Robbie Reyes

I was four when my younger brother, Sam, was born. It would be another month until he was diagnosed with Holoprosencephaly. Though it is treated similarly to Cerebral Palsy, Sam’s symptoms and those of other children like him are usually more pronounced. Sam will never be able to leave his wheelchair due to his lack of muscle control, and, due to his inability to form words and sentences on a consistent basis, he is considered nonverbal. Yet over the last twenty years, the one thing I can say about my kid brother is that he never stops smiling. Through every medical stay, surgery, or general bad day, Sam smiles for the sake of smiling. Sam is my best friend, and when Marvel released Robbie Reyes, the newest incarnation of Ghost Rider, I learned a lot about my role as Sam’s brother and caretaker through Robbie’s relationship with his brother Gabriel.

Disability isn’t uncommon in comics, and luckily, it has gotten even more attention through the years. The most obvious role model for physical disabilities is Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men, but he barely scratches the surface of the amazing representations of disabilities in comics. However, one thing that I have noticed is that there are very few representations of the caretaker. While I do recognize that this is an attempt at empowering those faced with disability, it downplays the role of those who spend their days with children like Sam. As cliche as it sounds, the women who have acted as personal care assistants for Sam are the greatest heroes I know.

READ: A Defense of Comic Books. Read why Bill Maher’s attack on the medium has no basis in reality.

Robbie Reyes: A Representative of the Caretaker

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #1 courtesy of Marvel Comics

When ALL NEW GHOST RIDER first debuted in 2013, I never even knew it came out. Sure, Ghost Rider has never been a favorite of mine, but I wasn’t deep into comics at the time. I do remember my first time ever seeing it though. At my local bookstore, I was looking through the graphic novel aisle. I don’t remember why I picked it up, but on the first page I turned to, Robbie Reyes was sitting at the dinner table with his brother Gabriel. Gabe was talking with his mouth full about how good his macaroni and cheese was while he read comics.

The first thing I noticed though was not the food, the comics, or even the boy’s wheelchair. It was his smile. It was Sam’s smile, all-teeth and open-mouthed. For the first time, I recognized a character like myself that recognized not only the best times of caring for someone like my brother but the worst fears and anxieties.

Do Not Underestimate…

Robbie Reyes
Image from ROBBIE REYES GHOST RIDER #1 courtesy of Marvel Comics

When I finally sat down to read ALL NEW GHOST RIDER #1, the first several pages had me hooked. Gabe already reminded me so much of my little brother, but one offhand comment spoke leagues to me about writer Felipe Smith’s capabilities. On page three, bullies hijack Gabe’s chair and steal his comic books. While they do face Robbie soon after, I was drawn in by one line of dialogue. “Tha’ Hell is this? This #@%( can read?”

My biggest frustration is people who see Sam’s chair and assume he is entirely incapable. Sam has a huge personality, and even without the ability to always get his point across, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Just because he can’t act on the world doesn’t mean that he tunes out. I love this dialogue also because it is one line. All of this frustration is expressed in one line that is easily overlooked because it shouldn’t be necessary. Of course Gabe can read. Why wouldn’t he be able to? Because he is in a wheelchair?

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #12 courtesy of Marvel Comics

While this story focuses on Robbie Reyes’ relationship with Gabe, the younger brother shines throughout. Gabe has an entire arc throughout the first 12-issue run, physically and mentally. By issue #11, he uses crutches, and by issue #12, he inherits Ghost Rider powers of his own. He may be misled into misusing those powers, but that is not stupidity. Gabriel simply wants to prove himself to a world that doubts him. All kids like Gabe or Sam have great potential. You just need to find where it is meant to go.

The Greatest Offense

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #1 courtesy of Marvel Comics

One thing you learn very quickly caring for someone like Gabriel or Sam? The greatest offense you can do to a caretaker is to offend or harm their loved one. I personally don’t take offense very easily, but if someone looks at my brother the wrong way, I can’t stop thinking about it. It nags at me completely. I know this is the case with any bond between two people, but Gabe and Sam can’t defend themselves. They are very much at the mercy of whoever is nearest to them at the time, and that terrifies me.

It terrifies Robbie as well, as can be seen throughout his different solo series. After Gabe’s wheelchair is stolen, Robbie leaps into the middle of a losing battle with four bullies to try to save his brother’s chair. His nose may have gotten broken, but it was all a sacrifice to save his younger brother. Note: he does get his revenge in issue #6 when he takes down all four bullies as Ghost Rider and takes his brother’s chair back.

READ: Robbie and Gabe are only one example of family in comics. Learn more about the family narrative in comics here!

In his most recent example, one of his coworkers at the auto shop makes Gabe cry by yelling at him. When Robbie finds out, he tails him to his home in his Ghost Rider form, if only to scare him until he wets his pants. While I do not advocate for violence, it is important to note that Robbie’s actions are representative exaggerations in many cases. However, there is still something very fulfilling about a flaming skeleton intimidating this bully.

A Better Life

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #1 courtesy of Marvel Comics

As ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER carries on, it becomes more and more apparent that Robbie’s accustomed to lying to Gabe. These aren’t big lies. One of the scariest reflects how bad their situation is. Gabe and Robbie live alone in a district of California called Hillrock Heights. With gang violence and shootouts happening throughout the neighborhood, it is Robbie’s job to keep his brother safe, and he does so by telling Gabe that those gunshots they hear every night are firecrackers.

