Seeking Vengeance: Garth Ennis talks "Ghost Rider"

If you need someone to write about heaven, hell, revenge or redemption, Garth Ennis is your man. Among the books he's worked on, his runs on "Hellblazer," "Preacher," "Hitman" and "Punisher" have shown he understands these topics better than anyone. Arriving in stores next Wednesday, he tackles these concepts once more in a brand new "Ghost Rider" miniseries. CBR News had the opportunity to catch up with the scribe and talk about this new take on a familiar character.

To begin with, this Ghost Rider is tied to previous incarnations primarily through the body he possesses, namely Johnny Blaze. Aside from that, "it doesn't really follow any previous series," said Ennis. "We hit the ground running, no looking back. His sins finally caught up with him, as you'll see in the first issue."

In explaining the Blaze/Ghost Rider dynamic, Ennis stated, "The relationship is pretty simple: Johnny Blaze is heartily sick of being the Ghost Rider and will do practically anything to be rid of his curse. But Blaze hardly features at all in this story, it's pretty much the Rider all the way."

The tale begins with Blaze suffering in hell, when he's offered an opportunity for freedom in exchange for hunting down a demon who's running free on earth. "It's the Rider's determination not to return there that makes him say yes to the job. The Ghost Rider is so utterly desperate for the prize he's offered that he'll consider doing just about anything. For him, the stakes couldn't be higher."

In most of Ennis' works, you usually won't find your standard superheroics. Instead, readers will discover characters who are motivated by internal needs. The Ghost Rider in this book can be viewed in this way as well. Ennis explained, "The Ghost Rider's not particularly heroic in this story; he has his own agenda and won't let anything get in his way."

So what drew Ennis to the project when Marvel offered it to him? Two things peaked his interest. Number one was artist Clayton Crain ("Venom vs. Carnage"): "Clayton was already on the project when Axel Alonso called me-- it was pretty much his artwork which sold me."

As for the second draw? "Guy with his head on fire riding a motorbike. Hard to go wrong there."

Books written by Ennis are distinct for several reasons, one of which is the unique characters he creates (Dog Welder and Arseface are two obvious examples). According to the writer, readers can expect another unforgettable cast in this comic and much, much more.

"Characters (appearing in the miniseries) include: a pair of angels with dubious motives, Malachi and Daniel; a redneck demon called Hoss and his little pal Buttview; a downright lethal archangel called Ruth; Earl Gustav, a crippled oil magnate, and his secretary Miss Catmint (more important than she seems); Kazann, a bodiless demon (apparently, the main villain of the piece); and Father Adam, a Catholic Priest with a rather unfortunate history. As to what readers can expect: a big, epic, widescreen tale of violence, horror and betrayal, with plenty of nasty jokes thrown in for good measure. And beautiful artwork: think action movie, think huge special effects budget, think screens filling up with fire."

And speaking of action movies with huge special effects budgets, a "Ghost Rider" movie starring Nicolas Cage will be arriving in theaters in 2006. At the same time, a video game featuring the same supernatural spirit will be arriving in stores. However, the big surprise regarding the game is the talent attached to it-- namely, Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti ("Hawkman," "The Monolith"). When asked about their process and how this game ties into the comic and the film, Ennis replied, "Broadly speaking, Jimmy handles the plot while I provide dialogue. I believe we're using some elements from both this story and the movie."

Those who read Ennis' "Punisher" know it is under Marvel's adult-oriented MAX label. With regards to "Ghost Rider" though, Ennis seems to be aiming at more of a PG-13 audience. However, that doesn't mean his imagination is limited in any way. He indicated that while this comic "…isn't actually a MAX book, it doesn't mean I don't push my luck whenever and wherever I can. I'm never really trying to outdo myself; what I want is to keep coming up with different ideas, not necessarily wilder ones. But you'll see some pretty feisty stuff in this series: Kazann gets up to all sorts of horrors, Hell literally breaks loose in Texas and Ruth causes some serious carnage once she gets going. There's the aforementioned Buttview, too."

When he isn't writing characters in need of vengeance, CBR News asked Ennis what books and films he's enjoyed as of late. He responded, "Right now I like 'Ex Machina,' 'Y: The Last Man,' 'The Losers' and-- when it comes out-- 'Strange Killings.' Wish Mark Millar would hurry up and finish 'The Unfunnies.' Loved Alan Moore's 'Forty-Niners' book. Great artwork by Gene Ha and a really nice story. Just Alan again, showing the rest of us how it's done, quietly being the best there is.

"Just read Cormac McCarthy's new novel, 'No Country For Old Men,' which I liked a lot. Faster-paced than his other stuff, more of a thriller, but no less enjoyable for it. Also reading a ton of history at the moment-- most recently 'Armageddon' by Max Hastings, and 'To Rule The Waves' by Arthur Herman. Both highly recommended.

"Movies-- not much worth talking about right now. I did see a brilliant horror flick when I was back in the U.K. recently, 'The Descent,' directed by Neil Marshal-- the guy who made the fabulous 'Dog Soldiers.' Great stuff-- makes all those Japanese dead kid remakes look like the crap they are. Just hope it gets a U.S. release. Otherwise, the only thing I really enjoyed recently was 'The Aristocrats.'"

While "Ghost Rider" has Ennis for its six-issue run, it sounds as though the writer has plenty to keep him busy. According to Ennis, his upcoming project list includes: "Another 'Kev' series from Wildstorm, featuring Carlos Ezquerra's best art in years; a third Punisher special, 'The Tyger,' drawn by John Severin; 'Nick Fury in World War Two,' six issues by Darick Robertson; a four-issue 'JLA Classified' arc featuring Tommy Monaghan, effectively the lost Hitman story; a new book from Avatar called 'Wormwood,' starring the Antichrist (he gets a bad rap); 'Back to Brooklyn,' a crime book with Jimmy Palmiotti; a new creator-owned ongoing book with Darick Robertson, 'The Boys'; a western called 'Trail of Tears'-- a much darker, more brutal book than the one about to come out; and just started writing a new limited series for Axel [Alonso] at Marvel. Very pleased with it so far. Finally, of course, there's the regular 'Punisher' book, which is just about to start a new storyline, 'The Slavers.' Frank Castle, the character I was born to write. Who'da thunk it?"

For a six-page, lettered preview of issue #1, click here.

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