GHOST RIDER ORIGIN THEORIES
To date, there are four established origins for the Ghost Rider – Zarathos, the Medallion of Power, Noble Kale, and Zadkiel. This is an attempt to fit all of these elements together in as coherent a fashion as possible. Much of this is speculation that has yet to be confirmed by the actual Ghost Rider comic series, but it is certainly a logical way to connect all of the disparate pieces.
The Spirits of Vengeance – As established in Ghost Rider (2006) # 33, the Spirits of Vengeance were created by God to be Heaven's weapon on Earth. The Spirits would inhabit the bodies of mortals and were watched over by the angel Zadkiel.
The Caretakers/The Blood – To assist Zadkiel, the angel gave power to certain humans and made them the Spirits' “Caretakers”. Their mission was to keep each Spirit of Vengeance under control by guiding and manipulating the human hosts, including providing false “origins” for each Spirit. As the centuries went on, many of the Caretakers (also referred to as the Blood) turned away from Zadkiel's mission, some even joining with Zarathos to become the Fallen.
Zarathos – Though many think that Zarathos was a demon from Satan's realm, he is actually a Spirit of Vengeance gone rogue. As established in Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch # 3, the more power a Spirit taps into, the more they risk going insane. Zarathos turned against the Spirits of Vengeance and the Caretakers, but was eventually defeated and trapped within a stone statue prison. He was released centuries later and once again began devouring souls until he was noticed by Mephisto, who defeated Zarathos and imprisoned him in Hell. When Mephisto made his deal Johnny Blaze, the angel Zadkiel intervened and made Blaze a host to a Spirit of Vengeance. But it was Mephisto who ensured that the Spirit inside Blaze was his "fallen Spirit" Zarathos, as a sort of compromise between Heaven and Hell. Such a compromise had been reached centuries before when Heaven and Hell intervened in the life of Noble Kale, another host to a Spirit of Vengeance (as told in Ghost Rider (1990) # 92).
The Medallion of Power – The Caretaker of Danny Ketch lied about the Ghost Rider's origins by claiming the Medallion of Power (also called the Amulet of Zarathos, from Before the 4: The Storms # 3) to be the source of the Spirits' powers. The power of the Spirits comes from Heaven, and the Medallion of Power was likely just a conduit to help focus this power. During the “Siege of Darkness”, three Spirits of Vengeance (Ketch, Blaze, and Vengeance) used the Medallion for the final time, shattering it – were it truly the source of their power, would their power not have faded once the Medallion was destroyed?
Johnny Blaze – Blaze was always fated to host a Spirit of Vengeance, but the machinations of Mephisto threw an unexpected wrench into the works. Blaze made a deal with Mephisto that cost him his soul, and in order to save him Roxanne Simpson made a similar deal with Heaven. To keep Blaze from going to Hell, Zadkiel turned him into a Ghost Rider. Now both Hell and Heaven had stake in Blaze, and Mephisto interfered by cursing Blaze – instead of having control over the Ghost Rider's power, he was instead bound to the fallen Spirit of Vengeance named Zarathos, who had been imprisoned in Hell. This was not the first instance of Mephisto interfering with the Spirits of Vengeance, he had done the same many years earlier with Noble Kale. Eventually Blaze won his freedom from Zarathos, but still possessed the power of the Spirit of Vengeance laying dormant inside him. Years later, Blaze once again found himself possessed by Zarathos until he was tricked by Adam into releasing the Spirit of Vengeance to a new host, a young woman named Alejandra. Zarathos' time spent inside Alejandra was brief, and Blaze is now yet again host to the Ghost Rider.
Noble Kale – Kale was an 18 th century Ghost Rider that destroyed witches and overzealous witch-hunters alike in Colonial America. He became a Spirit of Vengeance in a manner similar to Blaze – his father, a sorcerer, sold Noble's soul to Mephisto and used the stolen power of the Ghost Riders to create a Spirit of Vengeance. An angel named Uriel intervened and forced Satan to a compromise: neither realm would claim Kale's soul, but he would remain a Ghost Rider. When one of his descendants became host to a Spirit of Vengeance, it would be the same Spirit that inhabited Noble Kale (as happened to Naomi Kale and her son, Daniel Ketch).
