Riding Off to War: Way Talks "Ghost Rider"

The Ghost Rider's road of vengeance is slowly winding its way into the center of the Marvel Universe. In "Ghost Rider" #10 - in stores today - the Spirit of Vengeance continues his battle with one of the demonically possessed casualties of "Civil War" and this June, Johnny Blaze's fiery alter ego will confront Marvel's Green Gamma Powered Goliath head on as "Ghost Rider" ties into "World War Hulk." CBR News spoke with "Ghost Rider" writer Daniel Way.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Illinois," the current story arc of "Ghost Rider" (which began in February's issue #8) was born when Way got a glimpse at the script for "Civil War" #5. "When we found out there were going to be some bodies dropping during 'Civil War,' we shopped around quick," Way told CBR News. "I had the 'Civil War' script from Mark Millar and it was great. When Jack O' Lantern died he became open to possession by Lucifer. So Jack O' Lantern whose real name is Steven Levins has been reanimated and possessed by Lucifer. He has all these demonic powers and all these add-ons like body armor, the cool hover disc and wrist blasters. This is a new kind of threat: a supervillain backed up by all the powers of hell.

"I went back and saw that Steven Levins was never credited with having a place of birth so I made it Sleepy Hollow, Illinois," Way continued. "So Jack O' Lantern is back and possessed by the Devil and he's terrorizing this sleepy little town Northwest of Chicago; this kind of pastoral little city. There are witnesses to the murders he commits. The descriptions the witnesses give of the murderer is basically a freaking looking guy with a flaming head."

As readers might have guessed, when the Ghost Rider - a fearsome look guy with a blazing skull - shows up in Sleepy Hollow he's not welcomed with open arms. "The local sheriff, this guy Harry O'Connor, he sees Ghost Rider and how many freaking looking guys with flaming heads are there? So it's not a bad call on his part to assume that the murders are the work of Ghost Rider" Way explained. "How many times in your life are you going to see one of these guys? So Sheriff Harry is certain that it's Ghost Rider that he's after and he is hell-bent and determined to stop him.

"Harry seems a bit over the top," Way continued. "This is a guy who used to be a Chicago cop and he moved to this town for a reason. He is very protective of this town. He will go to extreme lengths to make sure his town is protected. There's really no limit to where he'll go. This is a guy who has seen a lot in his life, so he's been preparing for the worst. He's an extremely well armed individual [At the end of issue #9 he was pointing an M-60 machine gun at Ghost Rider] and he's a bit crazy. He's also a bit old but he's pretty damn good at what he does."

"Ghost Rider" #9 ended with the Spirit of Vengeance staring down the barrel of Sheriff Harry's M-60 and it seems like the only hope for Sleepy Hollow is if the two stubborn characters come to some understanding and target their real enemy. "Between these two characters form an extremely uneasy alliance," Way stated. "Because you have Ghost Rider who is a bad good guy and Sheriff Harry who's good bad guy and then you have Jack O' Lantern who's an all out bad guy."

Both Johnny Blaze and the Ghost Rider might not want to admit it but they could use some help against the Lucifer possessed Jack O' Lantern because, like Way mentioned, this incarnation is unlike any of the other Lucifer fragments the Spirit of Vengeance has battled. "With this one in particular it's extremely problematic. Not only is he more powerful than the Lucifer fragments he's faced before but because he's inhabiting Jack O' Lantern he's wrapped up in this high tech body armor. Ghost Rider needs to get around that. This guy is trussed up tight. Ghost Rider is not the most technical or tactical person. It's a very straight line of action with Ghost Rider. So it's hard for him to kind of get inside on this guy. He's going to need a bit of help."

As readers saw at the end of issue #9, Jack O' Lantern will also enlist some help in his battle with the Ghost Rider and the terrorizing of Sleepy Hollow. The final page of that issue has the demonic super villain raising an army of zombies. "That scene didn't even occur to me at first," Way said. "I was writing the issue and I always have a good idea of where I'm going to end the issue and then I found out we got Arthur Suydam to do our covers. Since I'm a bit retarded as to who does what, I typed his name into a Google Image search and I saw those 'Marvel Zombies' covers. It was just like this big light bulb appeared over my head. I put Lucifer out there as someone who really revels in chaos. He's in Sleepy Hollow, he's got a flaming pumpkin head and the story takes place on Halloween. He just wants to go Trick R' Treating and it's no fun when you do it alone."

