America is a strange place, and nobody in the Marvel Universe knows that better than Johnny Blaze, the human host of the Ghost Rider. Blaze's cross-country odyssey of vengeance has taken him to some bizarre places, perhaps none as curious as Mercy, Idaho, where Ghost Rider rolls into this August in "Ghost Rider Annual" #2 from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Mark Robinson.
In the ongoing "Ghost Rider" storyline, Blaze is searching for a way to get into heaven so he can strike at Zadkiel, the renegade angel responsible for cursing Blaze with the Ghost Rider. "[My story] is basically concurrent with Jason Aaron's ongoing (and stupendously wonderful, by the way) arcs," Spurrier told CBR Nws. "The idea is that Blaze has caught wind of Something Strange Going On in Idaho - which he thinks might relate directly to his continuing quest to get into heaven -- and has headed off to investigate. He finds himself in a small forest-choked town in the grip of winter, where some deeply Odd Shit has been going down. The townsfolk are getting sick of strangers showing-up out of the blue; mainly because they don't like encouraging the notion that Mercy is an epicenter for weirdness-- but also because Bad Things tend to happen to newcomers."
Those bad things might be caused by a mysterious winged terror reputed to be haunting Mercy. "I can't say much but there's a tabloid newspaper which makes an appearance early-on in the story -- think National Enquirer without the lawsuit -- which speculates bombastically upon the latest 'Mothman sighting,'" Spurrier said. "But then, you can't believe everything you read, right?"
In order to get to the bottom of the mysteries plaguing Mercy, Blaze will have to get a grip on his already boiling over temper. Spurrier promised though, that Blaze and Ghost Rider will have a chance to really cut loose before the story's end."
Solving Mercy's mysteries means talking to its residents. "I can't give too much away about them, but things kick-off with Blaze meeting the local Sheriff's deputy, who's a slightly goofy kid with a little too much faith in his own badge," Spurrier stated. "Needless to say the youngster is gradually acquainted with the fact that you can't whack a pair of handcuffs on everything that goes 'bump' in the night."
The presence of a mysterious monster and a small town with sinister secrets means the tone of "Ghost Rider Annual" #2 is quite dark. "I guess it touches upon territory you might call 'horrific,'" Spurrier said. "But hopefully it's got a bit of a brain somewhere in there too. I wanted 'Mercy' to stand alone as a 'haunting' tale with something to say, rather than just a spooky monster-fest. Although, to be fair, it's also a spooky monster-fest."
Spurrier is a fan of Mark Robinson's work and is delighted that the artist is bringing his script to life. "He's got this rare gift for distorting anatomy and expressions in a way that heightens dynamism, but (amazingly!) doesn't damage the emotive and expressive side of the story," Spurrier explained. "He's definitely a keeper."
It was Spurrier's work with editor Aubrey Sitterson on "Silver Surfer: In Thy Name," which landed him the "Ghost Rider Annual" assignment. When Sitterson asked the British writer to pitch him some ideas, he happily obliged. "I think it's hard not to like GR as a concept," Spurrier remarked. "There's something very cool about that 'lone biker' trope -- it's not something we ever see in the flesh over here in the UK -- so like all legends it has a sort of exotic appeal. Add to that the spooky/occult vibe, the awesome design, the history full of dark and dangerous choices, and you're onto a winner every time. "
Spurrier sees Johnny Blaze as a man prone to extremes. "I think the secret at the heart of Johnny Blaze is that he's completely, utterly and uniquely driven. You can't expect someone to go through everything he's been through and come out the other end as a well-adjusted happy-go-lucky type of soul," Spurrier said. "Yes, he's occasionally given to gallows humor, but on the whole he's a tormented chap who is absolutely not the type to do things by halves. He's the kind of guy who focuses all his attention on something: be it vengeance, justice, or a frank exchange of views with Zadkiel.
"Ingeniously, his greatest strength is also his greatest flaw: the duality that sees him switching from Man to Monster endows him with enormous strength and willpower, but also jimmies-about completely with his sense of judgment and his ability to make personal decisions. You're never entirely sure who's in the driving seat: Johnny Blaze, or the Spirit of Vengeance."
Spurrier had a blast working on "Ghost Rider Annual" #2 and it's possible there may be more stories of the Spirit of Vengeance in his future. When asked if Ghost Rider was a character he'd like to revisit some day, Spurrier cryptically replied. "Yes. I can say no more on that subject though. Watch this space."
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