Are you ready for the Ghost Rider-issance? Marvel's flame-headed anti-hero is headed to TV on ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that's not the only place ol' skull 'n' fire will be turning up. TVGuide.com can exclusively reveal that he's also — after almost a year away — headed back to Marvel Comics.
The new series, appropriately titled Ghost Rider, will be written by Felipe Smith (who will also be doing art for the covers), with interior art by Danilo Beyruth. Tradd Moore, who co-created this brand new take on the character with Smith, will provide a back-up story in the first issue. The title launches ongoing this November.
For those not familiar with Ghost Rider, he was originally a motorcycle-riding, flaming skeleton man possessed by a demon. Then in 2014, Marvel gave the character a modern makeover courtesy of Smith and Moore. The more up-to-date incarnation focused on Mexican-American Los Angeles teenager Robbie Reyes, a part-time mechanic who also care of his developmentally disabled brother Gabe. That is, until he's taken over by an evil spirit named Eli Morrow, who gives him the power to turn any vehicle into a ghost-powered death machine.
Despite Ghost Rider's absence from the comic books for the past year, it was more happy coincidence than coordination that led to Reyes' return on TV and in comics simultaneously. "We were waiting for Felipe's schedule more than anything," Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, told TVGuide.com over the phone. "I would have loved to have launched it sooner, but he has a prosperous career in animation, we needed the time to carve it up and do it right."
Still, it's not like the comics and TV shows exist in a vacuum. Alonso says Marvel execs were "given a heads up about" Reyes' appearance on S.H.I.E.L.D. and "we were very excited."
Those going into either the show or the comic expecting Nicolas Cage's flamboyant (flame-boyant?) take on the character should check their expectations at the door. Reyes is younger, and he's not a spirit of vengeance. Morrow was a serial killer in life, and functions as the Hulk to Reyes' Bruce Banner.
"Prior Ghost Riders were compelled to do good," Smith told TVGuide.com. "Robbie makes the choice to do good things, because it's the spirit who compels him to kill."
To be clear: the prior Ghost Riders did have some demonic/satanic overtones; the current one decidedly does not, and is just your run-of-the-mill evil spirit. And where the previous holders of the name Ghost Rider have had their lives ruined by the spirit of vengeance, the current one already had a pretty rough life, living in a poor neighborhood, balancing taking care of a developmentally disabled brother with a job and school, etc. Instead of a curse, Smith said that Reyes looks at being Ghost Rider as, "something that empowers him."
Beyond the background, Reyes' vehicle of choice is a flaming Dodge Charger, instead of a motorcycle — which led always fickle comic book fans to point out that Reyes was driving, not riding. "We had Knight Rider," Smith joked with mock anger, "who was also a black car who talked to him."
One other big difference, which Smith felt strongly about clearing up? Reyes' doesn't have a floating head, or a human skull like previous Ghost Riders. He's an amalgam of a flaming car and a human being. He's not wearing a helmet, and his head isn't a skull: this Ghost Rider is designed so his look simulates the lines of the classic muscle car he was racing the night he died. There you go, cleared up.
Let's back up one huge step from the minutiae of how comic book characters' heads are shaped, though, and discuss the world when Reyes was introduced, all those
many two years ago. Though the conversation has been ongoing and far more complicated than we can get into here, Marvel — led by Alonso — has long been championing a push for greater diversity in comics, both when it comes to characters and behind the scenes.
The revamped Ghost Rider was an early salvo in this war for diverse voices and characters, changing a traditionally white character into a Latino teen. At the same time, Marvel initiated an extremely successful relaunch of their Ms. Marvel title, which recast the (again, traditionally white) hero as a Muslim teen living in New Jersey. Over the past two years, time and again the publisher had introduced new takes on their characters, from an Asian-American Hulk, to their latest revamp: a young, black, female Iron Man named RiRi.
All of these titles have used a similar template that traces its origins back to Spider-Man's introduction in 1962: take a teenager who grew up in a realistic (read: not a billionaire's mansion) setting; give them too much power; and see if they can handle the responsibility. The difference between Peter Parker in the '60s and every character from Reyes to RiRi? Marvel is truly aiming to reflect the world outside our door.
Fans, as you might expect, have not always been happy. From older fans angry about their favorite characters getting a makeover — and it should be noted that in nearly all of these cases, the original characters are also still popping around the Marvel Universe — to younger fans who feel like there hasn't been enough change behind the scenes — comics is a traditionally white, male dominated industry — Marvel has often been put in a no-win scenario.
"Predictably, the first people we hear from are the naysayers," Alonso noted, adding that once the readers actually meet characters like Reyes they calm down quite a bit. "People looking at the Marvel Universe now see a Marvel Universe that's reflective of everybody. It's [gotten] better and better in that way."
And when Ghost Rider returns, he'll be doing a tour of that expanded, reflective universe. The traditionally loner style character will be getting a little help from his friends in the new series. Guest stars will include the new Hulk — a super-smart Asian American teen named Amadeus Cho — and the new Wolverine — a teenaged, female clone of the original clawed mutant, named Laura. But don't expect a happy-go-lucky team-up where they all grab burgers at the malt shop (that's a thing teens do, right? Cool. I am also a teen. Hello, fellow teens.)
Because of his background, Reyes is "a little more serious" than other heroes, though he will have a rapport, a "kinship" with Laura, because they're both distrustful. "Having characters who are the same age, but from different backgrounds is always interesting," Smith said. "More likely than not, there's going to be a friction."
One character who won't show up (yet)? Miles Morales, the new-ish mixed-race Spider-Man who kicked off Marvel's trend toward diversity in 2011, despite my fervent wish for a modern riff on the line-up from 1991's Fantastic Four #348, where the title heroes were replaced by Spider-Man, The Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider. However, Smith is hoping the new Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan will show up, given the similarities between the two characters — and a popular, now out of continuity story Smith wrote where the two had some romantic friction.
Alonso was also mum on the possibility of Phil Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents — who also exist in Marvel Comics continuity — showing up in the title, though did add that the "macro picture" of this new Ghost Rider book was to take Reyes, who existed previously in his own pocket not crossing over with other characters for the most part, into the Marvel Universe proper.
Even if Coulson's (Clark Gregg) merry men (and women) don't make their way into the Ghost Rider comic, fans of ABC's TV show will find that what's on screen is reflected on the page. Smith recalled being surprised at San Diego Comic-Con after Ghost Rider was announced as a new character on the show, with a glimpse at the TV version's ride... which was the exact '69 Dodge Charger Smith had modeled Reyes' car on for the comics.
More than that, Smith glimpsed production photos of Gabriel Luna, who is playing Robbie Reyes on the show, wearing Reyes' signature jacket. "It's super on point," Smith said excitedly, adding that the shop Reyes works at on the show is also straight out of the comics.
"Fans of the comics will be happy with what's going on, on the show," Smith said, "And I hope fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will welcome Robbie and check out our books."
Ghost Rider hits the road this November from Marvel Comics.