Part 2 of Ghost Rider De-mystified continues.
Where is Heaven in All This?
The next series called Road to Damnation sees Blaze suddenly in hell. Mephisto got what he wanted as Johnny inexplicably died and is in hell, but his bond with Zarathos remained intact. He rides in hell as Ghost Rider. He gets caught in some Heaven and Hell politics as Ghost Rider is tricked into eliminating a fallen angel named Kazann by an angel called Malachi under the false promise of getting back to Earth. After defeating Kazann, Ghost Rider is betrayed by Malachi who turned out to be Kazann’s brother as well as Heaven’s snitch. Malachi, however, was caught by the angel assassin named Ruth and sentenced to hell as well. This story may have been inspired by the fallen angel Uzual in the Blizzard game Diablo II. Johnny, however, remained in hell trying to escape. Here, we have more solid role for Judeo-Christian mythology in the Marvel Universe as angels solidly take part in Ghost Rider’s adventures. Johnny’s death is later explained in Vicious Cycle as he was shot in the head by some thugs inside a car.
Now, the writing in the volume Vicious Cycle is a little confusing. In the early days of the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, Mephisto is Satan or Satan is Mephisto. Howard Mackie made it clear that the Satan there was indeed Mephisto. Vicious Cycle, however, doesn’t use the name Mephisto. Let’s stick with Satan for now. Correct us if we’re wrong if Satan is indeed a separate entity that shares Hell with Mephisto.
Anyway, so Blaze finds a way out of hell, but unfortunately, Satan hitches a ride. Once out of hell, Satan splits into 666 pieces, each one possessing a recently-deceased person. Upon finding out, Blaze sets out to destroy these 666 avatars. For every avatar destroyed, the power is distributed to all those left until one very powerful avatar is left. Satan walks the earth. However, Satan walking the Earth once more goes against the interest of one important angel in heaven. Along the way, before defeating the last avatar, Ghost Rider comes to a most important discovery. It turns out that Ghost Rider or Zarathos is an angelic being himself. Assuming Satan isn’t lying, some angels that rebelled along with Lucifer were punished and turned into spirits of vengeance while some were allowed to keep their form. An angel named Zadkiel was in league with Lucifer but was saved from exile and put in charge of these spirits of vengeance, heaven’s black ops team. Zarathos was one of those spirits. So this explains that there are more than three spirits of vengeance. This sheds light to a popular frame shown in the Road to Vengeance storyline that Ghost Rider, the spirit within Blaze and Vengeance were not the only three. That frame fueled much speculation that there was one more spirit yet to be revealed.
Let’s stop for a bit and go back to Howard Mackie’s mythology. In the times before Atlantis sank into the ocean, Zarathos was a powerful demon, with enough power to challenge Mephisto. Presumably, the Zarathos spirit of vengeance was corrupted, began consuming souls until he was as powerful as Mephisto. Zarathos crossed paths with Centurious that resulted in him losing his loved ones. Centurious makes a deal with Mephisto for revenge which makes him immortal, but at the cost of his soul, thus he is known as Centurious the soulless man. Centurious was instrumental in defeating Zarathos leaving the demon in the hands of Mephisto. Mephisto kept Zarathos around as his prisoner until he found a use for him by bonding him to Johnny Blaze. But before that, Zarathos was fought by The Blood and other spirits of vengeance, which presumably includes the spirit that possessed Danny Ketch. This was in a bid to keep Zarathos from gaining the Medallion of Power.
The spirits of vengeance that participated in Zarathos’ downfall were bonded to the medallion of power which was shattered and hidden. The pieces of the medallion of power are then passed along with the spirits themselves to the descendants of the vessels. Because the Ghost Rider spirit within Danny Ketch’s history goes back millennia, how do we explain Noble Kale and his time period? How did Danny Ketch come to have a piece of the Medallion of Power?
Now the spirit of vengeance that possessed Danny Ketch may have been passed to the Kale family in a couple of ways. One, Noble may have had the power all along, and Mephisto had Pastor Kale stage a ritual to awaken that power or, a spirit of vengeance died without having a lineage to pass to and was bonded to Noble Kale thus giving sentience to an otherwise instinctive entity. Has anyone noticed that Blaze and Vengeance kept their personalities while Dan and Ghost Rider’s were separate? So Ghost Rider defeated the Furies and was offered Kale’s son as a result. When Kale refused to eat his own son, he committed suicide. The suicide completed the bond between Noble’s soul and the spirit of vengeance who participated in the Zarathos/Blood war. Kale, however, was suppressed to keep the Furies from returning to Earth.
Being bartered to Mephisto, the demon was about to claim his prize when heaven intervened through the archangel, Uriel. Kale’s soul is too pure for hell, and instead of going to war, it was agreed that Kale would reside in the void until needed and would pass among his descendants.
As explained in the Road to Vengeance storyline and Ghost Rider Flashback, Naomi Kale had taken steps to keep her curse from passing on to her children. Johnny was freed from the curse but unknown to her, the curse was passed to her daughter Barbara. The medallion pieces were then passed to Johnny and Barbara, and because of Mephisto’s interest in the Medallion of Power, he staged events that led to Zarathos being bonded to Johnny making him a Ghost Rider anyway. Barbara gets injured in the cemetery and later killed by Blackout thereby passing the curse over to Danny.
