After a months-long marketing push, audiences finally got to see Ghost Rider in action this past Tuesday with the season premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The new addition shakes up the status quo by not only bringing an element of the supernatural to the show for the first time, but also stepping up the violence and mayhem a bit as Ghost Rider does for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. what The Punisher did for Daredevil.
Ghost Rider may not seem like the most obvious fit for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. given its historical lack of the supernatural and its previous season focusing primarily on the very different problem of the Terrigen Mists and the Inhumans they have created. The decision to add him to the show was not one that was made lightly, however, and Head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb has at least a partial explanation for it.
Speaking to CBR, Loeb responded to to the suggestion that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "doesn’t necessarily seem like the natural place" for a Ghost Rider appearance. According to Loeb, that fact is part of the reason why they did it, along with the opportunity to bring a strong origin story to the show:
"It is part of the fun. I think one of the things we always start out with is, 'What’s the story behind the character?' In this particular case, the idea of Robbie Reyes and his story — if you go back to the very beginning, Peter Parker’s story is what makes Spider-Man interesting. Matt Murdock’s story is what makes Daredevil interesting. Robbie Reyes’ story is what makes Ghost Rider interesting. The idea of an older brother who’s trying to take care of a younger brother because he feels responsible for what happened to him, and a younger brother who thinks that he’s actually more responsible for the older brother, is a great place to begin."
In addition to shaking up the show a bit and providing audiences with an entertaining origin story, Loeb says that the new addition also gave the show the chance to move some of its action to a new location and flex the visual effects crew's talents:
"It’s also a terrific venue that we haven’t really spent a lot of time in, to be able to set the show in East LA. Then there’s just badass coolery — the idea that he has a black car that’s got hellfire shooting out of it. I’m in! And I really have to give credit where credit’s due; our extraordinary visual effects people. When you get to see how Ghost Rider is finally presented — and you do get to see it in the first episode — you won’t believe that level of special effects can be achieved on television. It has nothing to do with budget, just the amount of time that it takes for that to happen; to have the lead time to be able to tell that story."
With Ghost Rider front and center for nearly all of the show's marketing, though, including adding his name to the logo, there is the risk that he will overshadow the other characters in what is already a fairly large ensemble cast. Loeb, however, doesn't think that will be a problem:
"I think you’ll see that he never overshadows our cast, because our cast is really why people watch the show. It is funny that people say they don’t see it as a natural thing that they would go to — the truth of the matter is, S.H.I.E.L.D., from the very beginning, when they were asked what it is that they do, it is to look at the strange, the unusual, the weird in the Marvel Universe. To determine whether or not it’s dangerous, and if it is, take it down, bring it in, or somehow learn how to train it. That’s in the first episode — there is nothing weirder, stranger, more unreal or dangerous than Ghost Rider. In many ways, it lends itself right to what’s going on."
In the end, what makes Ghost Rider an interesting addition to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't that he fits into audience's preexisting ideas of what the show is about, but rather that he doesn't. The show has sometimes been criticized for somewhat lackluster storytelling and failing to fully take advantage of its place in the Marvel universe. It seems Marvel had those criticisms in mind and made an attempt to address them with the new season. Whether or not they succeed remains to be seen.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues with “Meet the New Boss” on Tuesday, September 27 at 10:00 pm on ABC.