CCI: The Gritty Gods of Archaia's "Immortals"

Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, fans of mythology joined moderator and Archaia Entertainment Editor-in-Chief Stephen Christy for a panel discussing the upcoming "Immortals: Gods and Heroes" hardcover anthology. The title is a companion piece to the upcoming film "Immortals" from the producers of "300" and director Tarsem Singh. The movie hits theaters in November and stars Henry Cavill and Mickey Rourke, and the story is loosely based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and the Titanomachy. Featuring a cover by David Mack and contributions from creators including Jock, Ben Templesmith and Francesco Francavilla, the anthology arrives in stores this September in advance of the film. Christy kicked the panel into gear by asking the assembled creators to introduce themselves.

First up was writer Ben McCool, whose story in the anthology features the mighty Zeus and casts the titan Prometheus as the bad guy. He does awful things to humans and "Zeus takes exception to that" McCool told the crowd.

Next artist Patrick Scherberger said hello and took credit for illustrating the story of Hyperion, the film's villain. Dennis Calero illustrated fellow panelist Jim McCann's story about the origin of Zeus, "and boobs." Next up were editors Joe LeFave and Nate Cosby.

Also present were David Gallaher, writer of the the origin of Tartarus (the underworld), Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus, and FJ DeSanto who wrote The Law of Zeus, which is "the moment [Zeus] decides to do what he does in the movie."

Christy introduced the anthology by stressing the differences between this and other tie-in comics. Unlike most projects, Archaia are full partners with Relativity, who produced the film. He then turned the floor over to LeFavi to explain just how that makes this project different.

LeFavi noted that in the case of tie-in comics, a production company usually approaches a publisher with the idea of taking the story of the film and simply "[putting] it on the page," but Archaia and Relativity both understood that this particular book needed to do "something more." The graphic novel "opens the gates to Mount Olympus," so readers understand the stakes and motivations driving the events of the movie, and that when readers see how "gorgeous, beautiful, bloody and amazing that is, [they] will need to see this movie."

When it comes to mythological movies, Hollywood has been "trying to create spectacle," focusing on creature vs. creature battles and other CGI-heavy plots. "This is simply gods vs. men," LeFavi said. "This book allows those characters to be taken further." Archaia hopes that the graphic novel will help readers "get something out of Greek mythology they've never gotten before."

The movie is about a power-hungry man named Hyperion, at a time when the gods have distanced themselves from mankind and allowed men to seize their own fate. Hyperion is "a scourge of the land and taking it over, and bringing man down with him." He's discovered a way to destroy the gods once a for all by finding the Emperor's Bow, which will allow him to release the Titans and kill the gods, bringing about a new dark age of man.

Meanwhile, the gods find a man that is the best of all men. The movie will be like "300" in that it's a "small number of passionate good people vs. massive odds," and the story ultimately boils down to "what the human spirit can do with impossible odds against them."

The book had to be done in a relatively short timeframe, and editor Nate Cosby spoke to some of the challenges of that. "Relativity had a list of people they wanted," Cosby said, and he worked with Archaia to accomodate their wishes. "They gave us a lot of creative leeway to find the people to write the stories we needed."

The book and movie are a much more "realistic" portrayal of the Greek myths than some other recent interpretations. "You can't have a Cyclops or a flying Pegasus," Cosby explained. That realism created an interesting challenge, because the creators and editors had to "think of what a myth is" and draw their own conclusions from that. "There probably wasn't magic 3000 years ago, but it comes from some kind of truth, so what was that truth and how do you discover that truth and write a story from that truth?"

Next, Cosby revealed a number of creators who were not present at the panel but contributed to the project. "Detective Comics" artist Jock makes his writing debut on a six-page story he also illustrated featuring a character called The Beast. The "All-Star Western" writing duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray also contributed a story with illustrations by Steve Ellis. "Atomic Robo's" Brian Clevinger will be writing a story as well, and Scott Hampton will be drawing FJ DeSanto's Zeus story. Other stories include a Francesco Francavilla illustrated tale by Paul Tobin and illustrations by Rafael Kayanan, who did design work for the "Immortals" movie, and who came to the book by way of Ron Marz, who is writing about the war of the titans.

David Mack will be providing not one but two covers, because the anthology is also a flip book: one side will be about the Gods, the other about the human heroes.

"The story we developed was the idea of Zeus' understanding, or lack of understanding, humanity and his stance on why the gods can't interfere with humanity. What it takes to get him to that," DeSanto said. His own story is about why Zeus made certain choices and "his own personal viewpoint of humanity, and why he takes the stance that leads into the movie." It's an "internal monologue, as Zeus sees what is happening to humanity and who is responsible: Mickey Rourke [who plays Hyperion in the movie]."