Ghost Rider's battle against Jack O' Lantern and his Trick R' Treating undead hordes will be chronicled in "Ghost Rider" #10-11. In June, the Spirit of Vengeance will reluctantly ride into Manhattan and a confrontation with another vengeance obsessed character, the Incredible Hulk as "Ghost Rider" #12 -13 ties in to "World War Hulk." "Ghost Rider's involvement is very much Johnny Blaze's idea," Way explained. "Ghost Rider has a mission. As far as Ghost Rider is concerned the mission is to track down these avatars of Lucifer, take them out and send Lucifer packing back to hell. Everything else is secondary. It's the biggest threat going and that's what he's concerned about because Ghost Rider doesn't have the emotions that plague the rest of us. When Johnny Blaze finds out what's happening in New York he wants to go and help all the people in danger. Johnny wants to go and help but Ghost Rider is like, 'No! We've got more important things to do. You would jeopardize billions to save a few hundred thousand?' That's not Ghost Rider math. But Johnny is like, 'Screw that! I'm going to help.' Essentially he has to take control back from the Ghost Rider and his prize for winning is going toe-to-toe with the Hulk, who's never been stronger or more pissed off."

When Johnny Blaze arrives in Manhattan to tackle the Hulk, he shouldn't expect to be treated like the cavalry arriving in the nick of the time to save everybody. To the heroes and citizens in New York, watching Ghost Rider and the Hulk tangle is comparable to how the citizens of Tokyo feel when Godzilla shows up to battle another monster. "Once he gets there everybody is just going to fall back," Way stated. "They're not going to help. Especially Dr. Strange, he knows the score. He thinks, 'If Ghost Rider can beat the Hulk great. If Hulk takes out Ghost Rider great because Ghost Rider is just as much a threat as Hulk is at this point. This plan he's got going is not safe and Dr. Strange has explained that quite clearly. The best situation is that the both take each other out."

Since Johnny Blaze is in control, Ghost Rider just might get himself taken out in his battle with the Hulk "Ghost Rider left alone is extremely powerful; it's almost boundless." Way said. "Johnny Blaze is kind of the safety switch that keeps Ghost Rider from going super nova. So the more Johnny is in control, the less powerful the Ghost Rider is; which is not a good situation to be in when you're wading into a fight with the Hulk. Johnny is going to have to rely on his wits which are a pretty limited resource."

Even with only a limited amount of power available, Ghost Rider's battle with the Hulk should still be pretty brutal and spectacular. "I gotta tell you, the fight between these two characters, I can't wait to see it on paper. I didn't hold back on anything," Way stated. "I think we worked in some really cool stuff. There's one shot in there that's going to be remembered well.

"Ghost Rider" #12-13 will feature some guest star appearances by other Marvel heroes. As we mentioned before though, Johnny Blaze shouldn't expect any of this characters to give him a hand with the Hulk. "This battle will be closely monitored," Way stated. "All eyes are on this battle in this two-parter. Two characters in particular are watching it."

The spectators observing the fight between the Spirit of Vengeance and the Green King might include members of the Initiative, America's superhuman army. If that's the case they'll have to carefully consider how they handle Ghost Rider. "Ghost Rider is not a superhero. He's a supernatural," Way explained. "So you can't really enlist him and going after him would be a losing proposition. You can't really kill him. It's kind of, and we should introduce this into the Marvel Lexicon, the Hulk Complex; the harder you beat on him the worse it gets.

"Now down the line," Way continued. "there are a couple of big developments we need to get out of the way, but yes it is possible that Ghost Rider will 'Come Back to Earth' and get involved. Eventually he's got to really get in and mix it up in the Marvel Universe. That's part of the plan, but he has some stuff to get off of his plate first."

One of the things Ghost Rider needs to get off his plate is his crusade against the 666 avatars of Lucifer. "Ghost Rider's battle with Lucifer has not gone unnoticed and actually that's a big component of the story arc after the 'World War Hulk' tie-in. That arc is going to be the big because Ghost Rider is reaching the end of the chain and it's about time for the big face-off."

