Superhero literature, be it blockbuster films or comic books, is inexplicably tied with science. Many of the greatest superheroes—and supervillains—were created using science, like Captain America or the Incredible Hulk. And some use their big brains and expansive wealth to wield science like a weapon.
But, there’s a special segment of superhero lore that revolves around anything but the scientific. In these annals of comic book history, there lives heroes and villains that operate outside the realm of science.
Mutants, Inhumans, gods and goddesses, monks: the list goes on.
However, one anti-hero comes to mind when we think of the supernatural. Ghost Rider.
While the 2007 and 2011 films starring Nick Cage might have turned off long-time Ghost Rider fans, newer iterations of the flaming-head hell-raiser have brought new life to the character.
Robbie Reyes’ Ghost Rider prominently appears in season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the All-New Ghost Rider comic book series released in 2014. (Spoiler warning for both).
Two Origin Stories for Robbie Reyes
As with any book (in this case, comic book) to film adaption, there’s bound to be some inconsistencies. When it comes to Robbie Reyes, the differences are both minute, and…well, not.
Reyes’ origin story as it’s told in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and as it’s told in All-New Ghost Rider are fairly similar. Reyes takes out his 1969 Dodge Charger RT for a ride, is gunned down either a rogue militant group or a gang, and ends up dying.
However, the distinct point of deviation is where the Ghost Rider comes from.
In AoS, the previous Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, shows up and imparts the spirit of the Ghost Rider into Reyes.
But in All-New Ghost Rider, the demented spirit of Reyes’ serial killer uncle, Eli Morrow, possesses Robbie, giving him Ghost Rider-like abilities.
The story lines diverge a bit from that point, but a common theme remains: mind over matter, spirit over science.
How Robbie Reyes Beats Science
While there are some differences between the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider characters we’ve discussed, there’s one thing that ties the stories together: the battle against science.
It might seem like a trivial aspect of the story, because Reyes’ real battle is fought against his own rage and that of the spirit processing him. But let me digress.
One of the prominent themes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the power of science. The majority of the problems Coulson and his team face up to season 4 are solved by Fitz and Simmons, their head scientists.
And it’s a great theme that sends a positive message to all real-life scientists. It says “your education and skills are your superpowers.”
But, when Robbie Reyes shows up, he continually challenges science. Fitz and Simmons can’t grasp his abilities, even though they made it their mission to understand powered individuals (specifically the Inhumans Daisy, Lincoln, and Yo-yo).
Reyes breaks out of Fitz’s containment module, escapes from a parallel, limbo dimension, and survives numerous scenarios where he should have died. All of his screen time is spent defying science like it’s his sole mission.
Even against seemingly insurmountable foes, like Eli Morrow, with his ability to create matter, and the rogue android, Aida, Reyes finds victory. Both antagonists base their power in science—with a bit of dark magic thrown in—and Ghost Rider prevails.
All-New Ghost Rider
In the All-New Ghost Rider comics, science takes on a physical manifestation in Dr. Zabo and his Blue Krue.
Everyone Reyes faces is juiced up with a powerful steroid concoction that transforms them into either super-soldiers or monsters. But Reyes manages to conquer his foes with relative ease, once again demonstrating Ghost Rider’s power over science.
Reyes in the All-New Ghost Rider shows us that no amount of body modification or scientific tampering can match strong willpower.
Even though Reyes undergoes extreme duress—financially, emotionally, and physically—he never stops trying to control the spirit inside of him. And in the end, he learns to harness the power without giving into the spirit’s evil demands. Science just so happened to be the fire he needed to reforge his identity.
By defeating the Blue Krue and Dr. Zabo, Reyes solidifies his presence in his neighborhood as the Ghost Rider, a hero. For the people of Hillside Heights, their savior is one they never expected, and that in itself speaks volumes to Reyes’ determination for success—or his fear of failure.
What the Reyes Ghost Rider Tells Us About Reliance on Science
In today’s world, the ever-forward step of science makes it very easy to fall into the trap of reliance on technology.
- Working all day on a computer
- Driving home in your smart car
- Managing your home with Alexa or Google Home
- Scrolling on your phone, playing video games, or watching TV for entertainment
Perhaps that was a bit dramatic.
But the point remains that as technology continues to advance, our lives become even more intertwined with it. In many cases, that’s a good thing—better medical equipment, cleaner energy, more accessible knowledge.
Yet, if we’re totally absorbed in our technological realities, we start to lose sight of everything else around us.
Sometimes, our saving grace—our breath of fresh air—comes from embracing the unknown. Reyes didn’t completely understand Ghost Rider, but he learned to control it to his benefit. Should we be doing the same? Sometimes the answers to our questions are right under our noses, only if we took the time to look down instead of ahead.
Anyways, it’s something to think about.
The real message that Robbie Reyes sends to viewers is this: no matter what your skill, be it biology, mechanics, engineering, video games, writing—anything, really—if your mindset isn’t fully focused on success, then you won’t accomplish your goals.
Reyes shows us that when you put your mind to it, you can overcome any obstacle. And while in his case he has the help of a demonic spirit to break the rules of science, he wouldn’t have been able to save his friends if it hadn’t been for his iron-strong willpower.
No matter how accomplished we are in the sciences, without a solid moral center and unbroken spirits, we won’t achieve anything worth recording in the annals of history.