The man known only as Ghost first appeared in Iron Man Vol. 1 #219 in 1987. Though the character was created by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, it was Jeff Parker and Kev Walker that revealed his origin in 2010’s “Thunderbolts” #151. Before he became a villain, Ghost was an I.T. programmer that worked for a company named Omnisapient. He impressed his superiors by designing technology that could function in an intangible state – a product that brought the company and its board of directors extensive notoriety. Though a technological genius, the board began demanding such unreasonably high output from Ghost that he was in danger of having a mental breakdown. Feeling grossly overworked and greatly underpaid, the programmer decided it was time to take a vacation. Before he had a chance to leave, however, an attractive co-worker by the name of Shana began to take an interest in him. Shortly thereafter, the two became romantically involved (aww, Ghost found a boo). Instead of taking a vacation, Ghost’s spirits rose and he began working harder than ever.
Sadly, Shana’s apartment exploded, killing her and leaving Ghost in an extremely depressed and directionless state. Feeling lost, he began connecting his consciousness to the data networks he had created for his employer (because data networks do what ninten-don’t). He believed that the world of 1’s and 0’s was the only one that made sense. While in the networks, he discovered security recordings that revealed his superiors had deceived him. At the threat of their best programmer failing to live up their high expectations, the directors bribed Shana into feigning interest in Ghost. Feeling that the company needed her in order to keep their top programmer happy, Shana tried to extort more money from the board. That proved to be a fatal mistake, as the board hired a hitman to plant a bomb in Shana’s apartment. The directors realized it would be best to cut their losses and had the same hitman plant a bomb in Ghost’s apartment. He survived the explosion, however, and murdered the three board members as well as their hitman.
Ghost erased all evidence of his previous life, including his identity (which has never been revealed), and began his self-imposed mission to destroy large corporations. He deplores the rich that sit in positions of power while exploiting the working man for profit. Ghost donned an all-white costume complete with a hood, mask, cape, and technology that granted him invisibility and intangibility, and set out to demolish big business.
As a criminal-for-hire, Ghost was first employed by the Roxxon Corporation to eradicate rival company Accutch by any means necessary, after the latter refused to do business with the former. Unbeknownst to Roxxon, Tony Stark had won over Accutech’s confidence and purchased the company. Though Ghost managed to infiltrate the Accutech building, Tony Stark was able to eject the villain as Iron Man. Angered that he was bested, Ghost sought vengeance. Once Roxxon realized that their own hitman had a personal vendetta, they viewed Ghost as a liability and hired the villainous Spymaster to eliminate him. Not only was Spymaster unsuccessful, but Ghost murdered him by phasing him into a wall and turning him tangible halfway through.
During that introductory story arc, Ghost was shown living in a small shack in a local dump. As unfortunate as that may sound, he was surrounded by stacks of cash. He cared nothing for the money Roxxon gave him, and would have destroyed Accutech for free by his own admission. What’s more, because Ghost’s superior technology allowed him to bypass security systems undetected, Tony Stark did not leave his Iron Man suit or even sleep out of fear that Ghost would find him (ha-ha Iron Man is afraid of ghosts). It was fascinating to see that a man living in self-imposed poverty had the means and technology to gain the upper hand on a well-known billionaire genius.
Years later, Norman Osborne was placed in charge of national security (long story) and contacted Ghost to be a member of his Thunderbolts team. This version of the Thunderbolts, comprised entirely of villains, acted as a black-ops squad that operated in total secrecy from the government. When not serving on missions, Osborne kept the team under constant surveillance inside a former prison. Ghost, now wearing an advanced suit granting him the ability to float, managed to gain access to the prison’s security systems and disable audio and visual monitoring on numerous occasions. Ghost was even able to briefly escape the prison and make another attempt on Tony Stark’s life. Though he failed, this is a perfect example of Ghost’s sophisticated stealth technology, as Norman Osborne clearly had no idea exactly what the ghoulish man was capable of. Ghost eventually revealed to a teammate that he only agreed to be a member of the Thunderbolts in order to take down Norman Osborne while working within his organization. Before Ghost ever had the chance, Osborne, in an attempt to gain massive amounts of power, stormed Asgard but was captured and taken into custody by the Avengers. Ghost was also arrested and transferred to The Raft, a prison for super-villains (Ghost-busted).
