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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #106

This is the one-hundredth and sixth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and five. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.

This is a special theme week to coincide with Tuesday’s DVD release of Ghost Rider. All Ghost Rider Urban Legends!!!

Let’s begin!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Jesus Christ was a supporting character in Ghost Rider.

STATUS: Basically True

When Gary Friedrich left Ghost Rider, the character that he created, writer Tony Isabella took over the title.

Soon into his run, Isabella decided to have the book break away from Friedrich’s style (presumably under the auspices of “he did it so well, let’s try something different”), and as such, Isabella made Ghost Rider a bit more of a superhero, and at the same time, also attempted to examine some themes of redemption with the character.

One of the first things Isabella did (using a suggestion by writer Steve Gerber, who Isabella had told his plans for the book) was to introduce, as a supporting character in the title none other than Jesus Christ.

The idea being that, since Ghost Rider had a deal with Satan, wouldn’t God want to get involved?

So with that, we saw the introduction of The Friend.

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The Friend helped save Johnny Blaze from Satan in issue #9, and proceeded to continue to help aid Blaze in essentially redeeming himself.

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The storyline continued for about two years (the book was bi-monthly at the time).

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However, when it came down to the conclusion, Marvel editorial took issue with the story and in Ghost Rider #19, Shooter re-wrote (and had some of the art partially re-drawn) the issue.

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The new story revealed that The Friend was actually a demonic illusion.

Weird, huh?

As you may imagine, Tony Isabella took issue with that development, and that was it for him on the title.

It’s too bad – the storyline was quite good.

Thanks to the Marvel Appendix folks and Photon Torpedos for the scans.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The second volume of Ghost Rider was not supposed to be an ongoing series.

STATUS: True

One of the less talked about, but pretty darn important, part of a comic book company is the sales and marketing departments. While I presume there is some deal of editorial discretion at the top, if they do not feel that a book can sell, then it is going to be very difficult for that book to debut.

That was the situation, surprisingly, that befell the second Ghost Rider series, which was one of the biggest sales hits of the early 90s.

Sometime in the late 1980s, Marvel decided that it wanted to have a new Ghost Rider project (presumably, trademark had some say in it, as the mark had been registered in 1975, yet the series ended in the early 80s, so by the late 80s, some time had passed since there was a Ghost Rider comic).

Through Mark Gruenwald, Howard Mackie was able to put together a proposal that Marvel liked enough to assign an editor to (Bobbie Chase). After working on the ongoing series for awhile, they learned something fairly important.

The ongoing series wasn’t going to sell.

Therefore, Mackie was forced to rework the project as a one-shot graphic novel. What would have been an opening arc now had to be an original graphic novel.

So it went, until they learned something else.

The graphic novel wasn’t going to sell.

As it turned out, by 1989, it had been determined that the original graphic novel format was mostly a dead duck, sales-wise.

Still, sales and marketing didn’t think it would sell enough for an ongoing, so the graphic novel now had to be broken down into a mini-series!

As Mackie began retooling again, finally, Marvel Editor-In-Chief, Tom DeFalco, made a final decision – the book was good enough, it should be given a shot at an ongoing, even if most of Marvel felt that calling the book an “ongoing” was basically being polite, as the book was most likely going to be a mini-series anyways, as it would be shortlived.

Finally, though, in 1990, Ghost Rider #1 was released.

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And, true to form, it was….a hit?!

Yep, as a total surprise, the book was not only a hit, it was such a hit that Marvel ended up building an entire LINE OF COMICS around it!!

Pretty good for a book they didn’t even want to publish, no?

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Howard Mackie took an issue to trash anything that had happened in Ghost Rider since he left the book.

STATUS: False

The Ghost Rider book was a major success for Howard Mackie, but after over five years on the book (and a number of other comic book assignments at Marvel), he decided to move on with issue #69.

