Two days have passed since Hank Pym, the former Avenger known as Yellowjacket, was court-martialed and expelled from the group on the primary charge of “Misconduct before the enemy.” Pym has since disappeared, causing further anguish for Avengers’ current leader and chairman, Captain America. In the mansion’s basement gymnasium, Cap drills through a strenuous workout, using shield and fist against an array of practice drones. However, no matter how many drones Cap pummels into shards, his anguish remains, as he feels partially responsible for Pym’s downfall due to the extreme pressure he feels that he put upon Hank.
Up above in the rafters, Tigra watches Cap’s workout. She grows concerned over his intensity, calling out to him to lighten up. She receives no response, however. Unsure if Cap wants to be alone or even if he heard her, Tigra simply leaves, quickly running into Jarvis in the hall as she does so. When she admits her concerns about Cap, Jarvis replies that he is distraught over the situation with “Master Yellowjacket.” Tigra feels that Pym got what he deserved, dismissing him as a creep who put his teammates at unnecessary risk, especially in lieu of the way he treats the Wasp. Jarvis thinks that she is mistaken. He has known Dr. Pym for years as both a good man and a hero. But even heroes are fallible and must bear the consequences of their actions.
Thor soars past the World Trade Center, giving the patrons of the World Bar pause as he approaches. Among the patrons is Tony Stark, the civilian identity of the Avenger known as Iron Man. He orders non-alcoholic drinks as he awaits his guest. On the roof, Thor transforms into his civilian guise of lame Dr. Donald Blake and descends into the bar to sit with Tony. Tony wants to hear his medical opinion about Hank. Though Blake admits that he is not a psychiatrist, he believes that Hank has suffered a breakdown, caused by demanding too much of himself. With proper treatment, Hank could get help. Tony vows that money is no object, for he sees in Pym a good man and a friend in need. That’s great, Don says, only now they have to find him…
In her Cresskill mansion home, Janet Van Dyne Pym, an Avenger in her guise as the Wasp, sketches fashion designs. The heiress has been unhappy of late, feelings which have only grown since her husband Hank disappeared. Her butler, Jenkins, interrupts to inform her that “Mr. Pym” has come to visit. Settling sunglasses upon her face, Jenkins asks about her still-swollen eye. “It still hurts,” she replies, “—but I’m seeing more clearly now than ever.”
In her living room, Janet finds Hank, unshaven and looking like a mess in his Yellowjacket costume. He’s come to talk but Janet wants no part of it. “I’m getting a divorce!” she quickly declares, offering for him to name any settlement he wants. Hank apologizes for hitting her but to Janet it’s a sign of a deeply troubled man. Hank wants to explain but Janet interrupts with how she feels that she’s been clinging to him all these years, submerging herself to prop up Hank’s fragile ego. “No more! Never again!” she replies as she tells him to leave with his already packed items. Hank leaves, refusing Janet’s further offer of any financial assistance he may need. It’s unclear if he even hears her muted “good-bye.”
An hour later at a rundown Manhattan motel, Hank Pym, dishonorably discharged Avenger, deep in debt with few prospects, had thought his agonizing despair could not get any worse… until he lost his wife.
Jarvis brings Captain America some lemonade after he finishes his extended workout. Asking to speak freely, Jarvis tells him of the “American Dream,” where a man was free to go as high as his wits, determination and imagination dare take him. But some believe that the odds are unfair, that a good man needs a ‘big brother’ to help him attain his goal after failing to reach them himself. Cap derides such a notion. “The best of men will pick themselves up and go at it again…,” Cap pauses, suddenly understanding what Jarvis was hinting towards. Stop blaming himself for Hank’s failures and being the good man that Cap knows Hank to be, trust that he will pick himself back up again. “I’m sure of it,” Jarvis replies.
(Alkalai Flats, New Mexico)
That night, upon a rocky outcropping in the desert sits Johnny Blaze, a man who bears a curse. That curse has cost him dearly, most recently the title of World Champion motorcycle rider. An outcast full of misery and loneliness, Johnny is angered when he sees a brand-new Ferrari come barreling down the New Mexico highway. Johnny questions why this particular guy has it all: great car, beautiful girl at his side, while he has no one and nothing. As his anger grows, the curse is willingly released and Johnny slowly transforms into a flaming skull figure, a figure now bent on retribution, starting with that driver.
