Williams Wages War on Sin in "Ghost Rider"

In the Marvel Universe, great power often comes with great responsibility. However, not everyone wants to bear that sort of power, especially when it burns your flesh off every time you use it. For years, Johnny Blaze played host to the Spirit of Vengeance, a motorcycle-riding supernatural entity known as the Ghost Rider. Whenever innocent blood was shed, Blaze's skin caught fire and burned away to reveal the fiery and skeletal form of the immensely powerful being known as Ghost Rider.

Bearing the mantle of Ghost Rider doesn't just lead to physical pain -- it also results in a great deal of emotional agony. For years, his curse repeatedly robbed Blaze of any chance of leading a normal, happy life. So when a mysterious stranger showed up in June's "Ghost Rider" #0.1, the introductory issue of the new series by writer Rob Williams and artist Matthew Clark, and offered Blaze the chance to rid himself of the Ghost Rider once and for all, he eagerly accepted.

Of course, actions have consequences. In "Ghost Rider" #1, in stores July 13, readers will meet the result of Blaze's fateful decision, an all-new female character possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance. Comic Book Resources spoke with Williams about the character and his present and future plans for "Ghost Rider."

CBR News: Rob, let's start with the big question. Why did you want to rid Johnny Blaze of the Ghost Rider curse?

Rob Williams: I wanted to come at things with a fresh start. We're approaching the character with a 0.1 issue followed by a brand-new #1, so I wanted readers to feel like they were starting on the ground floor of a storyline. That was the main thinking.

Rob Williams places Ghost Rider squarely in the Marvel Universe with this new series

It wasn't because I harbored any kind of dislike for Johnny Blaze as a character. The more I write Johnny the more I like him, actually. He's got a great voice to write, and it's fun having him around. We just wanted to freshen things up a bit. There's a huge amount of continuity attached to every Marvel and DC character. Things can be very convoluted at times, and reading some of the different origins of the Ghost Rider that have appeared over the years will give you a headache.

So we decided a good hook for our new series would be to give Blaze what he wants. He originally became the Ghost Rider because of a Faustian pact, so let's offer him another Faustian pact by having someone turn up and give him what he wants most: "You can get rid of the Ghost Rider, but there's a catch." In this case it's that someone else will become the Ghost Rider's new host, and Johnny'll have no idea who that is. He's passing his curse on to a total stranger. Basically, Blaze is doing a very nasty thing to someone.

In the 0.1 issue, Blaze says he's no superhero, but more often than not, he ends up doing the heroic thing. How big a role will Johnny play in the series now that he's no longer the title character?

Johnny may not be the Ghost Rider anymore, but he is one of the protagonists of this book. This book will focus on the journey of both Johnny and the new Ghost Rider.

Character-wise, Johnny is sort of like Han Solo in the first "Star Wars" movie. He's full of bravado and bullshit. He'll tell you that he doesn't care and it's not his problem anymore, but you just know that he's going to get to the edge of town, sigh and then turn around and go back into the trouble. He's got a good heart despite himself. So fans of Johnny Blaze are going to see that he's in the book throughout, and like I said, I've genuinely had a blast writing him. He's got such a sarcastic voice. When you get to the point he has, where you're forced to become a flaming skeleton and robbed of any semblance of happiness, you become fairly irreverent. He doesn't respect anyone or anything. Characters like that are really fun to write.

Will Johnny feel any guilt over the part he played in creating this new Ghost Rider?

Yes, very much so. When editor Steve Wacker and I were initially planning this book, he said, "This should be a very Catholic book." That really resonated with me. We're dealing with a central concept that's all about sin, vengeance and punishing those who deserve it most. So Johnny basically gets his wish. It's not a trick. He's rid himself of the Ghost Rider by the end of the 0.1 issue, and it's not coming back. He could walk away, and initially that's his plan. The good man in him and the guilt, though, are going to make him turn around and get involved again.

That's because he's cursed this new individual, and he knows how horrible being the Ghost Rider is. He knows that he just passed this on to someone, so he can't help but get involved and try to aid that person.

Where did the idea for a female Ghost Rider originate?

I was a fan of Jason Aaron's run. I thought it was terrific and one of the most fun books that Marvel had published in recent years. In those final few issues, it felt like Jason had thrown everything but the kitchen sink in. It was a story that involved so many different Ghost Riders.

