Writer Robert Venditti’s rise to comic greatness is the stuff of legend and shows no sign of slowing down when he translates his inherent ability to tell bigger-than-life adventures in DC Comics’ epic medieval series, “Demon Knights.” Current writer Paul Cornell (“Saucer Country”) recently left the title and Venditti takes the reins beginning with “Demon Knights” #16 in January 2013.
Living out a childhood fantasy for most, Venditti started out at Top Shelf Productions in 2002 working in the warehouse. That same year, Venditti, who earned his M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Florida, started writing “The Surrogates.” Upon its completion, he shared it with Top Shelf Publisher Chris Staros, who loved it and agreed to publish it in 2005. Four years later, tying into the launch of its comic book sequel, Touchstone Pictures released a film adaptation directed by Jonathan Mostow and starring Bruce Willis.
Flashforward to 2012 and Venditti is currently writing Valiant Entertainment’s flagship series, “X-O Manowar,” a super hero co-created by former Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, artist Bob Layton, and Jon Hartz, as well as adapting the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” bestselling novels into graphic novels for Hyperion.
Now, he’s also writing “Demon Knights” for DC Comics, a series which features the likes of Etrigan, Madame Xanadu and Vandal Savage defining modern day New 52 some 1,000 years in the past.
Venditti told CBR News he’s looking forward to his upcoming collaboration with artist Bernard Chang and can’t wait to explore the members of DC’s medieval superhero team, especially Horsewoman, a character he calls “a stroke of genius.” He also said his first arc, which jumps ahead 30 years following “Demon Knights” #15, Cornell’s final issue, features the current team but teased some of the players will have newfound roles readers will not expect.
CBR News: “Demon Knights” has been teased from Day One as a de facto pre-history for the New 52. What’s your own history with DC Comics? Were you a member of DC Nation as a young boy growing up in Hollywood, Florida or were you more of a Marvel Zombie?
Robert Venditti: Actually, I was neither. I didn’t start reading comics until my mid-twenties, when a friend of mine introduced me to Kurt Busiek’s “Astro City.” Before that point, I wasn’t overly familiar with any of the comic book universes or characters, beyond the general pop-culture knowledge I got from the “Spider-Man” cartoon, the “Batman” TV series, and so on. I will say that “Superman II” made a lasting impression on me, though. The scene where you’re led to believe Superman has lost his powers, but then he crushes General Zod’s hand — to this day, I could watch that in an endless loop.
I believe this is your first work for DC Comics. How did this assignment come about?
I’ve known [“Animal Man” writer] Jeff Lemire for a while because we’ve both done creator-owned work for Top Shelf Productions. Jeff introduced me to [editor] Matt Idelson at DC, and we’ve been looking for a chance to work together. When Paul Cornell decided it was time to move on, Matt suggested to “Demon Knights” editor Chris Conroy that he let me put a pitch together. Chris was already familiar with my work from “X-O Manowar,” and he thought I might be a good fit for the book.
Chris sent me the entire run of the series, and I was immediately drawn to it. I try to take on projects that are different from what I’ve done before because I’ve found the challenge of new things keeps me engaged with the material. And if you’re looking for something different, “Demon Knights” is the book for you. There’s nothing else like it on the stands.
“Demon Knights” as a team book is a new concept, but were you familiar with Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage, Shining Knight and the rest of the cast before coming onboard?
Etrigan is probably the character I was most familiar with, and I’ve been reading “Justice League Dark,” so I know Madame Xanadu from there. Several of the cast members were created by Paul specifically for the series, so there wasn’t anything to know about them until recently.
I know it’s early but is there a character you have connected with already or one that you are particularly eager to explore?
There’s so much to like about all of the characters, but I think Horsewoman and the dynamic between Etrigan and Jason Blood are my early favorites. Horsewoman is a stroke of genius — a paraplegic hero living in medieval Europe? The conflict just leaps off the page.
Etrigan was created by the legendary Jack Kirby. Does that motivate you, or add to the pressure, of writing this series?
I don’t think about things like that. The list of writers and artists who’ve worked on Etrigan is long and illustrious, and to get caught up in wondering how I’m going to compare to them would be counter-productive. My approach to writing an established character is to tell the kind of stories I like to write and hope the audience enjoys them, too.
Did you have a chance to connect with Paul Cornell about where he was heading with the series or does the 30-year jump allow you a fresh start to tell your own stories?
The move forward in time does give us a fresh jumping-on point, but I’m definitely building on the foundation laid by Paul. He created such a rich world and populated it with such a compelling cast of characters, it’d be foolish not to use them.
The solicitation for your first issue teases that the team is less than happy with each other. Does the team remain the same following the 30-year jump and/or are you adding any members to the cast?
All of the cast members will appear in the arc, but some of them will have roles that I don’t think readers will expect. The Demon Knights are outcasts for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their prickly personalities. When we meet the team in #16, it will have been a while since they last rode together. Everyone had gone their separate way for one reason or another, but then one member of the team conspires to make them all cross paths again.
Again, according to the solicitations, we know your first arc features a vampire invasion. What else can you tease us about your opening salvo?
There is a vampire invasion, but not the sort that readers are used to seeing. We’re dealing with an era of history that predates by centuries the popular idea of vampires as we know them today. There’s no rulebook for dealing with a threat like this, which is good because the Demon Knights aren’t prone to following rules anyway. So the team will need to learn how to combat the threat before they’re able to do so. And before that, they’ll have to learn how to stop combatting each other.
I understand you are big fan of Bernard Chang and rightfully so. What do you feel he will bring to the series?
He’s already bringing it. “Demon Knights” #13 was my favorite issue to date, in no small part because of Bernard’s work. He has a great eye for storytelling, and his ability to convey emotion is top-notch. I had the chance to meet him for the first time at this year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, and we had a great talk about what he likes to draw and what he prefers to see in a writer’s script. I think we have similar sensibilities, and I can’t wait to see his pages.
Finally, what else are you working on these days and any plans for more DC work?
I’m continuing to write “X-O Manowar” for Valiant Entertainment, and I also write the graphic novel adaptations of the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” novels for Hyperion. I do have other projects in the works as well — both creator-owned and otherwise — but it’s too early to talk about any of them yet.
“Demon Knights” #16, written by Robert Venditti and featuring art by Bernard Chang, is expected January 16.