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The untold truth of Ghost Rider's Hellfire Chain

Whether you like Marvel's Ghost Rider or hate him, you have to admit at least one thing — he'd make for a killer tattoo. 

Marvel's latest Ghost Rider series regularly features two different Ghost Riders — Johnny Blaze, who first appeared in the '70s Ghost Rider series and was played by Nicolas Cage in two live-action movies, and Danny Ketch, who took on the Spirit of Vengeance in the '90s. At the same time, the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider — the newer comics incarnation who also appeared on TV in the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — has been appearing regularly in Avengers. The Cosmic Ghost Rider has shown up in a variety of comics. In a world within the Soul Stone, we've seen the hero Ghost Panther — an amalgalm of Ghost Rider and Black Panther — and the 19th century Native American Ghost Rider, Kushala, popped up in the miniseries War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery. 

In other words, there are a lot of different versions of Ghost Rider, and many (though not all) of them share a common tool — the Hellfire Chain. The chain is capable of a variety of different tasks and abilities, and is mysterious in the sense that it doesn't always follow the same kinds of rules you would expect from such mystical weapons. For an idea of what we mean, keep reading to learn the untold truth of Ghost Rider's Hellfire Chain.

Not every Ghost Rider uses the Hellfire Chain

There's hardly an era of human history that exists without a Ghost Rider. The 19th century Native American Ghost Rider and Sorcerer Supreme Kushala is introduced in 2016's Doctor Strange & The Sorcerers Supreme #1. The origin story of the prehistoric Ghost Rider is revealed in 2018's Avengers #7. And over the years we've caught glimpses in the comics of Ghost Riders from World War I, from the era that Vikings roamed the seas, and more. In 2019's Absolute Carnage: Symbiote of Vengeance #1, after Alejandra Jones is killed by Carnage and sent to Hell, Johnny Blaze introduces her to a crowd of waiting Ghost Riders, several of whom appear to be from centuries before our own. 

And they don't all use the Hellfire Chain. Kushala does not use a chain, nor does Alejandra Jones. Johnny Blaze eventually uses one, but spent many active years without it. While there are many versions of the character throughout history we only see brief glimpses of, those brief glimpses don't include the Hellfire Chain. In other words, while there may be as many Ghost Riders as there are Green Lanterns, the Hellfire Chain is not a mandatory tool for a Ghost Rider. A Ghost Rider isn't automatically granted the Chain as soon as they take on the Spirit of Vengeance, as they do the flaming skull and the manipulation of Hellfire. 

Danny Ketch was the original chain-wielder

You may be surprised to learn that, as important as the Hellfire Chain has become to the Ghost Rider mythos, Johnny Blaze spent a lot of years without one. His first Ghost Rider series lasted ten years — from 1973 to 1983. For all those years, Johnny Blaze didn't use a Hellfire Chain. It isn't until the series that begins in 1990 with Danny Ketch as the new Ghost Rider that a Hellfire Chain is introduced. 

Once Johnny Blaze returned to the spotlight as Ghost Rider, he was using his own Hellfire Chain. And strangely, the Chain became the signature weapon of many Ghost Riders, including ones who were never portrayed wielding them. For example, a character named J.T. James is introduced who, while not a Ghost Rider himself, has the ability to manipulate Hellfire and owns a Hellfire Chain apparently because he's a descendant of the Wild West hero Carter Slade (alternatively known as the Phantom Rider and the Night Rider), in spite of the fact that Slade was never portrayed as owning or using a Hellfire Chain.

There's more than one Hellfire Chain

Multiple heroes have wielded the famous hammer Mjolnir. Odinson, Beta Ray Bill, Jane Foster, and Captain America have all at one time or another proven worthy of the weapon. It was always the same weapon; except for when there might occasionally be some funky time-warp stuff going on, they couldn't all just hang out together with their own, separate personalized Mjolnirs. 