We wanted to try something a little bit different. We wanted a new visual hook that would say, "Look! This is something that hasn't been done before with the Ghost Rider." At least, I don't think it has. It gives us a different visual aesthetic. So it may not be the most original idea in the world [Laughs], but it allows us the chance to make our series feel a little distinct.

So far we've only seen the new Ghost Rider in a couple of panels on the "This Year in 'Ghost Rider'" page at the end of the 0.1 issue. She appears to have a distinct look, especially the way her powers seem to manifest. Is she carrying a sickle instead of a chain?

It's kind of like a scythe, which Matt Clark designed for her. I don't want to say too much about the character at this point because in the book we haven't actually met her yet. She is a brand-new character. The big difference between her and Johnny Blaze is that Johnny was a stunt motorcyclist who got conned into becoming the Ghost Rider. She is someone who has been raised deliberately to be a weapon by being a host for the Ghost Rider.

Johnny was never a warrior. He was a motorcyclist. This girl is a warrior. She was bred and raised for nefarious reasons, and that's potentially very bad news for the rest of the world, as we'll see. Because the guy Adam, who takes away Johnny's curse and then passes it on to her, obviously has a Machiavellian plot. It wouldn't be a "Ghost Rider" comic without a Machiavellian plot.

Does this new character view the Ghost Rider as more of a blessing than a curse?

This is her calling. She wants it and trained her entire life to get it. But becoming the Ghost Rider is the type of thing where even if you spend years preparing for it, you still will have no idea what you're getting into when it arrives. In our 0.1 issue Johnny talks about feeling your flesh boil and bubble every time you transform. It's not a painless transformation.

Plus she's got a lot of anger inside her from a life of captivity and repressed emotion. So this new Ghost Rider is going to need some controlling, which is what Johnny's role down the road is going to be.

Speaking of Johnny's role, we know these two characters are destined to eventually meet, but can you reveal if it will be sooner or later?

Again, I don't want to give too much away because it's a little ways down the line, but they do meet in the first arc. They will come face to face, and let's just say it's not going to be a happy brother-and-sister-style relationship. There's always been a Johnny vs. the Ghost Rider subtext; now it's going to be an actual physical battle.

Earlier you mentioned Adam, the mysterious stranger who rids Johnny of the Ghost Rider. Can you tell us anything about this character and what drives him? His name and his comment about waging war on sin suggest that he's possibly a divine being instead of a demonic one.

Adam is another character I don't want to touch on too much yet because I'm not going to reveal his origins until the final issue of our first arc. He is someone who is very old, though. He's been on the Earth an awful long time, and he's very powerful. The actions going on in the world because of "Fear Itself" have finally led him to decide that humanity can't be saved. That feeling has been building in him for years and he's finally gotten to a point where he sees what's going on with "Fear Itself" and sees the world ripping itself to shreds. That's the last straw for him. That caused him to approach Johnny Blaze.

Like every good villain, he has good intentions at heart. He thinks he's doing the right thing and saving the world. That's his goal. His idea of saving the world, though, won't be good for the human race. You'll find out more concrete details as we go along.

Will the events of "Fear itself" resonate in the remaining issues of this introductory arc?

In issue #1 you'll see the new Ghost Rider's first mission, which will bring her face to face with Sin, the Red Skull's daughter who has been transformed into Skadi, the first avatar of the Serpent. So that's a hugely challenging initial test for our new Ghost Rider. You're also going to see a couple of old-school Ghost Rider villains. Deathwatch and Blackout are both in issue #1.

We're tying into "Fear Itself," but you don't have to read the "Fear Itself" miniseries to get what's going on in "Ghost Rider." We explain everything. Those that are following both books will see that there are connections in each issue of the opening arc.

So, this new Ghost Rider is going to war with Sin both literally and figuratively?

Yeah, we were thinking about what we could do to fit in with "Fear Itself," and it just seemed absolutely ideal. We've got this immensely powerful nasty piece of work character named Sin who's smashing the world up, and that's exactly what the Ghost Rider is going after. That was a very easy decision to make. The way that fight ends and Sin's reaction to the Ghost Rider will give some good hints about what's to come in the series.

How many chapters are in this introductory arc? And can you give hints or teases about where the book is headed after the first arc ends?

