An army of psycho nurses.
A demonic truck driver with a living-flesh truck (complete with human-mouth 8-track).
And a flaming skeleton on a shark.
Jason Aaron has taken Ghost Rider on his craziest adventure ever in an extended storyline that’s pitted him against Heaven, Hell and everything in between. Starting with Ghost Rider #20 a few years ago, he’s pitted Johnny Blaze against a full on grindhouse worth of bad guys…and his brother, the 1990s Ghost Rider Danny Ketch.
Seems the Ghost Rider is actually the wrath of God, and the curse was handed down by a rogue angel named Zadkiel. And it further seems that there have actually been Ghost Riders all over the world throughout history, using everything from a flaming biplane to a flaming machine gun to a flaming elephant skeleton to met out supernatural justice.
But Blaze, who just wants revenge for this curse being bestowed upon him ran into some trouble when it turned out that 1) Zadkiel wanted the power of the Spirit of Vengeance to take over Heaven, and 2) he’d roped Danny Ketch into “freeing” the other Ghost Riders from their curse to give him the power to do this.
Danny got his head straight, but unfortunately, Zadkiel had the power. And now they’ve been pitted against some of the Marvel Universe’s craziest bad guys, ranging from a tattooed religious nut called the Deacon to the all-new Orb, who has a giant eyeball for a head. No, literally.
The whole saga concludes with this week’s Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire #6 (and if you missed the rest of the story, it’s in the trades Hell Bent & Heaven Bound, The Last Stand and Trials and Tribulations. With his run almost over, we sat down with Aaron for a two-part look back at the last two years of supernatural insanity.
Newsarama: Jason, you’ve gotten a real saga out of this. It’s been almost 24 issues worth of material out of this one over-arching story, and it’s been, pardon the pun, a really fun run ride.
Jason Aaron: Yeah, that was the plan from the get-go. I signed on for two years, so it was one two-year story from the very beginning. It just worked out to where we finished off the regular series and concluded it in the stand-alone mini, but it still worked out as one big story.
Nrama: I know Daniel Way had set up some of the stuff with Zadkiel in his run on the book, but how much of that was a collaborative process, or how much did you springboard off what he was doing?
Aaron: It wasn’t so much a collaborative process in the sense that Zadkiel was what Daniel was building toward, but he just wasn’t able to get to that. But it worked out that that was a good place for him to leap off, this revelation that was a big change about Ghost Rider’s origin, and we only saw Zadkiel in a few brief glimpses at the end of his run.
So that gave me the freedom to go off in a different direction – change the tone a little bit, and bring in new villains and tons of new characters, but in the midst of that, I found a way to bring in some Ghost Rider characters of the past like Danny Ketch.
That was a big deal – fans had been calling for him to come back ever since the book was relaunched. When I was doing the letter column, in those first few issues, pretty much every other letter was “When is Danny Ketch coming back?” Because they were fans in the 1990s, and that’s the Ghost Rider they knew, and they wanted him back.
So I’m proud that I was able to bring Danny back on the board, and in a way that was different from what people knew before and were expecting. We brought him back as a sort of bad guy, and over the course of his journey, hopefully I’ve helped make him a more interesting, more well-rounded character. Before, he was sort of a bland everyman, and hopefully I’ve given a bit more edge to him.
If nothing else I’ve done on Ghost Rider has legs, hopefully what I’ve done with Danny will – that he’ll be a little more exciting character going forward.
Nrama: How big a fan of Ghost Rider were you going in? Because what people can forget about the character is that in the 1990s, this was a cool book. I remember being 10 or 11 and being so impressed with the guy’s flesh melting off his skull…there was the Midnight Sons line, a whole line of action figures, and some of that luster faded away in the last decade.
Aaron: Yeah, it was hugely popular there for a while. And I read that at the time, along with some of the 1970s series. I wasn’t a huge GR fan, I didn’t collect every issue, I didn’t completely understand the mythology, and some of it I’m not sure I completely understand, because the character has such a hugely complicated continuity, especially if you take the 1970s series and the 1990s series and now, and try to make it all fit together. It can kind of make your head hurt.
I thought the best thing to do with that was…you can’t please everyone, you can’t make it all make sense and make it inaccessible to a new fan, so the trick was to throw some of it out in a way that doesn’t contradict it, but just don’t reference it. You don’t have to talk about soul crystals or Noble Kale, because you lose new readers.
I try to make everything accessible to new readers, but incorporate history where I can, but in a way where you don’t have to give a huge spiel about who this character is.
Nrama: What drove you to want to work on the series in the first place, and what were some of your favorite GR stories?
Aaron: Like I said, I read some of the 1970s stuff, and the 1990s stuff, and Garth Ennis’ miniseries, and a lot of Daniel’s stuff. I was a fan, like I said, but not a hardcore one. But what really made me want to work on the book was Axel Alonso.
He brought me to Marvel, and gave me some Wolverine things, and this was the first big thing he threw at me, the first ongoing series, with the mandate that I could do whatever I wanted to do. You do Ghost Rider, you’re in your own little corner of the Marvel Universe.