Danny Ketch – Daniel Ketch was never intended to be a Spirit of Vengeance, that curse instead meant for his sister Barbara. When she was mortally wounded, however, the power passed to Daniel and he found himself transformed into a Ghost Rider. Like his mother, Naomi, Daniel was possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance that had inhabited his ancestor Noble Kale. After many years, Daniel successfully exorcised the Spirit of Vengeance (and the ghost of his ancestor) from his soul. Both he and his brother, Johnny Blaze, have since become Ghost Riders once again.
THE GHOST RIDER TIMELINE
In every era of human history, there rode a Spirit of Vengeance.
The Spirits of Vengeance were created by God as a weapon of Heaven with human hosts all over the world bearing the curse of the Ghost Rider while knowledge of their true origins remained shrouded in secrecy via the work of the angel Zadkiel.
Approx. 20,000 B.C. - The Spirits of Vengeance:
Ghost Riders appeared throughout history, all over the world, and included such people as the Penance Fist, the Undead G-Man, Shark Rider, and the Devil Rig. At one point, Civil War soldier Travis Parham was given a glimpse of the Spirits' realm when he touched the skull of his friend Caleb's ancestor. In this realm, Parham saw representations of all the Ghost Riders throughout history.
In the modern era, all of the current Ghost Riders were killed and their power stolen by former Ghost Rider Danny Ketch. Used as a weapon by renegade angel Zadkiel, the power of the Spirits of Vengeance was used to destroy the gates of Heaven itself. As a result, only three Ghost Riders remain on Earth today (John Blaze, Daniel Ketch, and Kowalski/Vengeance).
2000 Years Ago - Zarathos
Zarathos' actions on Earth attracted the attention of Mephisto, who came to see Zarathos as a potential rival. Empowering the mortal later known as Centurious, Mephisto defeated Zarathos in battle and claimed the hellfire that housed his spirit. Enslaved to Mephisto's realm, Zarathos was sent to Earth several times to possess Mephisto's followers. Because of the manipulations of Mephisto and the angel Zadkiel, Zarathos was bonded with a man named Johnny Blaze and is one of the modern-day Ghost Riders.
1700s - Noble Kale
Mephisto and the angel Uriel came to a decision regarding Noble, that he would rest in the interdimensional Void until called to Earth to seek vengeance for the spilling of innocent blood. Mephisto secretly added to this compromise, cursing the first born of each Kale generation to be the human host for the Ghost Rider. Each time he was called forth, Noble would have no memory of his true identity. Noble spent his time as the Spirit of Vengeance in colonial America, where he fought against witches and over-zealous witch hunters. Most recently he was the Spirit of Vengeance bound to descendant Daniel Ketch, but was eventually exorcised from Ketch's soul by a technomancer named Mary LeBow.
1867 - Caleb
After Parham's departure, Caleb and his family were murdered by a band of marauders led by George Reagan. Parham returned years later and swore to kill Reagan and his band, unaware that a mysterious cloaked rider was already on their trail. This Ghost Rider killed each of Reagan's men and finally Reagan himself, but the killers returned after having made a deal with a demon. In a final showdown between Reagan's band and the Ghost Rider, Parham discovered that the Rider was actually his former friend Caleb, powered by the Spirit of Vengeance that Travis had envisioned years before. Caleb gave Parham another vision of Ghost Riders throughout history, including ones from future eras, before departing to whereabouts unknown.
Late 1800s - Carter Slade
After years of adventures - including a meeting with a time-traveling Johnny Blaze - Carter was eventually killed by men he sought to bring to justice. It was then that Carter's brother, Lincoln Slade, became the next Ghost Rider to honor his brother's memory. In the modern age, Carter returned to the earthly plane as a true ghost who could take possession of his descendant, Hamilton Slade, and ride as the Ghost Rider once again. Finally, when Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch called upon the spirits of every deceased Ghost Rider to save Heaven from the rogue angel Zadkiel, Carter Slade's ghost was seen among them - confirming him as a true Spirit of Vengeance.
1914-1918 - unknown (last name possibly Kale)
While fighting in Europe, this Ghost Rider came into conflict with Verminous Rex, a rat-like creature from Germany that fed his cannibalistic urges by eating the flesh of fallen soldiers. Rex was killed by the Ghost Rider, and when he encountered Rex in the modern day Noble Kale remembered their World War I encounter.
