Monday, August 9, 2010

A Field Guide to Ghost Rider(s)

He rides the midnight winds, an eerie, spectral rider who fights for justice in the Old West. Doubtless you've all heard of the Ghost Rider. But Which one?

See, the thing is, there's been a Ghost Rider in comics since 1950. Except he's not always the same guy. Or from the same publisher. Heck, sometimes he's not even called Ghost Rider!


Cover art by Dick Ayers

It all started with Magazine Enterprises' Tim Holt comics. Tim Holt was a famous movie cowboy who has fallen into relative obscurity these days. But, in 1949, he had name-brand sales appeal. In the pages of Tim Holt, one of the back-up features was a comic called The Calico Kid. The Calico Kid maintained a dual identity. He was a spineless wimp most of the time, but switched to his real identity of the Calico Kid- a skilled, tough-as-nails gunfighter - in times of trouble. Except, apparently, that wasn't his real identity either. After being The Calico Kid for all of five issues, it was revealed that that spineless wimp, who was really the Calico Kid was really, really Federal Marshal Rex Fury. The Calico Kid was never mentioned again, and Rex Fury was immediately attacked by renegades and left for dead.

On the verge of death, Rex is visited by the ghosts of Wild Bill Hickock , Kit Carson, Calamity Jane and other dead folks who tried to bring law and order to the West. The Ghosts impart their knowledge of their various skill sets to Rex. Rex also chases down and breaks a great white stallion which he names Spectre.

Donning a phosphorescent costume and a cape that glows on the outside but is black on the inside, Rex Fury begins his new career as The Ghost Rider.


Ghost Rider was a hit and soon got his own series which lasted for 14 issues. He also continued as a back-up in Tim Holt and Red Mask comics.


Of course, like anything popular, there were imitators.


The July-August 1952 issue of DC's Jimmy Wakely featured a spectral menace , called The Phantom Brander, right on the cover (beautifully rendered by Gil Kane). Vin Sullivan, editor of Magazine Enterprises comics, had previously worked for DC, so one has to wonder if this issue caused any bad blood. In any event, this was the very last issue of Jimmy Wakely, so perhaps the real lesson is not to mess with the Ghost Rider!


By the 1960's, Magazine Enterprises had folded and the Ghost Rider name was no longer under trademark.

Original Ghost Rider artist Dick Ayers had moved on to Marvel Comics when, in 1967, they added a "new" character to their stable of Western heroes:



The new Ghost Rider was named Carter Slade. Like his un-connected predecessor, Slade had a glowing costume and a white horse. Unlike his predecessor, there was NO supernatural connection to this guy at all. Whereas ME's Ghost Rider had fought supernatural (or pseudo-supernatural) villains, Marvel's Ghost Rider mostly fought the Old West equivalent of supervillains.



This Ghost Rider's comic lasted only 7 issues. He would, however, be heard from again.

In 1973, Marvel launched a new Ghost Rider. Or, at least, they launched a new comic called Ghost Rider starring a new character named Ghost Rider.




This Ghost Rider was a motorcylce stunt-rider named Johnny Blaze. Blaze had sold his soul to the demon Mesphisto and was cursed to become a demon with a flaming skull for a head. Extremely iconic, yes, but was he really the Ghost Rider? I remember being 5 or 6 and being puzzled by this guy when I saw him on the spinner rack at the drugstore. He looked waay more like a villain to me. Still, he managed to last 81 issues.

Of course having a new comic called Ghost Rider reminded folks there had been an old comic called Ghost Rider. Marvel realized it had a market it could tap into by reviving it's previous character. But if they put out two comics called Ghost Rider, that was going to cause some confusion. Their solution: give the previous character a new name...


Unfortunately, the name Marvel chose for their re-launch of the Western Ghost Rider was Night Rider . If you're unsure why that's unfortunate, "night rider" was the term previously used to refer to the Klu Klux Klan back in the old days when they rode the countryside on horseback, terrorizing the newly-freed slaves of the South. I'm sure the fact that the character dressed from head-to-toe in white only made the unwanted comparison even more common.

This series only lasted 6 issues and was a pared-down reprint of the first six issues of the 1967 Ghost Rider series. It was repackaged with all the dialog and captions edited to say "Night Rider" and featured some very nice covers by Gil Kane. Kane, as you will recall, had done the cover of Jimmy Wakely #18, featuring the Phantom Brander!

Night Rider had folded after only 6 issues in 1974 and 1975. The Character, re-renamed Ghost Rider continued to be published as one of the features in Western Gunfighters.

The motorcyclist Ghost Rider's comic folded in 1983. Johnny Blaze and various incarnations of the Old West Ghost Rider/Night Rider/Phantom Rider continued to appear in various Marvel comics, although even his alter-ego changed a few times to relatives and descendants Hamilton Slade, Lincoln Slade, etc.

In 1990, Marvel decided to give it another go.


This time, instead of the complicated and morally awkward idea of having the hero be a man who sold his soul to the Devil, the Ghost Rider was a terrifying incarnation of the spirit of Vengeance. This Ghost Rider was a young man named Dan Ketch who is possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance and transforms into the Ghost Rider, who looks suspiciously like the previous Ghost Rider right down to the flaming bike and flaming skull for a head. Still scary, but arguably more heroic.

The original ME Ghost Rider made a brief re-appearance in 1999, over at AC Comics. This time under the new name of Haunted Horseman.



Clearly, the Western Ghost Rider was not yet down for the count.

So, what about Marvel's Western version of Ghost Rider? Well, having created this idea that that Vengeance could manifest itself as a flaming-skulled guy on a crotch-rocket sort of opened up the door to a backstory, right?

In 2007 enter writer Garth Ennis who decided the Civil War era was just begging for it's own Ghost Rider.