At 190 mph, Candy Southern implores her boyfriend Warren Worthington III to slow down. Warren just wants her to relax and enjoy the ride baby. That is, until Warren spots a growing dot of light in his rear view mirror. Candy is scared of the skeletal figure that is quickly gaining on them on a fiery motorcycle when Warren recognizes the figure as the Ghost Rider, whom he knows from the team called the Champions. The Rider pulls right up alongside Warren. Then, popping a wheelie at 200 mph, the Rider zooms past the speeding Ferrari, leaving Warren bewildered over the Rider’s intentions.
However, Candy soon spots the Rider ahead, having stopped and now standing in the middle of the road. “I can’t stop in time!” Warren exclaims as he swerves the car and crashes into a nearby ditch. The Rider rips Warren from the wreckage and strips away his shirt to reveal feathery wings, confirming for the Rider that this is indeed the high-flying X-Man known as the Angel. The Rider wants a race, his machine against Warren’s wings. After threatening Candy, Warren relents and agrees to race to nearby Diablo Peak. After re-forming his fiery motorcycle, the Rider speeds off. Warren flies away and is initially startled to see the Rider winning, despite the rocky terrain he has to navigate. Still, Warren believes he can trash this lunatic, now that Candy is safely out of reach. Pouring it on into a power dive, Warren knocks the Rider off his machine, questioning what has happened to this former good guy. The Rider responds that he is the living spirit of vengeance, that Blaze tempered his wrath with mercy and compassion but no longer. “Where there is injustice, the Ghost Rider craves vengeance!” he declares as he is able to blast Warren with a shot of hellfire as the Angel swings back around. The fire sears Warren’s soul like a thousand razors and he crumbles to the ground.
Nine hours later at a nearby hospital, Warren lies comatose, his arms and torso heavily bandaged. Candy is on the phone with Captain America, explaining to him about this incident, which the local police don’t believe. Thinking that Hank McCoy, the Avenger known as the Beast and one of Warren’s best friends, could help, she has reached out to the Avengers in need. Cap regrettably tells Candy that Beast has recently resigned but it doesn’t matter, the Avengers will meet her at the hospital tomorrow to investigate. Even with Hank discharged and the Wasp taking a leave of absence, Cap feels that he, Iron Man, Thor and Tigra should be able to handle this “Ghost Rider.”
The next day, at Adamson’s Service station, new hire Johnny Blaze is mentally kicking himself after being able to force the Rider back inside. “I still feel like a jerk!” he bemuses, as he feels guilty for taking his troubles out on Warren. He can’t leave Alkalai Flats till he knows Warren is okay. Then, Kim, a local boy, excitedly tells Johnny that the Avengers are coming to town! Landing their Quinjet at the local airfield, the team disembarks amid fanfare and questions, while Iron Man meets Mr. Obadiah, the local mayor (and the sheriff, and the postmaster, and the chamber of commerce). Mr. Obadiah sets up the team with local transportation (a rental pick-up truck) and room at the local hotel so they can begin their search for the Ghost Rider. Seeing this spectacle, Johnny is intent more than ever that he can’t let the Rider out now.
Meanwhile, thinking that if she is going to be prowling around the West, she ought to be dressed properly, Tigra goes to a local clothing shop, surprising the elderly female owners. She needs some fancy duds for hunting down a certain varmint and asks the ladies for one of everything in a perfect size nine.
As Thor and Iron Man scan for their target from the skies, Cap finds his own transportation when he rents a motorcycle from gas station owner Mr. Adamson. Kim remains enthralled with these heroes, especially after seeing Tigra meet up with Cap. ‘Hello, podner!” Cap calls out as he sees Tigra in her new cowboy outfit, complete with leather chaps, vest and hat. “Got room for a catty cowperson?” she asks as the pair ride off to partake in the search for the Rider.
Hours later at Al’s Diner, the team compares notes, not finding any trace or sign of the Rider. “Too bad the Angel’s still in a coma!” Cap laments, as he believes Warren may have useful information for them. The next afternoon, Johnny Blaze is thinking the same thing, for he knows that Warren can point him out to the Avengers. Preparing to leave town, Johnny is accosted by a panicked mother. “It’s Kim! He’s on the water tower!” she exclaims, pointing to her son dangling from the tower’s high ladder after playing at being an Avenger. The Rider could reach the boy before he falls, but does Johnny dare to change? Will he save the boy? “I’ve got to chance it!” Johnny shouts as he slowly transforms into the fiery figure. “Must save… the child!” he mutters as the Rider forms a hellfire motorcycle.
However, seeing nothing to avenge, the Rider speeds off instead! Kim falls from the water tower, crying out for his mom and pledging never to play Thor ever again, when suddenly Iron Man flies up and catches him, thankful that he noticed the odd radar blip that Kim created.
