If your only experience with Marvel’s supernatural anti-hero Ghost Rider is the Nicolas Cage movies, then first of all, we’re sorry Secondly, there’s a lot more to the character than you may think. The title of Ghost Rider has become a mantle passed from rider to rider rather than specifically the name of an individual hero. As such, in the 45 years since the first appearance of the flame-skulled motorcycle rider, there have been multiple characters that have donned the leathers.
Most recently, fans may have noticed Ghost Rider’s appearance in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D series, where Gabriel Luna played the Robbie Reyes incarnation of the character, even though original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze made a cameo. His original comics series dubbed him “the most supernatural superhero of all!” and it’s kind of hard to argue. Ghost Rider took his name from an old Western character of the same name, but the modern incarnation came into being when Johnny Blaze sold his soul and his freedom to the devil, becoming bonded with the demon Zarathos, the Spirit of Vengeance itself. Since then, many characters have adopted the title, so here at CBR, we list the 15 best characters possessed by the Ghost Rider!
15 FRANK CASTLE
The latest character on this list to become the Ghost Rider is none other than the Punisher himself, Frank Castle. The popular antihero is used to the skull motif, what with it being emblazoned on his costume, but he’s never had his own face become a flaming skull of hellfire before.
This iteration of the character is in the far future, becoming the right-hand “man” to Old Man Thanos. As Frank tells it, after he dies he spent “some time in hell, a couple hundred years as a Herald of Galactus, and a couple million more hanging out with [Thanos],” and in that time he’s gone from a dark, brooding killer of criminals to a snarky, happy-go-lucky, completely insane cosmic Ghost Rider who wields an Infinity Stone. This is a very different Ghost Rider for a very different Punisher.
14 PHIL COULSON
While the show got off to a rocky start, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has shown a marked improvement in quality throughout the fourth season, one that ended in a way that secured fan's return for season five. The team’s plan to defeat the deadly Aida ended when she had Phil Coulson cornered, only for him to surprisingly transform into the Ghost Rider and burn her to ash.
It turns out that Coulson had taken on the Spirit of Vengeance from Robbie Reyes off screen, and was able to shock both Aida and viewers by becoming Ghost Rider in order to defeat the former Madam Hydra. That kind of move may look impressive, but the upcoming season of the show will have to deal with the fact that Coulson more than likely sold his soul to the devil in order to pull of that effective bait-and-switch.
13 RED HULK
Fans have always been divided over the Red Hulk. There are those who just can’t get on board with a red version of the Incredible Hulk who’s secretly Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, Bruce Banner’s old antagonist. Few can deny that one of his coolest moments was when he took on both the Venom symbiote and the Spirit of Vengeance in order to beat the devil’s son in combat.
This happened in the 2012 six-part Venom storyline “Circle of Four,” where the titular character teamed up with Red Hulk, Ghost Rider and X-23 in order to defeat Blackheart, the son of the Marvel universe’s answer to the devil, Mephisto. The only way to beat the all-powerful demon was to combine the powers of Hulk, Venom and Ghost Rider into one being, which was enough to lead to Blackheart’s destruction.
12 THE FLASH
The Amalgam universe was bonkers, and has a lot to answer for. For the uninitiated, Amalgam Comics was a shared imprint between DC and Marvel back in the mid ‘90s, and was a place to merge their heroes together into buck-wild new creations. Wolverine and Batman collided to become Dark Claw, Captain America and Superman came together to become Super Soldier, and both Doctor Strange and Charles Xavier merged with Doctor Fate to become Doctor Strangefate.
Speed Demon was a series released through Amalgam and focused on the Flash family of DC characters, merged with various Marvel creations. The titular Speed Demon was a name adopted by the combination of Jay Garrick and Phantom Rider, as well as Barry Allen and Ghost Rider. Wally West also merged with Danny Ketch/Ghost Rider and Etrigan the Demon to become Kid Demon. Yep, Amalgam was wild.
