Felipe Smith Revs Up GHOST RIDER’s Engines of Vengeance

Marvel previews for May 14, 2014
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ghost Rider has burned a path of vengeance through comics for over forty years on a two-wheeled flaming motorcycle – imagine what he could do with four? In the new series All-New Ghost Rider, fresh-faced indie creators Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore have given the next spirit of vengeance an overhaul as Robbie Reyes, an East L.A.-based gearhead with a chip on his shoulder and nihilistic outlook on life. When he’s killed in a street car chase gone wrong, a haunted muscle car becomes his salvation as he’s transformed into the newest iteration of Ghost Rider.

Launched as part of the publisher’s “All-New Marvel NOW!” initiative, All-New Ghost Rider’s first two issues have earned high marks by our Best Shots review team and series writer Felipe Smith talked with Newsarama as he races to the next stage of the race with this Wednesday’s issue #3.

Newsarama: Felipe – two issues of All-New Ghost Rider are on the stands, and the third is coming out this Wednesday. How do you feel about where you’re at, and where readers are at here in terms of getting a good idea of what you and Tradd Moore are aiming for here?

Credit: Marvel Comics

Felipe Smith: So far the reception of All-New Ghost Rider has been amazingly positive, for which I’m very thankful.

I spend a lot of time thinking about not only our ongoing storyline, but also the visual presentation, design and in a sense the branding of Robbie Reyes, the all-new Ghost Rider, as a character.

Series artist Tradd Moore, colorists Val Staples and Nelson Daniel, our editors Mark Paniccia and Emily Shaw as well as the rest of the creative staff have been extremely receptive to my suggestions and seem to really understand the direction I’m pushing for with this character and the overall tone of the series, which makes me once again, very grateful.

The creative synergy is palpable; I think we’ve got a great team!

The fact that readers seem to be enjoying it so far, and are with us for the ride, makes us all extremely happy!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nrama: In the second issue you go into detail about this new drug created by Dr. Zabo that gives users some crazy freak-out moments. For people who haven’t given the series a test drive yet, can you tell people what the all-new Ghost Rider is facing here?

Smith: Dr. Zabo, a genius biological scientist and creator of the “Hyde Serum”, which transforms him into his monstrous alter ego Mr. Hyde, has created a new Pink Pill that gives its consumer extreme Hyde-like physical power.

He created this new strength-enhancing drug for a group of military mercenaries who, in exchange for the pill and his leadership, broke him out of prison.

The Pink Pills were stolen from Dr. Zabo’s lab by Grumpy, a Hillrock Heights gang leader and drug dealer who believed them to be regular street narcotics, but upon witnessing their effect at a party immediately recognizes their value and potential as a weapon.

These Pink Pills very quickly create exponential havoc on the streets of East Los Angeles and a surging war between a paramilitary faction and one of Hillrock Heights’ most infamous gangs. All-new Ghost Rider finds himself right in the middle of it all.

Nrama: And he’ll need it all it seems to face off against a seemingly new and improved Mr. Hyde in this series.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Smith: Like every first-time hero, Robbie will go through a bit of trial and error to get acquainted with and fully understand his newfound abilities. We, as readers, very quickly realize that his powers are quite different from those of previous Ghost Riders. His powers are “All-New” and pretty cool; and he’ll definitely have to use them wisely if he’s got any hope of beating a seasoned, monstrous heavy-hitter like Mr. Hyde.

Nrama: And this is Robbie’s first test as a hero – something big, because up until now he’s focused exclusively on taking care of him and his brother. Can you talk about this transformative moment for Robbie?

Smith: Robbie’s had a pretty tough life so far. Being abandoned by his parents at a young age, left to take care of his younger, disabled brother Gabe, all by himself; Robbie has known great responsibility at a younger age than most.

Unlike most super heroes, by the time Robbie receives his powers, he’s already well aware of the concept of great duty, and unlike most of his Ghost Rider predecessors, Robbie does not see these powers as a curse.

He finds himself in a difficult situation when he meets the spirit who transforms him, and rather than a burden, finds it a timely blessing.

Nrama: And speaking of transformations, after issue #1’s initial transformation of Robbie into Ghost Rider for the first time, we saw a great panel with Ghost Rider transforming back into Robbie coming out of the car. As an artist yourself, are you going into detail with Tradd about what you’re looking for or is he in the driver’s seat so to speak on depicting how, for instance, Robbie transforms?

Credit: Marvel Comics

All-New Ghost Rideris my first time working with another artist on a comic book project, and it’s been both fun and an interesting learning experience for more than one reason.

As soon as I started working on this title I realized how little I actually script for myself when working on my own graphic novels. I would usually just type out the dialogue for my characters, and a few descriptive lines for their actions, and that would be it. That would be enough for me to go into thumbnails and lay out the whole story visually, because all the camera shots, background detail, character clothing, design and facial expressions would already be in my head.

