At first, we at Ohio City Moto were pleased to hear about the cinematic return of our flaming skulled spirit of vengeance, Ghost Rider, on Marvel’s Agents of Shield TV show. That is till we discovered that those behind the show are abandoning the hero’s signature motorcycle for a hot rod. Of course, this does give us a chance to explore the convergence of comic books and motorcycles, so all is not lost.
For some reason women vigilantes of the golden age of comics (1939 to 1952) tended to ride motorcycles more than men. (They also wore more fishnet stockings.) Black Canary and Black Cat both commuted between crime scenes on motorcycles. Black Cat’s motorcycling abilities came from her background as a Hollywood stunt woman. She graduated from stunts to acting, but an encounter with a Nazi spy convinced her to done a mask and use her stunt-woman skills to battle evil. (If only I had a dime for every time that happened to me.) The character had a lot of good artists over the years, especially Lee Elias, and her rollicking adventures often included cameos by Hollywood stars of the era. It’s hard to say exactly what motorcycle she rode, but a 40’s Indian or Harley Davidson police or military bike would be a good guess.
One result of 60’s counter-culture was the underground comics movement. The motorcycles that show up there were more counter-culture themselves. Usually they were choppers and bobbers ridden by the likes of Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers or Spain Rodriguez’ Trashman. Rodriguez had been a member of the biker gang, the Road Vultures; that experience and his left-wing anti-establishment politics fermented into his Trashman stories. Trashman was James Bond if he was trying to tear down the establishment not hold it up. He looked like the guy from the Zig Zag rolling papers packaging and fought for the common people in a fascist dystopian world. Sex, violence, and burning rubber abounded.
For better or worse, the comic character most associated (till now at least) with motorcycles is Ghost Rider. Like his 60’s underground counterparts Ghost Rider, who debuted in 1972’s Marvel Spotlight #5 (the Internet is a wonderful thing.) had a bit of the counter-culture to him (in his look at least), but he was also channeling some of the Evel Knievel fervor of the time. Ghost Rider’s alter-ego was stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze after all, and his blue jumpsuit was all wide-collar 70’s show-man chic. By the 90’s he had a new incarnation and a more traditional black leather bad boy biker look. His bike would change as well going from stunt bike to chopper to a sports-bike and back to a chopper. The less said about the two movies staring Nicolas Cage, the better.