To demonstrate certain aspects of his philosophy, Rene Descartes suggested the existence of an “evil demon” who manipulated his every sensation, such that nothing could be definitively, objectively observed, up to and including one’s own physical existence.
Descartes, of course, did not believe in such a demon; but what if he was right? In “Kult,” a four-issue miniseries launching this week from Dark Horse Comics, an omnipotent being that had long shielded humanity from an ugly reality has simply vanished, touching off a fierce race amongst several factions to replace him, each with their own motives and desires. The series, based on the classic role-playing game of the same name, is written by Jeremy Barlow (“Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures”) with art by Iwan Nazif.
Comic Book Resources caught up with Barlow, a former associate editor at Dark Horse, for more details on “Kult,” its unlikely hero and its parallels in pop culture.
CBR News: How do you go about adapting a role-playing game of this sort into a comic?
Jeremy Barlow: It wasn’t too difficult. As with any adaptation, you look at what it is about the source material that works and speaks to you, and which aspects of it will translate across mediums, and you don’t worry so much about the rest. “Kult’s” world and its philosophical underpinnings are so striking and open-ended, the hardest part was deciding on which direction to push the comic series.
It was less important to craft the definitive “Kult” game experience than it was to create a compelling story built on some shared themes that interest me personally. We’re telling a universal story within the “Kult” framework, if that makes sense; it’s one of many stories that could happen in this world, but it’s also one of the biggest. “Kult’s” status quo is dramatically changed by the end of it.
What is your experience with the game?
To be honest, I wasn’t aware of “Kult” until Dark Horse editors Dave Marshall and Brendan Wright approached me to write the book. They sent me the game sourcebook — which has been long out of print — and I was immediately hooked. “Kult” presents a world built on Nietzschean and Jungian philosophy, populated with characters and creatures that would be right at home in a Clive Barker novel, all operating on a similar principle as the Wachowski Brothers’ “Matrix” universe (while predating the latter by several years).
It’s everything I’d have done if given the opportunity to create an original horror project. Dark Horse and Paradox Entertainment offered me near-complete creative autonomy in crafting the comic’s story, which you don’t often get when working on licensed projects. I said yes to the job immediately.
What can you tell us about the world of this series? What does it look like as the series begins, and how does that change?
“Kult’s” premise is that what we perceive to be reality is a lie — an illusion created by a supreme being called the Demiurge and designed to suppress our potential and make us forget about our innate divine nature. It’s a massive prison. Beyond this illusion and beyond our perception lies the true world — an endless mechanical city called Metropolis filled with horrific monsters that torment and prey upon us. This true world is so terrifying, in fact, that even though it’s all right there in front of our faces, we subconsciously block it out.
Something’s changed inside the machine, however. Its creator, the Demiurge, has gone missing and no one knows where he went or why he left. If he abandoned his creation out of boredom or fear, if he died or was somehow killed, of if he’ll ever return. In that absence, the illusion is breaking down, and bits of the true world bleed over into ours. A power vacuum has opened in Metropolis, and all of the demigods that once served the Demiurge now jockey to claim his throne and assume his power.
It’s believed that within humanity rests the potential to transcend our nature and become godlike, to even replace the Demiurge. Of course, no one within Metropolis wants that to happen, and that’s where our protagonist Tomas Zenk comes in…
So under this cosmology, reality as we experience it was manufactured by the Demiurge. Who or what is this being, and what was/is his intent?
The Demiurge is a supreme being beyond human comprehension. Metropolis has existed and operated as a prison since pre-history, and we can only speculate how the Demiurge built it and why. No one knows when he abandoned his creation or can remember, exactly, when his influence began to wane, only that his absence became pronounced in the last century or so.
Answering this question would’ve been the most obvious place to start with the comic, but I find the mystery of the Demiurge’s disappearance to be much more powerful if it’s left open. It overshadows everything.
The man at the center of the conflict is Tomas Zenk. Who is he before the Demiurge vanishes, and how does he come into his new role?
Tomas Zenk is guy in his mid-30s, divorced, father of two little girls whom he loves dearly but doesn’t get to see them often enough. He works as a parole officer in a run-down city; he’s torn between his desire to raise and protect his daughters and his disgust with his surroundings. When we meet him, his worldview is pretty jaded, but he carries on, trying to do the right thing.
He’s also a candidate to replace the Demiurge, and thus the target of many factions that either want to control him for their own ends (however noble they believe them to be) or destroy him altogether. He’s pulled into the conflict against his will and thrust into a role he has no desire to fill.
We’re messing with the mythical Hero’s Journey here. Often your “chosen one” characters are blank slates or basically simple good guys when their grand destinies are thrust upon them — King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Neo in “The Matrix,” etc. — and even though they initially resist the call to adventure, they eventually assume their role and save the world. I’m more interested in seeing what happens when your “chosen one” is the last person you’d want to drop in that role. If the person tasked with saving the world is someone who didn’t have a very high opinion of humanity to begin with, and who could make things a lot worse if put in charge.
Our story begins on a familiar path, but it leads somewhere else entirely.
What can you tell us about the other forces struggling to ascend the Demiurge’s throne? What are they hoping to accomplish?
A new Demiurge would control everything and have the power to build the machine ever higher or tear it down completely.
Powerful beings called Archons rule different sections of Metropolis and lord over different aspects of human behavior from their towering citadels. They followed and were loyal to the Demiurge when he was present. Opposed to them are the Death Angels, who serve Astaroth — the lord of hell, the Demiurge’s equal and opposite. Each of these different kingdoms stands much to gain in usurping the Demiurge’s empty throne — and much to lose should Tomas Zenk attain it.
Your artist for this series is newcomer Iwan Nazif. How did he come on to the project, and what does his style bring to the story you’re telling?
Dave Marshall and Brendan Wright found Iwan and brought him in around the same time they approached me. They’d worked with him before on a smaller project and were impressed with his design sense and attention to detail, so kicking him over to “Kult” — where he’d get to go wild creating monsters, demons and a grotesque horror world — was a no-brainer.
The first issue sets things into motion, so most of it takes place in the “real world” of the Demiurge’s illusion. We spend most of the time in Zenk’s home city. From there, we travel all over the place in the underworld, moving through exotic locations and encountering unique demons. Iwan went all out on his pages. His level of detail is amazing.
“Kult” #1 from Dark Horse Comics is on sale now.