When you think something up, visually, it’s all in your head; it’s your own idea. You don’t need to tell yourself what you want to do because you already know. [laughs]

But working with another artist I’ve realized a few things. The first: If I have a certain shot in mind, or a certain expression, or an image of a car’s headlights shining on a character at a certain angle from the side as a certain amount of rubble flies through the air during an action scene, I have to write it all down and be as clear as possible. If I don’t, the artist has no way of knowing that’s what I intended for the scene. He doesn’t live inside my head, unfortunately. [laughs]

The second (and probably most important) thing I’ve realized, is that when you’re writing for another artist, and not yourself, it’s your duty to write for that artist and his or her particular strengths and sensibilities.

Credit: Marvel Comics

So it’s important to look at said artist's prior work and see how s/he tells things visually, what his/her signature strengths are, and probably more importantly, try to figure out what s/he seems to really enjoy doing and find a way to tell your story with all these elements as guidelines.

I don’t know if I’m achieving that with Tradd, though I hope I am! [laughs]

Though he and I have different drawing styles, I feel we may have kindred story-telling sensibilities, because he absolutely nails the images I painstakingly script for him as well as the ones I leave up entirely to him.

The last thing I’ve learned is that as a writer you also need to learn when it’s best to scale back and let the artist do his thing and really shine, unencumbered by your explicitly scripted descriptions.

And to finally answer your question, the awesome transformation scenes of Robbie into Ghost Rider and vice versa are all 100% Tradd Moore!

Nrama: This was a bit of a revamp, and that’s a tricky thing – especially with someone with such a popular visage as Ghost Rider. But two issues are out and the reviews are in – how do you think the reception’s been so far?

Smith: I’ve observed a few interesting things about our “revamp”, which is technically not such because the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider is still alive and well, unaffected by our new character.

Credit: Marvel Comics

I’ve read reviews, blogs and posts on different social media, and I’m grateful to have found the following: All-New Ghost Rider has gotten the interest of non-Ghost Rider readers, it’s won over some original Ghost Rider fans who, at first, absolutely hated the idea of our hero in a car and absolutely trashed our new design, and it’s been received kindly by avid and, sometimes very discerning, comic book readers.

I think a lot of it is due to the fact that Robbie Reyes is not replacing any of his predecessors; he’s on the West Coast doing his own thing, trying to figure things out, and he’s not stepping on any toes or riding on any coat tails. Robbie Reyes is building his own story from the ground up, without the need to mimic or replace anyone; this truly makes him “All-New” and hopefully, a breath of fresh air story-wise.

Nrama: And having Ghost Rider have a car – instead of a horse or a motorcycle. It gives more opportunities for things, be it with passengers, cargo, and otherwise – have you been thinking about that for future stories?

Smith: No doubt about that!

New vehicle, new powers, new offensive maneuvers and attacks! I’ve definitely given a lot of thought to Robbie’s mode of transportation and its uses in and out of battle.

I read a comment somewhere expressing dismay at how little battle accessibility a car offers its driver compared to a motorcycle and thought, “What?! This is a haunted car…not a normal one! Use your head!” [laughs]

Credit: Marvel Comics

Of course, the concern is really understandable, and this person had no idea what powers I had in mind for Robbie and his black car. Luckily, some of the car’s powers are introduced in All-New Ghost Rider #3!

Nrama: Although steeped in Marvel-style storytelling and the legacy of Ghost Rider, I also like the idea of haunted vehicle – reminiscent of something like Stephen King’s Christine. What would you say to that comparison, and the idea the car might have a mind of its own.

Smith: I don't want to give away too much here, especially since a lot if this will be revealed in our next issue, but the car in the movie Christine is definitely similar to Robbie's own Hell Charger in the sense that they’re both very sweet rides with a will of their own.

Nrama: Most Marvel stories take place in New York, but All-New Ghost Rider takes place in East L.A.. L.A. is a metropolis just like New York is, but what would you say to real teenagers Robbie’s age who live in East L.A. who might be reading these comics?

Smith: The first thing I'd tell them is, "Thanks for reading and supporting our series! You're the best!"

I'd also ask them not to be concerned about possible neighborhood misrepresentation since most of the more realistic criminal gang-related events in our series take place in the fictional Hillrock Heights. I'd hate to portray any part of East L.A. unjustly.

Nrama: Speaking of the Marvel U, I know it’s still early on in the superhero life of Robbie Reyes but you could see this all-new Ghost Rider fitting into marvel continuity, events and team-ups, maybe more so than previous Ghost Riders?

Smith: Robbie is still trying to figure things out at the moment, the why and how of his newfound powers; but he may just end up having a run-in with another Marvel U character of great significance. Like his predecessors, he's very much a loner and anti-hero, in some ways more so than other Ghost Riders. He may be running solo for a while, but even dark, anti-hero lone wolves have been known to team up with others for the greater good!

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