Ghost Rider's big face-off with Lucifer will bring out some of the major players in the supernatural corners of the Marvel Universe. "The only question is just who is in whose corner? There's going to be a supernatural 'Whose side have you been on?' breaking out," Way said. "We'll find out that a lot of things are not as they seem to be. There are a lot of revelations coming."

When the smoke clears from Ghost Rider's final battle with Lucifer, readers can expect the Spirit of Vengeance to still be out there riding the highways and byways, but the identity of who's riding along with him might be in question. "Ghost Rider is still going to be around, but if Johnny Blaze's plan works the way he's got it plotted out, and this was set up from the beginning, the best possible scenario is that he's going back to hell because otherwise the devil is just going to get back out again," Way explained. "Johnny Blaze's soul, and we're not messing with this part, is promised to the devil. That's the deal. What's happening between then and now really doesn't matter. When Johnny Blaze finally croaks he's going downstairs. The only reason Johnny survived his first trip to hell was that because when he crossed over, he crossed over with the Ghost Rider."

Some readers might think that Johnny's ultimate destination might lead him to cling tightly to the Spirit of Vengeance. "That's not so much different than hell though," Way said. "So what are you going to do? These are thee kind of questions you want to keep hanging out there. Do you give into it? Or do you keep fighting? And if you keep fighting is it one of those situations where the battles will lose you the war?

"Right from the get go I really wanted to streamline what Ghost Rider was and I think that's all coming together," Way continued. "Ghost Rider is the Spirit of Vengeance and its human host. What is the human host all about? That's one of the only big questions left and that one gets answered in the arc after the 'World War Hulk' tie-ins."

Recently the "Ghost Rider Finale," the unpublished issue #94 of the 1990s series, hit stores and some fans might have questions about whether or not the revelations contained in that book would have impact on the current "Ghost Rider" series. "No," answered Way. "Everything that I had outlined for the first year and a half of 'Ghost Rider' was based on what had come before and that issue was not in the equation. If you read that issue you know there's some major stuff that happens there. I was sent that script and they were like, 'Look through this and see if there's anything that wouldn't work out for you.' I basically told them, 'All of it.' At this point it was being penciled. My other concern was that people might think the reason the issue came out was that we we're going to follow up on something in it. So, hopefully not a lot of people thought that."

Another question fans of the '90s "Ghost Rider" series have for Way is if the writer has any plans for former Spirit of Vengeance host, Danny Ketch. "Kind of," Way said. "There's always been a Ghost Rider and the Ghost Rider always had a human host. That human host at their core has always been motivated by vengeance. In the case of Johnny Blaze, his was really blind vengeance; everything had been taken away from him. Danny Ketch was powerless and it drove him towards vengeance. He literally ran towards it. When he saw vengeance, when he saw that bike, he ran for it.

"The other side of the coin is when you're vengeance is done there's no more Ghost Rider, it's gone. So with Danny Ketch, that last issue aside, his vengeance was done. Same with Blaze, he was happy for awhile. He bought the Quentin Carnival. He finally had everything. Then he lost it all and the Spirit of Vengeance was right back on him."

With the Ghost Rider existing through out time, it means there's plenty of tales of the Spirit of Vengeance just waiting to be told. "That's pretty fertile ground and frankly Garth Ennis seems to have that nailed," Way stated. "He's doing a Western story right now and that only covers a short window of time. If Garth wanted to do a Spirit of Vengeance on the battlefields of the First or Second World Wars, I ain't going to stand in his way because those are stories I would want to read."

Way really hopes fans want to read the stories he's crafting for "Ghost Rider" especially the current "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Illinois" arc. "I'm having a great time writing this book," he said. "With this story arc, I kind of hit the gas as far as embracing where I think this book should go," he explained. "It should be incredibly action packed. I work with Javier [Saltares] and Tex [Mark Texeira], that's what they're great at and that's what their known for. That's where my focus went to. Still tell a story, still have it mean something, still have it be part of a larger super story but just kind of amp it up a little bit. The first part of 'Ghost Rider' was all set up. We introduced our cast and had a lot of character moments. They were very character driven issues. From here on out things are going to be non-stop action."

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