While in custody, Ghost found himself without his suit for the first time in many years. When last seen without his costume, he appeared to be a middle-aged man of average build. Here, he is shown to be a scrawny and extremely unkempt older man alluding to the fact that Ghost no longer leaves his suit. Luke Cage approaches him to join the new Thunderbolts team, promising to give him his technology back and some controlled freedom if he were to agree. The offer is too good for Ghost to deny, and he works alongside fellow villains to help rather than hurt the Marvel Universe. After only a few missions, however, Ghost plans to escape with teammates Juggernaut and Crossbones (Ghost is a free spirit). Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man pay the prison a visit, and Ghost uses his suit’s technology to open a portal via Thor’s hammer that allow the villains a chance to flee. Unfortunately for the villainous trio, they take the Avengers with them into a different dimension.
Guess which one of the Avengers chases after Ghost? Here’s a hint: It’s Iron Man.
Ghost and Iron man have a brief battle but the villain gains the upper hand when he takes control of the hero’s armor. While the two wrestle for dominance, Tony begins to understand that the only reason Ghost is acting maliciously is because of his hatred for large corporations. Tony grants Ghost access to his data networks just as he shuts down all subsidiaries of Starktech. Since Iron Man is now the owner of nothing more than a small business, Ghost immediately halts his assault, no longer viewing Stark as the enemy.
Not long after the Avengers bring the three villains back to The Raft, Ghost and some of his teammates discover a nefarious plot hatched by those in charge of the Thunderbolt’s program. Their government representatives, the Federal Advisory Committee to the Thunderbolts, have been using the team in order to gain vast amounts of power by exploiting two super humans. Even the heroic team-leaders, Luke Cage and Songbird, had no idea of the reasons or danger regarding the mission they had been given. Once the evidence has been gathered against the committee, the villains finally find their chance to escape. Showing no signs of giving up his ghoulish ways, Ghost states that this experience proved to him that “the system” is more corrupt than ever.
Ghost was most recently contacted by a rival company to destroy Parker Industries, as Peter Parker was trying to capitalize on his designs for a prison. Ghost had set Parker Industries to detonate with all of its employees inside, but he was swiftly defeated by Spider-Man and a few of the hero’s associates. Though the employees were evacuated, Parker’s building exploded as the villain was being arrested.
I have found Ghost to be a fascinating villain primarily because he’s not a villain in the conventional sense. While he has committed murder, he sees unregulated capitalism as the true evil in modern society. It is certainly easy to justify combatting an enemy that has low moral standards, such as stealing or killing, but how does one change another’s broader perspective of what is right and what is wrong in the world? No hero could have made a better nemesis than Tony Stark – a cog in the enormous corporate machine. I must admit that I admire Ghost’s dissatisfaction with a corrupt system and his desire to change it, even if I don’t agree with his means.
It is also interesting that as the years went on, Ghost spent an ever-increasing amount of time inside of his suit to the point of refusing to speak without his mask on. It seems as if Ghost no longer considers himself a member of society and would rather live within the persona he has created for himself. It was interesting to watch his physical progression, as when he was working for Omnisapient in what appeared to be his 20s, he was an average, if slightly overweight, young man. In his first appearance, he seemed to be approaching middle age and had a somewhat muscular build. Now approaching what seems to be his mid-50s, the world is a place where technology is extremely ubiquitous and widespread. He has become scrawny and dirty possibly because he rarely has to use his muscles since he is constantly floating. Furthermore, he does not eat a healthy diet; he only consumes M.R.E.’s (meal, ready-to-eat) because he doesn’t trust food that others have handled.
While Ghost is certainly a unique character, he has not been deemed interesting enough to be featured outside of comics save for a few Iron Man cartoons. Though apprehended after blowing up Parker Industries, I don’t believe that he will remain in prison for long. As soon as the man that is Ghost has access to any technology, he will surely escape and continue to haunt the Marvel Universe.