The Phantom Rider is the name of several fictional Old West heroic gunfighters in the Marvel Comics universe. The character name was originally the Ghost Rider, and was changed following the introduction of Marvel's motorcycle-riding supernatural character of the same name.
Marvel's first Ghost Rider look was based on the television series Lone Ranger and the Magazine Enterprises character Ghost Rider, created by writer Ray Krank and artist Dick Ayers for editor Vincent Sullivan in Tim Holt #11 (1949). The character appeared in horror-themed Western stories through the run of Tim Holt, Red Mask, and A-1 Comics up until the institution of the Comics Code. After the trademark to the character's name and motif lapsed, Marvel Comics debuted its own near-identical, horror-free version of the character in Ghost Rider Vol. 1, #1 (Feb. 1967), by writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and original Ghost Rider artist Ayers. After this series ended with issue #7 (Nov. 1967), the character went on to appear in new stories in the omnibus title Western Gunfighters (1970 series) and in new backup stories in the otherwise reprint title The Original Ghost Rider Rides Again.
With the introduction of Marvel's supernatural Ghost Rider in the 1970s, Marvel renamed its Western Ghost Rider — first, to the unfortunate Night Rider (a term previously used in the Southern United States to refer to members of the Ku Klux Klan) in a 1974-1975 reprint series, and then to Phantom Rider. At least five men have been the Phantom Rider, one of whom is active in the modern day.
The Magazine Enterprises library of characters, including its version of Ghost Rider, was acquired by AC Comics in the 1980s. The company renamed the Ghost Rider as the Haunted Horseman, due to Marvel having maintained the Ghost Rider trademark.
Different Phantom Riders in Chronological Order
Caleb as the Phantom/Ghost Rider - Trail of Tears
Some years before the original Phantom Rider started out, there had been a demon that looked a lot like the Ghost Rider. A man named Caleb was a former slave that had bought himself and his family freedom. During the Civil War, he met Travis Parham, whom was a Confederate Army sergeant. Travis had been left for dead. That is until he was found by Caleb. Caleb aided him and cleaned his wounds, taking him to his own house and family. There Caleb and his family nurtured Travis to health. Travis then worked with Caleb for two years on his family farm. Once during his work on the farm, Travis entered a cave and found 3 glowing skulls and had a hellish hallucination but Caleb dragged him out just in time and explained that the skulls belonged to his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. It was a sort of ritual for their God of Vengeance in Africa and warned him to never go in the cave again. After the war ended Travis left Caleb and his family to make his own living but when he returned two years later, the family farm was occupied by two evil mercenaries. He had to kill one of them, but interrogated the other by pushing him in the doomed cave only to hear him tell that the night Travis left a gang of seven people burned Caleb's house and they forced Caleb to watch his family being tortured and killed.
It however turned out that Caleb did not die just yet. He went to the burial cave that housed the skulls of his ancestors and gave his soul so that he could avenge his family. Caleb was brought back to full life as the Ghost Rider, the Spirit of Vengeance and seemed to look a lot like the Phantom Rider. This was however unknown to Travis whom had embarked on his own quest to avenge Caleb. Travis was following the killers of Caleb and his family throughout the land. When he finally found them he blew one of the murderers hands of with a buffalo shotgun. It was however then that Caleb, as the Ghost Rider, joined the fight dismembering many of the killers. The leader of the band of murders however killed himself, witch left the Ghost Rider complaining. Travis, while scared, understood that the being had to do with Caleb's god of vengeance and saw something of his friend inside there.
At Pike's reach suddenly appeared a red mist from where five riders came out and mowed down everyone. Travis went there and found a head of a man talking and describing the riders and what they had done. The description indicated that Reagan and his men had returned, so he shoots the head to end it's suffering and moves on to unsuccessfully warn a nearby town. Due to rejection he goes in an inn and has sex with a prostitute who wants to flee to California but they're interrupted by the riders. One of them tears Parham's right-hand off and the Ghost Rider steps in the scene revealing he's actually Caleb himself.
The whole town is reduced to ashes including the five riders. Travis confronts and insults Caleb for what he had done. Caleb replies that it was necessary and he wasn't the first and won't be the last to do these things. This event became a legend among the cowboys and Travis is seen listening to it drinking, arguing, old and with one arm.
The First Phantom Rider, Carter Slade
Carter Slade, the first man to wear the mask, debuted in Ghost Rider #1 (Feb. 1967). He battled evil while dressed in a phosphorescent white costume, complete with a full-face mask, cape, and the requisite white hat. Slade received his outfit and his white horse from Flaming Star, a Native American medicine man. He recruited a young sidekick named Jamie Jacobs whom helped him during his missions. Eventually, Carter was killed in a gunfight. Jamie Jacobs vowed to follow in the foodsteps of his friend and mentor.
He was never called the Phantom Rider in these original appearances. In Marvel continuity, it was not until after Slade's death that the name Phantom Rider was given to the character, and reprints now retroactively use that name for Slade.
