‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 4: Attack of the Ghost Rider!

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As Season Four of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” approached, word on the street- and at Comic Con– was that a certain iconic comic character would be front and center this season: none other than Ghost Rider. Of course, the character has been adapted before, on the big screen, in two movies to date, as portrayed by the inimitable Nicholas Cage, for better or worse.

Still, the general consensus was, despite the films being relatively successful, that, not unlike Green Lantern or Silver Surfer, the movies hadn’t really done the cult icon justice, unfortunately. In fact, IGN dubbed the first “Ghost Rider” film as one of the “Worst Comic Book Movies of the Decade.” Include the inherent cheese factor of most Nicolas Cage movies these days in general, and it’s safe to say that a lot of fans of the actual comic book character were left wanting.

So, when “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” confirmed that they would be going there again, many wondered if they could possibly do any better, least of all on a network TV show. After all, there’s only so far you can go on network TV, and though the show’s move to a later time slot was somewhat promising in terms of what they might or might not get away with, you can’t blame fans for being a little on the skeptical side.

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After all, we’re talking about a character that turned to the occult to save his ailing adoptive father and attempted to summon the Devil himself to help. Unwittingly summoning Mephisto instead, a demon inspired by the Faust legend who has also cropped up in the Silver Surfer and Thor comics, the character known as Johnny Blaze offered up his soul to save his cancer-ridden father, Crash. Not exactly the source material of typical superheroes, with apologies to the much-beloved Spawn.

Of course, Blaze is hardly the only Ghost Rider out there, which is where things get tricky. There was also Blaze’s long-lost brother, Daniel Ketch, a female version named Alejandra Jones, and most recently, Robbie Reyes, a Mexican-American character that actually drives a modified Dodge Charger instead of the traditional motorcycle.

Though it might have been a rights-issue, perhaps, the show opted to go with the Reyes version, which I was admittedly less familiar with, and had my doubts about, if I’m being honest. I mean, like a lot of fans, I tend to associate the character with a motorcycle, but it’s not like they couldn’t still go there at some point. I can’t imagine that it would be that big of a deal if they plopped Reyes down on a motorcycle instead of a car, if only in a once-in-a-while type of deal.

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But the real test was whether or not the end result would speak for itself, and I’m happy to say that I already kind of like the new-fangled version better than the Cage movies, and Ghost Rider hasn’t even been in it that much yet. For one thing, the effects are cooler, and I just like the look of GR’s patented “flaming skull” better here than in the movies, where it looked a lot cheesier IMHO.

Granted, it’s not the easiest thing to get right without looking silly but, so far at least, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has managed to do it without seeming remotely as campy as the movie version. I think at least some of that has to do with the “Cage effect,” which is to say the fact that a lot of people watch Cage’s movies to make fun of them rather than as straight entertainment.

As such, many of them delve into camp, sometimes without even intending to- witness the insanity that is “The Wicker Man” remake, for instance. (NOT THE BEES!!!) By going with a different version of the character, the show is able to distance itself from the Cage version by simply being nothing whatsoever like it in the first place. This isn’t just a variation of the character, it’s a whole new deal altogether.

GABRIEL LUNA

Robbie Reyes has a completely different background than Blaze, not to mention making him Latino gives him a different vibe that’s not just a nice step forward, culture-wise, for the comic book world, but automatically makes him stand out, as there’s not exactly a ton of Latino superheroes out there at the moment. This is definitely a good thing.

Even better, it’s not as if he’s technically a superhero just yet, either. As we see in the opening episode, this is a guy who takes the law into his own hands, and is not afraid to outright kill a bad guy, in oft-violent fashion. This Ghost Rider is more akin to an anti-hero vigilante like The Punisher or Judge Dredd.

Although, to be fair, it isn’t technically Robbie Reyes whose doing the killing. Not unlike the Incredible Hulk, the Ghost Rider persona comes out when he’s angry, taking matters into his own hands. The ghost in question is actually Eli Morrow, who was killed by gang members, and is bound to the aforementioned car- and to Reyes.

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Mind you, the show hasn’t gotten into much in the way of specifics yet, so some things could still change, but so far it seems to be sticking to the comics version, down to the portal in the car’s trunk and Robbie having a developmentally disabled brother, so fans of the comic should be happy with everything so far.

Speaking as more of a fan of the original character (as in the Blaze version), I can only speculate on how accurate it is to the comics version, but in the grand scheme of things, I really dig what they’re doing with it so far.

The car gives off a distinct vibe that like a cool combo of the Winchester Boys’ vehicle of choice (a ’67 Impala, I believe) and Reggie’s Barracuda in the cult series “Phantasm”- only, you know, occasionally on fire, lol. While I do miss the bike, it’s an undeniably bad-ass car, so I can live with that change.

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Acting-wise, it’s also too soon to say, but so far actor Gabriel Luna, of El Rey’s “Matador” fame, is doing a solid enough job with what he’s being given. Hopefully, they will flesh out- no pun intended- the character more in the future, but for now, so good so far.

And as I mentioned, the “flaming skull” thing looks really cool here, much-improved from the movie version, IMHO. And hey, even IGN gave the version of the character a thumbs-up, so there’s that.

As it stands, the show may well give the beloved cult icon the treatment it deserves for once, and I can live with that, even if it’s a different version of the one I grew up with. Contrary to some fans, I don’t mind shaking things up a little bit, if it’s a change for the better.

GABRIEL LUNA, CHLOE BENNET

Thus far, I like what I’m seeing and the pairing of Reyes with the Daisy character is a solid choice, as both are sort of working on the fringes of the team rather than directly with them, which also works for me- though I imagine that will change in time, hopefully not for the worse.

In the meantime, bring on more Ghost Rider!