THE GHOST RIDERMedium: Comic books
Published by: Magazine Enterprises
First Appeared: 1949
Creators: Vincent Sullivan (editor), Ray Krank (writer) and Dick Ayers (artist)
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Magazine Enterprises (Funnyman, The Avenger), was comics' first fully-realized blend of those two genres, and to this day remains among the best. What's more, it fit right in with the remaining superheroes — like Johnny Thunder and (later) The Two-Gun Kid, The Ghost Rider was a gunslinger who maintained a secret identity.
The Calico Kid had been one such gunslinger. In everyday life, he — well, actually, he didn't seem to have another name, but he masqueraded as a spineless wimp most of the time, and assumed his heroic identity only when needed. Since he wandered from town to town and his only supporting character knew his secret, it's a good question who he was putting on the act for. He and his horse, Ebony, debuted in the back pages of the sixth issue (May, 1949) of ME's Tim Holt comic book (based on the screen persona of the actor by that name) and underwent a rather jarring transformation five issues later.
Within the space of a single story, Calico dropped the Clark Kent act, revealed himself as federal marshal Rex Fury, retired the "Calico Kid" identity, and adopted a new one — The Ghost Rider. The only thing that remained from the original series was his Chinese sidekick, Sing Song — even Ebony was switched out for a new horse named Spectre. The new Rex Fury/Ghost Rider relationship was a lot like Kip Burland/Black Hood, Jim Harper/Guardian and Dan Garrett/Blue Beetle. A lawman by day, he was hampered by those pesky constraints that apply to all law-abiding folks — but by night, he could bring outlaws to justice by whatever means he found necessary.
The Ghost Rider's favorite technique was to scare confessions out of them. He wore a white outfit, covered with phosphorus, with a huge, flowing cape that was phosphorescent on one side and black on the other — he used the black side to cover parts of his body, so he could appear to be a floating head or pair of hands. He wielded a black lariat and a black bullwhip, so he could appear to grab things at a distance. Even his twin six-guns and his horse, Spectre, glowed in the dark. From the bad guy's point of view, Rex Fury was bad enough — but this guy wasn't even human!
And the stories were as scary as the protagonist. Anticipating Scooby-Doo (tho with a considerably darker tone), The Ghost Rider often came up against what seemed to be supernatural menaces, but found they had perfectly natural (tho nefarious) explanations. Except, in Ghost Rider's case, when they didn't — he fought a fair number of real vampires, werewolves and what-have-you, as well. Even when the villains were human, they were pretty horrifying. These were not funnybook bad guys out for a romp with the hero. They were greedy and ruthless, quite nasty enough even without the eerie trappings. Like Dick Tracy, The Ghost Rider generally fought his bad guys only once — and that was enough.
The character was originally worked out between editor/publisher Vincent Sullivan (who, working for DC Comics years earlier, had been Superman's first editor) and scripter Ray Krank (later an editor at ME). It's likely the name came from Vaughn Monroe's Ghost Riders in the Sky, and many of the schticks from the Disney version of The Headless Horseman. Dick Ayers (The Human Torch, Jonah Hex) drew not just the first story, but also every subsequent one — most of the covers, too, except a few by Frank Frazetta (Shining Knight, Thun'da). Many of the later scripts were written by Gardner Fox (The Flash, Hawkman).
The Ghost Rider made his cover debut on Tim Holt #11, the one with the transformation story, but only appeared in an inset there. He had an inset a couple more times over the next few issues, then got the main portion of the cover of #17, with Tim himself temporarily reduced to an inset. In 1950, he got his own title. After that, whenever one of ME's western comics needed a boost in circulation, they threw a Ghost Rider story into the back pages and mentioned it on the cover.
Then came The Comics Code Authority, which took a dim view toward horrifying comic books. The Ghost Rider lost his title in 1954. His back-up stories slowed to a trickle, then stopped. His last appearance was in Red Mask #50 (November, 1955). The 51st issue introduced The Presto Kid, who did some namby-pamby sleight of hand tricks, but was no substitute for the really magical character.
Years later, the furor that had led to the Code died out, and it seemed as though a toned down version of The Ghost Rider might fly — but Magazine Enterprises had long since bit the dust. But Ayers was then working for Marvel Comics, which was no respecter of its defunct colleagues' property rights (having already stolen the name Daredevil from the corpse of Lev Gleason Publications). Marvel brought out a new version of The Ghost Rider in 1967, but it's far from the same. The character was also revived in the 1980s by AC Comics, under the name "Haunted Horseman" (in fact, in the AC Universe, his daughter rides with their Femforce) . But it's no use. The real Ghost Rider is dead and gone.