Originally called Ghost Rider when he debuted in 1967 (with the name later changed), The Phantom Rider was pretty much a rip off of Magazine Enterprises' character of the same name and look whose copyright expired allowing Marvel to create their own version. The Phantom Rider possessed no actual superpowers and was simply a do-gooder in the wild west. The character would go on to become a legacy hero with the descendants of Carter Slade taking on the mantle throughout Marvel comics, most recently Jaime Slade, his great-great-great-grand-niece.
Created by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Mike Ploog, the Ghost Rider we know made his debut in 1972's Marvel Spotlight #5. Johnny, a stunt daredevil, summoned the demon Mephisto and sold his soul to keep his father-figure alive. When Mephisto came to collect, however, Johnny was saved by comic book deus-ex-machina and the power of his lover Roxanne's emotion. In retaliation, Mephisto bonded the demon Zarathos to Johnny.
With Zarathos now part of him, Johnny was forced to transform into the Ghost Rider when in the presence of evil and destroy it. The character's powers include the ability to control hellfire, channeling it into his hands, eyes, mouth, or any weapon he's holding; but also the ability to manifest an ever-growing chain. His most powerful ability is the Penance Stare, which forces anyone caught in it to experience all of the pain and suffering they've dealt out in a lifetime in a few seconds.
Once a powerful demonic entity, Zarathos was defeated by Mephisto in a battle and came under his control, which is how he was forced to bond with anyone Mephisto chose. Mephisto did this as a way of messing with Zarathos, who was notable for fighting the spirits of vengeance in the past.
Like the first Ghost Rider, the flaming-skull-headed anti-hero was also a legacy hero, with the second version being the character Danny Ketch. Created by Howard Mackie and Javier Saltares, Ketch made his debut in Ghost Rider Volume 3 #1, wherein he was running from a group of bad guys and found a mysterious medallion that transformed him into the hero. With no demon inhabiting his body, many characters wondered how Ketch could even be a Ghost Rider in the first place, but this was later explained when Ketch and Johnny Blaze discovered they were long-lost brothers whose family was cursed by the spirits of vengeance.
On some occasions, Ketch's Ghost Rider flames turned from the traditional orange to blue.
In Fantastic Four #347, Ketch was recruited along with Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Wolverine to be a part of the “New Fanastic Four.” Though his outfit didn't change for this initial outing, an issue of Wolverine spotlighted an alternate version of the Age of Apocalypse featuring the team and their coordinated outfits.
One of the lesser known teams in Marvel Comics is the Midnight Sons, comprised of all the supernatural and monster-themed characters. Both versions of Ghost Rider have been members of the team with the first appearance of the team coming in Ghost Rider Volume 3 #28.
Created by Rob Williams and Matthew Clark, Alejandra's origin is perhaps the most interesting of the Ghost Riders as the young woman was born and raised among a group of potential candidates to host the demon by none other than the first man himself, Adam. Jones' time as the Ghost Rider showed her to have unique abilities from the others as she could create a motorcycle entirely out of hellfire with her powers and even used a scythe in addition to the trademark chains.
The latest incarnation of Ghost Rider, created by Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore, wasn't actually possessed by Zarathos or a long lost “Blaze” brother at all. Robbie Reyes was gunned down by gang members and his body bonded with the soul of Eli Morrow, a killer with a connection to Robbie's past, that turned him into the new Ghost Rider. Unlike the previous Ghost Riders, Robbie drives a car instead of a motorcycle.
The Ultimate Comics version of Ghost Rider (still Johnny Blaze) got a revamped origin wherein he and his girlfriend were ambushed by cultists and sacrificed to Satan. Mephisto gave the gang of sacrificers what they desired but also took possession of Johnny's soul in exchange for his girlfriend. For the next twenty years, Blaze trained to become the Ghost Rider and seek out his revenge once the men responsible were in comfortable positions of power.
Ghost Rider in an of itself fits the “90s extreme” cliches pretty well, but Ghost Rider 2099 takes the cake. In the future, Kenshiro "Zero" Cochrane was on the run from a gang and uploaded his entire consciousness onto the internet, where it was discovered by a group of Ais called The Ghostworks. They rebuilt his body in order for him to enact his vengeance and it had a passing resemblance to Ghost Rider which is why the name stuck. Unlike other Ghost Riders, this one isn't actually possessed by a demon but he still has a number of special abilities, including a camouflage system, a retractable chainsaw in his arm, and eye lasers.
In a battle with the demon Blackheart, General Thunderbolt Ross, the Red Hulk himself, was bonded with not only the Ghost Rider but the Venom symbiote, creating a real looker of a monster.
Despite the canon set forth previously like the Blaze family line, in 2009 the history of Ghost Riders was re-written to reveal they had been created by God to punish the wicked and they were to be watched over by the archangel, Zadkiel. Writer Jason Aaron described them as “Heaven's black ops.”