11 GOOSE RIDER
You may have heard of Peter Porker: the Spectacular Spider-Ham, but if not he’s exactly what he sounds like -- an anthropomorphic pig with the powers of Spider-Man. He first appeared in humor comics in 1983, but since then has crossed over into the main Marvel universe in storylines like “Spider-Verse.”
The problem with creating Spider-Ham is that you have to create a universe for him to exist in. Well, we say problem, but this fact has led to the birth of a whole Marvel universe full of anthropomorphic analogs. Take, for example, the Goose Rider, who is exactly what you’d expect. Aside from being able to summon the almighty demons of heck, Goose Rider enjoys bowling, going to the cinema and riding on his heckfire-engulfed motorcycle. He also can’t see in the dark, which we only mention so that you can say you now know more facts about Goose Rider than you ever expected.
10 JOHNNY BLAZE
The original and (some would say) the best, Johnny Blaze became the Ghost Rider back in Marvel Spotlight #5 from 1972, after selling his soul to Mephisto in order to save the life of his surrogate father Craig “Crash” Simpson, who was dying of cancer. When Crash died shortly after anyway thanks to a motorcycle stunt gone wrong, Blaze confronted Mephisto but was consigned to his fate as the Ghost Rider due to the demon technically upholding his side of the bargain.
A former stunt rider himself, Johnny Blaze adopted the now infamous flaming motorcycle when he became Ghost Rider, forced to punish evildoers for Mephisto, finding out later that he acquired his powers after being bonded with the Spirit of Vengeance Zarathos. He maintained his soul during the transition, however, meaning he could still fight the good fight, as well as fight to free himself from Mephisto’s clutches.
9 BARON SKULLFIRE
You’d think that Baron Skullfire would be satisfied with being the most well-dressed Ghost Rider on this list, but when you consider the facts that he is not only a king but rides around on a Rhinoceros when he embodies the Spirit of Vengeance, he may also be the coolest.
Only appearing briefly in Ghost Rider comics in 2009, Baron Skullfire was created by Jason Aaron and was the king of Skull City in the Congo, joining forces with multiple other Spirits of Vengeance in order to defeat Zadkiel: an archangel who joined forces with Lucifer in his rebellion against heaven. He was unfortunately killed by one of Zadkiel’s Black Hosts, but for a while there Baron Skullfire, with his top hat, cane and Rhino friend, put all other Ghost Riders to shame.
8 DANNY KETCH
Being the heir to a superhero legacy can be a tough gig. When you’re the second person to take up the mantle of the Spirit of Vengeance, it can be downright hell. That was the fate awaiting young Danny Ketch when he took on name of Ghost Rider in volume 3 of the title, in 1990.
Undertaking a modern (well, ‘90s modern) design update to both bike and costume, this new Ghost Rider had very different origins. Danny Ketch and his sister Barbara were out one night in their home of Brooklyn, when they were attacked by gangsters. Barbara was seriously injured, and in the panic Danny ran to a junkyard where he stumbled upon an old motorcycle with a weird symbol. When Danny touched the symbol, he was transformed into Ghost Rider.
7 GORILLA RIDER
If you didn’t read 2015’s Secret Wars event, then you really missed out. The all-encompassing Marvel event did what Age of Apocalypse did nearly 20 years previously, but on a bigger scale, cancelling every book and releasing a miniseries that each told a different tale from the patchwork Battleworld ruled by Emperor Doom.
One such title was Ghost Racers, which saw numerous Spirits of Vengeance racing against each other in a vast arena in order to win their freedom. Along with some of the standard Ghost Riders was a flaming great ape riding a giant motorcycle called Gorilla Ape who, frankly, should get his own series just by being so awesome. He joined the other racers to overthrow the rulers of the Killiseum, and by the end of the series had become a full-fledged Spirit of Vengeance, pledged to fight against corruption.
6 ROBBIE REYES
The current iteration of the Ghost Rider is Roberto “Robbie” Reyes, a high school student from East Los Angeles who works as a mechanic and enters illegal street races to get enough money to move his brother and him somewhere safer and away from gangs. He “borrowed” a 1969 Dodge Charger from the shop he worked at in order to race, not knowing it contained illegal pills in the trunk, a fact that got him killed by the very gangs he was trying to escape.
