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The Greatest Ghost Rider Stories Ever Told!

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Every day in April we will reveal the greatest stories ever told starring a particular character or written/drawn by a particular creator (and throughout the month, you’ll get daily chances to vote for NEXT week’s lists). These lists are voted on by YOU, the reader!

Here is the list of characters/creators featured so far (along with the rules on how to vote).

Today’s list is the Greatest Ghost Rider Stories Ever Told!

Enjoy!

10. “Hearts of Darkness” Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hears of Darkness OGN

Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson combined for this one-shot where Mephisto’s son, Blackheart fights our heroes (well, “heroes”). This comic was $5 back in 1991. I think it might have made eleventy billion dollars.

9. “Road to Damnation” Ghost Rider #1-6

Johnny Blaze had already returned to being Ghost Rider in a Marvel Knights series a few years earlier, but that sort of came and went without making many waves. Here, then, Garth Ennis and Clayton Crain really brought Blaze and the Ghost Rider back in this dark tale of demons, angels, revenge and betrayal that led directly into a new Ghost Rider ongoing series.

8. “Silent Night… Deadly Night!” Marvel Two-in-One #8

The classic Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema and Mike Esposto crazy tale where a villain is trying to recreate the birth of Christ in an attempt to…well, don’t think too much about it as it doesn’t make a ton of sense. Still, it involves the Thing and Ghost Rider disguising themselves as two of the three wise men at this recreation of the Birth of Christ, so what more do you need to know about it? It’s awesome.

7. “Trials and Tribulations” Ghost Rider #33-35

In this series of stories from the end of Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider series (before he came back for a mini-series to wrap everything up), drawn by the great Tony Moore, we learn the history of the Spirit of Vengeance in America before Johnny Blaze – and it is AWEsome! Also, Danny Ketch fights a Demon Trucker. How can you NOT want to read a comic book like that?

6. “The End of the Ghost Rider” Ghost Rider #76-81

At the beginning of this arc, J.M. DeMatteis and Don Perlin introduce the concept that Johnny Blaze and the Ghost Rider are two separate entities. We learn that the demon side of Ghost Rider is a demon known as Zarathos (I am not going to even check if I spelled that right. I’m pretty sure I’m right, but I’m just going with it). This introduction of the idea of there being a separate entity involved leads to the conclusion of the first volume of Ghost Rider, where Johnny is separated from Zarathos as Zarathos and an ages-long enemy of his are locked in eternal battle. It’s actually quite a compelling take on the idea of letting vengeance overrule your own well-being. Bob Budiansky joined DeMatteis on art duties for the last few issues (Budiansky was inked by a few different guys).

The top five is on the next page!

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46 Comments

“Michael Fleisher and Don Perlin did this charming two-parter where Ghost Rider is sent to the past and must team-up with the ORIGINAL Ghost Rider (now called the Night Rider) before he can return to the __past__ to stop the very explosion that sent him into the past in the first place!”

Shouldn’t that be “present”? OR at least, “his own past”?

Wow, not much love for Danny Ketch, but glad to see my only pick to make it come in at #1.

Well I got the top four, although not in that order. I’m also surprised nothing from Mackie’s run made the list.

Thanks, Basara, fixed it!

Mackie’s first issue came in #11, for what it’s worth, John and Neil!

Wasn’t Blackheart introduced in the pages of Daredevil?

Yep, I fixed that!

Brian, thank you so much for fielding my request and running this poll! Perhaps now my friends and I can read some good Ghost Rider stories for a change.

Could I trouble you for another request? I have been going back theough the archives of these polls and noticed that 9 out of 10 Punisher stories were written by Garth Ennis. While this is to be expected, would you consider amending that post to show the top 5 non-Ennis stories as well? It would be great to get a sampling of Punisher stories by different writers and in different eras. Even the Thor poll had some non-Simonson stories. Thanks again!

For other good Punisher stories, just pick up anything written by Chuck Dixon or Jason Aaron. Aaron followed Ennis on Punisher MAX (Aaron’s run is all collected). Dixon’s Punisher work was good overall, but I guess his first Punisher War Zone arc as well as the one he did with Joe Kubert are his standouts.

Only one Aaron story, and it wasn’t even the best one (which was, of course, the first arc)? Man, people need to pick up that Omnibus and get to some reading!

So did they ever explain how “Ghost Rider is a heavenly spirit of vengeance” meshed with everything that went before? I enjoyed Aaron’s run, but if he gave an explanation, I missed it.

was wondering if the story where ghost rider teamed up with the first one to bare the name would make the cut and surprised in the top five. plus also the one where he decides to take care of scarecrow for good.