Children like Gabe and Sam understand so much more than the general masses give them credit for. They may be stuck in their chairs, but that gives them a vantage point from which to pay closer attention. Robbie doesn’t mean to lie to Gabe. With everything Gabe’s experienced, he can’t pile more struggles on. So he lies. He diverts attention. He drives by a drug deal or a group of bullies, and he keeps Gabe’s attention focused elsewhere.

The end goal here is obvious. Sam has been in and out of hospitals for 20-odd years, and Gabe had much the same experience. While you can’t shelter them, you don’t want them to focus on the darkness of the real world. The desire is a better life, always. So Robbie Reyes lies, and Gabe goes on happy and healthy until Robbie can help them both escape. There is another lesser motivation as well. As Robbie distracts Gabe, Gabe’s total trust and assurance in his brother also helps distract Robbie from the darkness. It is a shift in perspective. Gabe helps Robbie see that the end goal is reaching for the light, not escaping the darkness.

All-Consuming Fear of Failure

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #1 courtesy of Marvel Comics

I was scared that Robbie Reyes’ sibling relationship would be flawless. I also wanted nothing bad to happen to Gabe, but that isn’t realistic. Disability can be hard to accommodate. After twenty years, I’m still figuring things out. My parents have things down pat with Sam, but there will always be this fear. In the end, we are only human and can’t predict fate. Even something as simple (yet expensive) as medical bills becomes a major hurdle.

Sam and Gabe are at the mercy of those around them. Gabe can voice discomfort if necessary, but Sam relies wholly on us. Still, Robbie fears the worst. During the race that gave him powers, the cops appear. Robbie flashes to the worst possibilities if he is arrested. Gabe would have no one to take care of him. While I’ve never had that specific fear, I appreciate the depths of Robbie’s. They mirror my similar fears about mixing up Sam’s feeding times or forgetting when his school lets out.

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #10 courtesy of Marvel Comics

Robbie’s predicament is exaggerated. When the spirit possessing Robbie Reyes, Eli, takes over his body, Eli tips over Gabe’s bed and wheelchair and leaves. Gabe drags himself to the refrigerator to get dinner, but the only thing he can reach is cabbage. He lies on the floor, clutching his favorite superhero, Ninja Wolf. This is one of the hardest sequences that I have read. It is a breaking point for Robbie and Gabe, but seeing Gabe so emotionally broken and Robbie unable to stop it breaks me every read. While Sam has never faced something like this, the depths of this fear becomes clear when you see Gabe so isolated.

Always a Hero

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #6 courtesy of Marvel Comics

I have to laugh when I meet someone who doesn’t know Sam. They’ll talk to him, and out of nowhere, he will react. Maybe they said something like, “He wouldn’t get it.” Or maybe they mentioned something exciting like Disney World. Sam squeals. Loud. And I have to laugh at their surprise when Sam either rolls his eyes or squeals. That he shows emotion. Gabe works because he is an emotional character. After the events with Eli, Gabe is distraught, and this opens the door for Eli to possess Gabe.

This especially goes out to new parents of children with disabilities. They will become teenagers, and they’ll hate you sometimes. They are human, and human beings can be a very angry people. Don’t let that hurt you. At the end of the day, you are still the biggest part of their life and you will always be their hero.

In Gabriel Reyes’ case, his brother is a superhero. I am not, but it goes for Sam too. He knows that whatever we do, we do for him. He looks at everyone with such deep adoration that it physically hurts when he looks sad or angry. I attached to Robbie Reyes because his experiences after Eli’s possession confused and broke him. He knew he failed by letting Eli in. He fell too far.

Robbie didn’t stop trying to reconnect. When Gabe throws out Ninja Wolf, Robbie saves it. When the worst happens, it takes time to fix those bonds. If you wait, though, take your time and let them come back to you, that kid (or young adult) always comes around.

READ: These Marvel heroes provide even more positive representations of disabilities

Inspiration, Not Salvation

Robbie Reyes
Image from ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER #4 courtesy of Marvel Comics

Of the many truths in Robbie Reyes and Gabe’s story, the greatest is that this relationship isn’t one-sided. We might devote ourselves to their physical well-being, but Sam, Gabe, and everyone else like them improves the mental well-being of those around them. I can’t tell you how many teachers from Sam’s high school still recognize his smile. He doesn’t have to say a word, but people attach to him.

Gabriel and Sam don’t even have to try to inspire. They simply have to live. I’m not talking about inspiring through their life in a wheelchair. That chair isn’t the sum-total of their being. It is how they approach life. Sam and Gabe always smile. The tiniest things bring them happiness, especially around the people they care about. Sam smiles ear to ear anytime we leave the house to go to the mall, a seemingly ordinary trip. He’s content to just sit at home and watch music videos or read comics or talk about Disney World.

I read ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER VOL. 1 & 2 in less than a night. I picked up the story, and it broke my heart a little. What will always stick with me is that one scene I opened to in the bookstore. Gabe didn’t keep me reading, though. It was Robbie Reyes, sitting and watching. He recognizes everything Gabe is capable of. No other comics that I have read have acknowledged that fact. ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER is not perfect, but it is the best representation of this specific bond. Felipe Smith recognized that the most important part of a caretaker’s job isn’t chauffeur or chef. It’s all about being there at their lowest and highest because you know they will do the same for you.

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