Most of the Marvel Universe’s champions believe that the biggest threat to their existence is Norman Osborn, but the Ghost Riders realize that there’s a more dangerous Dark Reign in control of all reality. A renegade angel named Zadkiel recently orchestrated a coup in heaven and now sits on the throne of creation. Now, Zadkiel has embarked upon a quest to remake creation in his own image, a goal that Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, AKA the Ghost Riders, plan to thwart. The feuding brothers and their allies; a nun, an occult terrorist, and two children of the devil, have set out to stop Zadkiel. Their quest is being detailed by writer Jason Aaron and artist Roland Boschi in their current six issue “Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire” mini-series. Issue #3 of the series is in stores October 7, and CBR News spoke with Aaron about the story so far, as well as what awaits the Spirits of Vengeance and their allies in the second half of the series.
One thing that those reading the series know is that Zadkiel didn’t gain the throne of Heaven on his own. His allies included fellow angels and a multitude of Earthly agents; some of them willing and some of them dupes. Falling into the “dupe” category was Danny Ketch, and his guilt over aiding Zadkiel has colored much of his actions “Heavens on Fire.”
“If you go back and read Simon Spurrier’s Danny Ketch mini-series, you see how Zadkiel exploited Ketch. Ketch had become an addict to the Ghost Rider power, which is another facet of the Ghost Rider curse. It ruins your life, but when it goes away, all you can think about is getting it back,” Aaron told CBR News. “So Zadkiel gave Danny his powers back and Danny helped him. A lot of what happened was Ketch’s fault so now he’s doing what he can to help the Ghost Riders get another crack at Zadkiel. As we saw in issue #2 of ‘Heaven’s on Fire,’ part of his plan involves selling his soul to the devil in order to get the devil to cooperate with their plan to take down Zadkiel. Johnny originally got his powers from making a deal with the devil, so Danny is making this deal knowing how things worked out for his brother, but he feels like he doesn’t have any other choice.
“One of the things I wanted to do with Danny Ketch was to make him a little rougher around the edges,” Aaron explained. “He was this everyman who got sucked into being Ghost Rider and didn’t have much say in anything. Eventually, he found out he was getting possessed by his ancestor, so that really took Danny out of the equation. He didn’t have much of a character at all. So I wanted to make him a little more tortured and a little tougher, and I think that’s what we’re seeing with Danny these days.”
Danny may feel remorse about the part he played in Zadkiel’s ascension, but that doesn’t mean his brother fully forgives him for what he did. Further complicating the dynamic between Danny Ketch and Johnny Blaze is the fact that both are now capable of transforming into Ghost Riders. “They’ve always had this contentious relationship, and this is the first time they’ve both been Ghost Riders at the same time. When Danny was originally Ghost Rider Johnny was kind of his sidekick; he was just a guy with a shotgun. Now that they’re both Ghost Riders at the same time, they have this weird, sort of competitive relationship. They don’t know how to function like this,” Aaron explained. “Writing these two characters together as Ghost Riders has been one of the fun things about ‘Heaven’s on Fire’. They’ve got to learn to work together if they’re going to pull through.”
Blaze and Ketch may have an uneasy relationship with each other, but the brothers are getting along fine with the Spirits of Vengeance that reside in their bodies. “In the first several issues of my run, Johnny had a little more control when he transformed into Ghost Rider. He was able to hold onto the reins and really use the Ghost Rider as a weapon of vengeance against Zadkiel, who he blamed for screwing up his life,” Aaron said. “The way things are now, it’s more like an Incredible Hulk type situation, where the Ghost Rider takes over him when blood is spilled and vengeance needs to be meted out. When that happens, Johhny is more of a passenger. The Ghost Rider does not speak with Johnny’s voice, and the same is true with Danny. When they transform into their Ghost Rider forms, it’s more a case of these ancient entities taking them over.
“The motives of Blaze, Ketch, and the Ghost Riders are all running along the same lines, though,” Aaron continued. “They all want to bring down Zadkiel. the Ghost Riders are like these vestiges of God’s power here on Earth. They’re meant to be God’s instruments of vengeance, and Zadkiel betrayed them as much as he betrayed Blaze and Ketch. So they all want to bring him down.”
Part of bringing Zadkiel down is keeping him from fulfilling his end game, and to do that, the Ghost Riders have to join forces with and protect an unlikely ally, Kid Blackheart – a young boy who’s destined to become the anti-Christ and bring about the biblical apocalypse. If Zadkiel eliminates Kid Blackheart, he’s free to orchestrate the end of the world in any way he sees fit. “Kid Blackheart is just a fun character to write. You can’t go wrong with a smart-ass, adolescent anti-Christ, and as ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ goes along, he starts to come into his own,” Aaron revealed. “He’s more than just a snotty kid. He is the Anti-Christ. He’s got a specific purpose, and he’ll always be working towards it.”
the Ghost Riders aren’t the only members of Kid Blackheart’s protection detail. When word spread through the occult grapevine that Zadkiel wanted him dead, two other characters came forward. Damon Hellstrom, AKA the Son of Satan, saw the boy as something he almost became and wanted to destroy him. His ex-girlfriend, Jaine Cutter stepped forward, though, and explained to him what would happen if Kid Blackheart were to die.
