As co-creator of the blockbuster "Underworld" film franchise, Kevin Grevioux is no stranger to epic world-building with a strong female lead. In his new miniseries for DC Comics, Grevioux is telling a story with an entire army of strong female leads as "The Odyssey of the Amazons" features the very best and brightest of Themyscira though set in a time years before the birth of the greatest of them all: Wonder Woman.
Illustrated by Ryan Benjamin, the six-issue series launches Wednesday, Jan. 25 with a band of Amazons led by the warrior Hessia on a globe-spanning quest to find others of their kind, including two who are captured by the legendary Storm Giants of Norse mythology.
And while Grevioux says there is 'cultural connective tissue' between him and Hessia, "The Odyssey of the Amazons" is not a story about her being a black character in a world traditionally (at least in comics) populated with white women. Rather, it's about an updated, truer version of Paradise Island and the world around us that includes powerful women from all countries, races and religions.
CBR: Writing stories about the Amazons in the DC Universe isn't a new thing, but writing a big, sweeping epic like this without Wonder Woman is pretty rare. Is that a help or a hindrance?
Kevin Grevioux: When you take on an assignment like this, you always have Wonder Woman over your shoulder. You realize that you are basically setting up her reason for being. She is always there, in a quasi-spiritual sense. Yes, you can say it was a challenge but you are not dealing with women who are nothing without Wonder Woman. They are strong entities in and of themselves. Whatever Wonder Woman is, it came from who these women are, and have been. Wonder Woman might be the best of them but you see where she came from. I think that's important.
This book has a big cast – like, "Game of Thrones" big. Do we see a bit of Diana in all of them?
I think that is something that can be said, of course. Wonder Woman is strong, brave, smart and compassionate. And I think you see a lot of that in a myriad of these characters. Wonder Woman, at times, has expressed some doubt [about life an Amazon]. You see certain characters like that. At certain points in time, Wonder Woman has been kind of arrogant. You see that. She has taken matters into her own hands when she thinks people are wrong. You see that. In that way, yes, but these are emotions and attributes and attitudes that we all express at certain points of our lives and because of that I think that we can all identify with these characters.
As discussed, this series – despite its title – is not a headliner for Wonder Woman. For readers not familiar with your lead character, who is Hessia?
Hessia is a consummate leader, but she also has within her a yearning to do more than what she has done. She's the general, the captain of this campaign around the world, and she sees the world in a different light. Before she was relegated to the Amazon world of Themyscira, which is a place that she cherishes, she experienced life beyond it, so she knows that there is more out there. She has a kind of wanderlust. And she wants to bring to the world what Themyscira has given her. There is more out there. Even though Hippolyta gave her this quest, she recognizes that she may be putting her Amazon sisters at risk by going too far sometimes or pushing them too much. She asks herself if she is being selfish in that way because of what she wants. This is a learning adventure – and adventure of self-discovery – for Hessia, as well. And I think that's what makes her interesting.
As a black man with, I must add, an incredibly powerful voice both literally and figuratively, does it give you any additional pleasure – or pressure – that Hessia is a powerful black woman?
Not necessarily. I think that there are going to be black characters in the book, but there are also Samoan Amazons. We see Aztec Amazons. We see Amazons from Persia and Germania. There are Slavic Amazons, and Asian Amazons. East Indian Amazons. Punjabi Amazons. African Amazons. So my thing was to show that my Themyscira is populated by so many women from different races. They had to come from somewhere. And if you look at the mythological origins of the Amazons, some of them have them coming from the Middle East, places like Turkey, so when you start looking at things like that the fact that there is a black Amazon leader, sure, I guess because I am a black man, there is some cultural connective tissue there but that's not the story that I'm telling. It's not about her blackness. It's about her Amazon-ness. That is the feature that is most important.
What led me to that question was the fact that I am an eighties' kid and I grew up on the George Pérez version of Wonder Woman and there were not too many – if any – Amazons of color in that version so the idea of the Amazons, at least the ones living in the DC Universe, has changed quite drastically over the past 30 years.
You're right and that's exactly what I wanted to build into this story. We've always lived in a culturally diverse world but it hasn't always been reflected in our media. Now, they are allowing it and good that DC saw the potential in that and commissioned this miniseries.
Often times when we see the Amazons leaving Themyscira, the journey leads them to man's world, which is most often the United States. But while this story is set in a cold, dark place with lots of incredible threats, this isn't Chicago in the middle of January.
[Laughs] That's right. What we'll discover throughout this series is that they've been given a mission to answer the question: "Where do we come from?" Or, "how is it that Themyscira has come to be populated with these exceptional female figures?" What is the reason behind that? Trying to figure out who they are is what the story is about to an extent. It's self-discovery in terms of their origin. Why are they who they are and for what reason and what purpose? And as the story goes on, we'll see that come to fruition.
The idea of a reimagined or ret-conned secret origin is nothing new for comics but you are writing basically a prequel for a character and a concept that has been active since the 1930s. And Wonder Woman herself is one of the most revered superheroes in the history of comics. How much does Diana's existing 75-plus years of continuity and stories contribute to the events that occur in "The Odyssey of the Amazons?"
What happens in the comics is always going to inform what stories you wind up telling. But as you know, there have been four DC universes, maybe five if you include Earth-Two, which are the Golden Age characters from the 1940s. What have you have to do is find a common ground of who and what the Amazons have been before and where you want them to go in the future. In the past, the Amazons have lived on Paradise Island, a place where it seems like they have run away from man. And that's not the way I see it. Themyscira was a safe place or a safe haven away from men so in a sense, it almost seemed in some places in time that they were an island of victims.
I don't want to do that. What I want to do is show the reason that they are isolated is because they made a conscious choice. Because they saw something. I don't want to give too much away but they made this choice because they are strong. And what they did do had nothing to do per se with victimization and being treated a certain way by men. They saw that they had to take matters into their own hands because only we can. I focused on the strengths of these women and nothing more and they bring something to the table that I think is very important and is going to be important not for their survival but the survival of mankind. And this is where the story starts.
Finally, want to ask you about Ryan Benjamin, the artist on this series. I can only imagine your scripts, based on the first issue, but what you have asked him to put on the page is no simple task and he's killing it.
He's one of these guys who can work – in all mediums – and has a creative sense about him that I really like. His mental bank of character designs and imagery is really mind-blowing. And I think that he doing some of his best work on this book. If he wasn't on this project, it wouldn't be as good. [Laughs]
"The Odyssey of the Amazons," by Kevin Grevioux and Ryan Benjamin, debuts January 25.