glove and helmet

Giving up the ghost

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Even if you’ve only come across Ghost Rider in those two crazily awful (and awfully crazy) Nic Cage movies, you probably know the deal: he’s a guy who, thanks to a demonic pact, has a flaming skull for a head and rides by night on an also-flaming motorbike.

Except here’s something you may not know: the bike is no more. A couple of months ago, the comic-book publisher Marvel gave Ghost Rider a new monthly series, entitled All-New Ghost Rider. But this time our fiery antihero is driving around in a car. A roaring, haunted car, admittedly – but a car nonetheless.

Why the change? The clue’s in that title: All-New Ghost Rider. This is a new version of the character, the fourth in all. When he’s not ghost-riding around town, he’s a high-school kid from Los Angeles, called Robbie Reyes. That already makes him different from previous Ghost Riders, such as the stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze. But what better way of distinguishing him than by changing his wheels? This is a total revamp.

Besides, as the comic’s writer Felipe Smith has been quick to admit, a car means new storytelling possibilities: from little things such as “new offensive manoeuvres and attacks,” to big things such as “the idea [that] the car might have a mind of its own”. This is a boon for a character that has been around for over forty years, and could otherwise grow stale. It’s also a good way of attracting new readers.

Speaking of which, I wonder whether this new Ghost Rider is – consciously or unconsciously – reflecting broader trends. The harsh truth is that motorbikes aren’t popular as they once were, at least in the US. Some of this is down to the financial crisis: combined motorcycle and scooter sales plummeted from roughly 900,000 to 500,000 in the year after 2008, and are even lower now. But there have been other shocks too: even Harley Davidson, that stalwart of the counterculture, is struggling against what Forbes calls “a declining core customer base of middle-aged Caucasian males”. Today, it’s more about The Fast and the Furious than Easy Rider.

Ah, The Fast and the Furious. Marvel managed to reference that film series in its blurb for the first issue of All-New Ghost Rider – so there’s no doubting which market it’s trying for. But, whatever, this is still is a sharply written and vividly drawn comic-book. If you’re into muscle cars and monsters, then give it a go. The latest issue even has one of the latter growing out of one of the former. As he puts it: Raaaaahhhhh!



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