BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Even though scribe Simon Spurrier
had to look up Heckle and Jeckyll
on the Internet, we still think he's the right guy to write about Danny Ketch's supposed turn from being a force of good to serving a darker master. In the pages of the five-part Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch
miniseries, Spurrier's filling in some very important blanks that might
leave readers with a few more questions. He told THE PULSE, "Ketch was always one of those beautiful archetypes that Marvel handles so well: the Reluctant Hero. He spent a lot of time trying to escape the 'curse' of the Ghost Rider. He wanted nothing more than to free his family line from all the spooky nastiness and to get his “normal” life back. So in this serial the starting point is really simple: a couple of years ago, he succeeded
. He’s free. He’s only human. And then the question becomes: how does someone who has tasted that much power cope with Normality? Answer: not very well ...." THE PULSE: A lot of our readers might know you from your work with Gutsville or Silver Surfer. How'd you get the chance to give us a glimpse into the life of Danny Ketch, how he became a Ghost Rider and why he's doing unspeakable things now in the pages of Jason Aaron's Ghost Rider series ...?
Put simply: I was invited. My then-editor Aubrey Sitterson
rang me up and asked me to pitch for the serial, up against a couple of other guys. I think the idea of re-introducing Danny Ketch into current continuity came from on-high somewhere... I know Jason had always been a bit hesitant about bringing him back in the main G.R. title, until it occurred to him to use Danny as a foil to Johnny Blaze. Once he’d made that decision it simply became my job to explain how Danny reached that position – ideally in a sympathetic and rational way. THE PULSE: There are a lot of unanswered questions, even with five issues, how tough is it to get all the information you want in there, settled?
It wasn’t too bad, really. The remit of the serial is quite simple: how does a guy – who may be tormented and vaguely deranged, but is basically a Decent Human Being – wind-up doing the bidding of a psychotic angelic megalomaniac? One I’d generated an answer to that, it was a simple case of getting him there in the most entertaining and emotionally honest way. We didn’t want to cheat and have him being brainwashed or psychically controlled or any bollocks like that: it was important to establish that he’s doing what he’s doing because he thinks it’s the right thing
The one thing which could’ve
threatened to absorb a whole bunch of space in this serial was the notion of untangling all of Danny’s continuity. Anyone who knows him from Back in the Day will remember that he’s got a really convoluted origin tale. You’ve got all sorts of wacky stuff in there: mystic gascaps, medallions of power, ghosts of ancestors, familial curses, etc etc. It’s all great material, and if you have the time and energy to explain/untangle it all you can
get it to make sense. But when it comes to justifying its place in the current
continuity of the Ghost Rider mythos, you’re going to need a lo-o-o-o-o-t of pages and a lo-o-o-ot of patience.
…So instead it made sense to come up with a way of being able to look beyond that stuff without dwelling on it. I didn’t want to be the sort of wanker who shows up and just blithely reinvents a character’s backstory – that sort of shit shows a complete lack of respect. So hopefully I’ve found a way to satisfy everyone: completist, continuity nut, newcomer and all.
See, it occurred to me that – back in the 90’s – Ketch was always one of those beautiful archetypes that Marvel handles so well: the Reluctant Hero. He spent a lot of time trying to escape the “curse” of the Ghost Rider. He wanted nothing more than to free his family line from all the spooky nastiness and to get his “normal” life back. So in this serial the starting point is really simple: a couple of years ago, he succeeded
. He’s free. He’s only human.
And then the question becomes: how does someone who has tasted that much power cope with Normality? Answer: not very well.
This is the story of what happens next.THE PULSE: I remember reading Danny Ketch as Ghost Rider when the new series began, and I liked him right off. But, seeing him talk a youngster into killing himself and some of the other things he's been doing in the pages of Ghost Rider, it's tough for me to like him now. What happened to him, to change him so drastically, since we last saw him at the end of his own Ghost Rider series to seeing him return in the present Ghost Rider # 23?
