SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for the final arc of "The Sword" lurk ahead.
Dara Brighton's journey to seek vengeance upon the trio of elemental god-siblings that murdered her family is finally at an end - but it's also far from over.
In the final act of "The Sword," the recently concluded Image Comics series created by the Luna Brothers, readers were treated to several shocking and game-changing twists that completely recontextualized the entire series. The fourth and final arc, titled "Air," opened as Dara sought out Malia, the wind-wielder who murdered Demetrios, Dara's father and a secretly ancient warrior - a man who once engaged in a passionate affair with the female god-sibling. But Dara's mission was far from straightforward, leading to several acts of brutal violence and a stunning surprise from one of her closest allies, Justin, a man who was not what he appeared to be.
CBR News spoke with Joshua and Jonathan Luna to celebrate the series' conclusion and to learn more about the process of crafting the final jaw-dropping arc, which will be collected as a trade paperback in July.
CBR News: Going into the last set of issues in "The Sword," what were some of the key notes you felt you had to deliver on in order to create a fully satisfying finish?
Josh Luna: Our main goal for this arc was to build the confrontation between Dara and the remaining god-sibling, Malia, and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. Also, there were lingering questions and plot threads that needed to be resolved, such as: why did Dara's father tell his class the story about the sword, if he dedicated his life to keeping it hidden? And when the dust settles, what's the fate of Dara, Justin, Julie, the sword and the world?
In defeating two of the previous god-siblings, the bar was set pretty high for Dara's final confrontation, presumably with Malia. How did you develop the choreography and the pacing for Dara's encounters with Malia? How do you feel these battles compare to previous action set pieces in "The Sword?"
Jonathan Luna: Considering that the last arc was themed around air, that made the choreography easier to develop. We had set limitations: we wanted Dara and Malia to be jumping or flying around the buildings of Manhattan. All modes of transportation were even based on the three respective elements in volumes two through four. And, along with air, another theme was "things you cannot touch." This included Malia's electricity and words. I would like to think that every battle was distinct from each other. Each elemental god had their own fighting style. And, to add, Dara grew in experience each time.
One of the most brutal moments of these final issues - and there are many - is when Malia removes Dara's uterus. It's a truly graphic moment in a series filled with powerfully violent images. What led you to this scene? Was there ever a moment where you guys wondered if this was pushing it too far?
Josh: Yes, we knew that it would be harsh. But we also knew that Malia would inadvertently expose her true self and had to do it in a way that was so appalling and shocking that it would bring the world to the consensus of, "Oh, she's not our savior -Â she's effing nuts!" And I think we can all agree that ripping a woman's uterus out of her body with bare hands is pretty effing nuts. We're always careful about depicting violence and gore for the sake of shock value. First and foremost, violence has to serve the story and be within the character's nature, and we believed what she did stayed true to those criteria. Malia attacks what she can't have. She couldn't have Demetrios, so she murdered him. She couldn't bear children, so she took away Dara's ability to.
Arguably the biggest game-changer of a twist arrived in the final pages of "The Sword" #23 in the form of Justin's revelation.
Jonathan: This was definitely the biggest secret of our careers. It was very difficult to keep. We knew what we were going to do from the beginning, and for two and a half years we were dying to have everyone read it.
Josh: Honestly, after the second issue came out - Justin's first appearance - I was worried that everyone would figure out the twist immediately. Call it the curse of knowledge but, as the writer, it seemed very obvious to me. However, for the entire two and a half year run, no one who wrote or spoke to us ever came close to guessing it right... except for one person! This guy emailed us his full-page theory and was dead-on on just about every aspect of Justin's story. He thought his speculations were way off at the time and, of course, we weren't going to convince him otherwise. Much props to that guy!
The ramifications of Justin's revelation are dealt with mainly in "The Sword" #24, the final issue. Why not spread out the twist with another arc?
Jonathan: The idea of another arc actually never crossed our mind. There was already a "Fire" arc, so I wouldn't know what to call a fifth arc, considering that all the volumes were named after the elements. Also, the audience was expecting the series to end around the death of Malia. It all works out well, in our eyes.
Justin's journey was definitely more important than anyone would've realized. Was the audience supposed to feel that throughout the series? Not really - only in retrospect. In terms of his journey being as important as Dara's, I think that's subjective. Justin's story spanned 4000 years. But Dara was the protagonist; you would empathize with her more.
Towards the end of Justin's monologue, he gives a speech about the power of words. How much is this speech coming from the viewpoint of Justin as a character and how much of it is coming from you guys as creators?
Josh: Well, I make a living out of words, so I'd like to think they're pretty important. I wouldn't use words to motivate people to commit murder, so that may be where the comparison between Justin's viewpoints and mine stop!
Jonathan: Alan Moore once said - and excuse me if I'm incorrect - that a writer's job is to make the audience believe what they believe. Artists definitely have a message in everything they do. If not, we throw out questions.
Beginning at the point when Dara leaves the mountain, the remainder of the final issue is told in a non-linear fashion. What was the appeal to you about cutting back and forth to different moments in time - Dara leaving the mountain, her accident, interactions with her father and returning to her burned down home?
Jonathan: We felt that the sequence at the end was our best way of revealing information to the audience in the most appropriate manner. It was planned that way for a very long time.
What's your view on how Dara's story ends -Â do you consider this a happy ending? Is it a tragedy? Does it fall somewhere in between?
Josh: For me, it falls more into the gray area. It's tragic for the obvious reasons, but it's also a good thing that the world was saved from such a grave threat. From the beginning, we knew there'd be a point where Dara would have to let go of the sword, allowing all of her old wounds to return. It's sort of a literal manifestation of karma. When you commit acts of violence, you can never truly get away with it clean. You will eventually pay for your actions, in some form or another.
Jonathan: Ending a series is always a bit tough for me. It's a little depressing to know that you won't write or draw the characters again.
The final pages of the series focus on the Sword's final resting place. How long did you have the final image of the series mapped out in your heads?
Jonathan: The title of the series is called "The Sword," so we thought we'd end on the titular object. I liked the idea of leaving the story on something that represents something you cannot destroy. This last scene was planned since earlier in the series.
You recently went coast-to-coast signing copies of "The Sword" as a way to commemorate the completion of the series. What was the experience like? How were fans reacting to the final issues and the ending in particular?
Josh: It was an awesome experience. The people who came to the signings were extremely cool, and we had a great time talking to everyone. Interestingly, no one really cited specific examples of what they did or didn't like. They just seemed to like it, I assume.
Jonathan: Seriously, we have some awesome fans. Thanks to you all who came out.
With "The Sword" officially sheathed, what's next for you guys?
Josh: There is something we do plan on releasing as soon as possible, but it's most likely not what people are expecting.
Jonathan: We'll always be working on something. We'll reveal what we're doing when the time is right.
The final arc of "The Sword," will be collected as a trade paperback on July 14, 2010. Stay tuned to CBR News and lunabrothers.com for more updates on the Luna Brothers and their plans going forward.