Ghost Rider joining Elektra and Punisher in ‘Thunderbolts’

(CBR) Since its relaunch last fall as part of the “Marvel NOW!” initiative, “Thunderbolts” has been home to some of Marvel’s most celebrated antiheroes — specifically the Red Hulk, Punisher, Elektra, Deadpool and Venom. Come February 2014, with the release of “Thunderbolts” #20.NOW — the de facto “Thunderbolts” #1 for the “All-New Marvel NOW!” promotional push — the team is set to add a new member, one with a motorcycle and a distinctive flaming skull: Ghost Rider. Red Hulk brings in Johnny Blaze to deal with out-of-control team member Mercy, who’s murdering innocents to further his misguided mission.

CBR News spoke with series writer and current holder of the unofficial “busiest writer in comics” title, Charles Soule, about Ghost Rider’s arrival, what’s up with Mercy and what it’s like to work with artist Carlo Barberi, also joining the book with #20.NOW.

CBR News: Clearly the big “Thunderbolts” news is that Ghost Rider is joining the team. What motivated his inclusion in this story? And is he going to be a permanent addition to the cast?

Charles Soule: Part of the reason to include Ghost Rider is simple — why wouldn’t you put Ghost Rider into a book? He also fits into the book’s dynamic very nicely. Johnny Blaze is certainly someone who has his own demons to battle (yes, that was completely intentional), just like the other members of the Thunderbolts team. I also like that his powers have a magical aspect. Most of the other ‘Bolts are either soldiers or warriors, and so putting someone on the team who can cast spells and such opens up some fun story options. As for whether or not he’s permanent, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “permanent” member of the Thunderbolts, but he’s certainly going to be around for a while.

What’s your own personal history with Ghost Rider? How much of a fan are you of the character — and his various incarnations?
Ghost Rider (the Johnny Blaze version) was one of the first characters I discovered when I started looking past the obvious books most kids go to (your Superman, your Spider-Man, etc.). I just dug his look so much, and still do. Flaming skull dude zipping around on a sweet motorcycle? So comic book, so awesome. I also remember enjoying Ghost Rider 2099 quite a bit — cyberpunk robot Terminator Ghost Rider? That’s pretty fantastic too.

To whatever extent you’re able to talk about it this point, how does Ghost Rider’s addition affect the rest of the team? Is he taking someone’s place?
Ghost Rider shows up to help the team with a very specific mission. He’s the guy Ross thinks can get the job done for them. At first, the idea is that he’ll just do them one quick favor and head out — but things don’t really go as expected, and he ends up putting the entire team in jeopardy. As always seems to be the case with the T-bolts, they dislike each other as much (if not more) than whoever they happen to be fighting.

The story also looks to involve Mercy in a major way. She was a surprising addition when first brought to the book by Daniel Way, and it looks like you’re ramping up her presence in this arc. What kind of potential do you see in the character?

Mercy is Thunderbolt Ross’ walking (well, flying, really), talking cautionary tale. She’s a massive error from his past that he can’t get rid of — someone who’s extremely dangerous and who can’t really be controlled. She’s like a living symbol of all his mistakes — but it’s worse, because she likes the horrible things the various T-bolts have done. She’s a death fetishist, and people always die around the Thunderbolts. Mercy is someone Ross is going to have to figure out if he ever wants to achieve the redemption he’s searching for.

With Ghost Rider joining the team, and Mercy evidently acting as the villain, how invested are the other members of the squad in what’s unfolding in this story? Is it as personal as past missions?

Oh, they’re invested. If they don’t bring their A-games, they’re going to die. So, they have one of the strongest motivations of all — self-interest. This mission isn’t necessarily from their past, although if you think about it, everything anyone ever does stems from their pasts. Especially these guys.

To speak of one specific member of the cast, with Venom’s solo title ending and the character heading to a major story in “Superior Spider-Man” this fall, will he remain a major part of “Thunderbolts”?

Great question!

Carlo Barberi is joining the book on art with #20.NOW. What excites you about what he brings to the series?

Carlo really draws these characters well, which is important. The action is nice and fluid, which I like, too. However, his biggest asset is that he’s thinking outside the four corners of the script. There’s a new location we see a lot in this arc, and while we only had a few scenes there in his first issue, Carlo sent me a diagram/blueprint for the whole damn place (and it looked great, to boot). I love stuff like that.

Finally, now that you’re a good chunk of issues into your “Thunderbolts” run, how have you enjoyed the experience of writing this unique team thus far? Given your notably busy (and varied) slate, what type of unique writer-ly niche does it fill for you?

I very much enjoy writing Punisher, Elektra and Deadpool — they’re three characters I really feel like I get, and it’s easy to slip into their heads. The others are great too (Red Leader is becoming a favorite of mine as well), in part because the adventures they have tend to be somewhat street-level. I like that — none of the other books I’m doing hit that spot, and I have a good time with it. Mostly, though, I’ve discovered that writing this team of horrible, bickering, borderline sociopaths has turned out to be fun! Who knew? I think that comes across in the stories, and I hope people will enjoy seeing what Ghost Rider brings to the team, as well as the other surprises we have in store.