Chris Munn has a new book out called Wheels On Fire: An Unofficial Guide to Marvel Comics' Ghost Rider From 1972—1983. As the title indicates, it's a detailed, issue-by-issue celebration of the flame-headed supernatural biker first brought to life by Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog. Chris was kind enough to ask me to write the foreword to his book and I present it below for your listening and dancing pleasure. Enjoy!
|Art by Mike Ploog|
I exaggerate, just a little, to make a point; but, when I was starting out in comics, I religiously abided by the Rule of Yes. So when, in the early 1980s, not long after I’d started working for Marvel Comics, the phone rang and Tom DeFalco—soon to be not just one of my favorite editors but favorite humans—asked if I wanted to take over the writing duties on the Ghost Rider book from the great Roger Stern, my answer, unsurprisingly, was a wildly enthusiastic “Yes!”
The truth is, I wasn’t a major Ghost Rider fan. Oh, I’d read the early issues, and I was especially enamored of the stories illustrated by one of the true masters of the form, Mike Ploog (what a thrill it was, many years later, to collaborate with Mike on Abadazad and The Stardust Kid), but I hadn’t really followed Johnny Blaze’s adventures after that. Looking over the recent issues by Stern and Bob Budiansky, I was impressed. Roger, of course, never failed to deliver a compelling story with equally compelling characters. Budiansky’s work was new to me, but his ability to provide crystal clear storytelling and expressive emotions—all wrapped in the requisite shadows, fog and bone-chilling mood required for a book steeped in the supernatural—made me an instant fan.
But it was Johnny Blaze himself who hooked me. I’ve always been fascinated by duality, in the world, and, more significantly, in the human heart. “Good and evil,” Dostoyevsky wrote, “are so monstrously mixed up in man.” All of our psyches contain the purest of angels and the most maniacal of demons, the spires of Heaven and the pits of Hell, and our lives can often be a tug of war between those twin forces, as we seek a way to balance and, perhaps, transcend them. The relationship between Blaze and Zarathos (that’s a name Bob and I cooked up together) literalized that war, but also allowed an opportunity to explore the subtleties within that duality: Even a demon has an angel in his heart somewhere, and even angels might be tempted by the darkness.
That all sounds heady and philosophical—and the deeper aspects of the character were certainly a major draw for me—but comics aren’t just about high concepts; they have to offer big action and larger than life characters. The tug of war between Blaze and Zarathos supplied the ruminative meat, but Blaze’s supporting cast, from the denizens of the Quentin Carnival to the strange and deadly antagonists who rose up to challenge the Ghost Rider, provided the energy and fun. Adding to that fun was the fact that Bob Budiansky and I were co-plotting the book. It was the first time I’d actively co-plotted with an artist and it was, from the start, a wonderful experience. No egos, no arguments: We’d get on the phone and spend an hour or two throwing around ideas, I’d go off and develop those ideas into a fully fleshed out plot, Bob would pencil the story, bringing it to life in his unique and powerful way, after which I’d supply the finished script. We could have gone on doing that for years.
That’s not the way it worked out.
The exhilaration of our collaboration didn’t translate into the necessary sales (in those days at Marvel, if a book dipped below a hundred thousand copies a month, it was on the chopping block; today, a book consistently selling in the ninety thousand range, as GR did, would be a runaway best seller) and Ghost Rider was cancelled. The good news? We were given significant advance warning, allowing us the time to create a Grand Finale that would write an end to the saga of Johnny Blaze and Zarathos, giving Johnny and his true love, Roxanne Simpson, the “happily ever after” we thought they deserved.
But our contributions to Ghost Rider were just one small part of a much larger tapestry, and the book you’re about to read will take you on a journey from the story’s beginnings to its untimely end—and surprising resurrection.
So hop on your motorcycle and prepare to roar into the night. And keep your eyes wide, because you never know what demons will be lurking around the next bend.
