Today I’d like to talk about Ghost Rider for no particular reason.
The character is pretty gosh darn awesome, so awesome that when it was decided that Ghost Rider would have a movie he would be played by one of the greatest actors of our time.
And no, I don’t mean in an ironic way.
If there was one thing that made Ghost Rider iconic it would probably be his face.
Sure the biker look and motorcycle are awesome, but there’s something about a skull wreathed in flames that just screams “awesome”.
That being said, Ghost Rider wasn’t the first superhero (or even the first Marvel hero) to adopt this look. That honor belongs to a Golden Age comic book hero named the Blazing Skull.
Origin and career:
The Blazing Skull first appeared in Mystic Comics #5 which was published in March of 1941.
Nobody knows who wrote or drew the story and it stands to reason nobody expected him to last very long since he was the last story in the book.
Before we delve into the backstory of the Blazing Skull we need to talk about a bit of history. Today a lot of people are taught that the Second World War began on September 1st, 1939 with Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the United States would remain out of the war until 1941.
However, the war in Asia actually started two years before Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1937 when Japan invaded China in what became known as the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Without going into too many details let’s just say it was a brutal, awful, and often overlooked part of the war that resulted in some of the worst war crimes ever committed and is one of the biggest reasons why relations between Japan and China are frigid to this day.
So what does this have to do with the Blazing Skull? Well the hero started off as mild mannered reporter Mark Todd, who was sent into China to cover the Sino Japanese War for the west.
When Mark was forced into a cave by a Japanese artillery bombardment he was discovered by a race of beings known as “The Skull Men” who have burning skulls instead of faces.
The Skull Men claim that Mark is destined to become a champion for freedom and train the former newsman until be becomes just like them.
In terms of powers the Burning Skull is immune to fire (naturally), has super strength, a healing factor, and can use fire as a long range weapon.
It’s worth mentioning that in his Golden Age appearances The Burning Skull’s origin was never revealed and his origin wouldn’t be hashed out until the 1990’s (we’ll get to that). He would go on to have a short but respectable Golden Age career appearing in five issues. In his very first issue he was actually captured by the Nazis, tortured by Hitler himself, and not only survived but insulted the Fuhrer so badly that Adolf was forced to leave the room crying.
He would have one more adventure in Europe where he wound up saving Winston Churchill’s life, and returned to the States where he spent the rest of his days fighting more traditional crooks. Special mention goes to a Blazing Skull story where he defeated a serial killer named Dr. Fear.
So what happened?
The Blazing Skull only lasted a year and then disappeared off of the face of the Earth. However, he must have been memorable enough for someone to think of him because he had something of a resurgence in the comic book boom of the 1990’s.
In Marvel’s 1993 WW2 series The Invaders The Blazing Skull joins the titular superhero group to kick some retro Nazi butt.
This was where his famous origin story was formed and where it was revealed he was a reporter by trade.
He had several adventures with the Invaders, he even helped save Namor the Submariner’s life and helped break up a German spy ring in England.
While not much is known about the Blazing Skull between WW2 and the modern day it was later revealed that the Blazing Skull had been kidnapped by Middle Eastern terrorists and had been tortured for extended periods of time until he was finally rescued and asked to restart his superhero work.
He was recruited into The Defenders who are based out of New Jersey after the Marvel Comic event “Civil War” (hey we actually managed to tie this guy into more familiar stories!) and in his most recent appearance he worked with Howard the Duck as part of a superhero team trying to stop Nazi zombies from attacking other dimensions, only to be ripped apart by zombified goats.
The Blazing Skull may not have had the best beginning but he is a definite case of modern creators taking an idea and making it better. Plus, he proved that the idea of a hero with a flaming skull for a face is badass and awesome.