Getting to know Marvel’s newest Spirit of Vengeance in ‘All-New Ghost Rider’

(CBR) They say road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but in the Marvel Universe it's actually possible to race down it behind the wheel of a fiery, supernatural vehicle. The drivers are usually hosts to powerful entities known as Spirits of Vengeance, and these spirits transform their hosts into flaming, super powered, skeletal beings and equip them with supernatural vehicle. These Ghost Riders have the power to be heroes and avenge and protect the innocent, but if they're not careful the vengeance they wreak can get out of control and their lives can be ruined.

This March, Los Angeles teenager Robbie Reyes will become the latest person to try and turn a Spirit of Vengeance into a force for good when writer Felipe Smith and artist Tradd Moore bring their ongoing “All-New Ghost Rider” into All-New Marvel NOW!. CBR News spoke with the creators about their plans for the book and why Robbie Reyes isn't designed to replace Johnny Blaze in the Marvel U.

CBR News: Felipe, “All-New Ghost Rider” is your first work for Marvel, and Tradd, if my research is correct you've done some covers for Marvel but this will be your first interior work for them. How does it feel to be given a chance to design an all-new take on a classic Marvel character for your first big Marvel assignment? Is it easier than picking up the continuity and status quo of an established character?

Felipe Smith: Creating an all-new Ghost Rider for the Marvel Universe is not only a great honor; it's also extremely exciting! From the start, I was given complete freedom to flesh out Robbie Reyes' personality, background, and the setting in which his adventures (and misadventures) unfold; all this, in addition to being an incredibly fortunate situation for a writer, allows for the formation of a very special and personal story.

Although Robbie lives on the West Coast and, as a character, is entirely independent of his Ghost Rider predecessors, he's still an integral part of the Marvel Universe and therefore interacts with well-known characters; the first one being Mr. Hyde.

Though we're creating an entirely new story with “All-New Ghost Rider,” we are very mindful of continuity and the history of the characters he meets. I'm not sure if it's easier or harder than picking up the continuity of an established character, but I definitely think the way Marvel approached this project allows for a new and very distinct storytelling dynamic. Tradd and I have been offered a chance to develop something truly fresh that plays to our strengths and that's really all a creator could ask for from a publisher. We're very excited!

Tradd Moore: Your research serves you well! After drawing a number of covers, this is indeed the first time I've tackled interiors for a Marvel book. It feels great to be given this kind of freedom on my first Marvel project!

As for creating an all-new take on a pre-existing property, it comes with its own unique set of difficulties. The task isn't necessarily any harder or easier than dealing with continuity and status quo, I don't think, it's just different.

When you're creating an original/creator owned comic, such as Felipe has done with “Peepo Choo” or Justin Jordan and I have done with “Luther Strode,” you have the unmitigated joy of creative freedom, but the difficult task of finding an audience to care.

When you're dealing with established characters, the interest and fan base is already there, but it comes with the weight of pre-established story lines and history, which can sometimes be limiting, as well as reader's desires and expectations, which are often insatiable.

That takes us to the type of thing that Felipe and I are doing with “All-New Ghost Rider,” which is an amalgamation of the two: A brand new character within the realm of a pre-existing property. It has a taste of the difficulties of both options, but also a taste of the benefits. It's a unique beast to wrestle with, but I've enjoyed the process and am honored to have been given the opportunity!

Let's talk about a little bit about your new character Robbie Reyes. From reading other interviews he sounds like a teenager with a passion for cars and electronic music, but a lot of rage because of the East Los Angeles environment he's growing up in. Is that a fair assessment? And when we first meet him how is Robbie coping with his rage issues? Does he simply lose control when confronted with situations he doesn't like and feels powerless in? Or is he a more jaded and cynical kid that's almost always angry? Tradd, which aspects of Robbie's character did you you want to emphasize and convey with your depictions of him?

Moore:Yeah, that first bit about Robbie being a teenager with a passion for cars and electronic music is right on the money, and, yes, he absolutely loathes the violent, gang ridden area he lives in.

That said, when we first meet Robbie, he's not struggling with self control issues; not outwardly, at least. He's angry, yes, very much so, but it's an anger that seethes under the surface. He's fed up. Robbie isn't the type to fly off his rocker, though, he's calculated; he knows how and when to choose his battles. I don't know that I'd label him a jaded cynic either. Distrustful, sure, but not hopeless. We're dealing with a young man who's come up in a harsh environment, and therefore has an understandably harsh outlook. Life is hard, life is cruel, and he's never known it any other way. He's a realist. Life is what it is, and he deals with it.

It's not that he's necessarily looking to lash out so much as he wants to get out, but I think he'd likely do the first to get the second. His love for his little brother, Gabe, and his all-consuming desire to build a better life for Gabe is what informs his decision making. I think this Nietzsche quote sums up Robbie's situation quite nicely, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Gabe is Robbie's “why.”

