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