But while the bond between a Ghost Rider and their Hellfire Chain is as strong, if not stronger, as the connection between a Thor and their hammer, the Chain and the hammer are two very different animals. You don't have to prove yourself worthy of the Hellfire Chain, and there's more than one. Ghost Riders aren't granted a Hellfire Chain upon taking on the Spirit of Vengeance — they have to make it or otherwise acquire it themselves. The Hellfire Chain Robbie Reyes uses is not the same as Danny Ketch's, nor are either the same as Johnny Blaze's. The prehistoric Ghost Rider makes his Hellfire Chain in 2019's Avengers #7 out of the bones he finds in the cave of his enemy, the cannibalistic monster Wendigo.

What is Hellfire?

Hellfire is, arguably, the primary weapon of any Ghost Rider — more than chains or motorcycles or leather-clad fists.

Hellfire — also called soulfire — is all in the name. It isn't really fire, at least not how we think of it. It's been described as both freezing and scorching, and it can burn underwater or in the vacuum of space. It's often seen outlining Ghost Rider's weapons and vehicles. It's Hellfire that blazes all around Ghost Rider's iconic skull. Ghost Rider can channel the Hellfire from out of their body in any way they choose. Ghost Riders have been shown blasting enemies with it from their eyes, mouths, and hands. In 2017's Doctor Strange & The Sorcerers Supreme #3, Kushula transforms into a being appearing to be completely made from Hellfire, atop the back of a Hellfire beast that didn't exist moments before. In 2018's Thanos #16, Cosmic Ghost Rider uses his Hellfire to create a nuclear-sized explosion that wipes out the entire Annihilus Horde.

The Hellfire is precisely what makes it possible for Ghost Rider to do everything he does with the Hellfire Chain. Without it, you might be able to give somebody a nasty cut across the cheek or even knock them out, but you're not going to be able to wrap it around Thanos a few dozen times or command it to turn into a dozen shuriken, strike your enemies, and then return to become a chain again. 

The Hellfire Chain is psychically linked to Ghost Rider

The Hellfire Chain is more than a weapon. As Thor is to his hammer, as Silver Surfer is to his board, the Ghost Rider is linked to their chain psychically. 

This is what makes it possible for Ghost Rider to perform such amazing feats with their chain. When it grows longer than it at first appears, when it somehow manages to wrap around multiple targets at the same time, when it can separate into dozens of links that all turn into projectiles — Ghost Riders can't do this because they're really well-coordinated. They're mentally telling the Chain what to do. Ghost Rider doesn't even have to be holding the Chain to make it work. 

It's one of the reasons why in some ways the Hellfire Chain is similar — as strange as it may seem — to the power rings of the Green Lanterns. Powered by Hellfire and under the mental command of a Ghost Rider, the limits of a Hellfire Chain are the same as the limits of its master's imagination.

No one knows how long the Hellfire Chain can get

Regardless of which Hellfire Chain we're talking about or who is using it, the chain has the ability to grow to whatever length the Ghost Rider needs at any given time. Some comic book renderings of Ghost Rider have the Chain almost appearing as long as Spider-Man's webs — and remember, Spidey can just keep pumping those out of his web spinners. 

If there's a limit to how long the chains can get, we don't know it. Ghost Rider has used it to bind the arms and legs of multiple ranged targets, or to wrap it dozens of times around the same target. If Ghost Rider needs it to get longer, it gets longer. We haven't seen something as extreme as, say, a Ghost Rider growing their Hellfire Chain to wrap around a moon so they can tug it out of orbit. But considering all we have seen them do, the argument could be made we haven't seen that happen because no Ghost Rider has needed it to happen… yet.

The Hellfire Chain can transform into different weapons

One advantage the Hellfire Chain has over a weapon like, say, Thor's hammer Mjolnir is that while Thor's hammer is a hammer, Ghost Rider's Hellfire Chain can be just about whatever kind of weapon Ghost Rider wants it to be. 

The Hellfire Chain is incredibly versatile. Ghost Rider can use it exactly as you'd expect — like a flail to lash enemies with. They can use it like a lasso or to bind their enemies — pinning their arms and wrapping the chain around them over and over again. The chain will go rigid upon command so it can be used like a bo staff. Some versions of the chain end with a sharp dagger-like object so Ghost Rider can spear it through enemies and yank them near. 

One of the coolest ways Ghost Rider can use the Hellfire Chain is to turn it into smaller projectiles. Each individual link detaches and changes shape, with each link turning into a shuriken-like object. This was a favorite technique of the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider in his '90s series. 