As for me, I think my favorite aspect of Robbie is his sense of responsibility. He is fiercely headstrong, hardworking, and resilient, and I love that about him. He works, he goes to school, he takes care of his little brother. That's his life. He foregoes a lot of the frivolous joys that your average teenagers indulge in in order to make his little brother's life as comfortable as possible. Something that I always try to get across with Robbie is that, beyond the contemptuous grimace he wears in public, there is an extraordinarily passionate, devoted, caring young man veiled underneath. Fear, love, anger, kindness, it's all boiling within him and ready to E-X-P-L-O-D-E.

Smith: Robbie Reyes is decidedly an angry teen, but he has no rage issues even though we'd understand if he did. He's been dealt a pretty bad hand from the get-go, having lost his parents at a very early age, left to singlehandedly care for his handicapped younger brother Gabe, but Robbie's learned to keep his anger deep within and deal with the hardships immediately at hand.

He's not your average 18-year-old. He's a strong-willed, weathered and resilient kid; but yes, he's very angry inside. His unconditional love for his little brother keeps him centered and focused on his sole purpose, getting them both out of the gangland they live in. Undeniably tough for his age, both mentally and emotionally, Robbie is neither jaded nor cynical; he's pragmatic, and willing to do whatever it takes to care for his younger sibling.

What can you tell us about the entity that transforms Robbie into the Ghost Rider? How does it compare and contrast to the being that's joined with Johnny Blaze? It seems like Robbie's anger would make him an especially tempting host for a Spirit of Vengeance. Is that correct?

Smith: No doubt about it; Robbie's deep-rooted, well-marinated and very justified anger makes him an extremely tempting vessel for the Spirit who possesses him. Said Spirit has been waiting for someone just like Robbie, and he's ecstatic to meet him.

How would you describe the initial dynamic between Robbie and the entity that transforms him into the Ghost Rider? Is Robbie even aware that his transformation is because he's become host to a supernatural entity?

Moore: I won't say much here, but I'll tease.

Robbie is as hardworking and headstrong as they come, but he is, after all, human. A teenager, I might add, and one who has been burdened with an uncommon amount of responsibility and difficulty in his life. What happens when this kind of person is offered the chance to let loose? What happens when this kind of person is offered power by someone, or something, that doesn't share his values or integrity?

You know what they say about absolute power and what it does to a fellow…

Let's move from the entity that empowers Robbie to what it transforms him into. Unlike previous Ghost Riders who have always driven motorcycles, Robbie drives a car. What else can you tell us about the look and design of Robbie's Ghost Rider form? Did both of you contribute to the visuals? Which classic elements of the Ghost Rider did you want to keep and which did you want to update and revise?

Moore: We did! The initial concepts were all courtesy of Felipe. He set the look and direction of the character — this whole book is birthed from his vision, but he was kind enough to let me play in the toy box with him as well!

Smith: I initially sketched out what I had in mind; a leather drag racer jumpsuit and a head that would mimic elements of a racing helmet and the body, blower and exhaust pipes of an American Muscle Car.

Moore: To me, our incarnation of Ghost Rider is very reminiscent of the classic '70s Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider. Whether or not it reads as such to other folks, I don't know, but it was certainly informed by that classic design. The formfitting body suit and the big, minimal horseshoe shape on his chest are back in full effect. We've taken that idea and merged it with a modern racing suit. As for what we wanted to update and revise, I hope you don't mind me reusing an excerpt of my own words from a previous interview. If so, too bad! [Super villain style laugh]

We wanted him to have a sleek, techno vibe, but also be grim and intimidating. In my head I was thinking like, “What if Death joined Daft Punk? What if Satan became a Power Ranger? What if Speed Racer went to Hell and came back a slasher villain? What would that look like?”

So yeah, Felipe and I went back and forth with sketches spitting out whatever was in our heads in attempt to unify a few major concepts for this new Ghost Rider, the primary ingredients being: Robbie, his sleek new vehicle, and a classic, recognizable Ghost Rider.

Let's move away from Robbie and the Ghost Rider and into some of his enemies and allies. We know his chief adversary will be Calvin Zabo AKA Mister Hyde. What do you guys find most interesting about Hyde? It seems like he's a good foil for Robbie in that he's a physical threat to him, but there's also a thematic connection between the two characters correct? Is the battle between Robbie and Hyde as much as it is about controlling darker aspects of yourself as it is about a rookie hero versus super powered crime lord?

Smith: Yes. Mr. Hyde is the perfect first arc villain because he and Robbie share many qualities. They're both distrustful of most and have bitter sentiments for their peers: in Robbie's case, his gang-affiliated schoolmates; in Hyde's case, the number of East Coast super villains who've double-crossed him endlessly, landing him in Ryker's Island Penitentiary.

Both Mr. Hyde and Robbie feel disdain for their surroundings (jail, and a violence-prone, gang infested neighborhood, respectively) and have a violent, mean streak; Hyde's caused by the consumption of a transformation potion, Robbie's triggered by possession by a demonic spirit. They both hate to lose, and will do anything not to.