So that would explain the conflicting history inflicted by writer Ivan Velez to the Ghost Rider series. The Judeo-Christian mythos which carried on to later series thus involving the Judeo-Christian pantheon in the Marvel Universe inhabited by Norse, Olympian, Egyptian and other beings in the universe. What’s tough to explain is Mephisto or Satan as his history states that he’s one of the major that demons resulted when the Elder Gods warred with each other and degenerated into demons; but in the Vicious Cycle series, Satan is formerly the archangel Lucifer. Satan’s origin follows the fall of the angels in Judeo-Christian mythology. Admittedly, it would be tough writing in Judeo-Christian mythos in comic books without rubbing anyone the wrong way.
Well, Lucifer basically gave us the origin of the demon Zarathos which coincides with Noble Kale being an angel of death as well. However, Noble Kale gets an unceremonious departure from the Ghost Rider mythos sometime before Vicious Cycle. Last we saw of Noble Kale, he went back to Earth, leaving his kingdom of hell to Vengeance and Pao Fu. But, in an issue of Spider-Man written by Howard Mackie, his power became unstable and out of control as he apparently needed a host to function. Luckily, Danny Ketch who was at the time free of the curse found him and chose to again bond with his ancestor. They’re never seen again after that issue. After several years, it’s written that Danny also took steps to rid himself of Noble Kale anyway. Noble Kale, the Ghost Rider that became popular in the 90s is now in the wind. Daniel is free of any spirit of vengeance but later regretted his decision. In an insane act, he even tried to immolate himself to simulate the transformation.
Continuing with Blaze in the Vicious Cycle series, the angel Zadkiel and his Black Host plans to take over heaven itself. His plan is to acquire the power of the many spirits of vengeance on Earth. Danny Ketch, desperate to become Ghost Rider once again is given a new spirit of vengeance. He is given the task to eliminate all the other spirits and gather their power to be given to Zadkiel. Zadkiel lies to him that Johnny’s spirit is also unstable and Johnny must be saved before he’s driven to madness. Danny embarks on the campaign to drain all the world’s Ghost Riders in the storyline called The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance. Zadkiel won, but Danny managed to bring back some of the power, restoring Blaze’s spirit as well as himself, plus turning another cop named Kowalski into a new incarnation of Vengeance.
Before going on, where the heck were all these people in all of Marvel history if each one of them is as powerful as the 90s Ghost Rider? They could have helped a lot. But all these Ghost Riders help later in a big way finally closing their mythology in the Heavens on Fire mini-series. Dan and Blaze want to seek vengeance against Zadkiel. They try to make their way to a supposed portal to heaven with the help of Caretaker’s granddaughter Sara and several others while trying to protect the anti-Christ, who, once killed allows Zadkiel to continue with his plans to remake the Earth. It turns out that Sara is the gateway to heaven, so Dan and Johnny make their way there to face Zadkiel. Up in heaven, the two battle Zadkiel but are overpowered until Johnny is visited by Roxanne’s soul telling him to lead the souls of the other Ghost Riders in heaven. They manage to defeat Zadkiel just as heaven comes under attack by the anti-Christ and his forces. All the Ghost Riders take back heaven and defeat the anti-Christ.
God give his thanks through Roxanne’s spirit. As mentioned, Roxanne and her kids inexplicably died earlier despite being returned to Blaze in the final issue of Volume 2. After all the work, Blaze requested that his curse be removed and Roxanne and the kids be brought back to life, but unfortunately, God wants Blaze to live an ongoing struggle, for some purpose. As for Dan, he and his spirit of vengeance are in the wind. Zadkiel is defeated and is sent to hell with Satan relishing in his punishment.
The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance and Heavens of Fire basically resolves the conflicting mythologies of Howard Mackie and Ivan Velez quite nicely. The Spirits of Vengeance were heaven’s black ops forces for millennia. There’s more than three spirits roaming the Earth, Zarathos himself was a rogue spirit of vengeance and the distinctiveness of Noble Kale’s and Dan Ketch’s identities.
Blaze’s later adventures include passing his spirit of vengeance to a Nicaraguan initiate named Alejandra Jones. In Nicaragua lies a monastery for initiates to house a spirit of vengeance. Blaze meets with the biblical Adam claiming he could help Blaze get rid of the curse. The spirit passes to Alejandra who Adam uses as the ultimate sin-eater to rid the world of the biblical sin. The aftereffect, however, are soulless persons without personalities. Alejandra’s career was short-lived though as the powers were taken back by Blaze to defeat Adam. Ghost Rider He has also teamed up with the Thunderbolts but also for a short time due to his loner nature. His latest adventure was fighting with the newest Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes.
