Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns for season 4 this week, and the odd thing about it is that we know less than ever before about what the theme and story arc for the season is, as the primary interest in this new season of AoS can be boiled down to two words: Ghost Rider.
The new Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Ghost Rider is making his debut on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., bringing to the screen for the first time the recently rebooted comic book version of the character, Robbie Reyes. Reyes will be played onscreen by actor Gabriel Luna, who has been on the AoS promotional tour, dropping tiny gems of insight along the way about this new Ghost Rider character.
Robbie Reyes in many ways represents Marvel's recent attempts to diversify its character catalog. The Rider's alter-egos have traditionally been white biker types, but Reyes is an East LA Latino gear-head who drives a muscle car. Clearly that's an entire new world of character to explore, and Gabriel Luna addressed that fact in a recent interview with Collider:
"When I read the books by Felipe [Smith] and Tradd [Moore], and all the people who contributed to doing those first 12 issues of the All-New Ghost Rider, the first thing that I identified with was the orphan nature of his upbringing and some of the hardships that he deals with, at a very, very young age. He's raising his little brother, from the age of 13. There were some striking similarities to my background and my past, and some similar family dynamics.
...Previous incarnations of the character are men who usually have a pretty decent life, to start out. Johnny Blaze is a famous Hollywood stuntman. Danny Ketch is not doing too bad to start with. And then, the Ghost Rider becomes this really heavy curse on them. Robbie is in an inverted position there. He had some hardships early in his life, and the Ghost Rider actually becomes an empowering thing. While it's still difficult to deal with and very much a curse, he had some f*cked up sh*t going on before Ghost Rider ever came about. His control over it is something that slightly differs from the previous characters and previous vessels of the Ghost Rider spirit."
That portrait of Ghost Rider is something we personally want to see in the MCU: a version where the human vessel doesn't view The Rider as a curse, meant to be held at bay, but rather has an aggressive stance on using the power. It's the kind of character dynamic that creates great anti-heroes, as well as great hero vs. hero conflicts.
...And from the sound of things, Ghost Rider will have plenty of power:
"Yeah, he's very powerful," said Luna. "That's a huge wild card to throw into the mix. We're starting to toe the line and inch towards some ground that hasn't been covered ... What we haven't touched on are things that can't be explained perfectly by science. It's a lot of really fun stuff that starts to lean into the world of Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider and Mephisto, and all of these other elements that also exist there, like ghouls and goblins and all sorts of cool things. We're happy to be the ones to break the ice on that."
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been used to dovetail whatever new trend is happening in Marvel movies; with the release of Doctor Strange this fall, the MCU will indeed be 'breaking the ice' on a whole realm of metaphysics and mysticism. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a much longer runaway from which to launch and expand upon the mystic side of the MCU, which will be instrumental in establishing the "rules" of magic, and the wider variety of Marvel characters that wield it.
Speaking of which: Did Luna just confirm Mephisto's presence in the MCU? That devil has connections to all current mystic characters in the MCU (Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider) as well as to Thanos and the story of the Infinity Gauntlet, which will be the basis for Avengers: Infinity War.
Catch Gabriel Luna as Ghost Rider starting tonight on the season 4 premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., now at 10/9c on ABC!