When Ghost Rider Works
Please note that some of this article should be for mature readers only. Reader discretion is advised. Greetings Flame Heads. It is with sadness that I report that the latest series of Ghost Rider has been cancelled. However, the future of Ghost Rider will never be in doubt. We just have to wait a little longer. Like the fabled phoenix, Ghost Rider will rise from the ashes born anew and vengeance will be served. Ghost Rider has this feature built in him that allows any writer to change the person who bears the burden of the Spirt of Vengeance. You can see an article I wrote regarding this mechanism here (I also talk about Ghost Rider’s relationship to Doctor Who). With the cancelling of Ghost Rider, I am looking at why Ghost Rider is appealing to artists and writers. But I also want to keep an honest eye as to why the series cannot grab enough readers to maintain the series
Ghost Rider is Visually Stunning
First and foremost, visually Ghost Rider is an artist’s dream. There is so much that an artist can do. The fire is organic and you can show the torment behind his eyes. Rarely do you see a cover that does not have Ghost Rider in full flames. The flaming skull, the hellfire chain, and the flaming motorcycle (or charger) all are an artist dream. It is hard to argue that there is any hero or villain that looks better than Ghost Rider. It is a blessing and a curse. The trap is that Ghost Rider fans have high marks for the artwork. Just look at the very first Ghost Rider cover and realize that it was drawn in 1972 (Marvel Spotlight #5). Every picture of Ghost Rider inside a comic demands cover quality pictures. Ghost Rider demands movement in only a way that speedsters can (Flash, Quicksilver).
Writing Ghost Rider 101
The writing is where Ghost Rider can have problems. When Ghost Rider is firing on all cylinders you find the story is strong. But what makes a strong Ghost Rider strong? When Ghost Rider is personal. The best stories are about Ghost Rider’s family.
Johnny Blaze and Roxanne Simpson
In the Johnny Blaze incarnation, you have Roxanne Simpson. Roxanne saved the Johnny Blaze’s soul when it was destined to be delivered to Mephisto. As a hint, do yourself a favor and always read the contract when dealing with ANY devil (be the one or his minions), And then when you are about to sign, DON’T. It never works out.
Danny Ketch and Barbara Ketch
In the Danny Ketch incarnation, you have Barbara Ketch. Barbara was shot in the chest by an arrow which sent Danny towards the path of the rider. Vengeance was required. Saving Barbara became an important theme during the early part of the series. She grounded Danny while the Spirit of Vengeance was pulling him towards violence.
As for Robbie Reyes, he had his younger brother, Gabe. Gabe pulled all of the heart strings. Gabe is wheel chair bound, in the middle of a tough neighborhood in L.A. and has a relatively innocent look on life. For Robbie, he had a reason to live and a reason to do good. Gabe.
Ghost Rider’s Emotional Heart
So I wonder why the comics stray too far from these cast of supporting characters. Ghost Rider is at his best when he is surrounded and protecting those he loves. It is a personal mission of Ghost Rider to protect the innocent while dishing out Vengeance. In fact, in his Ghost Rider form, the personae become monosyllabic. There are only so many ways you can say Vengeance. And yes, I am aware Groot says a lot with just one word, but he also usually has Rocket Racoon to translate (and amazing artists that can say a thousand words with one image). Ghost Rider is first and foremost a personal comic. He has the power to destroy most comic heroes and villains, but rarely does he does so. Vengeance requires a personal stake. Vengeance without a connection is just a bunch of people fighting.
I will say, that I wish I could say that I saw Ghost Rider being cancelled, but I did not. Sadly, my other Ghost Rider article was just a little too early.