Foreword ©copyright 2021 J.M. DeMatteis
Ghost Rider ©copyright 2021 Marvel Entertainment
Mike Ploog is one of my favorite comic book artists. I am not familiar with his work on GHOST RIDER, but I love his art on ABADAZAD, THE STARDUST KID, and his adaption of TOM SAWYER. He is so good at drawing children. His love for kids just radiates off the page.ReplyDelete
Mike's the best. (And an amazing guy, too.) And, yes, his adaptation of Tom Sawyer is fantastic.Delete
Another thing I like about Mike Ploog is his ability to draw in multiple genres, not just superheroes. In that regard, he reminds me of another of my favorite artists, Jack Davis. Back in the 1950s you could see him drawing horror in Tales from the Crypt, crime in Crime Suspenstories, and humor in Mad. Then in the late '50s and early '60s he drew westerns like the Rawhide Kid. He definitely deserved his induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.ReplyDelete
Yes, Mike is incredibly versatile! (And Jack Davis is fantastic!)Delete
Well, if you are going to talk about Ghost Rider, I guess this HAS to be mentioned...ReplyDelete
Also, for all of Ploog's great comic art, I always think of his Frankenstein comics first.
If LORD OF THE RINGS was set in the Old West, that song would be the theme.Delete
I don't think I read the Ploog FRANKENSTEIN back in the day. It was his GHOST RIDER that first grabbed me...then his incredible work on KING KULL. And who could forget WEIRDWORLD. What a talent...and what a great guy. I miss working with him.
You know... and this will shock you... you are a comic creator. You could write a comic that is a mash-up of Lord of the Rings and the Old West (and what the hell, CONAN... Barbarian OR O'Brien),and get Image, Dark Horse, or whomever to print it. Maybe even DC.... they seem to be in a weird place right now.Delete
IN fact, PLEASE, for the love of God write that story. I would read the shit out of that.
Ploog also did the art for the Man-Thing story "The Laughing Dead." One of the best stories in the character's history.
As for Ghost Rider... he is an odd case study.
He is one of the only Marvel characters to ever truly successfully get a replacement. Mackie was very smart to do so, because...
Johnny Blaze is a character that always seems to feel like he is always in the shadow of the decade he belongs. Like Luke Cage, Shang Chi, Cloak and Dagger, Man-Thing, and many others who have had plenty of good stories made about them but.... solo it always seems like they are tethered to their decade of origin.
I personally think Marvel should lean into that aspect.
However, it was also home to a variety of styles in those day. Friendrich had is firmly a superhero, but with a decent amount of horror mixed in.
Isabella tried a spiritual journey.
Then sort of an anthology, whatever goes type thing.
Finally a return o the horror... all in volume one.
A very versatile character int eh day, that never has the door opened as much as it could.
The traveling angle leads more to the potential than I think writers have realized after the initial run ended.
Ploog's MAN-THING work is at the top of the list for me (at least as far as his 70s work goes). He and Gerber were an incredible team.Delete
I actually have written that LORD OF THE RINGS in the Old West story and I've been trying to get it out into the world for a few years now. Fingers crossed...
Don't forget the other thing Ploog gave the comic world, a fun name to say.Delete
He really does have a special talent for horror/fantasy work.
Also, is it just me or is there a touch of Colan in his atmosphere?
I don't know if you are serious about that series, but I really hope it is the case.
I'm very serious about that series. It's a passion of mine.Delete
And, yes, Ploog is a great name. And a great sound effect! (I think I've used it in a story or two.)
Never saw a Colan connection to Mike's work, but I clearly see the influence of Eisner. Mike was Will Eisner's apprentice at the start of his career and he learned alot from the master.
Now that you mention it, I can see the Eisner in Ploog's art. Certainly in the faces. That type of expressionism works well for horror... and humor.ReplyDelete
I am glad to know that is a real goal for you... the western LOTR mean. Not saying Ploog's name, that is on everyone's top tier list.
if you don;t mind me saying... Image comics, Dark Horse Comics, or a few others. I can't believe there is no company for long time creators to produce work through.
Any way, I would buy it.... that should get a bidding war going.
Don't worry, I won't bring up the killing of Vibe. Could kill the whole project.
I await the bidding war!Delete