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"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Interview With Tony Isabella

Before reading this, be sure to check out my retro review of Ghost Rider #9. After I had finished the comic, I wanted to dig deeper into the story and retcon. The way to do that was to get a few words from the writer of the story of course. I managed to get in touch with the writer, Tony Isabella, where I asked a few questions regarding the issue. (And one about the 2007 Ghost Rider film.) 

1. You took over Ghost Rider at issue #6, did you have a set plan for 
the series forward at that point?

Not really.  Gary Friedrich had left the series somewhat abruptly. 
Marv Wolfman and Doug Moench did a quick fill-in for issue #5.  I was 
given an issue already pencilled by Jim Mooney from Gary's last 
plot.  That was issue #6.  As I recall, I switched around some of the 
pages.  I never received a copy of Gary's plot so I made up my own 
story around the pages and Jim's border notes. My getting the gig was 
a typical-for-Marvel scenario: "Congratulations, you're the new 
writer and you're already late on your next script and plot." My 
immediate "plan" was to come up with an exciting finish to the story 
for issue #7.

For issue #8, I wanted to get the book back to its core concept of 
Satan trying to claim Johnny Blaze's soul.  Since it was girlfriend 
Roxanne Simpson's "protection" of Johnny that was holding Satan at 
bay, I decided to put that protection in jeopardy.  By the time I was 
plotting issue #9, I decided that protection kept Johnny from the 
consequences of his deal with the devil and that particular bit was 
wearing thin.  So what could be more game-changing and shocking than 
Roxanne being tricked into renouncing that protection?

This was when I realized I'd written myself into a hellish corner. 
How could Johnny Blaze be saved?  I was thinking out loud about it in 
the Marvel Bullpen when the great Steve Gerber suggested, half in 
jest, that maybe God could save Johnny.  I loved the idea and, with 
the blessing of editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, made "the Friend" a 
recurring character in the series.  It should be noted that Roy and 
his successors Len Wein and Marv Wolfman supported what I was 
doing.  There was no controversy about the addition of Jesus Christ 
to the book until, as Marv was ending his stint at editor-in-chief, 
Jim Shooter took offense to it and took it upon himself to rewrite my 
last issue and destroy the finale I had been working towards for two years.

2. To this day, are you still proud of how issue #9 came out? Do you 
think it has aged well?

Yes.  At a time when Marvel had several demonic entries operating in 
its universe, I was determined to let have Heaven have a voice in 
these stories.  When I reread the issue a few months back, I saw 
flaws here and there, but I do think it has aged well.  A number of 
readers have remarked that my old stories hold up better than many of 
those written by my contemporaries.

3. December 1st marks the 37th anniversary of issue #9. Looking 
back, would you consider it your single greatest issue or something else?

That's a tough call to make.  I think the best single issue of any 
comic book I've written is Black Lightning #5 from the second run of 
that series.  When it comes to Ghost Rider, while issue #9 was an 
important issue, I like issues #11 (with the Hulk) and #12 (with the 
Phantom Eagle) better.  I was really pleased with the scene in my 
original version of issue #19 wherein Johnny Blaze accepted "the 
Friend" as his savior and defeated Satan, but, sadly, readers never 
got to see that scene as written.

When I became the regular writer of Ghost Rider, I knew I couldn't 
write the kind of stories Gary Friedrich had been writing so well. So 
I decided to put a somewhat greater emphasis on the "superhero" part 
of "The Most Supernatural Superhero of All."  I'm told sales went up 
with this approach and the title went monthly shortly after my 
departure, based on the sales of my run.

4. Of course, the big thing fans remember is the retcon of your 
story. You've talked about it a bunch of times in the past, I would 
like to know a few things. So it wasn't until after issue #19 that 
your editor decided he didn't approve your story? Was it a last- 
minute change? Why didn't he approve the concept of Heavenly forces 
to counter Hellish forces?

It wasn't my editor per se.  Jim Shooter, who was just an assistant 
editor at that point, stated he was offended by the story and took 
advantage of the chaos during the end of Marv Wolfman's time as the 
editor-in-chief and the start of Gerry Conway's to rewrite and have 
partially redrawn the already-completed and ready to go off to the 
printer issue.  So, yes, it was a last-minute change.  At the time, 
Shooter told me he was offended by the story and that statement was 
backed up by others who heard it.  I asked for my name to be taken 
off the issue, but he refused to honor that request.

5. After you left the book, did you follow Ghost Rider at all? The 
90's series, or the mid-2000's Daniel Way series?

I read the book sporadically.  I remember liking some of the issues 
written by Michael Fleisher and Roger Stern in the original run of 
the title.  The 1990s series didn't do anything for me, I 
haven't  read more than an issue or so of the Daniel Way run and only 
those issues that crossed over with whatever Marvel Universe event 
was going on at the time.

6. What did you think of the 2007 Ghost Rider movie?

I enjoyed it and even recognized something of the Johnny Blaze who I 
wrote in Nicholas Cage's performance.  It wasn't a great movie, but 
it wasn't as awful as some would have it.

7. The retcon came ten issues later in #19. Some fans believe the 
Arch-Demon was lying about "The Friend" being an illusion. After all, 
he is the Prince of Lies. Would you tell those fans to give up that 
claim and just accept that he was just an illusion, or since "The 
Friend" technically never appeared again, it's alright to claim that?

I would tell fans to interpret the story however they like.  On my 
long "bucket list" of things I'd like to write before I kick that 
bucket is a Ghost Rider Forever series wherein I would proceed as if 
my story had been left intact and cover the next several years of 
Johnny Blaze's life.  I doubt Marvel would be interested in my doing 
this, but, who knows, I might describe what I would have done in some 
future blog.

8. And finally, would you change anything about issue #9?

Not really.  Maybe tweak a line here and there, correct any typos I 
spot, but not really.  It was a good comic book that addressed an 
interesting facet of the Marvel Universe.  My only regret is that, 
ten issues later, Shooter pissed on another writer's story.

1 comment:

  1. ghost rider is not that much of a famous big comic BTW no offence