In last year's "Ghost Rider" #20, writer Jason Aaron and artist Roland Boschi launched Johnny Blaze on a twisted trail of vengeance against Zadkiel, the renegade angel who put the curse of the Ghost Rider on him. Since that initial story ar,c Aaron has continued to chronicle Johnny Blaze's quest, but Boschi has gone onto to do other projects. This August, the two creators reunite to finish the story they began together with "Ghost Riders: Heavens on Fire," a six-issue miniseries from Marvel Comics that will take the place of the ongoing "Ghost Rider" title for six months. CBR News spoke with Aaron about the project.
Over the course of his long quest against Zadkiel, Johnny Blaze has endured many trials. He was reunited with his estranged brother Danny Ketch, who, thanks to Zadkiel's machinations, had also become a Ghost Rider and a pawn in the rebel angel's scheme to take over heaven. Indeed, Blaze learned there many Ghost Riders spread out all over the world. However, their forces were diminishing, thanks to the efforts of Danny Ketch. Blaze and the remaining Ghost Riders faced off against Ketch and Zadkiel's forces in a final climatic battle, and when the smoke cleared, Blaze and Ketch were the only remaining Ghost Riders, an outcome Zadkiel used to take over Heaven. After the battle, Blaze and Ketch grew tired of fighting and went their separate ways, but forces are conspiring to bring the two Ghost Riders back into the struggle with Zadkiel.
The story continues in three new issues of "Ghost Rider," #33-35, each illustrated by Tony Moore. "'The first one is on the new Caretaker [mortals tasked with keeping Ghost Rider lore and aiding them on their missions] and we end that issue with her heading off to look for Blaze," Aaron told CBR News. "The next issue focuses on Danny Ketch and sets up his new status quo in the wake of the final events of 'The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance.' So he's got a very different relationship with the Ghost Rider now then what he had before. And in the third issue, we pick up with Blaze and see where things stand with him. His relationship with the Ghost Rider has changed a bit too. By the end of that, we'll have Blaze and Caretaker reunited and off on the road and looking to keep the fight going.
"At the same time, we've also got this group of villains coming together to take them down. In 'Heaven's on Fire,' we're going to see who all makes up that group of villains. There will be some characters we've seen before in 'Ghost Rider' like The Orb, who I used earlier in my run. You'll also see some other Ghost Rider villains that I haven't used before and some villains who've never appeared in 'Ghost Rider.' So it will be a crazy mix."
The months ahead will also see Ghost Rider stalked by another person out to destroy him, a backwoods cop named Kowalski who feels Johnny Blaze ruined his life. In "Ghost Rider" #32, Kowalski underwent a transformation that left him looking a lot like a character named Vengeance, who was a prominent figure in the '90s "Ghost Rider" series. "He will be part of 'Heaven's on Fire' as well and you're right he does look suspiciously like Vengeance," Aaron confirmed. "Obviously, he's not going to be happy about his current situation. So he'll definitely popping up again to try and get his revenge on the Ghost Rider."
If any one of the many adversaries out to get Blaze, Ketch and Caretaker succeed, it's curtains for the the Marvel Universe. Now that Zadkiel controls heaven, the stakes couldn't be any higher. "It means everything now that Zadkiel has taken over the heavenly city, and we've found out that the longer he holds the city the more powerful he becomes," Aaron explained. "In the opening of 'Heaven's on Fire' you'll see that his power is already growing. He starts to manipulate things on Earth. He can empower and possess people and send them after the Ghost Riders."
In order to stop Zadkiel from obtaining ultimate power, the Ghost Riders and their allies will find themselves protecting an unlikely person. "Everything kind of kicks into gear with the revelation that Zadkiel is attempting to murder the Anti-Christ," Aaron said. "A group of Satanists have been working together for years to breed the perfect Anti-Christ, and there's rooms of babies and children who've all been bred from murderers, maniacs, psychopaths and politicians in order to create the perfect Anti-Christ. So Zadkiel wants to wipe them out. He wants to subvert biblical prophecy. If there's no Anti-Christ, the Book of Revelations is thrown out the window and Zadkiel can write the future himself.