As far as non-Ennis Punisher stories, here’s a list of the essentials:

1) Archie Meets The Punisher (legitimately well written with 100% faithful characterizations)
2) Punisher: War Zone v1 #1-6 (Dixon’s best work and the 2nd best main-continuity Punisher story after WBF)
3) Punisher: River of Blood (War Zone v1 #31-36 [another stand out Dixon arc])
4) Punisher: War Zone v1 #7-11 (the rest of Dixon’s original run on War Zone)
5) Punisher: Kingdom Gone (Dixon authored one-shot)
6) Punisher: Return to Big Nothing (basically a 90s version of what Ennis would do 10-15 years later)
7) What If? v2 #26 (What If… The Punisher Had Killed Daredevil? [by Kurt Busiek])
8) Most of the rest of Dixon’s run. His work is hit or miss, and there’s a lot of crap mixed in, but he wrote most of the quality Punisher stories during the 90s. Issue #93 of vanilla Punisher (v1) was particularly well regarded during its time, but I can’t say that it’s aged as well as the stuff listed above.

“I hearda wise guys, but dis is ridiculous!!” I think I read that in an “Essentials” tpb. Awesomely wacky.

Was #4 the one where Ghost Rider bike-kicked Iron Man?

I’m utterly astonished by this list, to the extent that these are probably 7 out of 10 Ghost Rider stories that I’ve never heard of. I mean, if we had an X-Men list, we’d probably expect the Dark Phoenix Saga or Days of Futures Past or some Morrison stuff to show up. An Avengers list would have the Korvac Saga or the Siege of Avengers Mansion or Avengers Forever.

What does Ghost Rider get? I mean, the Christmas story seems like a one-off gag comic. I haven’t read it, so by no means am I calling it a bad comic. I’m saying it’s the equivalent of the “Spider-Man Meets Saturday Night Live” comic being one of the top Spider-Man stories ever told. Two of the other comics–”Hearts of Darkness” and the Avengers book–are basically team-up stories, right?

I’ll emphasize that I’m not knocking any story on this list. What I am saying is that I’m floored that there aren’t more Ghost Rider stories with “noteriety” attached to them. Given that he’s had two movies and, what, about 300-400 published comics–you’d think he’d have his “Dark Phoenix Saga” equivalent in the eyes of comicdom. Please don’t tell me that he’s limited to the coolness of his look alone. (And color me equally confused that nothing Mackie is on here, Hearts of Darkness excepted. That was an almost 100 issue run!)

Oh, and was there any love for Amazing Spider-Man #274 in the non-Top 10? I don’t know if it counts as a “Ghost Rider” story, but it had a non-Blaze Zarathos torturing the heck out of Spider-Man. I think they even included it in one of the Essential Ghost Rider collections.

The twist ending at the end of Ghost Rider #68 is one of my all-time favorites. It had a huge influence on me, and I would have loved it if that had been the end of the first movie (Well, maybe it was, I didn’t see it.)

Hey, here’s an idea: Best fill-in issues! This and that Thor issue with Hercules by Guice in the middle of the Simonson run might duke it out for #1.

That Punisher list is fine for the ’90s, but what about the 70s and 80s, man?

Intruder Graphic Novel (Baron-Reinhold)
Circle of Blood mini (Grant and Zeck)
Miller Daredevil angel dust 3-parter
Giant-Size Spider Man with Moses Magnum
And from the first regular series:
Issues 6 and 7, Baron-Ross-Nowlan Times Sqare terrorism 2-parter
Issues 15-18,Baron-Portacio Kingpin 4-parter
Issue 43: Baron-Reinhold Punisher goes to Mexico
Maybe some more graphic novels, he had a ton…

Mackie’s run suffers in retrospect for the same reason the X-Files does; a lot of things that seemed like intriguing plot setups or clever ideas turned into incomprehensibly convoluted plotlines pretty quickly.

That’s fair. Pardon the pun, but Ghost Rider had been recently extinguished when I got into comics in the early 80s and I had no familiarity with him. When he was relaunched in 1990, I wasn’t even a teenager yet, but the visual appeal of a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle seemed awesome. I also had to credit his appearance–the scary biker outfit with the chain seemed much more appealing than the 70s stuntman outfit. I do remember being very intrigued that he could have been Zarathos reincarnated with a bad case of amnesia.

Mackie’s first dozen issues or so were awesome. The glow-in-the-dark cover was admittedly awesome. But as I wanted more “meat” as the series progressed, I didn’t get it. Heck, I kept up with the book through the mid-90s, and it never got any better (except maybe in the art). It also had too many tie-ins to other series: Vengeance first appeared in another title that I wasn’t reading, so when he showed up in the main book, I was confused. Ketch was killed during a crossover I didn’t read every part of, so when he was dead the next issue, I was confused. To this day, I still don’t understand what the second Ghost Rider’s origin was. He’s some ancestor of Jennifer Kale’s? They should have just declared him another demon and kept it simple.