As I mentioned in an interview with you guys last year, “The most formidable rivals tend to be very similar; it is this similarity that makes them worthy opponents. You are your own worst enemy, and who better to battle a homicidal, growth-hormone transformation potion-chugging maniac than the dejected, malcontent product of a violent urban environment who's been possessed by a blood-thirsty satanic spirit? Nobody!”

Moore: I think the best part of Calvin Zabo/Mister Hyde is the same part that has made him interesting since Robert Louis Stevenson's classic “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde”: the concept of the duality of humankind. It's one of the most common ideas touched upon in superhero fiction, and I think that's because it's something that humankind will always wrestle with, and it translates well when illustrated literally. Questions of morality, questions of desire, questions of power: these are things that we will always find interesting should we create interesting stories to tell about them.

Yeah, Hyde works as a great foil to Robbie for all the reasons you mentioned in your question. Here are two characters who are struggling with split personality disorders on a super powered scale. One is supposed to be the good guy, and one is supposed to be bad. Why? What decisions separate them from one another? They're both killing, they're both breaking the law in extreme fashion, so why should we sympathize with one and despise the other? Moral relativism is a breeding ground for great questions and stories, I think.

You've already touched upon the supporting cast of “All-New Ghost Rider,” but what else can you tell us about Robbie's friends, family and allies?

Smith: The first and most obvious supporting character is Gabe, Robbie's beloved little bro and biggest source of joy.

Moore: Gabe is totally awesome. He's a spark of pure innocence and joy in the midst of the otherwise dangerous landscape. I love drawing him, and scenes between him and Robbie are some of my favorites.

Smith: The Spirit possessing Robbie will, likewise, become very important to him and the partner in an interesting relationship. Some of Robbie's neighbors, classmates, auto body shop co-workers and his new substitute teacher, Mr. Wakeford, will all play an important role in how events in Robbie's new life unfold.

Moore: There are a lot of fun new characters here: gang bangers, mercenaries, punk kids, all that good stuff.

Tradd, what can you tell us about the overall look of your “Ghost Rider” work? How does it compare to your other recent work on books like “Luther Strode?

Moore: My work here will be very familiar to anyone who has followed my work before, but I imagine familiar readers will notice a transition or progression or what have you. The look on “Ghost Rider” is very clean, very sleek; it's probably the cleanest and most fluid my line work has ever looked. There's also a much heavier use of spot blacks here than I've used in previous books. There are a number of gritty environments, so it makes for some cool juxtapositions between grimy landscapes and slick characters and cars. I've been messing around with some halftone patterns and digital textures here and there, so that's been fun. Ghost Rider is also a very special effect heavy comic, so I get to mess around with drawing a lot of, to use a video game term, particle effects. There's fire, explosions, headlights, gunshots, transformations, mutations, speed lines and stuff like that all over the place.

Smith: I read both arcs of “Luther Strode” before I started working with Tradd and found his art to be super kinetic, acutely expressive and very powerful; I knew that our action scenes would be dynamic and that our series would definitely stand out visually. But in addition, I feel that he's really pushing the envelope with his work on this series, really hustling to outdo himself with every page he turns in. As his collaborator, I appreciate it immensely, and feel the joyful obligation to push just as hard story-wise. Thanks, Tradd!

Finally we've talked primarily about characters so let's conclude with some hints and teases about the action in your “All-New Ghost Rider” story. If you were going to make a film trailer that included some scenes from your first arc what kinds of images would we see?

Smith: The film trailer for this series would be pulled due to its causing too many excitement-driven epileptic seizures in the audience.

Moore: My “Ghost Rider” trailer would be 74 minutes long, and it would contain eruptions of repeated imagery, predominantly that of blood, strobing and undulating to a serpentine shifting 16th to 32nd note blast beat played at a blistering 426,000 BPM. Distorted engine noises would belch and drone violently, layered on top of sounds of flame throwers, tortured screaming, and discordant piano strikes.

I would like to throw out a huge thanks to everyone who has been looking into the book, be it with excitement, intrigue, doubt, or contempt, and I hope you all give the book a shot when it drops. The support has been greatly appreciated, and I look forward to sharing our vision with each and every one of you!

Smith: To all those who've expressed their interest and support on Twitter, Tumblr and forums online: Thank you kindly! Tradd and I appreciate your support enormously and find it completely invigorating! For those of you who might be hesitant about this series, the idea of a new Ghost Rider (remember, he's not replacing Blaze or Ketch), the fact that he's young or that he drives a Car: Don't be afraid to try something new and give a new creative team a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised! If you're not, you can always say, “I knew it” and be proud of your correct assumption; but if you are surprised you might find yourself saying, “I'll be darned!” or “sonova-@#$%!” [Laughs] Thanks for your consideration!

“All-New Ghost Rider” #1 screeches into comic shops March 19!