[NOTE: This feature was originally published in July, but we felt it was worth revisiting - now that Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna) is ready to officially make his debut on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4.]
There's been a lot of speculation in recent weeks concerning season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., especially once Marvel teased fans with an image of flaming chains in advance of San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Everyone's mind immediately leapt to Ghost Rider, but the consensus settled on the tease being a reference to the character Hellfire instead. After all, what's the likelihood that Marvel would waste Ghost Rider on a non-Netflix show with a TV budget?
Turns out, it may be better than average. Word broke that the show was casting "two Latino brothers," one of whom was in a wheelchair and the other who was "always the most dangerous person in the room." Some claim that this could be any two characters, but for fans of Marvel's 2014 title All-New Ghost Rider there's only one pair of brothers that really fits the bill: Robbie Reyes and his younger brother Gabe.
Who Are the Reyes Brothers?
When Marvel brought Ghost Rider back as part of its All-New Marvel NOW! initiative in 2014, a lot of fans were initially left scratching their heads. Instead of bringing back a familiar character like Johnny Blaze or Danny Ketch, the All-New Ghost Rider series featured a Mexican-American teenager named Robbie Reyes and there wasn't a motorcycle in sight. Even the origin of Robbie's powers was different. At first it seemed like change for the sake of change, but the overall story contained in All-New Ghost Rider was well worth the read.
At the heart of All-New Ghost Rider was a tale of two brothers on their own, and what the older brother was willing to do for the younger. Gabe was disabled, and Robbie struggled to give his brother the support he needed. The need to do right by Gabe made Robbie into Ghost Rider in the first place; he entered a street race to win enough money so they could afford to move to a safer neighborhood, only to be gunned down by a team trying to recover some of the supervillain Mr. Hyde's pills that were in the trunk of the car he used. Robbie was revived by a spirit named Eli, and agreed to help Eli avenge his own death when the spirit offered him the power to protect Gabe.
The Most Dangerous Person in the Room
Part of what makes Robbie Reyes so much different than other versions of Ghost Rider is that he's not out to punish the wicked; his first priority is protecting his brother, and even used his powers to win races so he could afford what Gabe needed. On top of that, Eli isn't a Spirit of Vengeance like other Ghost Riders... he's the spirit of a serial killer, who performed satanic rituals as part of his murders. He's a powerful force, and at one point managed to take control of Robbie's body in his human form.
That's part of what makes Robbie's Ghost Rider so dangerous: he doesn't have the same sort of calling as others who have borne the title. Robbie's in it to protect Gabe, and that leaves him open to Eli because it gives the spirit a weakness to exploit. This is actually what leads Robbie to eventually reaching a balance with Eli, agreeing to help him satisfy his bloodlust but only against those who deserve it; Robbie becomes the Ghost Rider in the end because it was the only way he could ensure Eli would leave Gabe alone.
Robbie Reyes vs. Johnny Blaze
If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to take a darker turn in season 4, bringing Ghost Rider to the show would definitely be one way to do it. If ABC is going to do that, though, why not go with a more well-known version of the character like Johnny Blaze? There were rumors that Ghost Rider might be getting his own Netflix series, which would likely feature Blaze, but saving that character for his own show isn't the best reason to use Robbie instead. A much better reason to go with Robbie is that his story fits better in a show that won't focus solely on the Ghost Rider character.
Unlike Blaze, who is famously a loner, Robbie has family responsibilities he won't abandon. The day-to-day Reyes drama would be an easier story to fit into the show's established world, and it could even reference Cal Johnson, a.k.a. Mr. Hyde (or at least his chemical formulas) as a tie-in to Robbie's origin in the comics. If Robbie thought that Coulson and his team were a threat to Gabe, or if Eli convinced him that the team would try to take Gabe away then it would give him a reason to be an antagonist on the show as well. A Blaze-focused Netflix series would be amazing, but when it comes to sharing time with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast then Robbie's the right Ghost Rider for the job.
A New Direction
Ghost Rider could be just what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to break it out of its Inhumans-delivered rut, which gives additional credence to the theory that the character may actually be coming to the show. The Inhumans story has dominated the series for much of seasons 2 and 3. With the Inhumans movie off of the Marvel cinematic slate for the moment, the show needs something different to focus on. Coulson and his team need to respond to threats that aren't Inhumans or aren't trying to do something with the Inhumans.
Robbie's Ghost Rider is a great solution to this problem. It's unlikely that the show will make him an Inhuman, and even as a hero there's a lot of room for him to be misunderstood as a threat. With any luck, we'll see a good portion of the season without Inhumans (aside from Daisy and her ongoing arc) to show that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can balance different parts of the Marvel universe without getting stuck on any particular group. If handled properly, it could make season 4 the show's best season yet.
Ghost Rider in Season 4?
One reason that some fans gave for not believing that Ghost Rider could come to the show is the amount of CGI that would be needed for a skeleton biker with a flaming skull and physics-defying chains. This is circumvented with Robbie Reyes, since a lot of his character could be done with practical effects; his "skull" is a race helmet, his car doesn't undergo major transformations and the fire from his car could be done with a mix of CGI and actual fire. Robbie is a tv-budget-friendly Spirit of Vengeance who would be easier to work into a major story arc than a loner who seeks to smite the wicked.
There's no telling exactly where the Ghost Rider story arc could fit into the story, though as you can see, the character could easily be made an important part of the season. Fans can expect Ghost Rider to be officially confirmed or denied when Marvel TV talks Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on July 22 at Comic-Con.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 airs on ABC Tuesday nights at 10/9c, starting on September 20, 2016.