There's the 0.1 issue and the first four issues of the series, so it's a five-part storyline. Basically the whole idea of our pitch was that once we got past the initial arc, the series was going to be like an apocalyptic road movie. It's going to have Johnny Blaze effectively acting as the new Caretaker and mentoring the new Ghost Rider. He's trying to keep her under control because the Ghost Rider is a supernatural weapon of mass destruction. Johnny Blaze never really used the Ghost Rider to its full potential. It never occurred to him just how powerful this entity could be, because the Ghost Rider has power over sin and every single human being on the planet has sin in them. Effectively, the Ghost Rider has power over every being on the planet, but Johnny Blaze never saw that. That's just not who he is. That's why a lot of different people are going to be after this new Ghost Rider. They'll want to use the Rider for their own purposes.

Sounds like the dramatic spine of this book is Johnny and the new Ghost Rider and their attempts to stay one step ahead of the forces out to take control of Ghost Rider.

Correct. After we wrap our introductory arc, Johnny and the new Ghost Rider will be on the run with two major figures chasing them. One is Adam, who we met. The other is a figure we haven't met yet, an old-school character Marvel fans will enjoy seeing. Then once we establish that, we can tell whatever story we want, because it's a road movie. The nature of the Ghost Rider bike is that it can go anywhere in the Marvel Universe, really. There's even a dimensional portal aspect to it.

As long as you know the spine of your story, you can detour and visit places. We'll see how it goes. As with anything in this market, you just have to hope that people will pick the book up and take a chance on it. But we definitely have plans for down the road.

The "This Year in 'Ghost Rider'" page suggests some of those plans involve going into space.

Yes. [Laughs] Ghost Rider in space! We're trying to come up with little things that people maybe wouldn't expect and seem a bit out of left field. We figured, why not? It's fun and gives great visuals.

I get excited just talking about "Ghost Rider" in space. The space scenes are part of a big, action movie-style climax. In fact, the overall feel of this book is "fun." It's a flaming skeleton riding a demon motorbike. There'd better be fun. There are some heavy themes and ideas, but there's not a lot of navel gazing. In the 0.1 issue, we told a story that had some comedy and was fast-paced with lots of action. And if we can slip in some heavy themes in the subtext, all the better.

Part of the fun of this book is that while it will have supernatural elements, it won't be isolated to its own corner of the Marvel Universe. Is that the Red Hulk running behind the new Ghost Rider in the final panel of the "This Year in 'Ghost Rider'" page?

We wanted to ground this book. You can't deny its supernatural aspect, but we didn't want this to be a mysterious, overly pretentious horror type book. We wanted it to be smart-mouthed with great dialogue and action. We wanted to make it accessible and the type of book people would pick up, because people seem to get a little frightened off by supernatural titles. Books like "Sandman" being the obvious exception. So we wanted to tell a story that was as much about riding a bike out in the real world as it was about dealing with the angels and the demons. As you can see from that image we have a hugely fun crossover lined up, but I can't say anything about it at this point.

Matthew Clark has plenty of experience drawing superheroes and action from thanks to DC stints on "Doom Patrol" and "Adventures of Superman." Was he dying to do a book with supernatural elements?

I'm sure everyone says things like this in these interviews, but I've genuinely been blown away by the things Matt has been doing. I genuinely think that issue #1 looks better than the 0.1 issue. The pages he's sending in are just absolutely fantastic. There were times, especially during the battle scenes with Sin, that I felt like I was reading "The Ultimates."

That's the kind of thing we talked about at the start of this project. I'm not knocking them, but some "Ghost Rider" comics in the past have had a darker-tinged, more horror-style artist, and that's fine. But I think a certain part of your Marvel audience may be put off by that, so we want this to look like a mainstream superhero book in the planning. The storylines can be horror-themed, but we want the book to look accessible and open like a superhero book. That's exactly what Matt has done.

I haven't seen a huge amount of his work prior to this, but he's just been doing absolutely fantastic work. Ditto for the colorist, inker and really the entire team on this. They're really making this a great-looking book, and hopefully it will have a broad appeal.

Finally, we've seen Matthew's depiction of Johnny as the Ghost Rider, and we've been given glimpses of his work with the new Ghost Rider. Does '90s GR Danny Ketch figure into your long-term plans for "Ghost Rider"?

We've roughly outlined a few stories, and Danny is definitely in the plans. He's affected by what happens in this initial arc, but you won't see it for a while. But, if all goes well, we will be seeing Danny at some stage.

"Ghost Rider" #1 screeches its way into comic shops on July 13.

Tags: marvel comics, ghost rider, rob williams, matthew clark, fear itself, johnny blaze

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