Even before the Aaron revisions, GR’s origin was getting pretty mangled. First he’s Zarathos, a separate entity. Then we add on the Blood, the Fallen, the ancestral curse, and I didn’t even know about the Jennifer Kale connection.

Actually, a surprising number of these were on my list, considering that I’m not all that into Ghost Rider. I’m particularly thrilled that the Marvel Two-in-One issue made it. But no Champions? No Legion of Monsters? How can this be?

I’ve had a Ghost Rider comic review site running for quite a few years now (though sadly updates have stalled due to personal reasons, which is why the last update was in October), and back in 2010 I conducted a poll for a similar Top 10 Ghost Rider list. Lots of similarities between the two lists, though also quite a few ones I noticed here that kinda surprised me. “Hearts of Darkness” came in at # 11 on the Vengeance Unbound list, for example, while Mackie’s first issue charted up at # 4.

Anyway, for those who might be interested, here’s a link to the list: http://ghostrider.omegacen.com/GRtopten.html

The best Ghost Rider story I ever read was actually a Venom story, Circle of Four.

Got 5 of my picks & the top 3 (tho not in that order)…am also surprised at the non-love for Danny Ketch – the early stuff especially contained some great stories. But can’t have everything I guess – the only one that truly surprised me was the M T-I-O story being included…

For a detailed explanation on the Jennifer Kale connection, check here: http://marvel.wikia.com/Noble_Kale_%28Earth-616%29

…although I admit I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. “Stuntman gets bonded to a demon” certainly makes a simpler plot to convert into a movie.

@buttler –

I think most people were voting for only solo stories and team-ups, as opposed to team books.

Hearts Of Darknees is one of my favorite one-shot comics ever, so I would have voted for that at #1.

The only other ones I can think of that I like are the Hobgoblin story in McFarlane’s Spider-Man 6-7 and the ‘sequel’ in Ghost Rider’s own comic, and that issue of Marvel Team-Up where GR and Spidey fight the Trapster.

And quite frankly, half of this top ten doesn’t even look all that good to want to check out.
Although Ghost Rider molesting Iron-Man seems like a funny one.

@IAM FeAR:

I’d recommend everyone read the Roger Stern/JM DeMatteis/Bob Budiansky run from Ghost Rider # 68-81, its absolutely fantastic. And that Avengers issue is probably my all-time favorite single comic (one of the earliest from my childhood, in fact), if only for seeing Zarathos hand the Avengers (particularly Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America) their asses on a plate.

Adam, I think I knew most of the history, but I didn’t twig to the Kale name connection (I think in my mind I retconned the ancestor into Noble Blaze or something). I agree, insanely complicated (and baffling how it fits in with the Aaron stuff).

I’m surprised more of Aaron’s GR stories didn’t make the list. The first trade was very entertaining and I liked the Ghost Riders mini.

“Silent Night… Deadly Night!” gets by on sheer chutzpah. It’s a fun story, chock full of Gerber weirdness.

I’m surprised by the number one pick, not because of relative quality but because I didn’t know many people had read or remembered it. It creeped me out at the time.

I think Ghost Rider suffers from lacking a definitive run. Mike Ploog, Javier Saltares, Mark Texiera, and a few others delivered some excellent visuals but there haven’t been many great GR stories. Of course, now I have this list to point me toward the good stuff!

Speaking of great visuials, Chris Bachalo drew GR Annual 1, and it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan.

I’m personally disappointed that GR’s guest appearance in Human Fly #2 wasn’t in the top 5. Art by Carmine Infantino too!

Isn’t there a Ghost Rider / X-Men crossover where they all go to New Orleans to fight the Brood and it’s drawn by Jim Lee?

Is this one of those things where I shouldn’t go back and read it, because it was awesome as a kid but actually not good at all?

That crossover DID get support, Sean! It ended up roughly #12 or #13. I forget where exactly.

Jamie: And let’s not forget GR’s team-up with the immortal Team America motorcycle team!

@Adam,

I’ll give my perspective why I believe so many of the 70′s/80′s issues made the top ten over those of the 90′s run.

When Ghost Rider began in the early 70′s, you have to realize that he was unlike any other “hero” in comics. The majority of books at that time, featured costumed heroes that were truly good, stood on a code of ethics to defeat the villain and would never even consider harming said villain, no matter how evil their deeds were. But here we have, among all of those heroic figures, this blazing-skull, motorcycle riding anti-hero, who was more concerned about bringing down vengeance than bringing the villain to justice.

