Two of Marvel Comics’ most tragic characters are Incredible Hulk and Ghost Rider. Cursed in one way or another with uncontrollable power, they both embody the Marvel Universe’s central tenant of power that isn’t always a blessing. However, as iconic as these characters’ status quos are, they seemingly completely changed them.
Ghost Rider now takes full control of Johnny Blaze’s amnesiac body, while Banner now has full control of Hulk’s body while retaining his intellect. These parallel concepts come from years of development and regression for Marvel monsters, ultimately placing them in the exact opposite of their original positions.
Ghost Rider went from King of Hell to Bodysnatcher
Debut in Spotlight on Marvel #5 and created by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, and Mike Ploog, Ghost Rider, aka Johnny Blaze, was a motorcycle stuntman years ago. Debuting in the 1970s, he was one of many horror characters such as Morbius, the Living Vampire introduced to take advantage of the easing of Comic Book Code restrictions. Due to a series of misfortunes and mishaps, he unwittingly made a deal with the devil and bonded with the demon Zarathos. From then on, Blaze will act as Ghost Rider, using the demonic power of Zarathos to exact brutal revenge on those who indulged in wanton sin. Although Zarathos would sometimes take over the handlebars when he absolutely had to, it was Blaze who ultimately controlled Ghost Rider. In fact, it was his humanity and morality that kept the mighty Zarathos from simply unleashing hell on Earth.
Over the years there have been different Ghost Riders, but ultimately the mantle always fell to Blaze. He briefly became King of Hell after Damnation: Johnny Blaze – Ghost Riderbut now he returns to a much more grounded premise in the first two issues of the new ghost rider monthly. Whenever Johnny Blaze sleeps, Zarathos takes full control of his body, transforming into an autonomous Ghost Rider. Likewise, Blaze is otherwise completely mortal, with no control over the Rider’s transformation. This totally different take on their relationship could be a setup for a more traditional monster portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it’s more likely to just fill the void for another Marvel character’s radically new transformation.
Banner is no longer afraid of the Hulk – he controls him
Another big monster in the Marvel Universe is the Incredible Hulk, who debuted in the first issue of his eponymous comic book series. Like many modern Marvel icons, he was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, combining elements of Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and 1950s sci-fi monster movies. It wasn’t rage that originally triggered Banner’s transformations into the Hulk, but rather the night. This werewolf shift saw Bruce transform into the gray Hulk, and he had no memory of the Hulk’s activities whenever he turned back to human. As he evolved and his gamma-irradiated body evolved, of course, he acquired his most prominent anger-activated green form in the second issue of his comic. For most of his existence, the Hulk has been considered one of the greatest threats to the Marvel Universe, his designation as a hero constantly wavering towards full-fledged monster status. This made the Hulk a misunderstood threat, one that haunted Bruce Banner more than anyone.
The many forms the Hulk took somehow solidified during the events of the now iconic series. Immortal Hulk, where a recently revived Banner gained access to the gamma-powered Green Gate. He could cycle through his various Hulk personas, from the violent Savage Hulk to the gray thug Joe Fixit Hulk. In his current series, which began with the recent Pontoon #1 (by VC’s Donny Cates, Ryan Ottley, Frank Martin, and Cory Petit) Bruce Banner affected a sort of mad scientist persona, implying that the threat all along wasn’t the Hulk, but rather his mild-mannered, puny human alter ego. Piloting the now spaceship-sized body of the Hulk, Banner is able to control him completely through artificial anger, treating him more like a tool than another personality to contend with.
It’s a dark reversal of Ghost Rider concepts, with the former now taking charge of Banner’s nocturnal, amnesiac transformation while the latter controls his monstrous alter ego as Ghost Rider once did. Strange as it may seem, these story developments make some sense. In Ghost Rider’s case, it takes him back to his tragic horror roots, while the Hulk’s pure sci-fi direction leans more heavily on his scientific “discovery” origin. Marvel’s most monstrous heroes are definitely in different places than they were before, but these evolutions are still eerily familiar.
Morbius, Ghost Rider, and Blade have teamed up for Marvel’s darkest crossover
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