The Ghost Rider movie opens on February 16. Even if I hadn't spent two years putting words into Johnny Blaze's speech balloons, I'd still be psyched. The trailer looks great and, based on those few minutes of screen-time, Nicholas Cage is completely convincing as the cursed biker who sold his soul for love. When I next read my Ghost Rider comics, it'll be his voice I "hear."
Ghost Rider, a.k.a. "the most supernatural super-hero of all," was created by Gary Friedrich. The basic premise of the hero and the original series is wonderful in its simplicity and its capacity for human drama. A good man makes a bad choice for all the right reasons. He sells his soul to the devil to save a loved one, only to be tricked by the Master of Lies. From there, at least when its writers remain true to its origins, Ghost Rider is one of the great redemption stories in comics. The movie most definitely gets that. As the trailer says, "A man who sells his soul for love can change the world!"
Friedrich's Ghost Rider was an amazing blend of biker action, outlaw hero, and supernatural menace, the latter driven home by the brilliantly eerie art of Mike Ploog. From the moment, Ghost Rider first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5 [August, 1972], there wasn't anything else like it on the comics rack and that remained the case until Friedrich departed the book.
My run on Ghost Rider began with an issue plotted by Friedrich and already penciled by Jim Mooney. No written plot came with the art, so I made it up as I scripted it. I even rearranged the page order just a mite. I got through scripting the issue, a far more intimidating process that I had anticipated, and then had to think about what I would do next.
Knowing I couldn't duplicate the unique Friedrich/Ploog tone of the series, I gravitated towards the "super-hero" part of Ghost Rider's slogan. But I didn't really figure out what my Ghost Rider would be until I wrote Blaze into such a end-of-an-issue jam that I literally didn't know how I would get him out of it in the next issue of the series.
Previously, Blaze had been protected from Satan's wrath by the purity of love-of-his-life Roxanne Simpson. I took that away from him, leaving him vulnerable to the Big Evil. It made for a great cliffhanger, but I had written myself into a corner.
Enter fellow Marvel writer Steve Gerber who, mostly in jest, suggested I have God save GR. It was a crazy idea, but just crazy enough to work.
Getting prior approval from editor Roy Thomas, as I would from later editors Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, I introduced "The Friend" into the series. He looked sort of like a hippie Jesus Christ and that's exactly who He was, though I never actually called Him that in my stories.
The introduction of "The Friend" was creatively and personally satisfying. The readers loved the idea and, from then on, my Ghost Rider was about redemption and salvation. It allowed me to address a disparity that had long bothered me about the Marvel Universe. Though we had no end of Hell(s) and Satan surrogates in our comics, we had nothing of Heaven, save for the mythology-based Asgard and Olympus. It was about time we heard from God.
My "redemption/salvation" story ran two years, approved many times over by my editors. Alas, the issue which would have brought it to fruition was undone at the last moment.
I'd written a story wherein, couched in mildly subtle terms, Blaze accepted Jesus as his savior and freed himself from Satan's power forever. Had I remained on Ghost Rider, which was my intent at the time, the title's religious elements would have faded into the background. Blaze would be a Christian, but he'd express this in the way he led his life. I liked the idea of a really good man making his way in sinful Hollywood, doing his super-hero thing, getting married, raising a family, and such.
Unfortunately, an assistant editor took offense at my story. The issue was ready to go to the printer when he pulled it back and ripped it to pieces. He had some of the art redrawn and a lot of the copy rewritten to change the ending of a story two years in the making. "The Friend" was revealed to be, not Jesus, but a demon in disguise. To this day, I consider what he did to my story one of the three most arrogant and wrongheaded actions I've ever seen from an editor. Sigh.
Time to lighten the tone for the finish.
Friedrich created one of the great heroes of the modern Marvel Universe. If the Ghost Rider movie stays true to what Gary dreamed up - too many demons or too few humans destroys what the character has to say to his readers and viewers - I think it will be a fine, entertaining, and even uplifting film.
I hope the movie makers give Friedrich his due in the film's credits and also that Marvel Comics cuts him in for a piece of the action. It would be the right things to do and, struggle though he may, that's what the Ghost Rider is all about.
The above article was written for CBG before the Ghost Rider movie hit the theaters. When I wrote it, I was hoping to see it as soon as it opened. Alas, that didn't work out. I'll have to catch it on DVD.
Yesterday, Reuters reported that Gary Friedrich, the creator of Ghost Rider, has sued Marvel, Sony, and other entities "over what he claims is an unauthorized 'joint venture and conspiracy to exploit, profit from and utilize' his copyrights to the comic book character." By this time, I'm guessing you can't swing a dead cat without finding a news story about or commentary on this lawsuit. For now, here's what I have to say on the matter:
I hope Gary Friedrich and the outfits he's suing can come to an agreement that benefits and satisfies all parties. However, my almost universal position when creators sue comic-book companies is that my sympathies lie with the creators. During my 35 years as a comics professional, I have found creators and freelancers to be, as a rule, far more honest and reasonable than the companies that employ them.
I don't wish Marvel any ill will. With rare exceptions - and those always involved individuals and not the company - Marvel has been very fair to me. I know that's not been the case with other creators. I wish it were. But, if we're talking Marvel and Tony, just Marvel and Tony, I'm good with them.
That's why I hope a) that Marvel and Gary can come up with an arrangement benefitting both parties, and b) that Marvel makes such fairness an integral part of its dealings with its past, present, and future creators. I think that would be good for the creators, good for Marvel, and good for the industry.
I have a few more thoughts to share with you, especially those of you who responded to the news of Friedrich's lawsuit with ill-informed comments such as "he's being greedy" or "why didn't he sue before there was a movie" or "it was work-for-hire."
If Friedrich is "greedy" for wanting a share of the money that Marvel, Sony, and others are making from the character he created, aren't Marvel, Sony, and those others just as greedy for not freely giving him a share of that money? None of them would be making any money from the character if Friedrich hadn't created him.
Lawsuits are expensive. Creators don't have the deep pockets of publishers. So they sue when there's the best chance of making enough money to have something left over after the legal fees have been paid. I don't know of any comics creator who wouldn't prefer to get his or her fair share of the money without having to sue his or her publisher for it.
Something isn't "work-for-hire" just because a comics company says it's work-for-hire. Were you there when Friedrich created the Ghost Rider? Did you see the contract he signed at that time? Was there a contract at all? I wasn't there, I didn't see a contract, and neither did you.
Thus ends your lesson for today.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
What were the odds that, today of all days, I would have some Ghost Rider comic strips and panels for you? With thanks to my pal reader Tom Duffy for alerting me to it, here's Buddy Hickerson's The Quigmans panel from February 22:
Following through on the "young Ghost Rider" theme, we have Dave Whamond's Reality Check from March 21:
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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