Johnny Blaze has been defending the Marvel Universe for years. He’s battled threats ranging from common criminals to a renegade angel that seized the throne of Heaven — and he’s hated every minute of it. That’s because Johnny Blaze and his brother Danny Ketch are the human hosts of the world’s last two remaining Ghost Riders, immensely powerful divine spirits of vengeance tasked with punishing evildoers.
Playing host to a Ghost Rider is a curse, not a blessing. Both Johnny and Danny have had their lives repeatedly ruined by the spirits that transform them into flaming-skulled bikers whenever innocent blood is spilled. Announced today at C2E2, writer Rob Williams (“Shadowland: Ghost Rider”) and artist Matthew Clark (“Doom Patrol”) kick off a new “Ghost Rider” ongoing series in June by offering Blaze a chance to escape the curse that plagues him once and for all. Will Johnny choose to free himself? And what sort of consequences will his decision have? For the answers to these questions and more, CBR News spoke with Williams about the series, which launches with a special #0.1 issue.
CBR News: So Rob, I’m guessing you had a lot of fun with last year’s “Shadowland: Ghost Rider” one-shot?
Rob Williams: Yeah I really enjoyed it. It was just a self-enclosed one off and I didn’t think at the time that it would lead to anything more, but I guess the guys at Marvel were enthusiastic about it. Last year during New York Comic Con I visited Marvel and a couple of editors brought up the scene where I had Ghost Rider riding on the back of a sperm whale. I think that one panel got more praise than anything I had worked on in my entire career. I think that’s what people want. They want Ghost Rider on the back of a sperm whale [Laughs].
The story seems to have gone down well and I really enjoyed writing it. Before I wrote it, I got a chance to read Jason Aaron’s “Ghost Rider” run and I absolutely loved it. I tried to give Johnny the same voice Jason gave him. I saw Johnny as this horribly depressed, drunken, acerbic figure who doesn’t really care about anything anymore. This guy has taken so much crap in his life, so he’s just about at the end of his rope and that really gives him free reign to say anything he wants because he really doesn’t care about the repercussions at this point.
When your run kicks off with #0.1, Johnny will be fed up with life as Ghost Rider and you’re going to empower him to finally do something about that, right?
I think a “Ghost Rider” series should have a Faustian pact. When we open our series Blaze is going to be given the option of entering into one with a mysterious figure. This figure offers him the chance to get rid of the Ghost Rider, but the curse will then pass to someone else and he won’t know who’s going to inherit it. It’s like the old conundrum where someone will give you a million dollars, but someone in China who you never met before will die.
A large part of the first issue is reestablishing the fact that Johnny Blaze didn’t get attractive super powers and a chance to live this great, exciting life. The Ghost Rider is a curse. Every time he turns into Ghost Rider the flesh boils off his body. He feels it and smells the flesh burning. Being the Ghost Rider is a horrible thing and in order to get rid of it he’ll have to pass it along to an innocent. Is he willing to do that? Because that’s a really horrible thing to do to somebody you’ve never met before. Only he and Danny Ketch really know how horrible a thing it is. He’s so desperate, though, that he considers it. Then the series follows the potential repercussions of that.
I don’t want to give too much away here, but the initial arc is called “Give up the Ghost,” and that’s exactly what Johnny is tempted to do in a moment of selfishness. From that point on it’s a redemption tale for Johnny.
Is it fair to assume guilt will be Johnny’s primary motivation in this series?
Absolutely. When my editor Steve Wacker and I were initially discussing this series we said it should be a very Catholic comic book [Laughs]; just by the very nature of the Ghost Rider and preying on sin. So yes, Johnny Blaze is going to feel guilty about his decision and that’s going to drive an awful lot of his actions.
The new “Ghost Rider” series begins right as the Marvel Universe is embroiled in the “Fear Itself” event. Is your inaugural arc a tie-in to “Fear Itself?”
To many people, the villain of “Fear Itself,” The Serpent, will seem like the devil himself come to Earth. The events of “Fear Itself” will seem like the end of days as described in “The Book of Revelation.” This actually prompts our antagonist to approach Johnny Blaze with his offer, because our antagonist believes this is actually the end of days and there are souls that need to be saved.
