Last time, on COMICS 101: We’ve been discussing Marvel’s flame-headed biker hero Ghost Rider in recent weeks, with the previous installment looking at Johnny Blaze’s brief tenure with the Champions, a short-lived West Coast Marvel super-hero team. But what was the Ghost Rider up to in between Champions missions, you ask?
Well, for one thing, while he was working as a stuntman in Hollywood, he was also putting some serious moves on Daredevil’s ex-girlfriend, Karen Page:
Johnny also learned to protect his secret identity by creating “hellfire images” of himself:
I especially like the little Skull face on the bike…
Johnny also had to contend with the self-styled exorcist Doctor Druid, determined that Ghost Rider was still a tool of Satan (as opposed to Doc Druid, who’s just a tool):
Of course, once he realizes his mistake, Doc Druid’s too good for apologies, so he just takes off and leaves Johnny Blaze’s life a shambles, forcing Johnny to pack up and leave Los Angeles.
On the road, there was another encounter with The Orb, this time with Orb plotting to put Johnny Blaze through the same face-dragging accident that befell him:
Johnny also had to contend with the Bounty Hunter, a similarly flame-skulled chap who had made his own poor bargain with the devil, and was working to redeem souls for Satan in effort to reclaim his own.
Probably the highpoint of this period of the run was GHOST RIDER #35 from Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha, entitled “Death Race,” in which Johnny Blaze races Death himself, with the stakes being his very life. A creepy little tale with some absolutely gorgeous art.
As the series progressed, the Ghost Rider’s personality…shifted. Where before, it was clear that Johnny Blaze was acting scary and demonic in order to unnerve his opponents (in what he frequently referred to as his “spook act”) now were seeing a defined shift in the Ghost Rider’s persona after Johnny Blaze would mentally trigger the transformation, with even his internal narrative in his thought balloons sounding different:
Things came to a head in GHOST RIDER #43, (April 1980), written by Michael Fleischer and drawn by Carmine Infantino, in which a sorcerer named Azaiah succeeded in separating Johnny Blaze from the Ghost Rider, in a moment where it is first made clear that the Ghost Rider is a separate demonic entity (later revealed to be called “Zarathos”) which had been bonded to Johnny Blaze by Satan all those years before.
Without Johnny Blaze’s calming influence, Zarathos goes on a rampage of destruction, reveling in his newfound freedom.
Johnny is determined to reunite with Zarathos, not only to control him, but because the separation is slowly killing them both, but Zarathos won’t have it:
Eventually, Johnny Blaze finds the wizard’s book and learns how to reunite with Zarathos (with a jaunty little poem, as it happens), and tricks the demon into recreating their bond:
Blaze and the Ghost Rider were one once more, but it would be the beginning of a slow loss of control for Johnny Blaze, which would come to the forefront in my favorite Ghost Rider appearance ever, which isn’t even in the pages of GHOST RIDER.
And which we’ll get to next week.
Scott Tipton even hated Doctor Druid way back when. What a douche. If you have questions about Ghost Rider or comics in general, send them here.