Information: [Ghost Rider (1990) # 89]
1945 - The Blazing Skull/Mark Todd
Though connections between the two have been made, it has never been substantiated whether or not Todd was the Ghost Rider of his time. There are amazing coincidences in his story, particularly the flaming skull and the race of "Skull Men" that could have actually been the Spirits of Vengeance of old. The Blazing Skull remains as an adventurer in the modern era alongside his teammates in the Invaders.
Information: [Midnight Sons Unlimited # 9]
Early 1970s - Naomi Kale
Through numerous spells (which unfortunately shortened her life span considerably) and demonic deals, Naomi thought she had freed her oldest child Johnny from the Ghost Rider curse. Naomi was finally caught by the demon lord Mephisto, who forced her to transform into the Ghost Rider one last time, an act which she could not survive. As she lay dying, Mephisto's proxy Pastor Kale informed her that the Kale curse had skipped to the second oldest child - Barbara - and that while Johnny would not become "the" Ghost Rider he could still become "a" Ghost Rider. Naomi died and was buried in an unmarked grave in Cypress Hills Cemetary. Years later, her disembodied spirit guided her son Daniel into recovering the lost memories of their ancestor, Noble, and she was finally allowed to pass on to the next world.
Mid 1970s - Max Parrish
While on the run from the Comte, the Amulet of Z began to speak to Parrish and Johnny Storm, appearing as a ghostly apparition consumed by flames. The Amulet was in truth the fabled Medallion of Power, and the spirit was that of Zarathos. When Zarathos offered to possess young Storm to save them, Parrish stood in his place and was transformed into the Ghost Rider. After defeating the Comte, Zarathos was set to ride off with the body of Parrish, but was stopped by Johnny Storm when the boy ripped the Medallion of Power free from the front of the demon's motorcycle (actually a car mystically transformed into a bike). Parrish was freed from Zarathos' possession and the remains of the destroyed car - along with the Medallion - was placed in a junkyard adjacent to Cypress Hills Cemetary.
Information: [Before the 4: The Storms # 3]
Mid 1990s - Vengeance/Michael Badilino
With his many attempts to apprehend the Ghost Rider ending in failure, Michael made an irrational decision: he sold his soul to Mephisto, who transformed him into Ghost Rider's antithesis: Vengeance. Badilino again tried to destroy the Ghost Rider, but had a change of heart when the Caretaker explained to him the (actually false) history of the Spirits of Vengeance. Badilino played hero for a time, filling in for a believed-dead Ghost Rider, until his power drove him insane. Obsessed with murdering criminals, Vengeance even tried to kill his former police friends and Ghost Rider himself. He briefly regained his sanity long enough to use his hellfire to self-destruct, killing both Michael and his enemy Anton Hellgate. When Dan Ketch later traveled to Hell to save the Ghost Rider, he found Michael being tortured by Blackheart. Badilino was freed from Hell and sent back to Earth, though he no longer hosts a Ghost Rider. The Spirit of Vengeance that he once hosted is now bound to a former police officer named Kowalski.
2099 - Kenshiro "Zero" Cochrane
However, instead of dying Zero's consciousness was rescued by a collection of sentient, artificially intelligent beings called the Ghost Works. They offered Zero a deal: if he would help them halt the dangerous course of humanity by being their agent in the world, the Ghost Works would provide him with a new body. Zero agreed, and his mind was implanted in a highly-sophisticated robot shell. As one last finishing touch, Zero appropriated the fiery skull image of his hacker clique by ringing his skull-like head with holographic flames. The Ghost Rider had been reborn to fight corruption in Transverse City. While it would appear that Cochrane had no connection to the Ghost Riders of old, perhaps he - like Carter Slade and Mark Todd before him - was a Spirit of Vengeance tailored to the era in which he lived.
Information: [Ghost Rider 2099 # 1]
The 31st Century -
When the Guardians of the Galaxy arrived in orbit around Sarka, Autolycus assumed they were reinforcements for the Church and attacked the heroes. When he learned of his mistake, the Spirit of Vengeance helped the Guardians escape the clutches of the Church, killing the Grand Inquisitor during the battle. Autolycus later went on to join a different team consisting of future versions of Wonder Man, Firelord, the Vision, and Phoenix.
Information: [Guardians of the Galaxy # 13]