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Marvel Comics is best known for its bright, colorful heroes, but there is a dark corner where all manner of evil things dwell. A different kind of hero must step into the shadows to defend us from these horrors. A hero clad in leather who is handy with a chain and has a flaming skull for a head!

Ghost Rider, the antihero with an intimidating visage like no other. It is the title given to those who are bound to vengeful spirits. Over the character’s 52 year history, the Ghost Rider mantle is used by many. Here we take a look at each of those infernal beings.

Johnny Blaze

Johnny Blaze - The first Ghost Rider

Debuting in Marvel Spotlight #5 in 1972, Johnny was a motorcycle stuntman who made a deal with the demon Mephisto to save the life of his father. Of course, Mephisto bends the rules of the deal a little, and Johnny’s father dies anyway. Thus, Johnny is bound with Zarathos, the Spirit of Vengeance. The night after his father’s death, Johnny, in a whirlwind of pain and hellfire, is transformed into Ghost Rider. He’s cursed to carry out Mephisto’s bidding and punish those whose souls are beyond saving.

Johnny Blaze is arguably the most well-known incarnation of Ghost Rider. The Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider has featured in video games and cartoons. And two so-bad-they’re-awesome movies starring Nic Cage.

Johnny received his own series the year after his debut, which ran until 1983. Several creators came and went during the series run, including Jim Moony, Don Perlin, and Michael Fleisher. At the end of the series, Johnny is freed of Zarathos. He is able to finally live a life of peace with his sweetheart…but, of course, that didn’t last for long.

Danny Ketch

Danny Ketch - The second Ghost Rider

The next to bear the flaming skull is a young man named Danny Ketch. Unlike Johnny before him, Danny is not bound to the demon Zarathos. One night, Danny and his sister are attacked by gangsters. His sister is grievously wounded. Danny helps his sister to hide in a nearby junkyard. As he desperately looks for a way to escape and get his sister to the hospital, Danny spots a motorcycle with a glowing petrol cap. Seeing the bike as an escape route, Danny’s blood-covered hand touches the petrol cap as he tries to pull the bike upright. Danny is instantly transformed into the new Ghost Rider.

Although Johnny is the most well known Ghost Rider, Danny is actually the longest serving. It is also during Danny’s reign that a good deal of lore is revealed. While Johnny has been “retired” for some time, he eventually learns of the new Ghost Rider. He seeks to kill him, believing it to be Zarathos. After this confusion is overcome, the two antiheroes team up. Although Johnny is without his previous powers, the two wage war against the dark corners of the Marvel Universe. In the process, they learn that they are actually long lost brothers. It is also during this time that Ghost Rider joins the Midnight Sons, an Avengers-like team of supernatural heroes.

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Danny’s time as Ghost Rider also introduces many of the well-known tropes of the character. Gone is the stunt suit that Johnny wore – which looked much like a traditional superhero costume. It is replaced with a leather jacket with spiked shoulder and cuff studs, jeans, and leather riding boots.

Danny’s Ghost Rider is also the first to use chains as weapons. He is also the first to inflict the Penance Stare on criminals – the ability to cause evildoers to experience the pain and terror they inflicted on their victims all at once. Of course, this power transfers to Danny’s bike. Its wheels become blazing balls of fire and it can move extremely fast and ride straight up vertical surfaces, as could Johnny’s before him.

Danny’s solo Ghost Rider series ran for eight years, ending with issue #93 in February of 1998. However, all of the stylistic elements and new powers introduced during his time have, for the most part, translated over to each Ghost Rider since, including Johnny Blaze when again he became an agent of vengeance in 2001.

Alejandra Jones

Alejandra Jones - The third Ghost Rider

The first – and so far only – woman to have been the Ghost Rider, is Alejandra Jones. She became the Spirit of Vengeance during Marvel’s 2011 event title, Fear Itself.

Adam, a mysterious crusader against sin, convinces Johnny Blaze, who is again the Ghost Rider at the time, to give up the Ghost Rider curse. In doing so, Johnny gives Adam the ability to name the next Ghost Rider. He chooses Alejandra from a group of orphans he had trained for the task. With a new Ghost Rider chosen, Adam begins to put his master plan into motion — to see sin wiped from all of humanity.

However, Johnny learns of Adam’s plans and knows the eradication of sin would result in humanity becoming mindless, emotionless beings. Determined to stop Adam, Johnny ends up battling Alejandra, who is now totally under the control of Adam. Eventually, Johnny frees Alejandra from Adam’s influence, and the two defeat the villain. Alejandra then comes under Johnny’s tutelage as he instructs her how to handle her demonic powers.

As the Ghost Rider, Alejandra expressed much of the same power set as Danny Ketch, with one or two new tricks. Her look remained similar as well, although she wore leather trousers rather than jeans and added red leather gauntlets and shoulder guards to her outfit. Often, she was drawn with wispy hair flowing from her skull, or the flames from her head were drawn in such a way as to suggest flowing hair.

Alejandra’s series only lasted for nine issues (and a #0.1 issue) making it one of the shortest main Ghost Rider titles. However, she did appear in other series, such as Venom, Vol. 2 and the Battleworld tie-in mini series Ghost Racers.

Robbie Reyes

Robbie Reyes - The fourth Ghost Rider

The current “main” Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes’ incarnation moves away from some of the trappings of the Blaze/ Ketch/ Jones incarnations. He introduces an almost totally new take on the antihero.

As the sole protector of his young disabled brother, Robbie struggles to make ends meet. When the opportunity to win $50,000 in a street race presents itself, Robbie, of course, jumps at the chance. However, as is always the case with tales of the Ghost Rider, there is more to the race than first appears. The race is actually a cover to transport a large amount of drugs across the city — said drugs that happen to be hiding in the back of the car Robbie has been given to drive.