Fortunately for him (or unfortunately, however you look at it), Robbie becomes possessed by the spirit of Eli Morrow, a being who claimed to have been gunned down by gangs himself in his former life. Together they become the All-New Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance with a flaming helmet for a head and, instead of a motorcycle, a fiery Dodge Charger.
5 BAI GU JING
The tale of Danny Ketch is a tragic one. It turns out that the Ketch family line is cursed by the Spirits of Vengeance, a fact that leads to his ultimate death and resurrection multiple times, as well as (understandably) ruining his life. The overwhelming power of the Ghost Rider drives him to insanity, leaving him vulnerable enough to be exploited by the villainous Archangel Zadkiel.
So what does this have to do with Bai Gu Jing, the Ghost Rider of China? Well, in the story arc "The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance," Johnny Blaze gathers an army of Ghost Riders to fight against Zadkiel and Ketch, including Bai Gu Jing who, to her credit, fought valiantly with flaming hellfire nunchucks, making her one of the coolest looking Ghost Riders on the battlefield.
4 PHANTOM RIDER
While we might consider Johnny Blaze to be the original Ghost Rider, he was far from the first. That credit goes to Carter Slade, a character from Western Comics of the late ‘60s. First appearing in -- appropriately enough -- Ghost Rider #1 of 1967, Carter Slade is vastly different from the other Spirits of Vengeance on this list.
For starters, he rides a white horse (called Banshee) instead of a motorcycle, and wears a white suit with white mask and hat. His powers originated from a Native American tribe that saved his life, believing him to be the Champion sent to save them. Hi time was relatively short lived, after which his younger brother Carter took up the mantle, and later stories would give them the name of Phantom Rider, in order to distinguish them from the more modern Ghost Rider.
3 SPRING-HEELED JACK
Very little is known about this British Ghost Rider, having only appeared in one panel of a comic from 2009, but nevertheless his Victorian Gentleman’s garb and flaming knife make him a compelling character. Spring-Heeled Jack is named after an actual urban legend originating in Victorian London, said to be a demonic presence with clawed hands and eyes like fire.
Spring-Heeled Jack looks a lot like Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer from the same era, although one would hope his motivations were a little more altruistic. The comparison isn’t altogether coincidental either, as the Spirit of Vengeance is known to take on the form of local myths and figures. Clearly his influences are the Ripper and the urban legend he shares his name with.
2 BARBARA KETCH
The 616 universe version of Barbara Ketch had a short-lived comic book life. The sister of Danny Ketch, Barbara and her brother visited a cemetery one Halloween to take pictures of Houdini’s grave. They inadvertently got caught in between a gang fight, and while Danny was transformed into the Ghost Rider soon after, Barbara was shot in the chest and died soon after in hospital.
To see what would happen if Barbara was overtaken by the Spirit of Vengeance instead, we have to turn to Marvel’s What If #45, where the new Ghost Rider was her, instead of her brother. Known as Earth 11993, this version of Barbara Ketch was overwhelmed by her new power and, unable to control herself, went on a killing spree before being brought down by Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and Johnny Blaze.
1 ALEJANDRA JONES
An 18 year old Nicaraguan girl with a tragic backstory, Alejandra Jones became the Ghost Rider in the seventh volume of the series, established during the Fear Itself event of 2011. Her father was a human trafficker who sold her and she came to be taken in by Adam -- as in Adam and Eve, cast out of the garden of Eden for eating of the forbidden fruit. Comics are weird, you guys.
Driven mad by his part in the fall of man, Adam dedicated himself to fighting against sin, convincing Johnny Blaze to give up the mantle of Ghost Rider, giving it to Alejandra. Adam immediately used her powers as a bomb to extinguish the sin from everyone in Nicaragua, but taking their souls from them too. Alejandra, with Johnny Blaze’s help, overcame her allegiance to Adam and has since fought to reclaim those lost souls.