The title "Trail of Tears" is a little misleading, as he's not actually taking vengeance for the Indian Removal Act, but the setting at least takes us back into the right era.

At any rate, it seems to have opened up the door for other historical incarnations of the Vengeful Ghost Rider, as seen in a cameo in Rawhide Kid: The Sensational Seven #1:



Personally, I prefer the creepy, atmospheric feel of the original, Magazine Enterprises Ghost Rider. Dick Ayers' artwork is a joy to look at and the idea of a supernatural cowboy (sort of) who fights supernatural foes (sort of) is one well worth playing with.

As a special treat, I've added musical accompaniment to this post:





I'd like to take a moment here to thank Pappy of Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine for graciously allowing me to swipe some Golden Age Ghost Rider art for this post. I didn't end up using nearly as much as I'd planned, but I prefer not to take without asking. And speaking of taking without asking, I also swiped from Don Markstein's Toonpedia. Don, who and wherever you are, I hope you don't mind that I borrowed one of your panel scans.

7 comments:

  1. You missed one! The Carter Slade version was continued in one of Marvel's 25 cent mags--WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS I think--and Slade was killed! He was then replaced by his brother (or was it his son?) As far as I know any and all revivals since then were of Carter, though, and the new guy wasn't heard from again after his brief run in WG.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Booksteve: Nope, it was mentioned- In between Night Rider and Ghost Rider :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey guys, I run a Ghost Rider fansite (http://ghostrider.omegacen.com) and I've just added a link to your blog here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article, and it was helpful to me as well since I'm gearing up to do more work on the various western Riders. So, yeah, liked the article and site as a whole. Keep it coming, gang!

    ReplyDelete
  4. As a child growing up in Oklahoma from 1949-57, I bought and read the original series. At the time, Ghost Rider seemed inimitable. After he more or less disappeared, I gravitated to Batman (Superman was a TV show by then and the SM comics didn't have any appeal). Over the years, I have noticed the reincarnations of Ghost Rider and the loathsome series of movies with Nicholas Cage. None have had the same aura (perhaps, I should say 'spectre') of the original Rex Fury era. It would be really great to see Marvel revive the Rex Fury Ghost Rider, I've had it with motorcycle outlaws. In fact, in the era of Lost, the X-Files and Fringe, it would make a fantastic TV series.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Additions...

    There was a short-lived character, "The Phantom Rider", in STAR COMICS v.1 #16 and v.2 #1-2 from Centaur (1938-39).

    Then there was "Bill Colt The Ghost Rider" in MIRACLE COMICS #3-4 (1940-41) from Hillman.

    U.S. Marshal Rex Fury appeared in TIM HOLT / RED MASK #6-50; GHOST RIDER #1-14; BEST OF THE WEST #1-12; BOBBY BENSON'S B-BAR-B RIDERS #13-15; and BLACK PNAHTOM #1, all from Magazine Enterprises (1949-55).

    Reprints have been going on almost as long as the character existed; Bill Black's Paragon Publications and AC Comics have been reprinting his stories, most under the name "Haunted Horseman", since 1972!!!



    "Carter Slade" was clearly one more "Roy Thomas-ism", the name a tribute to Hawkman (Carter Hall). Sadly, Marvel's "Ghost Rider" (the book initiated, no doubt, by Martin Goodman) was designed as a "western version of Spider-Man", rather than "The Lone Ranger plus supernatural elements". EVEN Dick Ayers was disappointed with the new version, and HE wrote the stories (dialogued by Thomas & Gary Friedrich). Carter appeared in GHOST RIDER #1-7 and WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS #1-6, being killed in #6.

    Others who have taken up the persona include Jamie Jacobs, Lincoln Slade, Hamilton Slade, and Reno Jones, either under the name "Night Rider" or "Phantom Rider".

    Appearances have included GIANT-SIZE KID COLT #3, THE AVENGERS #142-143, GHOST RIDER #50 (1980), several issues of WEST COAST AVENGERS, and THE ORIGINAL GHOST RIDER #3-20 (1992-94). The latter were all-new back-ups in a Johnny Blaze reprint series, all illustrated by Dick Ayers!

    There were also at least 2 brand-new appearances of Rex Fury, in GREAT AMERICAN WESTERN #1 (1991) and BEST OF THE WEST #31 (2002), both illustrated by Dick Ayers.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've done restorations of all the TIM HOLT covers and most of the GHOST RIDERs so far...

    http://professorhswaybackmachine.blogspot.com/2012/05/tim-holt.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. My mistake-- that was GREAT AMERICAN WESTERN #5 ("Presents SUNSET CARSON"). It was really a Sunset Carson story, but Haunted Horseman turned up as a guest-star.

    Meanwhile, Bill Black reminds me of this...

    "As HAUNTED HORSEMAN, Ghost Rider appeared in all 71 issues of AC Comics' BEST OF THE WEST title. That's correct... seventy-one issues. You neglected to mention this. A minor oversight."

    Rex Fury also appeared in (according to my research)...

    PARAGON PRESENTS #2 (1972)
    MACABRE WESTERN #1-2 (1972-73)
    FUN COMICS #1 (1980)
    THE PRESTO KID #1 (1989)
    BLACK PHANTOM #1, 3 (1989-90)
    BLAZING WESTERN #1-2 (1989, 2000)
    GREAT AMERICAN WESTERN #5 (1991 / NEW story)
    DURANGO KID #1 (1990)
    WALL OF FLESH #1 (1992)
    HORRORS OF THE HAUNTER #1 (1994)
    GOLDEN AGE GREATS #7 (1995)
    GOLDEN AGE MEN OF MYSTERY #1-3 (1996)
    BEST OF THE WEST #1-71 (1998-??)
    HAUNTED HORSEMAN #1 (1999)

    ReplyDelete