When the villains come to collect their drugs, Robbie gives himself up. However, the criminals shoot Robbie regardless, hitting him nine times before he collapses to the ground. Unbeknownst to any of them, though, is the fact that the “borrowed” 1969 Dodge Charger Robbie used in the race is haunted. The spirit of Eli Morrow which inhabits the car brings Robbie back to life, granting him the powers of the Ghost Rider.

Unlike the previous Ghost Riders, Robbie is not possessed by a spirit seeking vengeance, but rather the spirit of a serial killer. As a result, Robbie at first feels the desire to destroy all life when in his Ghost Rider form. However, Johnny Blaze is able to help him to control his darker side and makes him an honorary Ghost Rider, or the “All-New Ghost Rider” (the series came out during Marvel’s “All-New” initiative).

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Thanks to Johnny’s training, Robbie has many of the same powers as previous Ghost Riders, but the fact that his power comes from a different source grants him a few new ones. For example, he does not have to completely transform into the Ghost Rider to access his power, as Eli’s spirit can grant Robbie access to just the part of the Ghost Rider power he needs. Robbie is also able to teleport from shadow to shadow, teleport short distances through lightning, and even create Hellfire portals to travel through. He also has a variation of the Penance Stare called Soul Eater which does precisely what it sounds like, leaving the victim nothing more than a dried out husk.

Of course, Robbie does not ride a bike as past Ghost Riders have, but instead drives the 1969 Dodge Charger which he drove in that fateful race, now dubbed the Hell Charger. Lastly, when in his Ghost Rider form, Robbie does not sport a traditional bone skull like previous Ghost Riders, but rather a strange metal hybrid that looks as sleek as the hellfire powered vehicle he drives.

Zero Cochrane

Zero Cochrane - the fifth Ghost Rider

If you thought Robbie moved away from the traditions of Ghost Rider, get a load of this! Set in the year 2099, the Marvel Universe is now an almost post-apocalyptic world run not by governments, but by mega corporations. However, there are those that are fighting back against the corporations, and one of these is Kenshiro “Zero” Cochran.

A skilled hacker, Zero steals information from the D/Monix corporation who, in retaliation, has him hunted down. Struck with a poisoned flechette, Zero knows he does not have long to live. Not willing to curl up and die, Zero uploads his consciousness to the now incredibly vast internet to stop the assassins from recovering the data, but so too that he can continue to help his fellow hackers fight back.

While finding a place within cyberspace to hide safely from the corporation watchdogs, Zero encounters The Ghostworks, a group of sentient AI who believe that the corporations who run the world will soon destroy it and, in turn, them. As such, the Ghostworks offer Zero another chance at “life” by becoming their avatar in the physical world.

Seeing an opportunity to avenge his own death and continue his battle against “the Man,” Zero agrees. The Ghostworks download his mind into a Cybertek 101 robot body. Due to the similarities between this new body and recounts of the hero Ghost Rider from the previous century, Zero takes on the title.

Unlike the other Riders, Zero’s Ghost Rider has no connection to a supernatural being. Instead, his new form is wholly technology based. His robotic body gives him immense strength, and it can even self-repair. The robot body can transform its hands into a high powered chainsaw and claws, while the eyes can fire lasers. It can camouflage itself using “solidgram” so that it can look like anyone else, and it also uses this ability to emulate the flaming head of previous Ghost Riders. This Ghost Rider’s bike, being in the future, has no wheels but instead hovers off the ground when stationary and can fly at high speeds.

The Ghost Rider 2099 series sadly only lasted 25 issues from 1994 to 1996. However, Zero has appeared in more recent series, such as Timestorm 2009/2099 and Battleworld: Ghost Racers. An incredibly interesting take on the Ghost Rider idea, 2099 removed all of the supernatural elements and instead presented readers with a hard sci-fi/ body horror series.

Carter Slade

Carter Slade - The Phantom Rider

During the introduction of this article, did you note that we mentioned that Ghost Rider debuted in 52 years ago, but Johnny Blaze first appeared in 1972, only 47 years ago? This is because there was a Ghost Rider before the one we now know. There was a character who many may not even realize was related to Ol’ Flame Head.

In actuality, the story of the original Ghost Rider goes even further back, to 1949. In that year, writers Ray Krank and artist Dick Ayers created the Ghost Rider character for Magazine Enterprises. This Ghost Rider was a horror/ Western hero. He is a masked cowboy who dresses entirely in white. Originally a guest-star in the series Red Mast, the character grew in popularity and gained his own series in 1950.

In 1967 Magazine Enterprises went out of business, so Dick Ayers moved to Marvel. There, he re-launched the Western Ghost Rider character. The Marvel version was exactly the same as the previous, albeit with a different identity: Carter Slade.

When the bike-riding, flame-headed Ghost Rider returned in 1972, they renamed Carter Slade’s hero The Phantom Rider. While Marvel does acknowledge the connection between the two characters, The Phantom Rider and Ghost Rider have rarely appeared together over the 50 odd years of the latter’s existence.

Written by Joe Douglas
When Joe's dad gave him a bunch of his old comics to read in 1992, little did he realise the hardcore geek this simple act would unleash. Since then Joe has dedicated his life to collecting comics, toys, books, stationery sets and all manner of things emblazoned with his favorite characters. In 2006 he started writing about his hobby and has had articles featured on various comic and retro game websites. An Aussie living in the UK, Joe has elaborate and intricate plans to bring his collection over. If you'd like to read more of his work, you can do so via his blog: