Ghost Rider Blazed a Flaming Path Into Comic History 50 Years Ago

Today, we go back to 50 years ago for the first appearance of Johnny Blaze, the supernatural hero known as the Ghost Rider!

This is “Look Back,” where every four weeks of a month, I will spotlight a single issue of a comic book that came out in the past and talk about that issue (often in terms of a larger scale, like the series overall, etc.). Each spotlight will be a look at a comic book from a different year that came out the same month X amount of years ago. The first spotlight of the month looks at a book that came out this month ten years ago. The second spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 25 years ago. The third spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 50 years ago. The fourth spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we look at weeks broadly, so if a month has either five Sundays or five Saturdays, it counts as having a fifth week) looks at books from 20/30/40/60/70/80 years ago.


Today, we look at the introduction of Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, in Marvel Spotlight #5 by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog (with “aid and abetment” from Roy Thomas, which became a WHOLE other thing years later)

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WHY IS GHOST RIDER’S CREATION SO CONTROVERSIAL?

A few years before Ghost Rider debuted, Roy Thomas introduced a motorcycle sort of anti-hero known as the Stunt-Master into his Daredevil run…

The character was a moderate success (if not the greatest character, mainly just literally a dude in a bike and that was it), returning a couple of times. When writer Gary Friedrich took over the title, he pitched Roy Thomas (who was Friedrich’s good friend from the two growing up in Missouri) on the idea of ​​a new motorcycle-riding character called Ghost Rider. This was very similar in nature to a character Friedirch had just created the previous year for Skywald Publications called Hell-Rider….


Thomas told Friedrich that the character was too cool to just be a Daredevil character and so the character was approved by Stan Lee as “Ghost Rider” to be in Marvel Spotlight as a brand-new character. Then we get to the spot that is in dispute, as SOMEONE decided that Ghost Rider would be a supernatural hero with a blazing skull, like we see on the iconic cover to Marvel Spotlight #5…

Thomas remembered saying that the character should have a skull head and Ploog then set the skull aflame, while Friedrich insisted that he came up with the ENTIRE concept (motorcycle rider with blazing skull) himself. Ploog doesn’t really remember either way. I obviously tend to trust Roy Thomas on questions like this, so I assume it went down like how he described it, but whatever, just noting that there was a conflict over the specific creation of Ghost Rider.


Oh, and then Friedrich years later sued Marvel when a Ghost Rider movie was made, and he lost, with Marvel grossly trying to make an example out of Friedrich by counter suing and having him pay for court costs and having to agree that he could never make money off of calling himself the creator of Ghost Rider. Another judge (my old law school professor, actually) overturned that ruling and sent the case back for another trial and then Friedrich and Marvel settled.

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HOW WAS GHOST RIDER INTRODUCED?

Okay, that’s the gross real life drama of the character, but what about the comic book drama of it all? The issue is brilliantly drawn by Ploog, who kicks things off with a stunning opening page…


We see the Ghost Rider messing with some crooks and showing off his hell-fire abilities before he returns home and turns back into Johnny Blaze, and then we’re treated to one of the odder superhero origins in Marvel Comics history…

Johnny Blaze’s dad was a stunt motorcycle rider, and he died in a crash and his partner, Crash Simpson, took Johnny in and raised him. Eventually, Crash’s wife died in a crash and her dying words from her were to make Johnny promise that he would not risk his life from him as a stunt driver. He agreed, even though Crash despised what he took to be cowardice. Johnny, though, trained himself in secret and Crash’s daughter, Roxanne, discovered Johnny’s secret and the two began to date.


Crash contracted cancer, though, and had little time left, so Johnny, as you do, turned to Satan for help…

He sold his soul in exchange for Crash not dying from cancer. Instead, Crash died doing a stunt. Johnny then did the stunt in Crash’s honor from him, but then Satan came to collect Johnny’s soul from him…

Roxanne, though, being a badass, had noticed Johnny doing all of this Satanic stuff and she studied enough to save Johnny’s soul…

However, the side effect was that Johnny would now transform into Ghost Rider…

It’s a weird opening issue, but a good one!

If you folks have any suggestions for June (or any other later months) 2012, 1997, 1972 and 1947 comic books for me to spotlight, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com! Here is the guide, though, for the cover dates of books so that you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional amount of time between the cover date and the release date of a comic book throughout most of comic history has been two months (it was three months at times, but not during the times we’re discussing here). So the comic books will have a cover date that is two months ahead of the actual release date (so October for a book that came out in August). Obviously, it is easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago was released, since there was internet coverage of books back then.



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