In the early ’90s, Ghost Rider was one of Marvel’s most popular heroes after Danny Ketch made his fiery debut as the latest Spirit of Vengeance. Danny would join forces with his predecessor Johnny Blaze, and the two Ghost Riders discovered that they were actually long-lost brothers years after Danny had bonded to the Spirit of Vengeance. However, as Danny grew accustomed to his new supernatural role as Ghost Rider, another more extreme figure would arise to menace him and Johnny: Vengeance.
Although he hasn’t appeared in more than a decade, Vengeance is finally set to return to the Marvel Universe in the upcoming Ghost Rider Annual #1, by Howard Mackie, Ed Brisson and Javier Saltares.
Created by Mackie and Ron Wagner in 1992’s Ghost Rider #21, Michael Balidino was a detective in the New York Police Department who crossed paths with Johnny. Mephisto manipulated Johnny into blasting Michael’s father with hellfire, snapping his sanity and driving him to murder Michael’s entire family and committing suicide while his son was away on an assignment. Upon discovering the tragic fate of his wife, daughters and father, Michael swore revenge on Ghost Rider and accepted Mephisto’s offer to undergo a similar transformation to become the fearsome Vengeance.
As Vengeance, Michael gained all the familiar powers of Ghost Rider, including immense superhuman strength, speed and endurance as well as an accelerated healing factor. Like his predecessors, Vengeance could project hellfire and his it offensively or to transform objects and vehicles into hellishly charged iterations, including a motorcycle made from hellfire and bone. Instead of the hellfire chains used by Danny and Johnny, Vengeance utilized mythical bone chains that he could summon at will and transform into different weaponry. And, just like the other Ghost Riders, Vengeance could perform the devastating Penance Stare and make targets feel the bite of pain they had inflicted upon others in an instant.
Vengeance fought both Johnny and Danny before the Caretaker helped the trio of Ghost Riders come to their senses. The Caretaker revealed that Michael’s family’s fate was intertwined with the Medallion of Power — like Johnny and Danny — which led to Mephisto targeting the Balidinos. Eventually, Vengeance would become a superhero in his own right, assisting the other Ghost Riders before his old enemy Anton Hellgate resurfaced. Learning of Michael’s transformation into Vengeance, Hellgate murdered Johnny’s wife Roxanne and captured Vengeance to experiment on and learn the nature of his new powers. Johnny rescued Michael, but the experience left Michael mentally unhinged and unable to transform into Vengeance for a time.
Michael would attempt to move on and refocus on his work as a police detective but this would result in his Vengeance persona suddenly reigniting in a fiery outburst, killing all those around him — criminals and fellow police officers alike. Unable to control his new power, Vengeance set out to kill Hellgate for what he had done to him, murdering anyone in his wake. After being subjected to the Penance Stare by the other Ghost Riders, Vengeance realized the gravity of what he had done and killed himself and Hellgate in a fiery explosion, with Michael last seen languishing in Hell.
Dying only four years after his initial debut, Michael Balidino is one of the most short-lived characters in the Marvel Universe to wield the power of a Spirit of Vengeance. Despite his abbreviated tenure, the character still earned more than his fair share of fans and helped make Ghost Rider a best-selling title during the early to mid-90s, and he even starred in some of his own solo adventures.
In the same way that Venom was a more extreme version of Spider-Man, Vengeance showed what a Ghost Rider would look like if he went to extremes that Danny ketch and Johnny Blaze would no go to in those days. Since then, Danny and Johnny have both dealt with more than their fair share of demons, and Johnny is currently the reigning King of Hell. With Vengeance’s return on the horizon, he’s going to return to a hellish corner of the Marvel Universe that’s only grown darker in his absence.
After Danny Ketch became the Ghost Rider of the '90s, Marvel introduced another Spirit of Vengeance who was even more extreme than that flame-headed h