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The next issue debuted the new series writer, Ivan Velez…

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The series only lasted another two years, but in that time, Velez worked out an origin for the characters involved. However, as detailed in a previous installment of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, Velez’ finale never was actually published, as it was determined that sales could not merit publishing the final issue (Marvel was in the midst of a bankruptcy at the time, and they were not allowed to publish something they did not think they would make their money back on – which did not really apply here, but as you might imagine, things were pretty darn tense at the time, so things slipped through the cracks, and one of them was the final issue of Ghost Rider).

In any event, what this did was to pretty much leave the character of Ghost Rider in total limbo, with no one really knowing WHAT his deal was.

Eventually, Ghost Rider showed up in the pages of Peter Parker: Spider-Man #93, written by none other than Howard Mackie!

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In it, Ghost Rider is basically given a total blank slate, as Dan Ketch becomes Ghost Rider and says all the events from the end of the Ghost Rider series were lies.

This, of course, led to speculation that this was Mackie’s way of saying he disliked what Velez did with the character, and was therefore using the platform of a comic he was writing to show his disapproval.

In an interview with Marvel Spotlight, however, Mackie states:

Okay, I want to clarify something. I had no issue with what was written after I left the series. Actually, I didn’t read any of it. I know nothing about the Noble Kane stuff. My editor on the Spider-Man series came to me after Ghost Rider was canceled, and asked me to write a story that left Ghost Rider (and Dan) in a position that could be picked up at a later date. There really was no vendetta on my part – it was simply trying to clean up some dangling continuity. That’s it.

Couple Mackie’s public declaration with the fact that, as we noted, Ghost Rider’s continuity WAS in a mess at the time, and I think it is very believable that Mackie is telling the truth here, which renders the urban legend false.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!

47 Comments

Ghost Rider and Swamp Thing BOTH. Why are comics so scared of Jesus?

Simple, the Biblical Jesus in John 14:4 and John 3:18 stated that those who did not believe in him would spend eternity in Hell.

It’s like Jack Chick worked for Marvel.

But Austin 3:16 says Ghost Rider just kicked Satan’s ASS!

Didn’t Marvel have another Jesus surrogate? I remember reading the ‘What If…?’ about Atlantis Attacks years ago, when I was a kid, and it had a guy who seemed basically like Jesus as a superhero, but I can’t remember his name and I never saw him in any other issue (I just assumed he was a real character because it’s unusual for ‘What If…?’ to make somebody new up). Unfortunately, I sold my run of ‘What If…?’ a year or two ago, so I can’t look it up.

Does anybody know who/what I’m talking about?

Michael Heide

June 8, 2007 at 7:07 am

I think you’re talking about Aquarius or Aquarian. I always mix those two up. One of them, however, is a Hippie Jesus superhero.

The finale to volume two was finally published at the beginning of this year as “Ghost Rider Finale”. It had a reprint of #93 and the previously unpublished #94.

Why are comics so scared of Jesus?

They’re not – they’re scared of the wackos who would take offense at Jesus being in a comic. Nobody wants to be the next Last Temptation of Christ…

Its not fear. Only whackjob monotheists fear Jesus/God. Its most likely disgust for the whole christian mythology. And Marvel has far better mythologies to draw from.

The fact is, Ghost Rider fails every time some writer tries to define what the Ghost Rider is. The Ghost Rider is, at his best, an undefinable act of nature; a supernatural juggernaut; a hell-bound hurricane. The trade-off being that Ghost Rider can not be allowed or given a “defining moment” because, like a hurricane, when he hits an area, there is destruction everywhere, the damage is extensive, but in the aftermath, you always know it could have been worse.

However, the second volume gave Madcap his defining moment. It was nothing short of a shame that they never brought him back as a recurring villain.

Yet looking past all the hysteria surrounding it, The Last Temptation of Christ was an excellent film. Kind of a cinematic “what-if”…

Real cool stuff. I used to love Ghost Rider back in the early 90s.

Oh, and I took the opportunity in my previous post to close that italics tag.