It sounds like the supernatural will be a large element in your first “Ghost Rider” arc. Will subsequent stories continue to delve into the supernatural corner of the Marvel Universe? Or are you interested in taking the series somewhere different?
I still want to explore the supernatural, but I don’t to pigeonhole the series in that area. When Steve Wacker and I were developing this series, one of the questions we asked ourselves was, if Ghost Rider isn’t a super hero what is he? We came up with the angle that he’s basically a supernatural weapon of mass destruction.
Ghost Rider has the power to feed on and attack the sin in all of us. That means if he wanted to, the Ghost Rider could potentially have power over every single person on the planet. Fortunately the Ghost Rider has been with Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch who are not Doctor Doom types [Laughs]. The mysterious figure who gives Johnny Blaze the option of losing the Ghost Rider has an agenda. He wants to do something with the Ghost Rider. He realizes the power he could have through the Rider so the series is going to have a chase element. The Ghost Rider is on the run because if the wrong people are able to get their hands on it then it’s very bad news for the entire Marvel Universe.
So basically this book will take place all over the Marvel U with the Ghost Rider traveling from town to town on an arc by arc basis?
Potentially. I want this series to have the feel of an apocalyptic road movie. In the pitch I actually put in a photo from ‘Easy Rider’. And of course part of the concept of Ghost Rider is that he’s on a bike (it’s kind of inherent) — and the bike has to go somewhere.
So ideally I see this as a road movie within the Marvel Universe and hopefully as long as people like it and we sell enough copies we can keep building and tell stories that take place anywhere on the Marvel map.
It sounds like the mysterious figure that potentially rids Johnny of the Ghost Rider curse will be the series’ main antagonist. Can you tell us anything more about this character? What other sorts of adversaries are you interested in pitting your cast against?
The mysterious figure is an entirely new character, but our introductory story also kicks off with the appearance of another major player from Ghost Rider’s past. I’m going to leave their identity a surprise, but I thought it would be cool to nail down who Ghost Rider’s Green Goblin or Doctor Doom is. I want to give the character an identifiable antagonist to use down the road as well, so there is a major Marvel villain involved in this series.
Speaking of characters from Ghost Rider’s past, Do you have plans for Danny Ketch or Sara, the nun turned Caretaker that Jason Aaron introduced in his run?
Danny won’t be in our initial arc, but he is out there and I do have plans for him to show up at some stage.
I also don’t have any initial plans for Sara. We did want to give things a feel of a fresh start, especially since we’re launching with a .1 issue. Those issues are intended to be new reader friendly. They’re meant to welcome people and not give them an awful lot of continuity to deal with. So we open with a brief retelling of Johnny Blaze’s origin story and then we’re really off with a brand new storyline. That was part of the reason we didn’t start things off with Danny Ketch in the book. It’s a new start and we can potentially bring in some new readers who don’t know the old characters. Further down the line, I’m not adverse to bringing back some old characters, so you might see Sara eventually.
What do you feel Matthew Clark brings to the book as an artist?
From what I’ve seen from his work so far, he’s got a very energetic visual style, which I think “Ghost Rider” really needs. He’s a really good storyteller which is important. Also, our new Ghost Rider needed a cool new look and Matthew’s designs have been fantastic. The visuals for our series will have the essential elements that people already love about Ghost Rider like the motorcycle and the flaming skill. You’ll get to see Blaze’s old school bike and look, but there’s a fresh visual edge to things too. When you’re developing a new series and a new Ghost Rider, though, you want to make things distinctive in some ways and Matthew is really doing that with his work. I’m very excited to be collaborating with him on this series.
What else can we expect from your run on “Ghost Rider?”
There’s probably a danger with “Ghost Rider” where you could end up making it very, very heavy and very, very biblical. All of that is in there, but what surprises me about writing the series is just how much fun the dialogue is. I think Jason Aaron’s run had this as well. In the UK comic people usually come from a 2000 AD background — “Judge Dredd,” things like that. These titles really mix black comedy with high action and a friend of mine said that Jason Aaron’s “Ghost Rider” run is the closest an American comic has come to that feel. That’s definitely true and it’s something I definitely respond to.
I want my run on “Ghost Rider” to have that same sense of energy and enjoyment that Jason brought to the book when he was working on it. It doesn’t all have to be crushing darkness. There’s a lot of spectacle, thrills and dark comedy in there as well.