a new, female Ghost Rider, Alejandra, a Nicaraguan woman who had been trained to destroy all sin - and to reduce all sinners to a vegetable state. She was one seriously troubled lady.
The most recent Ghost Rider is Robbie Reyes, and he's very different. Where most Ghost Riders ride bikes, Robbie drives a Dodge Charger. He's bound to the dark spirit of a murderer named Eli Morrow, and got caught up in events when he, ah, 'borrowed' the car in order to enter a street race. Robbie is a fascinating character, not least because of his relationship with his developmentally disabled brother, Gabe; everything he does is really an attempt to help Gabe get out of the Los Angeles gangland the brothers were brought up in.
Why Has It Taken Ghost Rider So Long To Appear In The Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Marvel Studios existed a long time before 2008's Iron Man, and Marvel's focus used to be on selling the production and distribution rights of their superheroes to other companies. As early as 1992, Marvel was working on trying to get a Ghost Rider production greenlit; unfortunately, until 1998's Blade, few studios took Marvel superheroes particularly seriously.
Even with the success of Blade, Marvel found Ghost Rider to be a tough sell. The film drifted from studio to studio, and it was finally Columbia Pictures who released 2007's Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider was a critical failure but a box office success, and in 2012 the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, was released. Nicolas Cage played the part of Johnny Blaze in both these films, and was initially interested in a third; when he dropped out, Columbia seemed to lose interest. By 2013, the film rights had finally reverted to Marvel.
But Marvel Studios was playing it carefully as regards magic; even the fantastical world of Asgard had been carefully explained away as impossibly advanced science. Thor: The Dark World, released in November 2013, took a few faltering steps into the world of sorcery. The film proved that superhero audiences could be receptive to magic, and so Marvel's plans for Phase Three came to include Doctor Strange (to be released this year).
Marvel Entertainment - responsible for the TV shows - has seemed more willing to push the boundaries than Marvel Studios. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. included the first overt reference to sorcery when the team allied with Sif against Lorelei, and Marvel's Netflix shows have happily crossed over into the realm of magic with the Hand's dark arts. With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. moving to a later timeslot, it's no surprise that Marvel Entertainment is willing to go all-out and throw in the dark magic of the Ghost Rider. It looks likely that the series will be introducing Ghost Rider pretty quickly; there are strong rumors that Episode 1 will be entitled "The Ghost".
Which Ghost Rider Is Joining Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
It didn't take fans long to deduce which Ghost Rider was coming to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; casting discussions have made it clear which version we're going to see!
"Also to be introduced in Season 4: a pair of Latino brothers, one of whom is always the most dangerous person in the room, the other paralyzed in a wheelchair."
Yes, the Ghost Rider of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is none other than Robbie Reyes, to be played by Gabriel Luna of Matador fame! The actor grew up a huge fan of the character, so has openly expressed his joy at getting to enter the Marvel Universe as Ghost Rider:
"The moment you hear the words “Ghost Rider,” the flights of fancy in your imagination starts to run amuck. It’s really great."
It's worth noting that the gang violence Robbie got caught up in involved Mr. Hyde, a character we haven't seen in the MCU since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2. If Marvel Entertainment choose to be true to Robbie Reyes's origin, we may see Kyle MacLachlan reprise the role.
Questioned about Kyle MacLachlan, Executive Producer Jed Whedon told TVLine that he'd be welcome - but may not be essential.
"We can’t say much about what we’re going to do with [Robbie Reyes’] origin, but we are doing our own spin on it. We don’t want people who have read the comics to know exactly what’s coming."
Using Robbie Reyes is a smart move - he's much more closely tied to the themes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than any other incarnation of Ghost Rider.
Why Haven't S.H.I.E.L.D. Encountered This Kind Of Magic Before?
Given that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been policing the world's mysteries for decades, why haven't they encountered magic before? Sure, the team confronted Lorelei's otherworldly sorcery, but other than that we've only seen the team express doubts about the existence of magic.
The answer is found in the Doctor Strange Prelude, which reveals that the Ancient One's disciples - the Masters of the Mystic Arts - essentially act as a sort of supernatural police force, protecting the world from dark magic. It's pretty clear that, as part of the film, Chiwetel Ejiofor's Baron Mordo will betray the Ancient One. If he's preparing for a power play, it's likely to distract the Masters of the Mystic Arts, meaning something slips beneath their radar. This will allow a thematic tie-in, taking S.H.I.E.L.D. to a fascinatingly dark place. As Gabriel Luca told Collider:
"What we haven’t touched on are things that can’t be explained perfectly by science. It’s a lot of really fun stuff that starts to lean into the world of Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider and Mephisto, and all of these other elements that also exist there, like ghouls and goblins and all sorts of cool things. We’re happy to be the ones to break the ice on that."
Is It Possible The Ghost Rider Movies Will Be Absorbed Into The MCU?
Marvel is famously wary of retreading ground already explored in other films; when Marvel negotiated a deal with Sony to introduce Spider-Man, the studio chose not to present another version of his origin story!
So far, though, evidence is building that there have indeed been past Ghost Riders in the MCU. Marvel has worked hard to seamlessly integrate the broader Ghost Rider mythology into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and this has even included some pretty overt nods to Johnny Blaze.
Right now, it's too soon to tell whether we'll see a new version of Johnny Blaze himself - or whether instead Marvel will subtly absorb Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance into the broader MCU continuity. There's no real demand for this, but it would be a cool nod all the same.
Let's face it, right now we don't know a lot about how Ghost Rider is going to play out in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. One thing's for sure; with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. moving into the realm of the supernatural, the team are about to face challenges like nothing they've seen before. Ghost Rider is also a dark enough character to fully justify the later timeslot. We look to be in for a wild ride!