Value of Key Ghost Rider Comic Books
by Christopher Tanis and Ashley Cotter-Cairns
Marvel’s Ghost Rider is an odd sort of superhero. Johnny Blaze debuted in the early 1970s, in the wake of (and very much influenced by) the Peter Fonda film Easy Rider.
There could probably be no better indication that the character type of the solo, misunderstood, motorcyclist anti-hero had entered the public consciousness than to see that Marvel Comics had created a hero of that type.
Ghost Rider is odd. Have we mentioned that? Admittedly, he was not the first superhero to be a reanimated dead person, nor even the first to have been sent back to the world of the living by Satan (or at least so he thought at the time).
He was not even the first superhero to have a flaming skull for a head. But take all those things, wrap them up in a character named Johnny Blaze, dress him in black leather and put him on a motorcycle, and you've got something.
Actually, he was not even the first Marvel hero to be named Ghost Rider. That honor belongs to the 1960s Western-style hero with the alter ego Carter Slade. But since that earlier Ghost Rider had no blazing skull, no black leather, and no motorcycle, we are not interested in him.
Ghost Rider's fortunes waxed and waned, and he even ended up in a superhero team (the ill-fated Champions), but his popularity had grown to a great enough height by the 21st century to spawn two Ghost Rider movies.
Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance are, to be honest, less than sparkling films. Neither did especially well with critics or American audiences, and many fans of the character in comic book form were particularly unhappy with the casting of Nicolas Cage in the title role.
While the films may not have done the character justice or been blockbusters, there has been talk of a third episode in the franchise, which would likely appear without Cage. This may or may not be a good thing.
The character was created by--well, it's hard to say, really. After the first film came out, the credit for creating Ghost Rider comic became a bone of contention for Marvel writer Gary Friedrich. He, Roy Thomas, and artist Mike Ploog all tell different stories about how the character was created and who, exactly, deserves credit for each of the distinctive elements of the character.
Friedrich sued Marvel in 2007 over the character, but in 2011 the suit was settled largely in Marvel's favor. Perhaps the less said about it the better. Suffice it to say that it is difficult to say exactly who created the character, so we'll go with all three men, in alphabetical order: Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog, and Roy Thomas.
No matter who created him or how, Ghost Rider has proved to be an enduring character, with his popularity lasting far beyond the film genre that inspired his creation.
Have Your Ghost Rider Comics Valued!
If you've got some copies of Bronze Age Ghost Rider comics featuring (especially Marvel Spotlight #5 and #6, or Ghost Rider #1), then click here to have them valued FREE by Sell My Comic Books!
With the discussion of who created Ghost Rider dealt with, we can talk about his debut.
We begin with Marvel Spotlight #5, with Ghost Rider dealing with some killers who he'd witnessed in the act. After dispatching them with hellfire, he rides off, thinking back on how he got to this point.
Johnny Blaze was a stunt-cyclist who sold his soul to a supernatural being he thought was Satan in exchange for saving his adoptive father, Crash Simpson, also a stunt-cyclist, from cancer. The being was not Satan, but rather Mephisto, who nonetheless made a devil’s bargain with Johnny. Mephisto cured Johnny's "father," and instead had him die in a motorcycle crash. Johnny complains, and Mephisto tries to take his soul.
Thanks to his pure-hearted girlfriend, Roxanne, Mephisto is unable to take Johnny's soul. But he was still able to work some mischief that Johnny would be unaware of until later. Mephisto managed to fuse a demon named Zarathros with Johnny's soul, resulting in his transformation into a Ghost Rider every night, or whenever trouble or evil was afoot.
The transformation turns his flesh turns into flames within his leather motorcycle suit, resulting in the ghastly appearance of a blazing, fleshless skull where his head should have been, and gives him super-strength, stamina, invulnerability, and the ability to project hellfire against his enemies.
As the first Ghost Rider comic, Marvel Spotlight #5 is highly valued by collectors, and was written by Gary Friedrich and Roy Thomas and illustrated by Mike Ploog, who also handled the cover art.
In his second appearance in Marvel Spotlight #6, Ghost Rider runs afoul of a motorcycle gang, creatively named "Satan's Saints." The leader of the gang turns out to be the reincarnation (somehow, although the timing doesn't work out) of Crash Simpson, who has been sent from hell by Satan himself to claim Johnny Blaze's soul.
The reincarnated Crash prepares a Satanic sacrifice, but Johnny is once again saved by the love of Roxanne’s pure soul. Roxanne is later kidnapped by Satan’s Saints, who wish to sacrifice her to get her out of the way. Don’t worry, Johnny saves her in the next issue. Sorry about the spoiler.