During the history of the Ghost Riders presented in the “Heaven's on Fire” storyline, we see a number of different types from across history, including one in ancient Rome.
Another was a Native American-inspired Ghost Rider that protected the shores of the yet-to-be-established country from Vikings.
The son of a priest in the 1700s, his story is one of betrayal and deceit where the young man turned into the spirit of vengeance and exacted his revenge on none other than his father. Kale's spirit is what activated within Danny Ketch when he became the Ghost Rider, as he traveled through all of his descendants including many of the upcoming slides. The name “Ghost Rider” was coined to describe Noble, and stuck.
In the events of Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears, a Confederate soldier named Travis Parham befriends a freed slave named Caleb only to find his friend and his family slaughtered some years later. As Parham seeks vengeance against the group that murdered his friend, he finds his revenge hampered by an old-west Ghost Rider, who turns out to be his old friend.
Another Native American Ghost Rider was shown, this time exacting revenge against some men who killed children and the elderly from his tribe.
An airplane dogfighting Ghost Rider was around in the first World War called The Ghost Flyer.
And again in World War II but not only in a tank but with an entire troop of Ghost Riders.
A pair of Ghost Riders targeted the mob in the 1940s as well. In keeping with tradition, they rode a motorcycle (however with a sidecar for little Knuckles).
A pair of Smokey and the Bandit-inspired characters, Devil Rig and Hell-Driver took to the streets in a massive truck and a convertible.
Cowboy Ghost Riders certainly happened, but a modern cowboy Ghost Rider had something they didn't have, The Penance Fist.
Though he doesn't have a name, he does have a bandana and also a wolf! The character was introduced beating on a group that tried to kill him.
Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch's biological mother, Naomi briefly turned into the Ghost Rider in one appearance but was defeated by Mephisto.
Before Johnny and Sue Storm were members of the Fantastic Four, they found themselves encountering a number of bizarre adventures, and one of them was a fight between Max Parrish and some zombies. Parrish only became the Ghost Rider for a brief fight, and presumably never used the Medallion of Power again.
In the "The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance" story arc, a number of Ghost Riders were being hunted down and executed by none other than Danny Ketch. Kannabe's version wielded a traditional Japanese weapon, the Kanabō, but a further distinguishing matter was his small horns on his skull.
Another Ghost Rider found in the storyline was Nima, a character whose fiery avatar was modeled after a Tibetan Buddhism god.
As Johnny sought to stop his brother, he was assisted by these pair in finding the other Ghost Riders.
Rules of the Skull City, these two live in the Congo and are eager to fight Zadkiel and his armies. Baron Skullfire even rides a rhino into battle.
The “Heavens on Fire” storyline even briefly included a pair of Ghost Riders from the future, specifically “thirty cycles” from now, who feature some technical augmentations like a chainsaw hand and cybernetic enhancements. One of them has similarities to Ghost Rider 2099, though it's unconfirmed if they're the same character.
Before the “Heavens on Fire” storyline, Danny Ketch thought he was the only Ghost Rider in the world, and then he encountered the Hindi woman Shoba Mirza, a spirit of vengeance with an extra set of arms and riding an elephant.
After the runaway success of the Marvel Zombies storyline, the publisher took it upon themselves to further extend the joke (upon the suggestion of a fan) with the Marvel Apes line. Unfortunately he does not have a punny name.
In the alternate universe of Old Man Logan, a gang of scavengers roamed the wasteland inspired by the spirit of vengeance, albeit driving actual fire-wheeled motorcycles.
A member of The Blob's Black Legion, the character is a mash up of Iron Man and Ghost Rider.
An alternate version of Peter Parker who tracked down and absorbed the powers of other Spider-Men across the multiverse, Parker was killed and brought back to life by Doctor Strange and infused with the souls of the repentant damned, making him the Ghost Spider.
In the mid '90s, Marvel and DC created the Amalgam Universe, mashing their characters together into all-new heroes and villains. Two of the heroes that debuted were the Speed Demons combining both of The Flashes Barry Allen and Wally West with the two Ghost Riders Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch.
In 2007, the spirit of vengeance made his way to the big screen with Nicolas Cage in the title role with dated effects even for the time to create his flaming spectral form.
A sequel/reboot debuted in 2012, with Cage returning in the title role, and an updated look for the character who transitioned into his “blue flame” at the film's conclusion.
Ghost Rider previously appeared in the connected Marvel cartoons across three decades in the 1980's Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the 1990's Spider-Man and X-Men, and the 2010's animated universe.
Ghost Rider has appeared in a number of Marvel Comics-inspired video games, including Marvel: Avengers Alliance, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and Marvel vs. Capcom.
It was recently announced that Gabriel Luna will appear as the Robbie Reyes version of the character in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fourth season, driving his signature 1969 Dodge Charger.