The Second Phantom rider
After Carter Slade's death in Western Gunfighters #7 (Jan. 1972), his sidekick Jamie Jacobs became the second Phantom Rider. He however would not remain the Phantom Rider for long, as he was promptly killed in action. After this, Carter Slade's brother, U.S. Marshall Lincoln Slade, became the third Phantom Rider. Seemingly honoring his brother and his brother's sidekick.
The Third Phantom Rider, Lincoln Slade
When Jamie Jacobs, the second Phantom Rider, was killed in action, Carter Slade's brother, a U.S. Marshall named Lincoln Slade, became the third Phantom Rider. Lincoln would team-up with other heroes of his time and along with a small band of Avengers to defeat Kang, the Conquer. Lincoln Slade was driven mad from the spirits for not being chosen to wear the costume, this brought him to a breaking point that he used a potion to control and rape the time traveling Avenger Mockingbird. Once the potion wore off, she fought and defeated him, but in the course of the battle he fell to his death from a cliff.
Blaze of Glory Reno Jones as the Phantom Rider
In the miniseries Blaze of Glory, the African American gunslinger Reno Jones used the Ghost Rider identity briefly in a battle with the Klan-affiliated mercenaries called the Nightriders. Jones had been half of the team called the Gunhawks, along with his former friend, Kid Cassidy, whom Jones had believed dead. Cassidy was revealed to be alive and the leader of the Nightriders; he was killed, and Jones retired.
In present-day continuity, Lincoln Slade's distant descendant Hamilton Slade was an archaeologist who found the burial site of his legendary ancestor, in issue #56 of the supernatural-motorcyclist series Ghost Rider. As he explored the site, he found a large burial place and from it appeared the ghostly garb of his ancestors Carter and Lincoln Slade. Possessed by the spirits of his ancestors, he became the new version of the Phantom Rider. After being possessed by his ancestors, Hamiliton would help Ghost Rider / Johnny Blaze against the villain Moondark.
Hamilton can become intangible, while in this state he can appear to fly, levitate, or walk on air. He can call upon Banshee, which was Carter Slade's horse. Hamilton is an average shot, but wears six-shooters that never run out of ammo and can become intangible to pass through objects.
Forming the Rangers
Hammilton would answer a distress signal and would join Red Wolf, Texas Twister, Firebird, and Shooting Star to battle the Hulk. The Distress signal was from Rick Jones, and the Hulk was under control of the Corruptor. Afterwards they would form the Rangers. During the Civil war and Skrull Invasion the rangers would be the texas superhero team. Hammilton, Hawkeye, and Mockingbird helped free Jammie his daughter from Lincoln Slade's possession.
Jamie is the daughter of Hamilton Slade, who met Hawkeye and Mockingbird when they stopped criminals that worked for Crossfire, and almost destroyed a car filled with her items. Those items were for a Americans Southwest exposition. One of those held the essence of the Phantom Rider and went into her. He gave her a vision of him and Mockingbird and his death. She then went after a witness from the crime from earlier to find Crossfire. When she did she had already killed the witness and wore a costume similar to the earlier Phantom Riders.
In other media
In the 2007 film Ghost Rider, actor Sam Elliott plays Carter Slade, a.k.a. Caretaker, though they are not the same characters in the comic book series. In the movie version of the story, Slade is Johnny's predecessor, who 150 years ago did not deliver a contract of hellbound souls to Mephistopheles. In the modern day, Slade awaits the arrival of the next Ghost Rider so he can be freed of his curse. Instead of the traditional Phantom Rider outfit, he looks more like the Johnny Blaze / Daniel Ketch Ghost Rider form, but in western attire and he rides a fire-breathing skeleton horse. This Ghost Rider closely resembles the spirit of vengeance from the new Garth Ennis/Clayton Crain series that was the slave Caleb whose family was slaughtered while his friend Travis Parham who tried to help may have become a part of the legend. (Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears).
The video game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance has a Phantom Rider costume (labeled "Western") as one of the alternate outfits for the Ghost Rider character. While wearing this alternate costume, Ghost Rider retains his original move set, but when paired with other such characters in specific alternate costumes (e.g. Iron Man wearing the War Machine costume), the team is referred to as "Alternate Identities".
Ghost Rider #1-7 (Feb.-Nov. 1967)
Night Rider #1-6 (Oct. 1974 - Aug. 1975; shortened reprints of Ghost Rider #1-6)
Western Gunfighters #1-7 (Aug. 1970 - Jan. 1972; as Phantom Rider in omnibus series)
- Ghost Rider # 50,51,56 (Nov. 1980, Dec.1980, May 1981)
The Original Ghost Rider #3, 5-12, 15, 19 (Sept. 1992, Nov. 1992 - June 1993, Sept. 1993, Jan. 1994; as Phantom Rider in backup feature)
- Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1-2 (Ongoing)