Our two-part talk with Jason Aaron on Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire concludes (click here for Part 1), with a thoughtful and insightful look at writing bad-ass dudes, the appeal of flaming skulls, and having a giant eyeball for a head.
Newsarama: The three issues with Tony Moore were a lot of fun – the last one, you managed to fuse Uzumaki and Sailor Moon in the same story.
Aaron: (laughs) Yeah, that was a lot of fun too. Again, Tony and I know each other so well – I know what he’s into and I know his work – I can write a line and know what he’ll bring to it. If you know Tony and his process, you know he brings everything to it. When he was doing Walking Dead, his computer was filled with all sorts of pictures of decomposing corpses.
So I knew if I gave him this sort of tease of Sailor Moon/Bad Plastic Surgey Porn Star, I knew he was going to go all-out with it, and he did. I’m a big fan of what he and Rick Remender are doing in Punisher – loved what Rick was doing already, but it’s so much fun to see those guys going crazy. If you liked my Ghost Rider run, you’re going to love what they’re doing in Punisher.
Nrama: I’d like to talk about your collaborators besides Tony – Roland Boschi and Tan Eng Huat. How did you collaboration with them come about, and what have been some of the advantages of working with them?
Aaron: Well, Roland’s done the bulk of the issues. When he started, that was some of his first American comic work. He was doing great stuff even then, and he’s just gotten better along the way. We did a Punisher Christmas Special in the midst of our GR run, and it’s just gotten better and better – the stuff in this last issue is the best he’s ever done.
I keep throwing crazy stuff at him, and this last issue has giant battles on the streets of Heaven. It’s completely insane, but he pulled it off. It’s just amazing, amazing art.
Tan did this big chunk there in the middle of my run, and his stuff is great. He brings a weird but cool atmosphere to everything he does. It was obvious with what Tan was doing that this was not a superhero book, this was an oddball horror book. I think that’s when people started to really take notice of the story.
Plus, Tan designed a lot of the new characters we introduced, including the new Orb, and the old villains we brought back, and the International Ghost Riders.
Nrama: I remember reading a reprint of the first appearance of the original Orb in Marvel Tales when I was younger, and when he took his eye-helmet off, and it was so grotesque. But this is a lot further – his head is an actual eye…
Aaron: Yeah, I always felt the original was kind of a cop-out – he takes his helmet off and he’s disfigured, but it’s still just a helmet. I figure if you’re gonna go up against Ghost Rider, you gotta have an actual giant eyeball for a head.
More than that, in the first story, we got to set him up for some massive eyeball trauma. We got to put some giant spikes in that eyeball-head!
Nrama: That used to get Frederic Wertham all hot and bothered. I think you outdid that Jack Cole story with the hypodermic to the eye there. That was the ultimate “Injury to the eye” panel.
Aaron: I love the Orb. He’s a blast to write. I’ve actually used him again in something else I’m writing, so stay tuned. The Orb is not finished! He’ll be around!
Nrama: You could have him in all your books. It’d require an army of lawyers, but you could get him in Scalped and have Dash Bad Horse kick him in the eye.
Aaron: Slowly but surely, I will assemble my core cast of characters. Bendis does that; I think Matt Fraction’s got his crew. My crew will be bottom-of-the-barrel ‘70s villains, the Orb and the Highwayman and Son of Satan. That’s my guys.
Nrama: Fred Van Lente just killed a bunch of them in Marvel Zombies…
Aaron: Eh, I can bring ‘em back. (laughs)
Nrama: But then there’s the original characters, like the Deacon – that’s a good funny/scary character.
Aaron: Yeah, that’s the major new villain I’ve done. I felt like Ghost Rider needed a little fresh blood in his rogue’s gallery. And this guy feels like he’s on a mission from God, but that mission is to kill everybody who disagrees with him.
Nrama: There’s a joke here I won’t make.
Aaron: It’s fun to write him, just the way he talks. He misquotes the Bible a lot, so I get to mess up the Bible with this gobbledygook that sounds like it comes from the Bible, but doesn’t. And Tan Eng Huat did a great job, all the designs and Bible verses tattooed all over him come from Tan. I didn’t really give him much direction at all in terms of this stuff.
Nrama: And you set up a new Vengeance in this one…
Aaron: Yeah, he’s a guy who at the end, I didn’t get to do as much with him as I wanted to. I had more plans with that guy that I didn’t get to. But I feel beyond Ketch, Vengeance was the character everyone was clamoring to come back. So it was fun to set up this new character as the new Vengeance.
Vengeance is obviously the bigger, nastier Ghost Rider – sort of like when Azrael took over for Batman and had those big spikes on his shoulders to make him “cooler” and “grittier.” So I got to bring Vengeance back, hopefully with a little more substance this time around. I just didn’t get to take him much further.
