[Spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘The Good Samaritan’ ahead.]
Throughout its early seasons, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has introduced a number of heroes and villains from the Marvel comics, often altering their history, origin stories, or other aspects of the characters in the adaptation process. Favorite comic book heroes like Daisy Johnson aka Quake (Chloe Bennet) and Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird (Adrianne Palicki) have joined the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. over the course of the show’s run, but Marvel fans were especially excited when it was announced this summer at Comic-Con International in San Diego that Ghost Rider would be joining the series in season 4.
It was additionally revealed that Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. wouldn’t be adapting the most well known incarnation of Ghost Rider — Johnny Blaze — but a newer version introduced in the comics: Robbie Reyes. True Detective’s Gabriel Luna joined Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Robbie in the season 4 premiere, crossing paths with Daisy Johnson, who mistook him for an Inhuman, before eventually teaming up with the ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
Through the early episodes of season 4, Robbie maintained that he received his powers through a deal with the devil, but the most recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, ‘The Good Samaritan’, offered the entire story of Ghost Rider. Of course, like all characters adapted from the comics, Ghost Rider’s origins differ somewhat. Now, we break down how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. changes Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider’s origin story.
Robbie Reyes’ Comic Book Origins
The “All-New Ghost Rider” starring Roberto “Robbie” Reyes was announced in 2013, with writer Felipe Smith and artist Tradd Moore creating the Marvel Comics run that debuted in March 2104. In the comics, Robbie is an 18-year-old high school student with a love of cars who works at Canelo’s Auto & Body shop while taking care of his disabled younger brother Gabe and maintaining a gig street racing on the side.
When Robbie enters a street race in an effort to win a huge amount of prize money so he can move himself and his brother to a safer neighborhood of Los Angeles, he gets mixed up in the business of Dr. Zabo aka Mr. Hyde. After being chased by mercenaries hired by Zabo, Robbie gives himself up, though he is shot and killed anyway. The mercenaries retrieve pills from the trunk of Robbie’s “borrowed” 1969 Dodge Charger, bringing the cargo back to Zabo.
However, the Dodge Charger is revealed to be haunted by the spirit of Eli Morrow, who brings Robbie back to life by merging with the teen’s psyche and allowing him to transform into the fiery spirit of vengeance known as Ghost Rider. The Ghost Rider gets revenge on those who killed Robbie, and the teenager awakes the next daying thinking it was all a nightmare. But when a local gang member — who owned the Dodge Charger and had stolen Zabo’s pills — and his friends attack Robbie, the Ghost Rider emerges again to take them out.
It’s later revealed that Eli Morrow was a hitman for the Russian mob and a serial killer during his time on Earth, only managing to escape eternal damnation through Satanic rituals. With Eli possessing Robbie, he’s able to resume killing, but the teenager wrestles for control of his own mind and body from the spirit. Eventually, Eli and Robbie reach an agreement that Robbie will kill as Ghost Rider, but only the worst of the worst — torturers, murderers, and rapists.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Different Robbie Reyes
Although it’s unclear how old Luna’s Robbie is on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., he is presumably beyond high school age since Gabe (Lorenzo James Henrie) makes reference to him dropping out in order to work, and failing to return to finish his education. So, the show’s take is an older version of Robbie, one who may not need to balance work with school, but does still need to take care of his younger brother. On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gabe is paralyzed in the shooting that killed Robbie and led to his becoming Ghost Rider.
As for the incident, it begins much the same way as the comic, with Robbie heading to a street race that promises a worthy payday. However, in ‘The Good Samaritan’, it’s explained that Robbie convinced Gabe to go with him as he urged his younger brother to have some fun. Robbie stole his uncle Eli Morrow’s (Jose Zuniga) car and the brothers were attacked by members of the Fifth Street Locos gang — as established in the episode ‘Lockup’.
Robbie explained to Gabe, while being thrown from the car as it flipped over, he prayed to whatever god or being in the universe that his brother lived through attack. As Robbie told it, something asked him if he wanted vengeance for what had been done to him and his brother, and he said yes. When Robbie hit the ground, he died. But a Ghost Rider (presumably Johnny Blaze, though Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not confirm the character’s identity) revives Robbie and passes the spirit of vengeance into him.
It’s later revealed that the hit carried out by the Locos was ordered by Eli’s coworker Joe (Kerr Smith) who had become fascinated by The Darkhold and grew violent when Eli tried to take the book away from him. The Locos were meant to kill Eli, but injured Gabe and killed Robbie instead. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. additionally changes Eli’s history, establishing him as an engineer at the Momentum Alternative Energy facility working with Joe and Lucy (Lili Birdsell) on creating matter out of nothing. He seemed to be a good influence on Gabe, giving the younger Reyes brother a role model, until he wound up in prison for attacking Joe.
However, the final twist of ‘The Good Samaritan’ revealed Eli to be the driving force behind the experiment gone wrong that turned Lucy and her coworkers into ghostly beings; he also tortured Joe for The Darkhold, rather than seeking vengeance on Joe for hurting the Momentum staff. Eli manages to recreate the experiment, succeeding in giving himself the ability to create matter out of thin air. With Lucy burned up at the hands of Robbie, Eli is positioned as the new main villain on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Certainly, there are plenty of differences between the comic iteration of Robbie Reyes and the character that appears on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The broad strokes of his back story remain in tact — Robbie’s close bond with Gabe, his 1969 Dodge Charger, his death and revival by a spirit of vengeance — but the biggest change seems to be the actual spirit who possesses Robbie. While Eli Morrow merged with Robbie in the comics, giving the character an inner antagonist that he struggled with, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to establish that Robbie is possessed by an unnamed spirit that is compelled to seek vengeance.
Furthermore, while Robbie and Eli finally came to the agreement that their Ghost Rider would only kill bad people, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s character acts as a judge, jury, and executioner from the beginning. He’s able to examine a person’s actions by looking at them and deciding whether they should be killed, as evidenced by his fight with Daisy in the season premiere. (Robbie later tries to find proof he can show the Ghost Rider that will allow him to kill Daisy, but it’s unclear if the Ghost Rider can be persuaded or if his judgement is final.)
Still, with Eli now positioned as a villain of the season and an antagonist to Ghost Rider specifically, the Robbie/Eli conflict will be explored on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — albeit through a different, more physical and less mental, lens. Although comic fans may have preferred Robbie’s inner struggle with Eli Morrow, it likely wouldn’t have translated well to the screen.
All in all, there were plenty of adjustments made to Robbie’s origin story so that it tied into the overarching season 4 storyline — and eliminated the inclusion of Mr. Hyde, who has appeared on the series but was left with his memory erased at the end of season 2. But, for the most part Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. adapted the broad strokes of Robbie Reyes’ Ghost Rider while putting a new twist on the character, which tends to be the show’s typical M.O.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 returns Tuesday November 29 at 10pm on ABC.