Josh Howard Summons "The Witch Queen"

Nara Kilday has dealt with the highs of Heaven and the lows of Hell in her time as an axe-wielding demon killer, but her next task will place her squarely in between those planes for her most dangerous destination yet - Purgatory.

Such is the playing field in "Dead@17: The Witch Queen," the upcoming miniseries from writer-artist Josh Howard and Image Comics. As the penultimate chapter in the "Dead@17" saga, Nara has more than a few trials ahead of her as she deals with the aftermath of killing Hazy Foss, her longtime best friend that needed to die in order for Nara to fulfill a prophecy. Hazy's death resulted in an apparent victory for Abraham Pitch and his demonic minions, as well as Nara's banishment to the confines of Purgatory. She better get comfortable there, as Howard told CBR News that Purgatory is virtually the only setting in "Witch Queen," an arc that acts as a spiritual sequel to the creator's previous "The Lost Books of Eve."

CBR spoke with Howard about "The Witch Queen," Nara's upcoming adventure and what lies in store for readers as they embark upon the second to last installment in the "Dead@17" series.

CBR News: Josh, can you lay down the basic premise of "The Witch Queen" for us? Where are we when the first issue begins?

Josh Howard: Nara is now in Purgatory, a barely habitable wasteland. It's the universe's dumping ground. While there are real enemies that she will face, this arc is largely about Nara confronting herself - what she's done, why she's done it, and where she'll go from here. Nara has completely withdrawn. She's punishing herself, living like a hermit and only doing what is necessary to survive. Even though Joan is in Purgatory with her, she went her own way and they haven't even seen each other since their initial reunion at the end of "Afterbirth."

From what we discussed when we last spoke, it sounds as if "Witch Queen" is almost entirely set in Purgatory. What led to the decision to focus so prominently on this setting?

That's true, Purgatory is pretty much the only setting. I really wanted to emphasize Nara's isolation and I want the reader right there with her, and cutting back and forth to what's happening on Earth would have undercut that a bit. Also, going to Purgatory was one of the earliest concepts I had for "Dead@17" back when I first created it. In fact, I've tried working it in a couple times before, so I'm glad to finally get to do it.

Nara has been through some rough times in her life, but the death of Hazy at her own hands is surely one of her very darkest hours. How heavily does Hazy's presence weigh upon Nara through the arc?

This arc is really about Nara finding a way to deal with this horrible thing she's done. Not only did she kill her best friend, but she released the devil in the process - it was all around a bad deal! And it doesn't help that there are some literal ghosts from her past who show up to kick her while she's down.

How profoundly does Nara's stay in Purgatory affect her? She's already undergone many shifts throughout "Dead@17."

This is a pivotal arc for her, because following this is the final chapter in the story. By killing Hazy and freeing the Great Beast, she basically fulfilled her mission - that is what she was tasked to do. Now she has to decide if she will languish in Purgatory or will she find a reason to get up and keep going. A critical component in all of this will be someone she meets while she's there, a new character that comes into the picture and serves as an important catalyst for Nara's future.

With her mission accomplished and now that she's in Purgatory, what is Nara focusing on? Is she still focused on Pitch?

Pitch is not even on her radar right now. As far as she's concerned, she is done with the war. It's not her problem anymore. From her point of view, her opposition to him only led to him gaining ultimate power. She wants no part of it at this point. But I'll put it this way - by the end of this arc, you will definitely get a taste of what Pitch has been up to.

Despite the Purgatory setting, this is called "The Witch Queen," not "Dead@17: Purgatory" or something like that. Can you tell us a bit more about the title - who or what is it referring to?

The Witch Queen is not Nara and it's not Violet. It's someone who was banished there long ago and has basically appointed themselves the unofficial ruler. Again, if you've read the "Dead@17: Sourcebook" or if you've read "Lost Books of Eve," you should have a pretty good idea. In a lot of ways, this arc acts as sort of a sequel to "Eve," but you don't have to have read it to understand what's going on.

Asia Black was absent for most of "Afterbirth." How is she factoring into "Witch Queen"?

Fans of Asia have no need to fear. She will definitely have a bigger role than she did in "Afterbirth," and she will be absolutely critical in the final arc following "Witch Queen."

Are there any other notable "Witch Queen" characters that you can talk about?

There is another character that I alluded to earlier, and if you've read the "Dead@17: Sourcebook," there's some clues in there as to who it is and what they're all about. Nara may have finally met her match, and I don't mean that in an adversarial sense - well, not entirely. And Violet is back and in a big way.

This is the penultimate chapter of "Dead@17." How does "The Witch Queen" set the stage for the final portion of the series?

Besides answering a few questions, it's basically taking stock of where the story has been and where it's going. Both for me and for the series, I thought it was important to reflect a little before I wrapped this whole thing up. It's the last look over the shoulder before jumping off the cliff.

I think "Witch Queen" is pivotal because of Nara's arc. What she learns and the actions she takes are crucial to what happens next. Not only that, but the aforementioned new character will play a significant role in the story from here on out. Their fates are intertwined.

What do you think readers will be surprised by the most when it comes to "Witch Queen," for better or for worse?

The ending. It's going to be sort of a cliffhanger in the way that "Afterbirth" was, only more mind-bending. It'll be one of the biggest WTF moments of the whole series.

Any last teases for "Witch Queen" and the end game of "Dead@17?"

The grand finale following "Witch Queen" is planned to be about 7 or 8 issues, almost double the length of any of the previous series. The scope is huge. It'll be the most ambitious thing I've done to date.

"Dead@17: The Witch Queen" #1 of 4, written and illustrated by Josh Howard, is set to debut on March 10, 2010.

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