In 2013, Marvel Studios reacquired the rights to one of their most Hellish superheroes - #GhostRider! Although Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance had been box office successes (albeit not critical ones), Nicolas Cage wasn't interested in returning to play the stunt-rider-turned-Hellfire-warrior for a third film. Columbia seemed to lose interest, and the franchise was quietly passed back to Marvel.
Fans have been eagerly awaiting Ghost Rider news ever since, and there have been long-standing rumors of a Netflix series. Today, though, at SDCC Marvel revealed the truth: Ghost Rider is coming to Season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with the series moving to a later timeslot and with a darker, edgier style. If casting details are to be believed, it's not Johnny Blaze's Ghost Rider, though; it's a character who goes by the name of Robbie Reyes!
Creating Robbie Reyes
In 2014, Marvel approached Felipe Smith to redesign the character of Ghost Rider. The plan wasn't to replace the traditional Ghost Rider, who at the time was playing a major role in Thunderbolts, but to create a new version of the character - one who could effectively coexist with the classic.
It didn't take Smith long to design a character; a young mechanic named Robbie Reyes who lived in Los Angeles with his developmentally disabled brother, Gabe. Artist Tradd Moore worked closely with Smith to create an unusual look and feel for the character.
The finished look was unusual but evocative, with what Moore described as a "sleek, techno vibe". Meanwhile, unusually, Smith chose to shift this new Ghost Rider away from the traditional motorcycle. Robbie Reyes's vehicle is a supernatural Dodge Charger!
So Who IS Robbie Reyes?
All-New Ghost Rider #1 introduced us to Robbie Reyes, a Mexican-American mechanic who dreamed of escaping the Los Angeles gangland where his disabled brother Gabe was constantly victimized. His ticket out seemed to be the Dodge Charger he was working on at the garage; he stole it at night, and entered a street race.
What Reyes hadn't known was that the Dodge Charger belonged to a gang, and that drugs - superhuman drugs - were in the trunk. That first issue ended with him cut down in a hail of bullets. What nobody had known was that the Dodge Charger was possessed by the spirit of Eli Morrow, a brutal murderer, and that Reyes's death enabled Morrow to bond with Reyes and resurrect him - as a vengeance demon, the all-new Ghost Rider, bound to the darkness that is Eli Morrow.
Robbie wasn't exactly keen on getting into the superhero gig; as he put it, he'd known great responsibility all his life - responsibility for his brother. Unfortunately, matters escalated - as they always do in comics! The superhuman drugs were tied to the supervillain Mr. Hyde, and Eli Morrow's spirit wasn't a pleasant one - he was a serial killer, and sought to possess Robbie's body completely!
The two eventually reached a deal to share Robbie's body. As Ghost Rider, Robbie would satisfy Eli Morrow's appetite for blood by preying on the guilty. Otherwise, Eli would allow Robbie to control his own body, and to look after Gabe in peace.
Who's Playing the Part of Ghost Rider?
Playing the part is Gabriel Luna, best known for playing Tony Bravo in Matador and Paco Contreras in Wicked City. His story's fascinating; although Gabriel's father died before he was born, it was still his father's influence that led him into acting. When he was at high school, his grandmother found a box of items in the attic that had belonged to his dad, and showed them to Gabriel.
"And it was full of items. There were football trophies, a soccer trophy, of course, his Year Books and a VHS tape. I popped it in, and it was my father in a play that he wrote, starred in and directed for our church for Easter. I watched it and was weeping, of course, because there he was alive. It was the first time I'd ever seen him when he was alive."
At the time, he's just turned down the idea of playing in the school play. That box of memories changed his mind, and launched his life down a completely different road - one that will now lead him into the wider MCU!
What role will Robbie Reyes play in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
With #AgentsOfSHIELD. moving to a later timeslot, the series is planning to go darker. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange is soon to add magic to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, clearing the way for Marvel Entertainment to dive into the world of the supernatural.
It's safe to assume that the plot in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will roughly mirror that of the All-New Ghost Rider comics, but there are two complications. The first is that sorcery in the MCU has traditionally been dealt with by the Masters of the Mystic Arts (as revealed in the Doctor Strange Prelude). As a result, S.H.I.E.L.D. has typically been rather disbelieving when it comes to the supernatural. We can assume that something is distracting the Masters of the Mystic Arts - likely the events of Doctor Strange.
The second complication is that the original arc heavily features Mr. Hyde. Is it possible that we'll see Kyle MacLachlan reprise the role? With Agent Daisy on the run, the story could be set to take a fascinating twist...
Why has Marvel used Robbie Reyes's Ghost Rider?
The decision to use Robbie Reyes rather than, say, Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch, is sure to raise a few eyebrows. Personally, though, I think it's a smart choice. Robbie Reyes is really only associated with one arc - his own origin - and that's got all the drama you'd want for an episodic TV show. With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. headed in a darker direction, this is a smart move. That said, as Jed Whedon explained to MCUExchange, don't expect a rinse-and-repeat of the comics:
“We’re pulling a little bit from different versions of the Ghost Rider. There’s an iconic image that we saw at Comic-Con of that skull on fire. Things are a little different with Robbie. There will be a little mixing and matching. We’re being true to the character, where he comes from, his little brother.”
Another plus is that this choice leaves key concepts available for Marvel Studios to explore, or for a later Netflix TV series to reveal. The other Ghost Riders are too closely tied to major Marvel concepts - Mephisto (Marvel's version of the Devil) being a prime example. By not using these concepts, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. leaves them free for exploration elsewhere.
It also makes sense in another way, though. Marvel has always been wary of retreading ground already explored - The Incredible Hulk avoids repeating the origin story seen in 2003's Hulk, and Captain America: Civil War avoided repeating Spider-Man's origin too. Johnny Blaze's Ghost Rider has already been explored in 2007's Ghost Rider and 2012's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, so Marvel was always unlikely to simply reuse the character.
One thing's for sure: bringing a Ghost Rider of any kind to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will shake the team up! They've dealt with HYDRA, they've battled Inhumans and even tangled with aliens. Now it's time for them to confront some of the darkest magic around...