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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ghost Rider, Marvel's legendary, flaming skull-headed Spirit of Vengeance, and the publisher is celebrating in style. Next month will mark the launch of an all-new Ghost Rider ongoing series from the star creative team of writer Benjamin Percy (Wolverine) and artist Cory Smith (Conan the Barbarian), putting the original version of the character, Johnny Blaze, back in the spotlight. So, what can we expect from Johnny's latest ride? According to Percy, look out for a heavy metal-infused, classic approach to Ghost Rider storytelling, with plenty of new surprises along the way.
Speaking to SYFY WIRE about his goals for the new series, which finds Johnny Blaze living a seemingly idyllic family life while haunted by memories of his past that might not even be real, Percy emphasized a "back-to-basics" vibe for the book, while also highlighting the ways in which Johnny's world has seemingly shifted since the last time readers saw him.
"This is a back-to-basics approach that focuses (for now) on Johnny Blaze," Percy said. "Where has he been the past few years? You’ll know soon. I can’t tell you too much, or I’ll undercut the suspense and horror. And rest assured: this is a horror comic. Some really unsettling things happen in this first (oversized) issue alone.
"But here’s something to chew on: Johnny is living—seemingly—his best life in the small town of Hayden’s Falls. He’s got the picket-fence cottage. He’s got the wife and kids. He’s got the auto repair shop where he works with his father-in-law, Crash Simpson. But…something is wrong. His head carries a scar on it from a motorcycle wreck he suffered. His memories are off. His mood swings are wild. And he’s seeing things…"
In the exclusive pages below, you can get just a taste of what Johnny's been seeing, and what's in store for him and his family, courtesy of Smith's remarkable pencils.
"Cory's killing it," Percy said of his artist. "He manages to bring such precision to the page, supplying details of character and setting that are inarguably real, and this in turn authenticates the more fantastical elements as they emerge. You might already be familiar with his art, but he really wanted to bring a unique style to this Ghost Rider series. And it's wonderfully gritty with lots of heavy blacks. You take one look and know you’re in a horror series. You’re in for a treat. The kind of treat that comes in the form of a razor-stuffed apple or a poisoned candy bar."
In describing the influences that came to bear on this particular incarnation of Ghost Rider, Percy cited David Lynch's seminal neo-noir film Blue Velvet and its portrait of darkness lurking just beneath the veneer of idealized Americana. He also named one of Marvel's most recent horror hits, Al Ewing's Immortal Hulk, as an influence in setting up the structure of the book's early issues.
"As was the case in Immortal Hulk, the first five issues will be (more or less) self-contained stories that are also building toward something larger," Percy said. "This first arc in particular will have a kind of western vibe, as Johnny travels through a lawless country, drawn into trouble as he seeks out answers to what has happened to him."
Though Percy was understandably tight-lipped about what answers Johnny might find in his search for a solution to his problems, he did tease that we can expect both familiar and new foes for the Spirit of Vengeance to encounter along the way.
"Think of the first five issues as stations of the cross (or maybe I should say stations of the pentagram)," Percy explained. "A suffering gauntlet Johnny has to travel if he wants to find the truth. There will be familiar faces along the way (including a new and more terrifying version of the Circus of Crime), but I don’t want to simply rehash what’s been done before. We’ll be adding more monstrous toys to the sulfurous sandbox that test Johnny in different ways."
And of course, in the midst of that sandbox, there's still what might be Johnny's greatest obstacle of all: The Spirit of Vengeance itself, and the burden it places on him.
"There will be a lot of uncertainty, when the story begins," Percy teased. "Consider Johnny an unreliable narrator. Does the Spirit of Vengeance even exist or is it all a product of the brain trauma suffered in his wreck? As things progress…know that I’m more interested in the Spirit of Vengeance as a curse. A curse that manifests in Johnny and treats him as a vessel and servant. There is a severance of control."
We'll learn about more about Johnny Blaze and his curse when Ghost Rider #1 roars into comic book stores February 23.