My Curse Is Your Curse Too: Ghost Rider’s Rebellion

Cover to Ghost Rider #19, featuring Ghost Rider in battle with Satan
Ghost Rider #19 (1976)

“With great power comes great responsibility” seems like revisionist history of the events that would come to define the Marvel Universe, a noble sentiment that glosses over the Faustian dimensions of many of its superhero origin stories. From one popular vantage point, Peter Parker appears at fault for the death of his Uncle Ben. Parker had a clear opportunity to catch his eventual murderer when he was fleeing from an unrelated crime, but the teen has already let the great powers he mysteriously and arbitrarily received from a radioactive spider go to his irresponsible head. In Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), Stan Lee and Steve Ditko are anything but subtle in leading readers to this interpretation: in conversation with the police officer chasing the criminal, Parker, clad in professional wrestling attire that would later become his crime-fighting uniform, declares that he’s “thru [sic] being pushed around by anyone” and that from here on out “I just look out for Number One — that means — ME!” This sentiment is quickly revised when Parker returns home and discovers that his aunt and uncle have scraped some money together to buy their nephew the microscope he always wanted but could never afford. “They’re the only ones who’ve ever been kind to me! I’ll see to it that they’re always happy, but the rest of the world can go hang for all I care!” A few pages later, Uncle Ben has been murdered in a botched home invasion. His death in Amazing Fantasy is random and cruel, the result of inadvertently surprising the burglar: later revisions on the page and screen often heighten Ben’s nobility in the face of the abuse of power that his murderer represents. The lesson learned here is conveyed in what has become classic Marvel Universe melodrama, instructing its audience to remain ever-vigilant, to learn from the mistakes of young Peter Parker, to take responsibility when the circumstances unfolding in an apparently-unjust world are revealed to be, in fact, completely warranted, a kind of reckoning.

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