The original Ghost Rider made his debut in 1949, in the pages of Magazine Enterprises’ TIM HOLT #11. Nobody involved could have anticipated that the character, in a series of transformative forms, would still be a going concern today–and might have starred in a pair of big budget movies. While the publishers at Magazine Enterprises thought enough of the new character to give him a call-out on the cover, the Ghost Rider was actually created to try to save an ailing strip.
That strip had been alternately called Rex Fury and the Calico Kid, and it had been running as a back-up feature in TOM HOLT for a number of issues. But there really wasn’t much of anything to distinguish it from any other generic cowboy strip, and so it failed to garner any interest. Having already tried to create a stir by promoting Rex Fury to the Calico Kid, the decision was made to do something a bit more permanent with him–kill him off.
The duo responsible for this transformation were writer Raymond Krank and artist Dick Ayers. Ayers in particular was heavily invested in the feature, and drew it for years, even after it passed into Marvel’s hands through disuse. Inspired by the popular song “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend” by Stan Jones which was released a year before in 1948, Krank and Ayers conspired to change Rex Fury into a sort of supernatural western hero.
And so, within the first three pages of this first Ghost Rider story, both Rex Fury and his sidekick, the unfortunately racist caricature Sing-Song are captured by badman Bart Lasher pretending to be an Indian, and thrown into the Devil’s Sink, a sargasso from which no one ever returns.
Of course, both Fury and Sing-Song survive–this would have been a pretty short feature if they hadn’t. and Fury gets the idea to masquerade as his own ghost in order to create terror in the hearts of the men who had sent him to die, and to give him an advantage in apprehending them.
And so, wearing a phosphorescent costume of white, Fury rides to the attack as the Ghost Rider. Interestingly, in this first story, he doesn’t wear a mask at all. Ayers will shortly give him a full face mask that bears some similarity to the one eventually worn by Spider-Man, completing his disguise. Mind you, none of this is explained in this first story. Fury just shows up all in white (including his face) riding a white horse, and the reader is left to intuit how the impersonation works.
The Ghost Rider proved to be popular, and he appeared regularly over the next six years, occasionally headlining in his own title. Eventually, though, the arrival of the Comics Code mean the end of the trail for the Ghost Rider in his Rex Fury guise–the early Code was more strident about supernatural themes in those first days, and ME had had enough. The final Ghost Rider story appeared in RED MASK #50 in 1955–at least until Marvel revived the character in 1966.