WW Chicago: Spurrier on "Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider"

In 1992, Marvel Comics debuted a title called "Spirits of Vengeance," which featured then current Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch, fighting along side former Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze; since then, things have changed a wee tad. Blaze is once again Ghost Rider and in "Ghost Rider" #23 it was revealed that Ketch is a servant of Zadkiel, the renegade angel Blaze is determined to bring down. This October, in the five issue "Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider," writer Simon Spurrier and artist Javier Saltares tell the tale of how Danny came to be an agent of Blaze's archenemy. CBR News spoke with Spurrier about the book.

By siding with Zadkiel, Danny appears to have become a villain but "Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider" will show things are much more complex than that. "It's all about injecting some empathy and �" importantly �" sense into his new status quo, so he's not just some 2D rehash of an old character," Spurrier told CBR News. "It's not like Jason [Aaron, "Ghost Rider" writer] just thought �" 'wow: let's bring Ketch back -- but as a villain!' The key was to reintroduce him with a viewpoint and rationale that opposes Johnny's, but which he has a perfectly valid reason for holding. That was the challenge put to me: Danny Ketch has to remain a likeable (or at least empathetic) character throughout, who nonetheless winds-up with a set of goals and desires which are diametrically opposed to Johnny Blaze's. That's the journey."

Spurrier finds Danny Ketch to be a compelling protagonist to write because of the character's conflicted nature and many flaws. "My theory is that Danny Ketch has always been a far more emotionally unstable character than Johnny Blaze," Spurrier explained. "Johnny works best when he's fixated on a goal: he's tormented by his past decisions and he broods on his future goals, but he tends to fly straight and true -- determined and unstoppable in getting what he wants, whatever that may be. Ketch, on the other hand, was always a far more conflicted guy. He spent a lot of his time, back in the '90s series, trying to get rid of the Ghost Rider curse. He was constantly trying to work out how he should lead his life and what the hell was causing all this madness in the first place. Crucially, what makes Danny such a fantastic character is that beneath all the flaws and weaknesses is an unbreakable core of Decency.

"When we first meet Danny in this serial he's hit rock bottom: drinking and brawling himself into oblivion every night in order to eclipse the stuff that's happened to him in recent times," Spurrier continued. "The earliest stages of the story are all about Danny realizing what it is he really wants �" what he can't live without. The irony is that it's the one thing he spent all that time back in the '90s trying so hard to get rid of."

Since the title of the series is "Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider," some readers may have already ideas about what Ketch's biggest desire is. "If I also happen to mention that when we begin this serial Danny Ketch is 'only human,' and in a very bleak mindset, you'll begin to see that there's a lot more going on throughout the story than a simple change of allegiance. Yes, this is the story of how he becomes Ghost Rider -- except not the first time round -- which is probably letting-on more than I'm supposed to, but there you go."

In addition to his flaws, doubts and desires, Ketch also comes with a complex back story that some new readers may find confusing. "It's almost certainly a work of absolute genius, but it's also completely impenetrable at first glance," Spurrier remarked. "You can never quite escape the suspicion that it started out nice and simple, and then became increasingly full of bolted-on complexities in a belated attempt to tie it in to the classic G.R. mythology. You've got mystic medallions, ancient family curses, Noble Kale, etc, then suddenly we're told Ketch is Johnny Blaze's brother, their mother is a resident in hell, they're being manipulated by Blackheart, and so on.

"It does all hang together, if you care to delve deep into it, and I'm really quite fond of it all, but it'd be a complete headfuck to readers who've never met Danny Ketch before if I used this serial to try to explain it all. There's also the added complication of Jason's latest revelations explaining the origins of the Spirits of Vengeance -- which is even harder to reconcile with the whole 'family curse' angle," Spurrier continued. "So the trick for me was to find a way to pay homage to the old origin story without sweeping it aside or saying 'it's all lies! This is what really happened!' -- but at the same time to prevent it from becoming unmanageable or problematic for the story we're trying to tell in the present."

Spurrier devised a simple solution to help him deal with Ketch's back story, "Since we last saw him, Danny Ketch has got what he always wanted -- a return to normality. He's freed himself from the 'curse' of the Ghost Rider. This serial asks: how's he getting along? (Answer: Not Well.) And what happens next?"

"Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider" unfolds over a few days and flashes back a number of times to reveal what the title character has been doing in the years since his last appearance. Most of the action takes place in Brooklyn, Ketch's current home. "But be prepared for a few leaps into some very peculiar places: astral planes, the ruins of ancient Antarctic civilizations, technophysical realities and an NYC parking lot."

As he visits these various mundane and arcane locales, Danny Ketch will discover revelations about himself, the divine and infernal realms =- and birds? "It's a story about discovering that the one thing you've been trying to escape from is the one thing you need more than any other. It's about willpower, physical strength, overcoming vice, the art of manipulation and good old fashioned War In Heaven," Spurrier explained. "Oh, and it's narrated by a talking carrion bird. As you do."

Danny's actions in "Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider" bring him face to face with both old and new obstacles and adversaries. "One in particular, who I'm very excited to see back is my favorite member of Danny Ketch's old rogue's gallery," Spurrier said. "The nature of the story is that a lot of characters might be foes or might be allies -- it's all suffused with uncertainty and paranoia. Ultimately Dan Ketch's greatest enemy is the one in the mirror."

Several significant and bizarre supporting characters round out the cast of the series. "One turns out to be something very unexpected, one is indirectly responsible for Dan's sad state and the other is, well, a talking bird. Seemingly," Spurrier remarked. "My favorite of the lot is Mary LeBow, a British punk Metatechnician (which is to say: a digital necromancer) who's trying desperately to help Dan get to the bottom of what's going on. She rides a moped, has funky hair, and has a neat line in electro-explosive Pixies. It's Gold, I tellsya."

"Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider" takes its title character to some pretty dark places, both real and metaphorical. "There's plenty of action, of course, and a couple of dips into either comic relief or plain-out weirdness, but in the main it's concerned with plumbing the depths of the soul and a good old fashioned horror vibe," Spurrier said.

Spurrier is delighted to have Javier Saltares, the co-creator of Danny Ketch, be the one to bring his scripts to life. "He brings a really lovely, atmospheric vibe to everything he touches: his pencils just ooze shadow and sinister vibes," the writer stated.

Spurrier was only nine years old when Danny Ketch first appeared, but he vividly recalls one of the character's early adventures. "One of my earliest comics memories is of Ketch being infected by a Brood Queen (an 'X-Men' run, I think). He ends-up turning the alien inside out with his bare hands. That's the sort of thing that sticks in the mind of an impressionable kid," Spurrier said. "Nowadays I'm deeply in love with All Things 'Ghost Rider', and that's only increased since Jason 'Shits Solid Gold' Aaron took over the main strip. Being asked to play in that sandpit was a bit of dream come true."

"Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider" is a series about secrets, ones that will have a profound impact not just on the title character but the entire Ghost Rider mythos as well. "I can't really say much about it here but it's Big Stuff," the writer stated. "If you're a fan of the current 'Ghost Rider' title, then this serial will hopefully enrich the milieu and shine some light into dark areas. (If you're not a fan of the current 'Ghost Rider' title: what the fuck is wrong with you?) If you haven't read a G.R. title for years, but fondly remember Dan Ketch and his battering-ram-sporting-bike, then this is the puppy to drag you back into the fold."

Spurrier had one last reveal about "Danny Ketch: Ghost Rider" for fans who may be on the fence about buying the series. He said, "It contains an elephant made entirely out of hellfire. Buy it."

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