Interview by Nick Banks
We here at Horror News Network think that it’s about time the Midnight Sons rise again. With that being said, we have a big treat in store for fans of 1990’s Marvel Horror. We caught up with a handful of writers from yesteryear to talk about their respective series and what they think the future holds for the characters they wrote about.
Leading off is Ghost Rider scribe, Howard Mackie.
Horror New Network: Thank you for joining us today to answer some questions about the Ghost Rider reboot of the 1990’s and The Midnight Sons. To start, how did you become the writer for the new series in 1990?
Howard Mackie: Well, I always loved Ghost Rider as a fan and thought that the original was such a cool concept with the motorcycle and flaming skull; it was a great look. I started at Marvel as an assistant editor and I worked closely with Mark Gruenwald. I first got my start with such “hot properties” as Air Raiders and Chuck Norris, and I was told that there was talk of restarting the Ghost Rider series with the understanding that the book would feature an all new Ghost Rider and supporting cast. At first I was a little disappointed because I wanted to make a pitch featuring Johnny Blaze, but I submitted a concept and to my surprise, it was accepted. Later on, I learned that a few more experienced and established writers submitted pitches and if I had known that before I submitted mine, I may not have.
Horror News Network: Were there any problems or difficulties with the relaunch?
Howard Mackie: The comic took forever to be green lit. When the concept reached the sale department, they tried to kill it. Some members of the sales department were certain that a horror concept would not sell comics. They were also worried about an untried writer and art team and for them (the sales department), it had disaster written all over it. I redid the pitch a number of times and each time it still faced opposition. The story went from a four issue limited series, to an original graphic novel, to a “prestige” mini-series, and eventually back to an ongoing title.
Horror News Network: What finally changed the sales department’s mind on the subject?
Howard Mackie: Eventually it became a real battle between editor Tom Defalco and sales. Tom insisted that it was going to be published and when he pressed the issue, a member of the sales team wrote a letter to the publisher stating that it would be a financial disaster if published. In the end, Tom won and the when the book became a success, the person who penned the letter to the publisher ripped it up in Tom’s office.
Horror News Network: I can recall fans being very excited about the new book and the success that followed. How was it received by Marvel?
Howard Mackie: Well, the initial sales of the first issue were strong, but the real test of a new book is the fourth issue (as sales usually go down with each issue if it isn’t going to stay). With Ghost Rider, the sales increased every issue in the initial run. It was also one of the first Marvel books of that era that had to do multiple print runs to satisfy demand.
Horror News Network: In your opinion, what was responsible for making the series a hit?
Howard Mackie: The fact that Ghost Rider was not a complete horror story helped it establish itself in the wider Marvel Universe. The book always straddled the line between horror and superhero story and that mix seemed to work well. In one issue, Dr. Strange could guest star and bring in the supernatural. In another issue, the Punisher could appear in a more traditional story.
Horror News Network: Ghost Rider was able to interact with all of the other “Hot” heroes of the era in his title. How did you feel about these crossovers?
Howard Mackie: They helped cement Ghost Rider in the Marvel Universe. Not only were other anti-heroes like Wolverine and the Punisher appearing in the Ghost Rider title, but at the time, Ghost Rider was “a license to print money” so he was one of the most requested guest stars in other character’s books to boost sales. My editor (Bobby Chase) tried hard to keep Ghost Rider from being oversaturated in other publications, which was a difficult task at the time!
Horror News Network: Many fans have fond memories of Issue #15 the glow-in-the-dark cover. How did this idea come about?
Howard Mackie: At the time, marketing had a large role in publishing and it was a time of special edition covers. I think the glow-in-the-dark cover worked so well because it was a natural choice for the character; it was organic in a way and I loved it. It sold out immediately and quickly went to a second printing with a gold cover. When we (Bobby Chase and I) got the first copy in the office, we had to search everywhere for a dark enough room to see the effect. It’s probably the cover that I sign the most when I attend conventions and I always ask the fans if they have actually tried seeing it in the dark. It really works well!
Horror News Network: With the success of Ghost Rider, Marvel decided to bring back more supernatural characters and even formed a family imprint. How did the Midnight Sons idea come about and how did you feel about this new group?
Howard Mackie: I did not like the idea at the start. I thought it was “too much too soon” in terms of adding more supernatural hero titles. I can remember going to a writer’s conference at a hotel in New York City and I wanted no part of it, but I really didn’t have a choice. I was sitting facing the windows as the other writers discussed the concept and the Midnight Sons. It wasn’t until Dan Chichester brought up the idea of Lilith as the main adversary of the group that I came back to the table and became excited about the idea. At that point, the whole group concentrated on creating the mythology surrounding Lilith and the Lilin. In fact, in recent years I was contacted by a rabbi who was writing a book on the classic Jewish legend and he wanted to know where I got my research from. I told him that we made it all up, as there was no source material on the character at the time. He was shocked that we made up so much and that it came so close to the actual mythology.
Horror News Network: How did you feel about the film adaptation of Ghost Rider?
Howard Mackie: I was initially excited about the film. At the time when the first Ghost Rider movie was released (2007), studios were not speaking to the writers of the comics as they do today and I wish that I could have helped with some suggestions. I definitely recognized some of the concepts and ideas as mine when I watched it. The filmmakers went for the supernatural elements immediately with villains like Blackheart and it probably would have worked better with a mix of the super-hero and supernatural aspects.
Horror News Network: Do you feel that the character would be handled differently today and perhaps in a more “faithful” fashion and could a “Midnight Sons” group work in this setting?
Howard Mackie: Well, the Marvel films and series have reached a certain level of quality, especially with the recent Netflix series (which I really enjoy). Ghost Rider could exist in that type of series or a film, but I would hope that they would balance the mystical with the standard super-hero elements, as this is when the character works best. A character like Morbius would make a nice addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he is another character that can go back-and-forth between a more horror-style story and the “real world”. Dr. Strange is another one that can link between both worlds.
Horror News Network: Thanks for your time and all the great memories you gave us with your work on Ghost Rider!