The Way of the Rider - Part 1

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In addition to writing one of Marvel’s most famous characters, Daniel Way has also been given the envious task of bringing back the Ghost Rider back into the world.  Known for writing the darker characters of the universe, Way sat down with BF to talk about all of his writing assignments.

For someone who has spent most of their life traveling up and down the East Coast of the country, it almost seems like Daniel Way was born to write certain characters.  Known mostly for leaving his stamp on Marvel’s darker characters like Wolverine, Bullseye, and Supreme Power’s Nighthawk, Way sees that as the perfect match for himself. “It’s where I feel comfortable.  I would feel hypocritical writing a character that’s always right.  I look at my life and I haven’t done many things ‘right.’ I identify more with the characters that do the wrong thing, even if they’re doing the wrong thing for the right reasons… I have something to say about those characters.  I don’t have much to say about Superman.” 

And while working on these characters doesn’t bring about a complete freedom as they are still Marvel properties, Way still sees it as his chance to write stories that he normally might not be able to tell. “With a villain character, you have the latitude to have them do more villainous [stuff].  Personally, I do like having it somewhere in the middle.”  Of course, there is one exception, the character that Way calls his coming out party. “The exception is Bullseye—he loves being evil so much, but he’s not evil; he’s just [really] crazy.”

With such an ability to write these darker character types, it was probably only a matter of time before he got his hands on a character like Ghost Rider. “Axel Alonso and I had spoken about it a few times. After Garth Ennis and Clayton Crain’s mini-series did as well as it did, we agreed that it was time to do a new Ghost Rider series.  Axel asked me about it and I came up with a pitch and where I would be going with the story… The Ghost Rider book is going to be a very dark book, but at the center of it all is this character Johnny Blaze, who is a rube.  He’s a carnie and he [screws] everything up.  He’s done everything wrong.  Good intentions, but he always goes about it the wrong way.  In that way, it’s fun to write the character.”

For Way, it’s almost as if he gets to write two separate but equally fun personalities rolled into one on a motorcycle from Hell. “His name is Johnny Blaze; you can’t take him too seriously.  The other part of him is Ghost Rider who is dead serious.  And he fits into the notch of Johnny Blaze’s head, which is filled with stupid bravado.  Usually, people get angry when they get confused and Johnny Blaze is an idiot and gets confused a lot and that’s why he’s the perfect host for the character.  Ghost Rider is able to do what he does without much interference.”

It also felt right to Way to take over a character at this time, because with the success of the recent mini series, it turned into an almost a perfect starting point for the ongoing.  “It’s a good starting point—Ghost Rider is trapped in Hell.  It makes for a really cool James Bond type opening for our series.  First order of business: get out of jail.  But Johnny Blaze being a screw-up, he does it all wrong.”

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Some people may be wondering how Way will attack taking on a character like Ghost Rider, who has such a rich, yet confusing history and origin.  “There have been three Ghost Rider series from Marvel.  The first was the cowboy, the second was Johnny Blaze, and the third one was Danny Ketch.  I have read all of the Danny Ketch series and 70% of the Johnny Blaze one.  I did quite a lot of research and that is a lot of what I built this story on.  Where it comes from is in these weird twists and turns in the explanation of who Ghost Rider really is and who Johnny Blaze is and why Danny Ketch got chosen…

“Johnny Blaze became the Ghost Rider because he wanted to save his dad, who had cancer.  In the space of a couple of panels he’s wondering what he’s going to do and the next panel he’s holding a Satanic Bible, which he just happened to have under his bed [laughs]… And he does one spell and BOOM, there’s Satan.  That’s pretty good beginner’s luck, especially for an idiot. And things go awry, as they always do when you make a deal with the devil. On the surface it’s all very cool, but doesn’t really make a lot of sense.  Danny Ketch’s origin is even more convoluted.”

Still, if Way does have one goal in this whole project, it is to streamline Ghost Rider’s origin so that it makes sense to everyone. “When most people say that Ghost Rider’s past is so messed up, they’re talking about that period of the 90’s when Marvel tried to streamline it and reconcile it with what had happened in the past.  But in doing so it just became more confusing.  So, we’re going to address the majority of that—I will be making it more workable so we can just move on, because there are so many other questions with the character.  Does it even make sense that a servant of Satan is out there beating up bad guys? Wouldn’t he be beating up priests and cops?”

When asked what type of genre he would consider his version of the book in comparison with the other series, Way had a very quick answer. “There is a lot of religion that ties in with Ghost Rider, its unavoidable…  So that does play into it, but I don’t want to get too into it.  Elements of the stories will hinge on Christian mythology, but there will be other stuff as well. I’m not here to preach to people, but we will use some of that for source material.  It’s more like a gritty 70’s road movie.

“I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing that he does get out of Hell,” Way continues. “The problem is that once he’s back here, he has a mess to clean up.  For quite a few story arcs it’ll be just that: Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider on the motorcycle, zooming around the highways and byways cleaning up this mess that he made.  Trying to make it all right, but it turns out he’s doing it all wrong.  Because we keep coming back to the fact that he’s a screw-up with just way too much power. Someone that stupid with that much power is just bad news—but its great fiction.”  And with a story idea like that, readers are bound to see some of the old cast of characters showing up. “He’ll be bumping into people from his past, and not too many of them will be happy to see him.”

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If Way’s description of the book makes you think that he knows the character, be prepared to get even happier because the art team is one that is going to sound very familiar. “When Marvel asked me who I wanted to work with, one of the first names out of my mouth was Mark Texeira.” And while Tex had bigger plans at Marvel, Marvel found a way to make it work by also bringing aboard one of Texeira’s old art partners, Javier Saltares. “And then when I got the green light to go ahead with Wolverine: Origins, we were talking about Ghost Rider at the same time. It was a no-brainer that Tex and Javier should be on Ghost Rider. They’re the ones that started the Danny Ketch series, and it’s a real treat to get to do GR with those guys because they have so much enthusiasm for the character.

“When I’m writing the scripts, I feed off of that energy.  I know what they want to draw and what fans want to see them draw, which is Ghost Rider just doing some bad stuff with motorcycles and flames and chains and just mowing people down.  And that’s what those guys are great at drawing, so that’s the story that I’ll write.”

Check back here tomorrow for the conclusion of this interview, which shifts its focus to Way’s other major title—Wolverine: Origins.

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