A New Type of Ghost Rider
Johnny Blaze takes a back seat in Marvel’s new campaign for diversity and a fresh take on Marvel’s fiery hero. The mantle transfers to Robbie Reyes a Latino residing in LA. Instead of riding a bike, this Ghost Rider rides a muscle car. Ghost Riders aren’t limited to using motorcycles as their vehicles. As shown in Ghost Rider Vicious cycle, they can ride just about anything including elephants, sharks, tanks, biplanes, big rigs. Alejandra even transformed a train. In the second Ghost Rider film, Johnny transformed some quarrying equipment. This time, the choice vehicle is a 69 Dodge Charger muscle car, which is quite slick. I have since become a fan of this new Ghost Rider more so now that he’s featured in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.
Now, this Ghost Rider is quite different than the others apart from the gorgeous muscle car. Well, the car has a certain appeal as I was a fan of a Filipino comic book character called Devil Car.
Some fans disagree with Marvel moving away from motorcycles, but the character is called Ghost Rider. It doesn’t specify what he rides though. Anyway, he’s different since he is not possessed by one of heaven’s spirits of vengeance. Instead, he’s possessed by the strangely powerful ghost of a deceased Satanist serial-killer named Eli Morrow. Eli Morrow is actually Robbie Reyes’ uncle. Probably the worst incarnation of those late-night uncles. How can a ghost be so powerful? Again, it’s a free-for-all in the comics world, but it might be explained later in future volumes. But in Marvel, human ghosts can be pretty powerful when given enough motive. If you’d recall Wallow mentioned earlier, he was a man suffering from depression. A prime candidate for murder-suicide. He tried to kill his daughter, but Ghost Rider stopped him. He died, but his spirit possesses the doll of his daughter. One of those dolls with porcelain faces. His form is truly dark except for the doll face on his forehead and may be inspired from a Japanese ghost. Anyway, he becomes a formidable enemy for the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider up to the point of becoming one of Blackheart’s “spirits of vengeance”.
The same can be said of Eli Morrow. He’s powerful enough to possess his nephew Robbie and bringing him back from the dead. He’s powerful enough to give Robbie powers similar to most Ghost Riders and powerful enough to turn his muscle car into a weapon and even a dimensional portal. Maybe because as a Satanist in life, he had some powers of his own before he was killed by the Russian mafia.
Anyway, this All-New Ghost Rider as he looks now is quite amazing. He even pays homages to the John Blaze Ghost Rider with his slim build and that white stripe across his chest. This Ghost Rider has yet to have his own action figure, but the Marvel Universe smaller figure coupled with a black Dodge Charger model would complete my collection. The Agents of SHIELD version is a little different, but the show pays homage to both John Blaze and this version, right down to the jacket. Speaking of Agents of SHIELD, notable differences are: the flaming stylized skull instead of a flaming helmet; Eli still alive and is not the possessing spirit; Eli being a physicist instead of a Satanist serial killer and that Gabe is older with complete mental faculties as opposed to the comic where he’s very much a child seemingly behind in years.
Robbie’s comic book story is also quite interesting as he suffers from the same financial struggles as Danny Ketch. There is also some brotherly dynamics as Robbie takes care of his much younger and paraplegic brother Gabe while balancing his role as a “spirit of vengeance.” Robbie also struggles for control over his own body much like Blaze did with Zarathos. Robbie’s story also connects with older Ghost Rider stories as he’s pitted against Mr. Hyde who previously crossed paths with Danny Ketch. Also, in the last issues of All-New Ghost Rider, he even crossed paths with John Blaze who assists him in dealing with Mr. Hyde. John senses he’s different but considers him an honorary spirit of vengeance.
The difference between the All-New Ghost Rider and the previous ones are highlighted in the mini-series Ghost Racers during Marvel’s Secret Wars event. The spirits of vengeance, Johnny Blaze, Carter Slade, Alejandra Jones, Danny Ketch as well as others are contestants of death races held by Arcade and the angel Zadkiel. All people with “ignition spirits” are captured and made to participate in the race. Losers suffer torment while the winner enjoys star status. Robbie Reyes gets dragged into the races and wins because his “ignition spirit” is different from the others.
Now while the other spirits don’t actively kill their enemies, Eli Morrow suffers from bloodlust, which if not sated, he threatens to possess Robbie and even Gabe which he once did. This leaves Robbie with no choice but to kill those they both deem evil enough to deserve death such as gang members, rapists, drug dealers and pedophiles which puts an interesting and modern twist on the title. Robbie does these off-screen and off-panel, well including the events in the comics of course.
Lately, Marvel has been all over the place with their comics churning out titles here and there in their bid for additional diversity. They released a new Ghost Rider volume in 2016 starring Robbie Reyes. The series was short-lived after five issues and cancelled last March 2017. It’s a bit interesting as they tried to parallel it with characters from Agents of SHIELD perhaps to capitalize on his appearance on the show.
Aside from Robbie coming back to the Agents of SHIELD Season 4 finale, there’s no news yet about Robbie Reyes. It would indeed be cool if Marvel does do a Ghost Rider spinoff. So there you are. Hopefully, this article gave you an in-depth view about the Ghost Rider character on why he’s both appealing and a bit confusing at times. He’s a powerful badass anti-hero that looks like a villain. Well, villains seem to be getting plenty of attention nowadays.