Six episodes into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fourth season, it’s clear that new addition Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna) has proven to be the breakout character that fans clearly hoped he would be. The show’s ratings are up, and he looks positioned to not only ride out the rest of season 4.0 (which wraps up next month), but potentially the entire 22-episode season, as well, giving him a great deal of momentum to work with.
This success is strongly reminiscent of when Marvel opted to introduce a classic character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe fold: this past March, Daredevil’s second season debuted a brand-new iteration of the Punisher (Jon Bernthal), and even before the episodes were available for streaming, Netflix executives were so excited by the writers’ and actor’s take on the anti-hero that they had ordered up a spinoff series. We think that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Robbie Reyes deserves the same treatment – and we think that ABC would be more than willing to make the move, given that the network was actively considering a previous spinoff, Most Wanted, just earlier this year.
Who is the MCU’s Ghost Rider?
We have already spent some time discussing how Ghost Rider’s backstory on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. differs from his comic book counterpart’s, but a quick recap of who, exactly, the character is is nonetheless in order here. A college dropout, Roberto Reyes worked for Canelo’s Auto and Body in Los Angeles during the day while engaging in illegal street racing by night, “borrowing” his Uncle Eli Morrow’s (Jose Zuniga) modified black 1969 Dodge Charger (lovingly nicknamed Lucy) in order to do so. When members of the Fifth Street Locos gang mistook Robbie and his little brother, Gabriel (Lorenzo James Henrie), for Eli, they took out the car, paralyzing Gabe from the waist down and actually succeeding in killing Robbie.
In death’s embrace, Robbie called out for the salvation of his sibling and for vengeance against those who have harmed them both. The plea was answered by a former Ghost Rider (probably Johnny Blaze), who passes his apparently-supernatural powers on to the youth. Robbie is resurrected as the Ghost Rider, and he makes it his life’s mission to hunt down all the gang members who were responsible for the hit – and then, after that, any individual who is deemed guilty by the demonic force that now resides within him (such as other gangbangers, corrupt politicians, and pedophiles). The Spirit of Vengeance never seems able to be quenched, however, and Robbie can be viewed being just as much of a victim of his “deal with the Devil” as those around him.
This is where the newly-public S.H.I.E.L.D. comes in. Picking up a case that involves Uncle Eli, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team come into contact with the so-called Ghost Rider, reaching an uneasy alliance with him in order to track down and contain the ghostly threat that Eli and the rest of his former research unit at Momentum Alternative Energy Laboratories have unwittingly released.
Why a Ghost Rider spinoff series would work
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is just starting to delve into the magical, with Daredevil and Iron Fist straying into mystical ninja territory and this week's release of Doctor Strange unleashing spells and ancient magical relics into the fictional world. However, since Doctor Strange is really more of an extension of the "magic is just science we don't understand yet" adage that has been a part of the MCU since Thor, and the Defenders universe hasn't featured anything too overtly magical just yet, there's certainly plenty of untapped supernatural potential for a Ghost Rider spinoff show to explore.
We are still waiting for a full explanation of how or where the various Ghost Riders’ powers originate from, but even if the Spirits of Vengeance don’t have a direct line to Hell, there’s still the Darkhold: an ages-old book that is purported to be the master collection of every last dark magic spell on the face of the Earth, and whose power comes at the cost of a reader’s soul. The tome has only had a few appearances on the show thus far, but its power is undeniable, and its reputation has been retroactively built up: it turns out that the likes of ex-Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and ex-Hydra head Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) tried in vain to hunt it down, and some have even speculated that it is (indirectly) featured in the prequel comic series to Doctor Strange, being part of the Ancient One’s (Tilda Swinton) collection of safeguarded works.
This hint at a hidden world of magic would allow a Ghost Rider spinoff series to blaze (no pun intended) its own path in the larger shared universe, as would the reveal that there have been previous Ghost Riders before Robbie Reyes' incarnation. A spinoff would have a wealth of unexplored backstory (and narrative relevance) to tap into – something that seemed to hamper Most Wanted’s chances of being picked up. This would only be reinforced should Marvel and Netflix jump on that long-rumored Moon Knight series, giving each a partner in its magical world-building.
How it would work
The six Netflix series – those are Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders, for all those not playing along at home – all essentially operate in a bubble, concentrating only on the events in and around New York City (though the occasional reference to a character or organization from the greater MCU does manage to sneak in). There is no reason that a hypothetical Ghost Rider couldn’t do the same in Los Angeles, with the narrative opening up from time to time to touch upon other supernatural happenings elsewhere in the universe (both narrative and cinematic). The Darkhold would be instrumental here; it’s already been the genesis behind the first “ghosts” in Marvel’s meta-franchise, and it could be the cause for many other magical entities, as well.
This is where the potential for a standalone show really shines the brightest – again using the Netflix properties as a template, Ghost Rider could incite a small constellation of other possible series that it would extensively interact with, starting with Marvel Studios’s recently-reacquired Blade and going all the way to Werewolf by Night (in the comics, the Darkhold is responsible for the creation of both vampires and werewolves). There’s even the possibility of incorporating Cloak and Dagger, a series which has already been announced for Freeform, the channel formerly known as ABC Family.
The possibilities, really, are endless – the slam-dunk case for why a new television series should be ordered in any circumstance.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fourth season returns Tuesday, November 29 at 10:00 pm on ABC.