Jim McCann explained that he "didn't write nudity into the script, but Calero interpreted it beautifully, surprisingly." He loves Greek mythology, and when he was asked to contribute, told Archaia he wanted to do "the origin of Zeus," because it is "one of the most fascinating tales out there." There are "four or five different versions of how he grew up after Rhea switched him out for a rock to give Cronos [to eat]." His interpretation is that those were oral tradition stories, and because of the realistic portrayal of gods in this book, he had to come up with a "less-eating-of-babies" way of telling things.

Dennis Calero also has a long history of loving Greek mythology and his "first story from the library" was the death of Medusa and the man who rides Pegasus to Olympus and was struck down. "it was called the 'Joy Luck Club,'" Calero joked. He was "disappointed there was no eating of children," because Francisco Goya's image of the Titan eating his children was a big inspiration for him. "I have a 7 month-old, and can't imagine eating her, though she is delicious looking."

Gallaher's story "is about the relationships that Zeus has with his siblings," it takes McCann's story, and moves it in a different direction about "how these kids grew up, and when Zeus needs something from his estranged brothers, the complexities that come from that." It also sheds some light on characters and settings not seen in the film including Hades.

In the story Zeus and Poseidon explore Tartarus and Gallaher noted it was a challenge to figure out an interpretation of the underworld that was plausible, mysterious and still scary. The writer believes they did pull it off while maintaining "a meta-mythological context" that is also "very grounded."

Ben McCool's story genuinely scared EiC Christy. "I'm a bit of a nutter," McCool admitted. His story deals with Prometheus and his role as "a horrible, horrible titan" who decides to punish humanity in his own special way. There is a scene where "a bunch of humans are pinned to rocks, opened up and vultures are eating them alive." This annoys Zeus, and when he realizes how much of a psychopath Prometheus is, he has to band together the Olympians and do something about the titans.

Scherberger's story is a "simple story about the origins of Hyperion and why he chooses to do what he's doing in the world."

"I feel the reason why this movie exists and why this graphic novel exists is that people naturally gravitate towards these stories," LeFavi said. "There is something so human in the events that transpired, endless ways to explore this world, and I hope we're allowed to continue to playing in this world."

The next portion of the panel was dedicated to Archaia's recent "Become a God" contest. The prize was to become an actual god in the book: either Apollo or Artemis. The winners were introduced in their illustrated form as "gods."

Archaia then surprised those in attendance with the announcement of an unscheduled signing as a thank you to their fans: 100 people will be chosen to meet the cast of the film attending the "Immortals" panel in person. Christy instructed attendees to come to the Archaia booth (#2635) Thursday and Friday to enter the raffle to win one of those coveted spots.

With the announcements out of the way, Christy opened up the floor to questions. The first question concerned the movie's format, as a fan wondered if the book is an anthology, will the movie be an anthology or a continual narrative?

Cosby explained that it will be a "continuous narrative that follows Theseus, Zeus and Hyperion. The book is there to show the origin stories of the people who are in the movie."

Next was a question about how continuity in the anthology was handled, which Cosby also fielded. "I wake up and apply 400ccs of coffee, then read 10 writers' stories, then try to find out what is matching and what is not and I send it to Joe and Joe screams at me" the editor replied, to much laughter. As it died down, he got serious and explained that continuity wasn't much of an issue, unlike his previous gig as an editor at Marvel Comics. "They have a few different characters, and follow certain continuity." This book was easier because he said "every writer respects others' stories," even if they dont' read them.

Next came a question about the writers' religious and philosophical backgrounds and how those impacted the stories.

Gallaher was "raised with reverent thought towards world religion, and mythological storytelling," so the epic battles and those influences show up in the work.

Calero was raised "strictly catholic," and in that world "God is your friend." What helped him on the project was understanding Greek mythology. "People believed these stories and the gods could be jerks. Like with Balaerophon, who kills the chimera and stuff, and after he's a hero he dies because he presumes to go to Olympus," Calero explained. "Myths are malleable and changeable, and at some point this was someone's religion." Myths and religions are reflective of the world, "and things can be horrible because [the gods are] jerks sometimes, and sometimes they're not."

McCann discovered the work of author Joseph Campbell after college and believes that "every religion is mythology and every mythology is religion." Campbell's work helped him see it from "different viewpoints and see the common threads that exist today."

"When you don't have spectacle to retreat to, you have to find other ways to tell stories," LeFavi said. He added that the creators needed to "go through the thought process of these gods and figure out how to get them there organically so they would still be human and genuine."

"Immortals: Gods and Heroes" is due out in September, and the "Immortals" film opens November 11.

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