Because we only ever see a handful of the same people blazing around Marvel’s books with flaming skulls, it can be easy to forget that literally anybody can be transformed into a Ghost Rider under the right circumstances. Well, Marvel just revealed a new one.
It was obvious from the moment he crashed onto the pages of Thanos #13 that the new cosmically-empowered Ghost Rider from the distant future was a markedly different sort of person than his predecessors. Unlike Johnny Blaze and Robbie Reyes, who are known for their dour, depressing personalities, the Space Rider came across as a jolly (if deranged), fun kind of guy.
That’s what makes the reveal of his identity in this week’s Thanos #15 both surprising and yet entirely... expected, in a way? It feels like fate, almost, a kind of fate that this person probably deserves.
The Space Rider’s very existence has been difficult to explain for a couple of key reasons. Traditionally, Ghost Riders only exist in order to exact vengeance for those who have been wronged in some way. But in the future where the Space Rider serves an older Thanos, there are no other people left living to exact any vengeance for.
In his quest to finally get Death’s attention long enough to convince her to be his lover, Future Thanos has wiped out every conceivable living thing that could stand between himself and Death. This realization comes to the younger Thanos, who asks his older self what he even keeps the Space Rider around for. As an answer, Future Thanos shows him something that’s both glorious and horrific.
By ripping off the Space Rider’s skull and peering into his eyes, Thanos is able to look back and recall the trillions of people that he’s murdered in vivid detail. The experience of witnessing all of the pain and trauma that you’ve ever inflicted upon a person would drive a normal person insane, but it excites Thanos in an almost primal, sexual way.
After the Thanoses are done with his head, the Space Rider collects himself to set about his chores. He’s gotta do some dishes, he has to feed the dog (which is a brain-addled, bearded Hulk chained in the basement), and after getting wrapped up in all of his domestic duties, he realizes he hasn’t actually introduced himself properly to the younger Thanos.
Thanos reveals that he knows quite a bit about Ghost Riders in general and asks the Space Rider why he would work with someone like himself who isn’t acting in righteous vengeance. The Space Rider explains that after having lived the lives that he had, his sense of justice and sanity were nothing like what they once were. He’d spent time in hell and worked as a herald of Galactus, and then settled down with Thanos to watch the end of everything. But we’d all best know the Space Rider by his human name:
There’s a poetic beauty to the idea of the Punisher, Frank Castle, being the Ghost Rider at the end of the world because it’s a fate that’s cursed him to an eternity in hell in which he’s got to fight for justice. Regardless of how you feel about the Punisher’s moral code, it’s fair to say that the chances of Frank ever finding his eternal rest in a peaceful, Heaven-like afterlife were slim to none.
For Frank, hell is where the home is and he’s found himself stuck in the wildest, most mind-bending version of hell imaginable: Space hell.