Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has featured plenty of characters from the comics over the years - even main character Skye was subsequently revealed to be the Inhuman Daisy "Quake" Johnson. But, apart from cameos by Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill from the movies, those characters have trended from the lesser-known end of the spectrum. All that is set to change in season 4, with actor Gabriel Luna set to appear as well-known Marvel superhero Ghost Rider... But not the version most fans are most familiar with.
Now, Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb and executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have revealed why they opted for the lesser-known Spirit of Vengeance for their series.
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns in September, it will do so with a major status-quo shift (even for this ever-changing series) and it's most high profile Marvel Comics call-up to date in Ghost Rider. While most fans are familiar with the first incarnation of the character, a motorcycle stuntman named Johnny Blaze who is cursed with demonic powers and a flaming skeleton head after making a deal with Satan, Agents' heroes will first encounter a version of the third Ghost Rider; a Mexican-American youth named Robbie Reyes who is differentiated from his predecessors chiefly by driving a muscle-car instead of a motorcycle.
Speaking to THR on the subject, Loeb explained the rationale for focusing on this version of the character rather than the classic take, who was previously portrayed by Nicholas Cage in two feature films not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
At the end of the day, S.H.I.E.L.D. is really a show about family. I know that it looks like a show about a bunch of spies that are running around on a big, giant plane that are saving the world every week, but it really is about a group of people who come together because they have no one else in their lives. When you watch the show from that point of view, you really understand that Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a father figure, and these people around him are people he needs to look after and make sure they're okay.
In the comics, family plays an important role in Robbie Reyes' origin as the third Ghost Rider. While prior Riders drew their powers from "The Spirit of Vengeance," Robbie and his car are jointly bonded to the revenge-crazed ghost of a man named Eli Morrow. Furthermore, Robbie fights to protect his developmentally-disabled brother from harassment by criminal elements in South Central Los Angeles. Of note: Reyes' comic origin is also connected to the supervillain Mr. Hyde, who was a featured antagonist in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D's second season and was played by actor Kyle MacLachlan.
Additionally, the fact that popular culture is much less immediately familiar with this version of Ghost Rider was actually a plus, according to Tancharoen, as was the character's ability to add welcome diversity to the show's expanding lineup:
People are familiar with Johnny Blaze. Robbie Reyes is a new iteration of the character. There's not a lot of material on the character so it gives us a lot of room to have our take on it. And also, just the fact that he is a young kid who grew up on the streets of East L.A., we liked that backstory. We like seeing a character like that in the mix of our team.
Certainly, adapting Robbie Reyes gives Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. more leeway than Johnny Blaze. But, as for whether fans respond positively to the character played by Luna remains to be seen when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 premieres Tuesday, September 20 @10pm on ABC.
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