J.T. James uses a Hellfire Chain even though he isn't a Ghost Rider

Though he isn't a Ghost Rider, the late J.T. James, a.k.a. Hellfire, is in possession of a Hellfire Chain, inheriting it from his ancestor, the Wild West hero Carter Slade (a.k.a. Night Rider and/or Phantom Rider). Shortly before the 2008 line-wide event Secret Invasion, Hellfire is recruited into Nick Fury's Secret Warriors. Unfortunately, it's eventually revealed Hellfire is secretly working for Hydra. His short career ends in 2010's Secret Warriors #16, when Nick Fury kills him. 

The story behind Hellfire's powers is somewhat mysterious. He claims to have inherited the chain from Carter Slade, but while Carter Slade was at one time called Ghost Rider, he was not a Ghost Rider in the sense that Johnny Blaze, Danny Ketch, and Robbie Reyes are Ghost Riders. In other words, Slade is not imbued with the Spirit of Vengeance. As a gunslinger, Slade enjoys spreading the myth that he is a "spirit," but it isn't true. It isn't until after his death that he gains supernatural abilities, but even then he isn't a Spirit of Vengeance. Slade actually meets Johnny Blaze when the latter travels to the past in 1980's Ghost Rider #50, but this was long before Blaze used a Hellfire Chain. 

It's possible that Slade got his hands on a Hellfire Chain in spite of not being a Spirit of Vengeance himself. It's also possible that Hellfire, being a Hydra double agent, was lying about how he got it. 

Cosmic Ghost Rider has a Hellfire Chain that's Juggernaut-tough

One of the most interesting versions of Ghost Rider to show up in recent years is Frank Castle — a.k.a. the Punisher — in his guise as the Cosmic Ghost Rider. In 2018's Thanos #16, we learn that In an alternate timeline, the Punisher is the sole surviving costumed hero on Earth after an apocalyptic battle with Thanos. First he trades his soul for the power of Ghost Rider, then he gets Galactus to give him the same Power Cosmic that fuels the Silver Surfer. But the Ghost Rider/Power Cosmic combo isn't all that makes hm unbeatable.

When he's introduced in 2018's Thanos #13, Cosmic Ghost Rider captures captures Thanos with his Hellfire Chain and tells the Mad Titan he forged it from the bones of the mystic god Cyttorak. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Doctor Strange often employs what he calls the "Crimson Bands of Cyttorak" — red mystical bonds that are utterly unbreakable. The deity is also the source of the powers of Cain Marko, better known as the powerhouse Juggernaut. 

What's intriguing is the question of exactly how he had access to the bones of Cyttorak. Did he simply find his corpse? If not, that means a Ghost Rider was able to kill one of the most powerful mystical Marvel gods, and — since we see him with the chain before Galactus finds him on Earth — he did it before he was given the Power Cosmic. 

One of the Hellfire Chains is in the hands of a Thor

What is arguably the most powerful Hellfire Chain to ever exist in Marvel history is currently not in the custody of a Ghost Rider, but in that of the alien hero Beta Ray Bill. 

In 2019's Guardians of the Galaxy #5, Cosmic Ghost Rider attacks the Asgardian death goddess Hela. With her power over death, Hela stops Cosmic Ghost Rider in his tracks and turns him against his allies. When she takes him over, most of his armor and other possessions disintegrate or fall off his body. In the beginning of the following issue, as the Guardians of the Galaxy prepare for battle with Hela and Thanos' forces, we see Beta Ray Bill wrapping Cosmic Ghost Rider's Hellfire Chain around his wrist. During the fight, the chain is sometimes visible on Bill's wrist and sometimes not. Cosmic Ghost Rider dies in this issue, waking up in Hell to find Johnny Blaze waiting for him. 

The Chain has created something of a mystery. While we know the Hellfire Chain is in Beta Ray Bill's possession, it hasn't been seen since Guardians of the Galaxy #6. In fact, Cosmic Ghost Rider has since appeared at the end of 2019's Avengers #23, but with the Hellfire Chain nowhere to be seen, confirming he doesn't have it. If Bill still has the chain, why isn't he using it? Is the big, bad hammer-wielding Bill afraid of the Hellfire Chain?