Witness my power, ye mortals, and tremble: The ability to close dangling HTML tags anywhere on the Internet.

Ah, an all GHOST RIDER column…Brian, it’s like you wrote this specifically for me!

Anyone who would like more info on the above stories should go take a look at my Ghost Rider site Vengeance Unbound (http://ghostrider.omegacen.com) where I conducted interviews with both Isabella and Mackie and all three of the above urban legends were discussed in detail.

Someday I wish Marvel and DC would be ballsy enough to make Super-Jesus a supporting character in one of their mainstream titles.

It’s a fictional universe where Norse and Greek dieties rub elbows with mortals — why not have the same kind of fun with Christian tradition? Respectfully of course.

Didn’t Marvel have another Jesus surrogate?

That would be the Silver Surfer, as written by Stan Lee.

where is Howard Mackie?

Okay, so Jim Shooter didn’t like having Jesus in the book so he rewrote it to make Jesus a demonic illusion?

Huh. He thought that would be less offensive or something?

Re: Aquarian

Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a team leader for NEXTWAVE Vol. 2!

I would pay good money to see Aquarian show up in the pages of any Ellis-written series.

“The most supernatural superhero of them all!”

“We’ll see about that, SATAN!”

Brilliant. Hahahah.

As for Jesus showing up in stuff… well, they’d probably never let me write the “Thor meets Jesus” story I’d love to do.

And let’s not even get started on “Doctor Who goes to the Trial of Jesus.”

Heh.

Thor vs. Jesus would be cool. Even better? John Byrne vs. Jack Chick!

Flush it all away

June 8, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Does that mean no Jesus vs. Superman movie? I heard Wolfgang Petersen was all set to direct.

Talking about Jesus & God, there was that issue of Savage Dragon (#31, I think), where God gets in a fist-fight with the devil. Plus there’s an awesome fake 1940s “God Comics” cover as a mini-poster.
I wish there really was a God Comics series. I wonder which side he would’ve been on in Civil War.

Oh, and by the way, Jesus wasn’t the only supporting character in Ghost Rider that was a little… odd. Wendy and Richard Pini (of Elfquest fame) were recurring characters as well.

There’s an interview in the most recent issue of Wizard in which Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar say that Bill Jemas wanted them to write “Ultimate Moses” and “Ultimate Jesus” series’, respectively.

I’m glad that it turned out not being Jesus, as it kind of bugs me that he’s depicted as a lily white guy with long bone-straight brown hair.

T.: Have you read Garth Ennis’ Chronicles of Wormwood? If so, do you like that depiction of Jesus, looks wise?

Maybe Aquarian could show up in Ellis’ Thunderbolts? He probably would be against registration.

Killing Captain Jesus would be about on par for Ellis’s Thunderbolts team. Could be pretty cool.

Let me know if I’m reading between the lines correctly here: Shooter did not recognize The Friend as Jesus until Isabella turned in the plot expressly saying he was?

Speaking of Tony walking off a comic in disgust with higher ups, I still wonder about his abrupt departure from the 80s HAWKMAN series when he was about to resolve his own creation, “The Shadow War of Hawkman” and the sub–mystery of Commissioner Emmett’s immunity to the absorbacon. As described in CBUL #54, the all–Grell installment, Post #58, the editor said in the letter column that the writer had decided he had done all he wanted to with the book, an obvious lie. John Ostrander’s complete re-invention of the Hawk-property a few years later means we will never know about Emmett, unless Isabella has said or will say something about it in an interview or at a convention.

Don’t forget, Warlock was essentially the Jesus of Counter-Earth. He even got crucified…

“High Evolutionary…why have you abandoned me?” –Hulk #177.

“I know nothing about the Noble Kane Stuff.”

Well, maybe you should have bothered to learn beforehand, Mr. Mackie, so people wouldn’t have thought you were dissing Velez. Then again, half the time Mackie couldn’t remember what was in his own stories.

I was reading Ghost Rider when Isabella was writing it. When the story finished, I said to myself, “Well, that part made no _______ sense at all.”