Okay, well, there’re two things to mention here. The first relates to that sequence with the kid’s suicide. Yes, that’s a terrible thing: no question. But – if you want to adopt a really, really fucked-up twisted worldview (which is exactly how things are going in the G.R. mythos at the moment) – then deliberately sending your soul to hell is a lo-o-o-o-o-o-t better than fluttering up to heaven, where the vicious evil fuck-knuckle Zadkiel is waiting for you. So, from one highly disturbing point of view, Dan was actually doing the kid a favour…
As for how Dan got to the point that he’d think in those terms… that’s
why you need to read this serial. [grins]
And as for him being “likeable”… we-ell. As I said, it’s important to me that readers understand his emotional journey. We might not agree with all the decisions he makes, but we must at least understand why he makes them. And “likeability” is a tricky thing to define. If we judge characters’ popularity based purely on their “niceness”, then the likes of Bullseye, Venom, John Constantine, etc, etc, would be universally loathed. No, what really
matters in cases like Danny Ketch’s is that readers can empathise and sympathise with him, regardless of how “likeable” he may or may not be. That was the real challenge of this serial.
Plus, y’know… I think he is
likeable. As far as supernaturally-obsessive drunken bums go. THE PULSE: How did you come up with the story to tell here? Were there other chefs in the kitchen so to speak, giving you pointers on what to include or was this totally left up to you?
It was pretty much left to me. I knew what position Danny had to be in at the end of the series, obviously, but nothing else.
And, for the record, that’s not the same as knowing in advance “how it ends”. Same’s true for readers, I think. Anyone who’s been following Jason’s work on the ongoing will be picking up the Ketch book with the foreknowledge that, by the end, Danny’s going to be working for Zadkiel. But that doesn’t stop there being a thousand-and-one brain-rapingly strange surprises along the way, right up to the last page. THE PULSE: What are the challenges of making someone who probably turns a lot of readers' stomachs now, sympathetic and relatable in your miniseries? A lot of people might go into this hating Danny Ketch a lot right now ....
Probably answered this above, though I’ll add this: Danny Ketch is a flawed, imperfect and often plain-out-wrong guy. That’s what makes him human. The tragedy is that he wasn’t
always human, and he can never forget that.
As readers, we find it very hard to dislike tragic characters.
Er. I hope.THE PULSE: How tough is it for you to get inside the head of a character like this?
Heh, heh. I’ve written novels from the point of view of a delusional serial killer, screenplays about Bohemian zombies, and comics about wandering cosmic messiahs. Relating to a broken-down youngster with an unfortunate Vice and a yearning for “something more” in his life is a cinch by comparison. THE PULSE: Danny Ketch always seemed to be a straight, stand up guy. He'd gone through a lot of bad things in his own series, but still kind of remained a hero. What brought him to his breaking point?
Desperation. Insecurity. A couple of bad decisions. And, paradoxically – as we shall see in this serial – an earnest desire to Do The Right Thing. THE PULSE: How much of his association with Zadkiel will be revealed in these pages? Is Zadkiel a recurring character here ...?
The whole nature of the serial is to explain how and why his association with Zadkiel began. So will we see Zadkiel? Yes. Is he a recurring character? Not really… he’s more of a looming presence, which gradually solidifies towards the end.THE PULSE: Previews has teased that Danny Ketch has a "talking magpie for company." Out of everything or anything you could have used, why a magpie? It's the Heckle and Jeckyll obsession again, isn't it?
Ridiculously, I had to Google “Heckle and Jeckyll”. Bit before my time, I’m afraid. Sounds like top TV, though.
The magpie (which I think may now be a Crow, looking at some coloured previews) plays a really important role in the story, and… well, let’s just say all is Not What It Seems.
Basically I went all-out with strange and unexpected shit, in this story. The “core” of the tale is this grim and emotionally charged descent into darkness and desperation, so I think you need to have a lot of exciting, surprising and – frankly – bonkers stuff going-on on the surface to prevent it all from becoming maudlin. I don’t want my readers slashing their wrists halfway through. Because, y’know… who’d buy the last two issues if they did? A good writer has to consider this stuff. THE PULSE: Who are some of the other characters showing up in these pages? Will we see Johnny Blaze or any other Ghost Rider familiars?
Several really exciting characters, which I can’t really say much about. A couple of them are recurring faces from the long and turbulent history of the Ghost Rider mythos, so watch out for that… I’m also prevented from giving much away about most of the newer characters, because they expand and clarify the Ghost Rider universe in a really funky and exotic way. “Fiery elephant” – I can say no more.