"So Blaze, Caretaker, a 'Son of Satan' who pops up along the way, and a few other characters find themselves in the awkward position of having to save the Anti-Christ in order to save the world. And of course all of that's going to lead to a final confrontation with Zadkiel."
Protecting the Anti-Christ and confronting Zadkiel means the cast of "Heaven's on Fire" will be traveling to a number of locales both earthly and divine. "In the first issue, when Blaze and Caretaker realize that this young Anti-Christ is on the run and they've got to find him, they ask themselves, 'If you were the most evil person in the world where would you go?'" Aaron said. "You'll see where the answer to that question takes them. Then in later issues it's going to be very much a road story. You'll see characters on the road having to complete a couple of different missions. Then of course for the final confrontation we're going to have to see some action in heaven. You'll see Ghost Riders riding the streets of heaven looking for vengeance."
Since their first work together on "Ghost Rider," Jason Aaron and Roland Boschi collaborated on last year's "Punisher MAX X-Mas Special," and the writer couldn't be happier. "His work on this series, I think is the best looking stuff he's ever done," Aaron said. "And he's getting to draw and redesign a lot of characters. There will be a new look for Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. And in the second issue we have the return of one my favorite villains, Master Pandemonium, from 'West Coast Avengers.' We also bring in Jaine Cutter, a character Warren Ellis created during his 'Hellstorm' run. She's an occult terrorist who has a 'breathing gun,' which kills demons, and as you'll see in this story, angels as well. There's just a lot of craziness and Roland seems to be having fun designing and brining it all to life."
With such an eclectic and twisted cast of main and supporting characters, "Heaven's on Fire" is affording Aaron the opportunity to write some interesting character dynamics and interactions. "You've got Blaze, Caretaker -- who's a nun, Hellstrom -- who's the Son of Satan, Jaine Cutter -- who's an occult terrorist, and the Anti-Christ," the writer said. "You throw all of them in a room together and there's a lot of tension in a lot different ways. There's a lot of screwed up relationships and angry feelings so that's going to be a lot of fun to write."
The tone of "Heaven's on Fire" is similar to Aaron's other "Ghost Rider" stories, just on a much grander scale. "I think this will be bigger and crazier then anything we've done so far; just with the amount of characters I'm throwing at everything and all the crazy situations," Aaron stated. "And the stakes are at the highest, so it's a lot of fun."
As "Heaven's on Fire" is taking the place of the regular "Ghost Rider" series for the duration, and fans are quite naturally wondering why this story is being told as a separate miniseries and not simply as an arc of the primary title. "The main thing was just to try and get a little more spotlight on Ghost Rider," Aaron revealed. "Since I took over the book, I've been really happy with the response we've gotten. I've heard from a lot of people who never read 'Ghost Rider' and are big fans of it now. And the critical responses we've gotten have been great. Sales have also stayed steady, which is about as good as you can ask for without doing any gimmicks to boost them. I'm still telling the same story I was planning on telling all along. I signed on for two years initially, when I came on to 'Ghost Rider,' and when I'm done with 'Heaven's on Fire' it will work out to about that. So it's still the same story and hopefully this way we can pick up a few new readers along the way."
Even though "Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire" is the climax of Aaron's time with the Spirit of Vengeance, the writer says it will be a story that's completely accessible to new readers. "On one hand, this wraps up everything I've been doing on 'Ghost Rider.' This was all one two-year-long story from the get go. So I'm going to wrap up everything and hopefully leave the series in a good place. I've put a few more pieces on the board for the next writer to come along and play with. But at the same time, I think for anybody who's been reluctant to give 'Ghost Rider' a shot, this would be a good point to pick it up. Even though this is the wrap up of the big storyline, I think the basic one-paragraph set up on the recap page will tell you all you need to know to jump right in."
"Ghost Rider" #33 is on sale now. "Ghost Rider: Heaven's On Fire" #1 goes on sale in August.