Actually, I didn’t say _______, ’cause I didn’t use that word then. But I would have.

The Isabella Hawkman was planned as a 5-year-long story. After a few issues, DC editorial “changed their mind”.

I suppose for those who want some super deities in the Western tradition, there’s always GodMan! The character who occasionally gets the focus in Ruben Bolling’s TOM THE DANCING BUG strip might meet everyone’s need for that old time religion via spandex…

http://www.fecundity.com/pmagnus/godman.html

I think Mackie went into hiding after his last run on the renumbered Amazing. The threatening fan letters grew to violent.

In a related story JMS has moments to live. I mean… have you read his stuff. Cocoon this!

Alan Coil: “The Isabella Hawkman was planned as a 5-year-long story. After a few issues, DC editorial “changed their mind”. ”

Fine. Doesn’t explain why the editor lied about Tony’s leaving, or why AMAZING HEROES (at least; can’t speak for the other ‘zines of the day) didn’t say anything about the truth. Reported his departure from the book, yes, but contradicted the editor’s statement as to why, no.

As often as not, when I change pages (and when I uploaded that last message) your site closes my browser–and we’ve had a broadband connection for about a month now. I couldn’t get in Wednesday or Thursday at all because that would happen as soon as the main page got downloaded, every time—and Friday, the download would just never complete (the task bar and the tab would indicate that I was on my way to your site, but nothing else would happen); I eventually clicked the “X” on the tool bar and went on to other things. Now, I never know when I click to enter a column here if I’m going to get it or lose my browser.

I never understood why Tony Isabella’s character the Friend was so objectionable to Jim Shooter. I mean, it was okay to have Satan himself, aka the Devil, the prince of darkness, the lord of lies, the dude who got kicked out of Heaven for leading a revolt against God, show up as a regular character. But when some guy who there are some vague allusions to being Jesus pops up, suddenly *that* is offensive? I am Jewish, and I didn’t find it offensive. If a demonic being of pure evil is a the arch enemy of your protagonist, then why can you not at least imply that God exists and works to oppose the Devil?

I’d rather consider Shooter’s rewrite to be the demonic lie. That’s what demons do, they lie. Why should John Blaze, or we the readers, believe what was said in that issue? That’s my rational, and I’m sticking with it :)

For superhero takes on Jesus, you really can’t beat the Neal Adams-illustrated “Son O’ God” series in the days of the National Lampoon.

Me? I was always partial to the underground comic “God Nose (snot real)”.

All this discussion of religion in comics, and no one’s brought up BATTLE POPE (with Jesus as his sidekick)?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Pope

The thing about having characters like Satan is a comic company always has an out. As you say, demons lie. So why not lie about who and what they are by just taking a name that would strike fear in millions of people throughout the world and has a certain repuation that comes with it.

Anyone complains about they can always say “Well it’s not really Satan, that’s just what he calls himself

Jesus can’t come back yet. If he did, that would be the Second Coming. And it would be the end of the world.

I noticed a typo, if it’s of any interest to you.

In the Jesus urban legend you have re-draswn instead of re-drawn. In the text right above the cover artwork for issue 19.

“he did it so well, let’s try something different”

Actually, yeah! That’s been the basis of a lot of things I’ve loved in comics. For example, I love Nocenti’s Daredevil run to no end, but Miller’s Born Again that immediately preceded it was also totally awesome, and very different.

(And I’m still in awe of that Saltares GR#1 cover.)

wrote:
“The fact is, Ghost Rider fails every time some writer tries to define what the Ghost Rider is. The Ghost Rider is, at his best, an undefinable act of nature; a supernatural juggernaut; a hell-bound hurricane.”

Full agreement, and I say the same thing about Punisher—though Punisher can have origin stories (both in the war and in the park), he shouldn’t be shoehorned into a hero role. He’s like Groo; the destruction in his wake can be tracked on a meteorological scale and it’s a jinx to see him.

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