“Jaine Cutter is a Warren Ellis character from his run on ‘Hellstorm,’ and she’s a character I’ve always loved. She was really one of the first strong willed, fast talking, hard nosed Ellis characters and she really hasn’t popped up since. So it feels great to bring her back in this series,” Aaron remarked. “And I’ve been wanting to use the Son of Satan since I first took over ‘Ghost Rider’ back in 2008. So, to reunite him with Jaine Cutter was great. We’ll see more of them in issue #4. They’ll be around throughout the whole series.”
While Hellstrom became aware of Zadkiel’s plan thanks to his own infernal nature and the connections it provides, Jaine Cutter stumbled upon the plot to kill Kid Blackheart because of her activities as an occult terrorist. “She basically doesn’t have a strong allegiance to heaven or hell. She wants to keep both of them from screwing with the Earth and killing her,” Aaron explained. “She’s killed angels. She’s killed demons. She’s done it all. She’s got this weapon called a Breathing Gun, which fires sentient bullets that can kill pretty much anything.”
In “Heaven’s on Fire” #2, Jaine and Hellstrom worked side-by-side to protect Kid Blackheart from Zadkiel’s minions, and if the tension between them was any indication, they’ll either be killing or kissing each other before the series is over. “Jaine and Damon were a couple during Ellis’s run on ‘Hellstorm.’ In issue #2, we revealed that the reason we haven’t seen them together in awhile is that things didn’t end well. They broke up and Hellstorm is a bad ‘breaker-upper,'” Aaron remarked. “So there’s a lot of verbal sniping and bitterness, but you can already sense that there’s still a bit of passion between them.”
Of course, Zadkiel isn’t about to let the Ghost Riders and their allies whisk Kid Blackheart off to safety. He’s instructed his minions Blackheart and the Deacon, to put together a team to hunt down and destroy the Spirits of Vengeance and anyone who stands with them. In issue #2, readers saw the complete line-up of that team. In addition to Blackheart and the Deacon, their ranks include old Ghost Rider foes like the Scarecrow and the Orb, as well as more obscure villains like Trull the Inhuman, Big Wheel, and Madcap. ” I believe Trull the Inhuman hasn’t been seen since his first appearance in the late ’60s. He’s an alien conqueror who can move his consciousness around and take control of inanimate objects. So he decided to take over the world’s most powerful steam shovel.
“And teaming Trull up with Bigwheel made sense,” Aaron continued. “Bigwheel was a character where you wonder why hasn’t he fought Ghost Rider before. So that’s issue #3, [when] we get to see the two of them versus Blaze and Ketch.
Aaron chose Madcap because of his affinity for the character and the character’s past connection to Ghost Rider. “He fought Ghost Rider in the ’90s during the Danny Ketch era. He’s a weird character who is a lot of fun to write, and I think he’s got a great origin and personality. I’ve wanted to bring him back for awhile,” the writer explained. “With ‘Heaven’s on Fire,’ I’m trying to throw in every bit of craziness I have left into the Ghost Rider mix before I’m done. I didn’t want to leave anything in the bag, and Madcap is one of those crazy elements I wanted to be sure I added in before I left.”
The next portion of “Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire” will find the title characters and allies coming up against all these crazy elements. “We end up with two teams going off on two different missions in issue #3,” Aaron said. “Issue #4 focuses on the Son of Satan, Jaine Cutter, Caretaker (a former nun who inherited the role of Caretaker, Ghost Rider’s aide, from her grandfather), and Kid Blackheart. So we’ve got the Son of Satan, an occult terrorist, and a nun trying to protect the anti-christ from the forces of a renegade angel. So if that doesn’t make you want to read ‘Ghost Rider.’ I don’t know what will [Laughs].”
Aaron is proud of the work that his collaborator Roland Boschi did on the first two issues of “Heaven’s on Fire,” and feels that his work on upcoming chapters of the series is even better. “The scenes in issue #3 with Trull and Bigwheel versus Blaze and Ketch is probably the best work Roland has done yet,” Aaron stated. “We did my first ‘Ghost Rider’ arc together, and then a Punisher special, and now we’re doing this. He just gets better and better with every issue. I think the stuff he’s doing now is just incredible.”
The tone of the remaining issues of “Heaven’s on Fire” will be similar to the first few; a heady mix of action, horror, and dark comedy. “I think that’s really been the recipe for my entire run on ‘Ghost Rider.’ He’s a character who is a lot of fun, but you can’t play it too straight. At the same time, though, you can play up the horror aspects. I’ve always tried to walk that line between over the top and creative, but still take things seriously,” Aaron explained. “A lot of people have compared my run to a grindhouse ’70s B movie, and I’ve always thought of this story as a B horror movie. It’s not a superhero story. It’s an action and horror story, one with all these different beats of dark comedy,”
“Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire” brings the epic tale that Jason Aaron is telling to a conclusion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the story of the Ghost Riders will come to an end as well. “I don’t exactly know what will come after that, but we have talked about where I’ll leave things,” Aaron said. “And I’ll have left whoever comes along to do Ghost Rider next with a good set up.”