Very early on, we talked about whether I wanted to do a Secret Invasion crossover, because we were around the time of that story. We had a plot worked out, but we decided not to do it, and I’m glad, because it wouldn’t have fit in with our story.
Nrama: What would that have involved?
Aaron: We would have had Ghost Rider go up against a Super-Skrull with the powers of the Champions, that great mismatched super-team of the 1970s with Iceman and Ghost Rider and Hercules. But I’m glad we didn’t do that, and I got to tell this weird little story tucked in a corner of the Marvel Universe by itself.
Nrama: I’m curious about the influence of grindhouse cinema on this. You set the bar in a very knowingly campy place from your first arc, where you’ve got psycho nurses and kung-fun nuns.
Aaron: Yeah, I mean, I didn’t consciously go in and say, “I want to reference as many ‘70s B-movies as I can.” Part of it is what came naturally. It’s just what clicked with the character.
When you’re writing Ghost Rider, you can’t play it completely straight, and you can’t play it to the point where it’s a joke. You have to find some place that’s kind of in the middle, and that’s sort of where we wound up: Redneck ghosts, and nurses, and nuns with guns.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite grindhouse movies? Some appropriate to this book might include Angels – Hard as they Come! and Race with the Devil.
Aaron: Race with the Devil is a pretty great one. I’m not a huge connoisseur of horror films, but I love any sort of 1970s satanic paranoia movie. All sorts of devil worship and demonic possession movies are great, and there’s a huge number that came out in the 1970s.
I wasn’t really conscious of any homage – whenever I’m working on anything, I don’t have an outline that says, “this is what I want to do, and this is the tone, and this is the symbolism.” I think the best stuff just sort of happens, and this just sort of happened with Ghost Rider.
It was something people responded to – it was very different than the Ghost Rider that people had seen before. It wasn’t a superhero story, because that wasn’t what I was writing. I don’t think Ghost Rider is a superhero.
It might have seemed new or fresh, but if you go back and reread the original series, especially the issues written by Michael Fleisher. At its best, Ghost Rider was always a little bit --
Nrama: Um, careful what you say about Michael Fleisher. There was that lawsuit against Harlan Ellison and The Comics Journal in the 1980s.
Aaron: Right! Subconsciously, I think I was quoting that interview! (laughs) Okay, I’m not going to call him crazy. But Michael Fleisher has always been a huge influence on me – not just the infamous Spectre stories, but the Jonah Hex stuff as well. He was a great, great writer, he had his ups and downs like most anybody, but when he was on he was a class by himself.
Nrama: Guys like him and Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin – and Jim’s Ghost Rider story was reprinted in the back of one of the collections of your work – really had this way in the 1970s of taking the classic superhero story structure, and then using it for something subversive and existential.
Aaron: Yeah, Steve Gerber was another genius. His Son of Satan stuff was a big influence on my Ghost Rider, and that’s why that character showed up in the book. I wanted to use the Son of Satan from the moment I took over the book, because I love that character so much.
Particularly, I loved what Steve Gerber did with him – he didn’t write the character that long, I think he did some stories in Marvel Spotlight, where the character first appeared. Gerber was another one of those guys who was in a class by himself.
Nrama: One of my favorite ideas in your run was the “Ghost Riders of the World” from throughout history. The renditions of those characters – particularly in that splash Tony Moore did in his short run – made me feel like you had hundreds of stories you could have told with those characters.
Aaron: Yeah, the International Ghost Riders – that, to me, was something we had to do, because when we changed Ghost Rider’s origin, we were saying the Ghost Rider is basically the vengeance of God on Earth.
Well, then why does he spend all his time driving around the United States? Is that the only country God cares about in the Marvel Universe? So to show that there were Ghost Riders of different countries, different mythologies and different religions was, I thought, something that offered a lot of cool visual possibilities.
Nrama: I liked the one riding a shark. Don’t ask me why, but I wanted to see more of him.
Aaron: People really seemed to like the shark guy, even though we only saw him in one little panel. He gets another brief little moment in the last issue. We might get to see a few Ghost Riders in that…
The stuff with Tony Moore…he’s a friend of mine, he’d been waiting to draw Ghost Rider since he was a kid, that’s his favorite book. So this was the first time we got to work together, and I really wanted to set him up with lots of stuff he could knock out of the park. But maybe I went a bit overboard because I gave him a dozen Ghost Riders to design in one issue!
He did a great job, though. He injected such life into every design that I’d love to read more stories with those characters. We got to do a trucker horror story and bring back the Highwayman from U.S. One! To get to do that with Tony was one of my favorite issues I’ve done in all of comics.
Nrama: I saw they’re bringing him back again in one of the Deadpool books.
Aaron: I saw that! I’m very exciting about that.
Nrama: You made the Highwayman a player…I was going to say “again,” but that presupposes he was a player in the first place.
Aaron: (laughs) If I am remembered for nothing else in comics, I hope it is for me and Tony bringing the Highwayman back.
Next: Aaron on his artists, the all-new Orb, whether he thinks he’s going to Hell, and why no one can resist a guy with a flaming skull.
Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire#6 races into shops next Wednesday.
Zack Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a regular contributor to Newsarama.