This is the one-hundredth and sixth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and five. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
This is a special theme week to coincide with Tuesday’s DVD release of Ghost Rider. All Ghost Rider Urban Legends!!!
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jesus Christ was a supporting character in Ghost Rider.
STATUS: Basically True
When Gary Friedrich left Ghost Rider, the character that he created, writer Tony Isabella took over the title.
Soon into his run, Isabella decided to have the book break away from Friedrich’s style (presumably under the auspices of “he did it so well, let’s try something different”), and as such, Isabella made Ghost Rider a bit more of a superhero, and at the same time, also attempted to examine some themes of redemption with the character.
One of the first things Isabella did (using a suggestion by writer Steve Gerber, who Isabella had told his plans for the book) was to introduce, as a supporting character in the title none other than Jesus Christ.
The idea being that, since Ghost Rider had a deal with Satan, wouldn’t God want to get involved?
So with that, we saw the introduction of The Friend.
The Friend helped save Johnny Blaze from Satan in issue #9, and proceeded to continue to help aid Blaze in essentially redeeming himself.
The storyline continued for about two years (the book was bi-monthly at the time).
However, when it came down to the conclusion, Marvel editorial took issue with the story and in Ghost Rider #19, Shooter re-wrote (and had some of the art partially re-drawn) the issue.
The new story revealed that The Friend was actually a demonic illusion.
As you may imagine, Tony Isabella took issue with that development, and that was it for him on the title.
It’s too bad – the storyline was quite good.
One of the less talked about, but pretty darn important, part of a comic book company is the sales and marketing departments. While I presume there is some deal of editorial discretion at the top, if they do not feel that a book can sell, then it is going to be very difficult for that book to debut.
That was the situation, surprisingly, that befell the second Ghost Rider series, which was one of the biggest sales hits of the early 90s.
Sometime in the late 1980s, Marvel decided that it wanted to have a new Ghost Rider project (presumably, trademark had some say in it, as the mark had been registered in 1975, yet the series ended in the early 80s, so by the late 80s, some time had passed since there was a Ghost Rider comic).
Through Mark Gruenwald, Howard Mackie was able to put together a proposal that Marvel liked enough to assign an editor to (Bobbie Chase). After working on the ongoing series for awhile, they learned something fairly important.
The ongoing series wasn’t going to sell.
Therefore, Mackie was forced to rework the project as a one-shot graphic novel. What would have been an opening arc now had to be an original graphic novel.
So it went, until they learned something else.
The graphic novel wasn’t going to sell.
As it turned out, by 1989, it had been determined that the original graphic novel format was mostly a dead duck, sales-wise.
Still, sales and marketing didn’t think it would sell enough for an ongoing, so the graphic novel now had to be broken down into a mini-series!
As Mackie began retooling again, finally, Marvel Editor-In-Chief, Tom DeFalco, made a final decision – the book was good enough, it should be given a shot at an ongoing, even if most of Marvel felt that calling the book an “ongoing” was basically being polite, as the book was most likely going to be a mini-series anyways, as it would be shortlived.
Finally, though, in 1990, Ghost Rider #1 was released.
And, true to form, it was….a hit?!
Yep, as a total surprise, the book was not only a hit, it was such a hit that Marvel ended up building an entire LINE OF COMICS around it!!
The Ghost Rider book was a major success for Howard Mackie, but after over five years on the book (and a number of other comic book assignments at Marvel), he decided to move on with issue #69.
The next issue debuted the new series writer, Ivan Velez…
The series only lasted another two years, but in that time, Velez worked out an origin for the characters involved. However, as detailed in a previous installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, Velez’ finale never was actually published, as it was determined that sales could not merit publishing the final issue (Marvel was in the midst of a bankruptcy at the time, and they were not allowed to publish something they did not think they would make their money back on – which did not really apply here, but as you might imagine, things were pretty darn tense at the time, so things slipped through the cracks, and one of them was the final issue of Ghost Rider).
In any event, what this did was to pretty much leave the character of Ghost Rider in total limbo, with no one really knowing WHAT his deal was.
Eventually, Ghost Rider showed up in the pages of Peter Parker: Spider-Man #93, written by none other than Howard Mackie!
In it, Ghost Rider is basically given a total blank slate, as Dan Ketch becomes Ghost Rider and says all the events from the end of the Ghost Rider series were lies.
This, of course, led to speculation that this was Mackie’s way of saying he disliked what Velez did with the character, and was therefore using the platform of a comic he was writing to show his disapproval.
In an interview with Marvel Spotlight, however, Mackie states:
Okay, I want to clarify something. I had no issue with what was written after I left the series. Actually, I didn’t read any of it. I know nothing about the Noble Kane stuff. My editor on the Spider-Man series came to me after Ghost Rider was canceled, and asked me to write a story that left Ghost Rider (and Dan) in a position that could be picked up at a later date. There really was no vendetta on my part – it was simply trying to clean up some dangling continuity. That’s it.
Couple Mackie’s public declaration with the fact that, as we noted, Ghost Rider’s continuity WAS in a mess at the time, and I think it is very believable that Mackie is telling the truth here, which renders the urban legend false.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!