Legacy heroes are nothing new. DC has practically built their whole universe around it when they revived a few of their Golden Age heroes as new Silver Age versions with new names, looks, and in some case, powers. Marvel hasn’t done it quite so often, but there have been a couple cases. The big problem with a legacy hero, where the superhero name can be passed along to a successor, is that sooner or later the original–or at least best known version of that character–returns and takes the mantle back. This can occur no matter how popular the new guy is, though the new guy may stick around for other reasons.
Dan Ketch, the Ghost Rider of the 90s, was not one of those new guys who got to stick around.
What makes Dan Ketch such a weird case is there was a time when he was among Marvel’s biggest characters. True, he wasn’t the original Ghost Rider. That was Johnny Blaze, a 70s-era stunt man who fit right in with his time period. Blaze had gone missing for a while and Marvel revived the basic concept (flaming skull-headed motorcyclist rides around on a flaming motorcycle dispensing anti-hero style vengeance on the guilty) with a new guy, figuring–probably correctly–that few readers would remember Blaze right away.
Blaze would become a prominent supporting character in the book, but consider Dan Ketch’s popularity for just a moment.
Marvel Comics Presents was a bi-weekly anthology series designed to showcase lesser characters and up-and-coming creators. For a period, two of the four stories always featured the same two characters. One was Wolverine. The other was Ketch’s Ghost Rider.
When Marvel launched a new Jim Lee-drawn X-Men series, the big crossover event wasn’t with another X-Men title or Spider-Man, it was with Ghost Rider. That was a weird one, since it featured the Brood as the enemy and apparently, a Brood egg can infect a flaming skeleton. Said crossover had a last issue that ended basically with the X-Men standing around watching Ghost Rider smack around the Brood Queen by himself.
When Walt Simonson temporarily replaced the Fantastic Four with a new team made up of Marvel’s most popular properties for a three part story, the new FF was Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, and Ghost Rider. Plus, the Punisher popped up just for the hell of it in the last issue.
This Ghost Rider got a spin-off title, eventually given to Blaze, and the popularity of the character at the time probably helped get Ghost Rider 2099 off the ground.
Dan Ketch got a cameo at the end of Marvels as Phil Sheldon’s newspaper deliver boy.
Ketch’s Ghost Rider cameoed on animated series for X-Men, Fantastic Four (where he apparently gave Galactus the penance stare), and The Incredible Hulk.
Basically at that time, if Marvel wanted to try and give a book a boost in sales with a cameo, the choices were Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider.
And then Dan Ketch dropped off the face of the Earth. His last issue, one that would have resolved his storyline, was not even initially published until years after the fact. The Ghost Rider in the awful Nick Cage movies is Johnny Blaze. Ketch doesn’t even seem to get namedropped in those films, and if he did, I didn’t care to remember or look it up either way.
What happened? Ghost Rider as a character still appears regularly in Marvel’s various books. The Blaze version even joined the Thunderbolts at one point. It wasn’t as if Ghost Rider himself was just a fad…only this version was perhaps. What went wrong with Ketch?
My best guess is the guy got too convoluted. He started with a very simple concept: a guy finds a magical talisman/motorcycle that, when innocent blood is shed, transforms him into the Ghost Rider to wreak vengeance on the guilty. He cannot kill a human, and is utterly unstoppable until he hits the bad guy with his penance stare, forcing the person to feel all the pain and suffering that person has caused for all eternity. He carries a chain weapon and his motorcycle’s wheels are on fire and can go more or less anywhere. And whatever demonic thing Ghost Rider was, he wasn’t the same as the original Ghost Rider.
The mystery of who or what Ghost Rider was by itself could have made for a good mystery and enough to hold down a series for a year or so. But, like the X-Files, it apparently wasn’t enough. Over time, it seemed everyone in Dan’s life except his girlfriend was aware of the whole Ghost Rider thing all along. Ghost Rider’s origins were shrouded in mystery, and the mystery got murkier instead of clearer. By the time the whole thing was resolved, I don’t think anyone really cared anymore. I know I didn’t. Ghost Rider the unstoppable spirit of vengeance was kinda fun. Ghost Rider the conspiracy theory was batty.
I think I gave up when they revealed Ketch and Blaze, despite what looked like a decent age difference and absolutely no physical resemblance, were in fact long lost brothers.
So, Dan went away. He apparently pops up here and there. To better illustrate how fleeting that popularity can be, consider how a What if–? special issue asked what it would have been like if the FF were really dead, and the temporary group of Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider stayed together. A sequel later would show the team dealing with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, only as the issue opened and half the universe was wiped out, Ghost Rider just disappeared. Who replaced him on the team? Iron Man, whose first movie had come out the same year as said issue.
Well, it happens.