Several miles away, Cap and Tigra, astride their own motorcycle, come across a speeding Ghost Rider on the highway. The Rider taunts a challenge, “Give chase… if you dare!” The Rider rides up onto the median divider of the highway, narrowly swerving around a big rig truck. Cap rides around the other side of the rig on the wrong side of the highway. The Rider turns out onto the desert, leaving Tigra to think that he’s pretty good at this type of riding, since he doesn’t seem to be trying too hard. Cap is not exactly an amateur either, as he steers their bike around a bend, hoping to catch him. Instead, the pair finds themselves inside a box canyon. The Rider impossibly rides up the very side of the canyon to escape! Going too fast to stop, Cap tells Tigra to brace herself as their bike crashes into the wall. Cap is momentarily stunned but Tigra is alert, as cat always land on their feet. Just then, the Rider surprises the duo from behind, striking them both with blasts of his hellfire. The searing flames bite deep into their souls, causing their screams to echo through the canyon.
Drawn by their screams, Iron Man arrives and he’s not impressed by the Rider’s trick riding. Confident that his armor can withstand any fire he could generate, Iron Man slams into the Rider, momentarily lifting him off his bike. “But your armor has openings, metal man!” as the Rider blasts hellfire through Iron Man’s open eye slits, causing Iron Man to crash into the ground. Landing, the Rider turns to blast hellfire at an approaching Thor. Thor shakes off the blast. Being from a mystic realm himself, Thor shows no fear of this dark magic demon as he hurls Mjolnir towards his target. Astride his flaming bike once more, the Rider outraces the mystic mallet until the force of Thor’s throw is spent. Sensing that the hammer is enchanted, the Rider quickly spins around, reaches out and grabs a hold of the handle. “Fly, hammer! Take me to your master! Ha, ha, ha, ha!” Mjolnir races back to a surprised Thor but, at the last second, the enchanted mallet tears itself from the Rider’s hand, unable to strike its master and returns to Thor’s hand even as the Rider, at full speed, slams both himself and his hellish machine into Thor. Stunned and humbled by the assault, the Rider races off once more.
The other Avengers slowly regroup around a much wiser Thor. Cap is ready to give chase once more but Tigra is fearful of going mad if she feels that searing hellfire once more. Cap feels the same but the risk of other people being hurt the same way is too great. “It’s not wrong to be frightened… You just can’t let fear dictate your actions!” Inspired by his words and demeanor, the team soon confronts the Rider again, barring his way from seeking vengeance on Warren and the town that harbors him.
Iron Man quickly shoots a repulsor beam, blasting the Rider off his bike. Sensing Tigra’s fear, the Rider seeks to burn her first but, suspecting that he’d go for her, Cap is prepared and blocks the hellfire with his shield. The Rider turns his attack towards Thor and Iron Man but it matters not. Thor feels no terror from him (and neither does Iron Man since he’s now sealed his armor up tight). Cap launches at the Rider, momentarily knocking him back but the Rider will not be thwarted. He strikes out again at Tigra, who is frozen with fear. Thor blocks the blast of hellfire with Mjolnir. At Iron Man’s suggestion, Thor whips up a wind vortex with his mallet that blows the Rider back. However, the Rider will never relent until his vengeance is either satisfied or he is destroyed!
“Is that what you want, Blaze? To be destroyed?” The Rider turns at these words to see Warren, his right arm still bandaged in a sling, facing him. He’s finally come out of his coma and, even though the doctors think he should’ve stayed put, he figured that Blaze needed a friend and so drove out to the battlefield. “I have no friends!” the Rider cries out but Warren has a theory about that. It appears that the more bitter and unhappy Blaze is, the more ruthless and savage the Rider becomes. Blaze took his problems out on Warren, which was dumb enough, but now he’s made it worse. What would have happened if the Avengers hadn’t intervened? Would Warren die? Would the whole town be burned down?
Since he was the one the Rider picked to hate, Warren calls out, “Kill me now, here I am! Do it!” However, the Spirit of Vengeance’s features start to fade. The hellish flames subside as the visage of Johnny Blaze slowly returns. “As Johnny Blaze… I have a choice!” he says. The Ghost Rider is gone and Johnny Blaze has committed no crime. Warren offers to help him but a solemn Johnny mutters that he only wants to be left alone. As the Avengers turn to leave, Cap is struck by the similarity to Hank’s current plight. Both men let things get to them. They made one mistake and then made it worse. As with Hank, Cap realizes that Johnny has help available but it’s his choice to accept it. “In the end, it’s all up to him!”