Now that Hulu, as a result of the Disney-Fox merger, is more fully under the control of Big Mouse, it appears to be deepening its relationship with Marvel Television (a Disney subsidiary). The streaming service has been home to Marvel’s Runaways since 2017, and on Wednesday it announced that in 2020 it will add two more Marvel live-action offerings. Ghost Rider and Helstrom each received series orders, along with a handful of animated shows coming later this year.
Both will be big-budget series occupying the same “Spirits of Vengeance” corner of the Marvel universe, but the most intriguing detail is that Ghost Rider will be set on the Texas-Mexico border—yet another new twist on a character with a long, complicated history in comic books.
Ghost Rider was created in 1967—the same year as Captain Marvel—as a Western-themed hero who rode a horse. By the 1970s, with Evel Knievel a national sensation, the character was reimagined as motorcycle stuntman Johnny Blaze, who was possessed by a Harley-riding demon with its skull on fire. The series was popular through the early eighties and waned in relevance along with the motorcycle stuntman craze. Marvel rebooted Ghost Rider as a motorcycle hero once in the nineties, and then again in the aughts, before Nicolas Cage portrayed the Blaze version of the character in two movies, from 2007 and 2012. But the 2013 reimagining—which replaced the motorcycle with a souped-up muscle car—is the version headed to television.
This Ghost Rider, a gearhead from East Los Angeles named Robbie Reyes, was a modest hit, and one Marvel has invested in since its creation. In the current Avengers comic book series, Ghost Rider is a core member; in 2016, the character was introduced to TV during the fourth season of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Reyes, in that incarnation, was played by Austin actor Gabriel Luna.
Luna will reprise his role as Robbie Reyes for Hulu’s Ghost Rider, but the release announcing the show indicated that it wasn’t a spin-off of Agents of SHIELD—rather, it’ll be the same actor, playing the same character, but with a new background and direction. One that, apparently, includes Texas.
It’s understandable why setting Ghost Rider on the border would be an exciting prospect for Marvel. The border is teeming with stories, most of them untold, and Texas is obviously the most interesting place to tell those stories, because it’s Texas. While details are scarce—and Marvel and Hulu aren’t talking yet—here are some things we’d like to see from a Texas-set Ghost Rider.
The realities of Hollywood mean that Ghost Rider’s scripts will almost certainly originate in a writers room in Los Angeles, and odds are that it’ll be filmed in New Mexico for budgetary reasons. That doesn’t mean the show will be inauthentic—there are a lot of people in Hollywood with ties to the Texas border, and movie magic makes passing off one part of the country for another possible. However, if they want to tell stories that feel like they take place on the Texas border, they’ll have to be deliberate in how they do it.
That’s not always what happens. In the mid-aughts, when DC Comics rebooted its Blue Beetle character as El Paso teen Jaime Reyes, the version of El Paso he lived in looked like a mash-up of New York and Anytown, USA. (Despite appearing in a medium that relishes dramatic excess, compare the real El Paso High School with the one Reyes attended!) While we don’t know which flavor of Texas border Ghost Rider will embrace—the sprawling intrigue of the Rio Grande Valley? The older and more historic El Paso? Somewhere more rural?—each of these sections of the border are distinct, and none of them looks much like Los Angeles.
The fact that Ghost Rider is a supernatural hero driving a demon-possessed car means all bets are off. There’s no shortage of Texas and Northern Mexican folklore, and it would be cool to see a hero with a flaming skull take some of that on. Watching Robbie Reyes drive through the Valley in search of La Llorona would be a thrill, as would his seeking the Murder Steer, or even taking a road trip to Houston to track down mutated sewer gators.
It’d be fun to see the mythology of the border region come to life on the screen. We have no idea what sort of format Ghost Rider is going to use—whether it’ll be a highly serialized show in the vein of Marvel’s recently canceled Netflix series or a more episodic monster-of-the-week series. In either case, pitting the hero against regionally specific foes could help give Ghost Rider a satisfying sense of place.
It’s not hard to imagine that whoever pitched transplanting Ghost Rider out of East Los Angeles (presumably showrunner Ingrid Escajeda) did so because of the wealth of dramatic stories along the border. Not just the sort of Texas-specific creatures mentioned above—also the sort of timely stories that appear so often in newspapers in the Trump era. The border is a place where migrant children are kept in cages under highway bridges, where cartels prey on desperate people, where, in other parts of the country, armed militias go on vigilante patrols. The dramatic possibilities are vast.
There’ve been other series and films set in the region in the recent past—the underrated 2013-14 FX show The Bridge was in El Paso, and movies from No Country for Old Men to Machete have told border stories—but the space a Marvel series occupies is unique. There’s no need to polemicize in a show about a guy who drives a muscle car while his head’s on fire, so it would be great to see Ghost Rider engage with the setting, legends, and issues of the region in a way that makes each feel all the more vibrant.