The Ghost Rider strikes a pose. Artists: Dick Ayers and Vince Coletta.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1967
Creators: Gary Friedrich (writer) and Dick Ayers (artist)
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In the 1960s, Marvel Comics revived quite a few old comic book characters that had once been popular, and made them work for a "modern" audience. And they didn't …

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… confine themselves to the ones like Captain America, Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch, which they owned — they also brought out their own versions of Daredevil and Captain Marvel, where their only justification (if you want to call it that) was that the trademarks could be argued to have lapsed, and the original owners were out of the comics business and therefore unlikely to question the point.

The most blatant of these retreads was The Ghost Rider, swiped whole-hog from a 1950s western gunfighter of that name published by Magazine Enterprises. He dressed the same, used the same gimmicks, and was even drawn by the same artist — Dick Ayers, whose spectacular rendering had made the original version perhaps the most visually striking comic book hero of the decade.

Marvel's first issue (February, 1967) told the story of Carter Slade, a school teacher from Ohio, moving west to help make that region hospitable to families with children. He immediately became involved in one of the human race's oldest conflicts — the war between herdsmen (in this case cattle king Jason Bartholomew) and farmers (the settlers busily fencing up the formerly open range). By page three, Bartholomew's men, disguised as renegade Indians, had orphaned young Jamie Jacobs and left Carter, trying to defend Jamie's family, for dead.

Flaming Star, medicine man to a nearby Comanche community, healed Carter and, seeing in him the fulfillment of a prophecy, gave him certain "magical" devices, which mostly consisted of a naturally luminescent substance that could be used to make clothing, guns, horses and suchlike glow in the dark. By leaving the inside of his cape black, Carter could manipulate it to make part or all of his body seem to disappear, and thus fool criminals (a cowardly, superstitious lot, as comic book readers all know) into thinking he was a supernatural being. His college boxing career gave him all the hand-to-hand combat experience he'd need as a superhero, and his polo skills made it easy for him to catch and tame a proper mount. He called his horse Banshee, because of its eerie way of whinnying.

The story was written by Gary Friedrich (Blue Beetle, Monster of Frankenstein). Ayers (who had also drawn The Human Torch for Marvel and would later do Jonah Hex for DC Comics) reprised his 1950s role as penciller, with Vince Colletta (whose work was seen throughout the industry in subsequent years) doing the inks.

The Ghost Rider wasn't as successful this time as before. This may have been because of the relatively mundane menaces he fought — the Comics Code was still in effect, so they couldn't go all-out as they'd done in the earlier series. Or it may have been because of a lackluster appearance — Ayers had truly shone the first time around, but this time he was saddled with an inker who was rapidly becoming notorious for cutting corners and reducing art to a style-less blob. In any case, the Ghost Rider title bit the dust after only seven issues.

A slightly revamped version (Carter is killed off but his brother, federal marshal Lincoln Slade, takes over the role) appeared in 1970, in Marvel's anthology series Western Gunfighters, which mostly ran reprints of The Black Rider, The Apache Kid and other '50s stars. But that series didn't last any longer. In that form, he turned up as a guest star from time to time in other westerns, and even, once, in The Avengers, in a time travel story.

Now that they'd established a trademark on the "Ghost Rider" name, tho, there was no use giving it up. In 1972, they applied it to a completely different character, then, in 1990, to another completely different character. So when six of the 1960s issues were reprinted, in 1974, they renamed the protagonist "Night Rider". Later, they re-renamed him "Phantom Rider". That's the name he still uses when, on rare occasions, he makes a time-traveling guest shot with a contemporary character or, on even more rare occasions, Marvel trots out its western heroes for another go-'round.


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Text ©2002-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.