Supernatural Entity Showdown, Round One: Ghost Rider vs. Hellboy
Name: Ghost Rider
Origin Story: Johnny Blaze was a hotshot stunt motorcyclist who sold his soul to the devil in order to save his stepfather from the cancer that was killing him. Lest you needed further proof that it’s really not a good idea to make a deal with the devil, Blaze’s stepfather soon died in a motorcycle crash. Blaze’s soul was bonded to a demon, dooming him to transform every evening into the Ghost Rider.
Costume: The Rider’s original costume was a fairly standard all-black ’70s cyclist outfit. When the character was rebooted in 1990, he started modeling a more outré steroid-goth look that has become iconic: Black leather jacket, gray leather pants, and spikes everywhere.
Coolest Power/Ability: When the Ghost Rider looks into the eyes of evildoers, he can deploy his Penance Stare. Whoever receives the Stare is forced to live through all the suffering they have caused, effectively incapacitating them. It’s basically Weaponized Super-Empathy, but with extra flames.
Defining Stories: The original ’70s run of Ghost Rider can seem like an impenetrable mix of stunt antics and supernatural horror – with goofy/awesome titles like “And Vegas Writhes in Flames!” Far more memorable is the ’90s era Ghost Rider: Resurrected, which follows a new incarnation of the Rider as he faces off against hard-edged villains.
Cultural legacy: The Ghost Rider is one of the more eccentric characters in this bracket, and his weird mixture of genre tones – gonzo Americana and mythological bleakness – paved the way for later comics like Spawn and Preacher. For a brief time in the ’90s, the Rider headlined a complete horror-centric corner of the Marvel Universe called “The Midnight Sons.” He also provided the basis for a pair of movies starring Nicolas Cage. Unfortunately, they weren’t very good. Still, you gotta admit: For a guy who is mainly known to the public at large as “the guy with the flaming skull,” Ghost Rider’s done pretty well for himself.—Darren Franich
Origin Story: A demonic creature summoned to earth by the magician Rasputin to help the Nazis, Hellboy was instead raised by the army and trained to take on supernatural threats to America.
Costume: Hellboy is a big red guy with a tail, a pair of horns he shaves regularly, and a right hand made of stone. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be fashionable! Hence: The never-out-of-style tan trenchcoat.
Coolest Power/Ability: Remember that stone hand we mentioned? That’s called the Right Hand of Doom. It’s actually the key to releasing the Ogdru Jahad, the creatures who will cause the end of the world. Which means that Hellboy holds the Apocalypse in his right hand. Heavy.
Defining Stories: The first Hellboy miniseries, Seed of Destruction, is a great introduction to the character, and to creator Mike Mignola’s impressive mix of no-bull procedural and cosmic mythmaking. There are plenty of great Hellboy one-offs, but lately, Mignola has been telling grander serialized stories – the best of which, The Wild Hunt, delves deeper into Hellboy’s backstory.
Cultural Legacy: Hellboy is a creator-owned comic book that freely combines folklore, H.P. Lovecraft, world history, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker into one gloriously weird package. It doesn’t really seem like the fodder for a major Hollywood movie…which makes it all the more impressive that Ron Perlman played Hellboy in two major motion pictures directed by Guillermo Del Toro. (And some of us really like Hellboy 2. Like, I mean really, really, really like Hellboy 2.) Although the movies Hollywoodize the character ever so slightly, Hellboy is the rare comic book character to cross over into the mainstream with pretty much all of his weirdness and rough edges intact.—Darren Franich
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