My favourite “new” character is a cockney punk chick called Mary LeBow (there’s a joke in there somewhere, which only the Londoners among us will get), who dabbles in the arcane art of Technomancy and is indirectly responsible for Dan’s unhappy situation. There’s a fun scene in Issue 2 where she performs some cruel and unusual magic using a box full of Cornish pixies and a 2000-volt battery. I love my job. THE PULSE: How was working on someone like Ghost Rider different than a hero like the Silver Surfer?
Good question. Strangely, the answer is that they’re about as far away from each other as it’s possible to get, and yet at the same time
are remarkably similar.
Norrin Radd typifies melancholy, thoughtful, meditative observation. He thinks things through, feels them, and is inwardly tortured by the cruelty and horror he sees everywhere.
Danny Ketch is an impulsive, brash guy with a load of bad habits and a dark sense of humour. He’s been screwed-up by the things he’s seen and the occult destiny he never asked for.
So you’ve got these two utterly different beings, which exist in worlds of completely opposite scale and aesthetic… who are both nonetheless united in being tormented by intangible forces beyond their ken. Both are ultimately concerned with trying to control an ugly and unfair universe. Neither is able to succeed.
On a slightly less airy-fairy level: when you write the Silver Surfer your mind fills up with the likes of fractal giganisms, astral consciousnesses, cosmic worm-deities and metadimensional pan-historical Devourers Of Matter. When you write Ghost Rider, you fill notebooks with things like gibbering fey-wasps, thulean cataclysms, digital aetheric entities and morbidly obese Rage Junkies. It’s just a slightly different flavour of Weird, is all. THE PULSE: Who or what influenced you the most as you scripted this series? Were there past Ghost Rider writers who played a role? I know you had to be inspired or influenced at least a little by what Jason's doing in the present series ....
I try not to be too active when it comes to emulating or being influenced, really. Everyone’s got their own way of telling stories, and the trick is just to let yourself breathe and keep growing as you do so.
But you’re right, in a way, Jason’s work is obviously very important to the Ketch serial. The G.R. universe is so infused with his “voice” by now that I’m sure it trickles through into my own work. But I’ve never seen it as my job to try and copycat the writers I love (of whom Jason’s one): only to use them as inspirational figures and to pay careful attention to the kinds of things that work and the kinds of things that don’t. Shit, that sounds really vague and flaky, doesn’t it?
I come from the 2000AD
stable, of course, so that’s probably been the most obvious influence on me. I grew up on stories of antiheroic bastards, incredibly dense narration, comedy blacker than dragonshit and a culture of unrestrained ideas. It’s about the best education you can get
when it comes to writing stuff like Ghost Rider. THE PULSE: Prior to working on this story, where did Danny Ketch rank among your favorites? Was he more than a blip on your radar?
Yeah, definitely more than a blip. I can’t say I’d ever predicted myself writing him – but that’s got more to do with the fact that I’m still pretty new to working for Marvel
than anything else: so far my gigs tend to be given to me, rather than me suggesting them.
When Aubrey asked me if I knew Danny Ketch, I pounced. The first thing I thought of was an old X-Men
strip I read years ago, in which Ketch went up against a queen of the Brood. I remember he pulled off her skin and turned her inside out. THAT is awesome. THE PULSE: Awesome? Gross! What other projects are you working on?
Mostly non-comicky stuff right now – I’m starting work on my new novel and writing a screenplay in conjunction with Met Film and the UK Film Council – but I’m keeping my hand in with the old Sequential Joy, and I’m itching to do more. I’m sitting on a volcano of ideas, which I’ll be buffing-up and sending out to all dark corners of the industry just as soon as I have a spare day or three. Marvel’s been really good to me so far: I’ve done a bunch of oneshots with characters I really love, I’ve gone on cosmic wanderings with our pal Norrin Radd and mined the depths of metaphysical madness with Danny Ketch. I feel like I’m just getting started, and I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into something crunchy.
And then there’s Gutsville
, of course. Poor old Frazer (Irving) has had a bit of a nightmare over the past year, so the schedule has slipped all over the place. The good news is that it’s still going, the next episode should be with us very soon, and It Fucking Rocks.
Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch # 1 should be in stores this month.