This post contains spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season three.
Everything changed at the end of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s last season. The death of Brett Dalton’s (Lost in Florence) Grant Ward created a villainous vacuum for the team, who were also racked by the surprise demotion of Clark Gregg’s (The Avengers) Director Coulson, who’s now just an agent once more. Added to that was the disappearance of Chloe Bennet’s (Nashville) Daisy Johnson, who’s M.I.A. from S.H.I.E.L.D. and wreaking havoc as a rogue vigilante. As massive as all these changes might be, they all pale in comparison to the biggest change for the series.
The news that Gabriel Luna (Transpecos) had been cast as Robbie Reyes, a.k.a., Ghost Rider, sent shockwaves through the fandom when it was confirmed at this summer’s SDCC. His casting marks the return of Ghost Rider under the umbrella of the MCU after Marvel reacquired the rights to the character from Sony following a disastrous series of movies starring Nicolas Cage (Snowden). While ABC and Marvel have kept most of Ghost Rider under wraps, aside from a promotional image or two, ahead of the season four premiere next week, we know more about what went into bringing the character life ahead of his MCU debut.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. costume designer Ann Foley recently spoke with comicbook.com about the challenges of bringing the character into the world of the MCU. Foley referenced comic book artist Felipe Smith, who created Robbie Reyes along with Tradd Moore for the series All-New Ghost Rider, as an inspiration for the design of the character, which should give us some insight into the how the character will be portrayed. According to Foley,
“I was super excited when I heard that he was going to be joining us this season. I'm so lucky that we have such amazing writers on the show and how they manage to bring these characters into our universe and fit them into the universe, it's great for me and it's such a great collaboration. Just like any time we introduce any character on the show, we always want it to fit into the universe of the show that we have established. With Robbie Reyes, it was no different.”
Given the overall grounded approach Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has in terms of visual design, it sounds like we can expect Ghost Rider to maintain the status quo the series has established over the previous three seasons. That means a Ghost Rider who feels real, even in his more fantastic moments, similar to Lash or Hive last season. Foley went on to clarify the comic book origins for the look of the character and the teamwork involved in bringing that to life.
“We have a really great creative director over here at Marvel Television by the name of Joshua James Shaw. He did concept art for me of the jacket, which was based on the illustrations that Felipe Smith did in his comic books. I just wanted it to stay true to the comics, which is what I think that we achieved that. I also wanted it to fit into our world as well. We kept him grounded in the reality of where he was brought up in Los Angeles and his clothes reflected that, with his jeans, where they’re Levis, and we put him in some really great Vans and just kept him really grounded, but also paying tribute to Felipe and Tradd [Moore].”
Like all of the MCU, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done a remarkable job of keeping their characters true to their origins while updating them for the needs of their narrative. Robbie Reyes, of course, is a bit difficult to achieve, given the character’s oft-flaming head. While the balance between realism and fantastic may be hard to achieve, Foley and her Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. collaborators have an extensive history of walking this line.
“I've worked so closely now with Mark Kolpack over the last three seasons, going into season four, four seasons now, that whenever anything comes up that involves visual effect, we just work it out together so that we don't ever have any issues between what Mark needs to achieve and what the costume needs to do as well. It's been a pretty fabulous collaboration with him over these past four seasons.”
That kind of seamless working relationship is part of what makes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work so well visually, and it’s exciting to think that it’s culminating into the introduction of one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters. The kind of reverence they’re showing behind the scenes speaks well for the character, who many had written off as a live action possibility after the two Ghost Rider movies failed to impress audiences at the box office.
But that’s the charm of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which allows Marvel to explore characters who might otherwise not fit into their larger MCU plans. If all goes well with Luna’s portrayal of the Spirit of Vengeance, it’s possible he could appear elsewhere in the Marvel Universe. For now, that remains little but a hope. It’ll all depend on how well the character is received when he makes his debut when season four begins next week. We’ll keep you posted on any Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider news at it develops.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season four premieres Tuesday, September 20 on ABC at 10/9 central.