By the time of the 90′s revival though, Ghost Rider was just ANOTHER anti-hero among numerous ant-heroes. Sure, his costume and look might seem more dynamic of that of his 70′s version, but he no longer stood out. In fact, among The Punisher, Wolverine, etc… among all of the other “kill first, ask questions later” 90′s characters, Ghost Rider came off as almost quant.

I didn’t think much of the Ghost Rider/X-Men story but that was because I thought the “Gambit’s wife” story turning into a lame Brood story was dumb, and GR was just sort of throw in there randomly.

Thinking about it, there was also that GR appearance in DeFalco’s Thor #429-430 that I liked.
I really haven’t read much of GR’s own solo stuff at all. Maybe I’ll look into some of those miniseries.

One Ketch story that I did like (and Mackie wrote) was in the 1991 Marvel Holiday Special. Ghost Rider rescuses a kid on Christmas Eve who’s been kidnapped by gangsters. The kid is blind, so he feels GR’s boots and hears the jingle of his chain and assumes GR is Santa. How he wasn’t perturbed by GR’s voice, I’ll never know (I assume it’s all gravelly and Nicholas-Cagey), but the story was otherwise very cute.

Team America!! I’m a little embarrassed that I have a complete run!

Quoth the Burgas:

Only one Aaron story, and it wasn’t even the best one (which was, of course, the first arc)? Man, people need to pick up that Omnibus and get to some reading!

Amen to that. I read that omnibus in one sitting. I couldn’t put that thing down. It was sensational.

Also: Everyone should hit Chris M’s link and explore Vengeance Unbound. He’s been running the premiere Ghost Rider fansite for years now. There’re some fantastic interviews there, in particular.

I wonder how close we are to a Ghost Rider revival. The last iteration didn’t sell so well (and didn’t rank at all here), but that’s never stopped a relaunch before. Marvel Now has to dip a toe into the horror well eventually, right…?

@Adam- the simplest thing would have been just to declare the new Ghost Rider as Zarathos in another body. When they decided that the new Ghost Rider wasn’t Zarathos but looked like him for some reason, it became complicated.
@Omar- tell me about it. I’m still shocked that the explanation of what happened to Mulder’s sister had nothing to do with any of the clues in previous episodes.

@Adam: I LOVE that Marvel Holiday Special, and the GR story in particular, and would have voted for it had I remembered! I actually have my beat up copy of the book signed by the artist of that GR story, John Hebert. I believe he added “Season’s Beatings” to his signature :)

I loves me some GR, but I would have WANTED to vote for Danny stuff more (as that was the GR around when I got in to comics, and the one that fired my imagination), but I can’t honestly think of that many really GOOD GR tales. Or maybe not a distinct story in one or two issues — the whole…crap, what was that guy’s name, Deathmatch? that was the “big bad” behind other villains culminated in an issue I still haven’t read, so I wouldn’t have picked it.

Tex art on GR is the shit, though.

And Hearts of Darkness is a cool story.

…Deathwatch, I think.

Yeah, 90s GR didn’t really have much in the way of memorable villains, did he? He fought a bunch of ninjas (I think they were the Hand, but not sure), Blackout (not a vampire, just looked it), and, um….well, I’m stuck.

I started reading during the Fleischer period (about issue 60).
I tried Danny Ketch but never got into that period and soon lost interest.

My votes that didn’t make it included the Trail of Tears prequel miniseries, a couple of Fleischer stories focussing on Johnny losing his championship and battling with his inner demons (both metaphorical and literal), I also voted for an early story from Spotlight and the 2-part Roger Stern written tale with the Circus of Crime.

The strange curse of Jonathon Blaze was notable for the dramatic framing sequence

That Circus of Crime is also my favourite. Awful villains but Zarathos becomes almost an evil Hulk. A true demon. It set up a really amazing final run for that series.

“10. “Hearts of Darkness” Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hears of Darkness OGN”

This tells me there must not be a lot of great Ghost Rider stories.

Also I’d like to add how nice these lists are to read, especially of characters that have always been on my periphery. The more recent stuff and the older zany stuff I know but 4 of these books I’ve never read so it’s a great treat to find out about them.

Adam and Travis: I also half-heartedly wanted that Christmas story to show up. The blind kid’s reaction to “Santa Claus” was actually pretty touching, especially with the whole wide-eyed, freezing-in-the-Manhattan-snow visual.

John King: I liked the “Trail of Tears” mini, too. But I figured it wouldn’t show up since it has almost nothing to do with the Ghost Riders most people know. Also, I think it’s fairly obscure (right?).

Speaking of the holiday issues there’s a picture in the 1992 one that always stuck with me of Ghost Rider on cycle up in the air and his head’s lit up akin to the Star of Bethlehem. I’m not entirely sure of the symbolism but I thought it was a cool idea.

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