Ghost Rider’s adventures would continue through Marvel Spotlight #11, after which he would be succeeded, appropriately enough, by the Son of Satan.
Written by Gary Friedrich and illustrated by Mike Ploog, Marvel Spotlight #6 is nearly as valuable as GR’s first appearance.
Johnny’s perpetually-in-danger girlfriend Roxanne had been injured and is in the hospital. Johnny, speeding to check on her, wipes out on his cycle and ends up in the same hospital.
After some intrigue with the Witch Woman and Son of Satan, and Johnny's pal Bart attempting a canyon jump that was meant for Johnny to make (crashing and dying in the process), the police spot Ghost Rider. Needless to say, he is not well regarded by the men in blue. They give chase, and he flees into the desert with Roxanne, seemingly to be forever on the run.
Ghost Rider #1 has a fantastic cover by Gil Kane, with interior art by Tom Sutton and script by Gary Friedrich. While not as valuable as Marvel Spotlight #5, it is still sought after by collectors.
By the time of Marvel Team-Up #15, Johnny Blaze has taken over Crash Simpson's old traveling motorcycle stunt show, a la Evel Knievel. (Look up Mr. Knievel if you aren't old enough to get the reference. He was a uniquely '70s phenomenon, and worth the research.)
Anyway, Peter Parker takes Mary Jane to see GR's show at Madison Square Garden. Of course, trouble arises there. A gent named The Orb shows up, with his motorcycle gang. It turns out that he was Crash Simpson's old partner who'd been horribly disfigured in a motorcycle accident years before, and he has come back to claim the show for himself.
The Orb kidnaps Roxanne (she's handy for such purposes) to force Johnny to give him the show. Spider-Man joins Ghost Rider in dispatching The Orb, who meets a uniquely NYC demise, running head-on into a subway train.
The usual early '70s Team-Up team of Len Wein and Ross Andru handled the writing and pencils, while Gil Kane did his usual bang-up job on the cover art. #15 is one of the more highly-valued issues of Marvel Team-Up, and it is prized by collectors.
Conceived by Tony Isabella as a vehicle for the suddenly irrelevant Iceman and Angel, The Champions were a super-team that was treated like a red-headed stepchild by Marvel Comics, the buying public, and by other heroes in the Marvel Universe. Ghost Rider was lucky(?) enough to be along for the ride.
As luck would have it, Bobby 'Iceman' Drake and Warren 'Angel' Worthington were, by 1975, bored UCLA students. Simultaneously, Natasha 'Black Widow' Romanoff is applying for a UCLA teaching job (as a professor of Russian, of course).
Meanwhile, the Greek demigod Hercules is preparing to give a guest lecture on mythology, on (you guessed it) the UCLA campus. Our own Johnny Blaze just happens to be riding by when all hell (see what we did there?) breaks loose, and a bunch of Harpies come through a hole in the fabric of existence, along with Cerberus, the three-headed dog guardian of Hades.
It's a cornucopia of hellish, Greek Pantheon mayhem that ensues, forcing the five heroes to fight together.
Tony Isabella wrote Champions #1, and inside a lovely cover by journeyman Gil Kane, we find, unfortunately, the rather stale pencils of Don Heck.
Ghost Rider has looked better, for sure, and has had more to do than he has in this issue. For what it's worth, he wouldn't have all that much to do throughout The Champions' 17-issue run.
The end of the first Ghost Rider comics run came in Ghost Rider #81, not with a bang, but a whimper. Driven by declining sales, Marvel had decided to cancel the comic, leaving his fate to the rather uninspired J.M. DeMatteis.
Johnny is freed from Zarathos' possession during a battle with Centurious. Centurious is another servant of Mephisto, and an enemy of the rebellios Zarathos. When Centurious flees from GR, Zarathos leaves Johnny's body to pursue him.
Thus ends Johnny Blaze's tenure in the Ghost Rider comic. He would appear occasionally as a guest in another Ghost Rider series that would debut in 1990, with a character named Daniel Ketch in the Ghost Rider role.
In the 21st Century, the Johnny Blaze version of Ghost Rider comic would return, first for a couple of mini-series, and then a new ongoing title that continues to the present day.
Ghost Rider #81 features pencils by Bob Budlansky, and is valued by collectors in spite of the rather tepid script by J.M. DeMatteis.
Ghost Rider Comic Meets Other Marvel Comic Superheroes
Amazing Spider-Man Comic: Issue by Issue Price Guide
Incredible Hulk Comic Book Price Guide
Top Bronze Age Comic Books Value Guide
Marvel Spotlight Comic Book Prices