But with this last issue, it’s not just to wrap everything up with a neat bow – it’s to set things up for whoever comes along next. There are no set plans for Ghost Rider to relaunch, but there are a lot of plans in the talking phase. So whoever picks these characters next, hopefully I’ve given them a good place to start.
Nrama: I have a friend who writes for the show Supernatural, and in the past year they did a storyline slightly similar to Ghost Rider, with two brothers being manipulated by angels and demons toward starting the apocalypse, and one brother getting addicted to demon stuff, and so forth. Did you see any of that?
Aaron: No, I didn’t! But it does sound pretty similar. Neither story was really breaking new ground, obviously – those are stories that have been around for a while. For me, what was fun was subvert the roles of angels and demons, by making the angels the bad guys, opening with this beleaguered satanic priest whose flock was wiped out by angelic assassins, and sending our heroes out to protect the Antichrist…that sort of writes itself.
Nrama: Do you ever worry that what you’re writing might actually send you to Hell?
Aaron: (laughs) Nah, if I was worried about that, I would have quit a long time ago. I think I sealed the deal with my Punisher Christmas Special.
Nrama: If there’s one thing that connects the protagonists of your different books, be they Dash Bad Horse or Frank Castle or Johnny Blaze or Wolverine, it’s that they’re men hardened by tragedy, haunted by their pasts, believe themselves damned, and are, for lack of a better term, certified bad-ass mother****ers. What draws you to such characterizations?
Aaron: You know, it’s not like I go in to anything with this mandate of what I’m looking to do. It’s just what I gravitate towards – you just named a number of things I like to do. I love characters who are kind of haunted by their pasts, who struggle on despite their flaws, knowing that the end of the day they’re not going to shuffle off to those pearly gates.
Like Matt Fraction always says, “Sometimes it’s best not to know how the hot dogs are made.” So I don’t think about it too much – what are my strengths, what are the themes? I just go with my instincts, and hope it works.
Nrama: Here’s a very basic question: What is so cool about a guy with a flaming skull? Because that’s kept the character going for nearly four decades. People who’ve never read a Ghost Rider comic know that look.
Aaron: Ghost Rider definitely has an appeal that’s far beyond comics. A lot of big Marvel fans will thumb their nose at Ghost Rider, like it’s somehow beneath what they’re reading. But doing that letters column, I get letters from all kinds of Ghost Rider fans from outside comics. Those range from little kids…
Aaron: …to murderers in prison, and kind of everything in between, from bikers to a guy who talked about smoking crack. So it’s a real mix of readership, and it all comes back to that look. If anyone has to ask “what’s so cool about a guy with a flaming skull who rides a motorcycle?”, then you’re not going to like Ghost Rider, because the answer is right there in the question.
Nrama: There’s something Zen about that.
What are you most proud of having accomplished with your run?
Aaron: I don’t know. At the end of the day, hopefully I just wrote an entertaining chapter in the long history of Ghost Rider. Maybe I got to change the tone a little bit, and introduce some new elements, brought back some old elements. I hope it’s just a Ghost Rider story that was entertaining, and maybe brought some new people to the table as readers who hadn’t picked it up before.
Nrama: How do you feel you grew as a writer from this experience?
Aaron: I like to think I grow as a writer from every new experience. I’ve only been writing comics full-time for a couple of years; my very first 22-page comic was published at the end of 2006. I feel like I’m still in the midst of figuring out what the hell I’m doing.
Hopefully, I’m a better writer than when I started doing Ghost Rider, and hopefully, I’ll be a better writer this time next near. Issue to issue, I’m always looking to try to get better.
Nrama: Any chance of your run getting collected in a one-volume hardcover?
Aaron: I’d love that! But if fans want to see an omnibus by me, look up Mr. Joe Quesada at conventions and badger him. Just don’t tell him I told you to do it.
Nrama: Any obscure Marvel characters you’d like to write?
Aaron: Oh, there’s a ton of ‘em. I don’t want to say, because I think once you throw those names out there, then somebody else is likely to pounce on it. But in terms of characters I’ve briefly dealt with, Son of Satan is definitely one of those I’d like to do more with. Him and Jane Cutter – one of the first characters Warren Ellis created at Marvel, and it was great to bring her back. She’s a blast to write. The thought of doing something with the two of those is very appealing.
Nrama: Anything you’d like to say to the fans?
Aaron: Thanks to everybody who supported Ghost Rider, especially the people who picked it up for the first time. It can be hard for a book to have legs if it doesn’t cross over, and we went two years without crossing over to Secret Invasion or anything else, and we survived long enough to tell the story I wanted to tell.
That I owe to all the fans who picked it up – the ones who never picked it up before or the ones who picked it up even though we were doing something a little different. So thanks!
Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire #6 races into shops next Wednesday.
Zack Smith (email@example.com) is a regular contributor to Newsarama.