Keith Giffen Reigns In Hell!

Yesterday, CBR News spoke with fan favorite creator Keith Giffen about his upcoming miniseries "Ambush Bug: Year None," which marks Giffen's return -- after nearly 15 years to one of if not the most beloved characters he has created in his 30-plus years in the industry. Today, we descend from the peaks of hilarity and frivolity that are guaranteed to ensue in those six issues to the depths of doom and gloom in the other big-time project he's working on as an exclusive writer for DC Comics, the eight-issue miniseries "Reign in Hell," illustrated by Matt Clark and Stephen Segovia.

As Giffen told CBR News, shifting gears from a humor book like "Ambush Bug" to the holier-than-thou "Reign in Hell" takes some getting used to. "That's takes an interesting attitude adjustment," laughed Griffen, who explained the genesis of the project was born from DC wanting to re-think their version of Hell. "DC wanted to start utilizing some ground rules for magic in the DC Universe. Michael Moorcock had written this wonderful extensive bible on magic that sort of fell through the cracks. And I've got that. I'm trying to input as much of that as possible."

Giffen said his job is to give DC another world that stands unique. "It's not going to be DC's version of where Mephisto is. Our devil doesn't annul marriages," quipped Giffen. "It's not going to be beholden to images we've had around us since Dante. I've said in the book, 'If you have a naked demon in a pit of fire,' don't do it. We are trying to do something different with the concept. And we also want to further explore some of the DC mystic characters."

"Rein in Hell's" headline heavyweight matchup for the ultimate control of Hell features Neron pitted against the tag team of Blaze and Lord Satanus.

Neron -- originally introduced in Mark Waid and Howard Porter's 1995 miniseries "Underworld Unleashed" -- rules Hell and its nine provinces as the de facto Devil of DCU. "We are focused on Neron's dominion, which is known as Hell. He has been the devil figure for a long time. He's a Mephisto character," explained Giffen. "Hell, of course, is a dominion of a much greater realm. The Earthly Hell that we see is basically for Earthly souls. Hell would be a universe much like our universe is a universe, with different dominions headed up by different archfiends, all overseen by Lucifer.

"But if Hell is supposed to be a mockery of God's works, God created the universe right? So you've got to mock it all."

In the other corner are Lord Satanus and his sister Blaze -- the half-demon children of Shazam and an unnamed demoness. Blaze first faced Superman in "Action Comics'' #655 in 1990 while Satanus made his debut in "Adventures of Superman" #493 in 1992. "At one point, Blaze was established as ruling Purgatory and she brings her brother in to help," said Giffen. "Purgatory is defined, at least as far as I read or what I have chosen to read, is where righteous souls who died blasphemous deaths go. It's like a better subdivision of Hell."

Giffen said if his prevailing storyline sounds familiar, what with America in the home stretch of a Presidential campaign, it was not by accident. "The crux of the story is Satanus and Blaze co-opted Purgatory to their cause so they could wage war against Hell through a message of hope," explained Giffen. "They want to conquer Hell and rid it of the total miasma of hopelessness. There will be a hope of redemption. They'll give speeches about the punishments that are being handed out that are way out of proportion to the crimes that landed people there. It's really a war of two points of view. That said; I am not playing Satanus like Barack Obama. I am not doing that. I don't want to go there."

Giffen said the who's who of DCU's magical kingdom will be featured in the series, except for one notable absence. "We don't have Black Adam, but Shazam is there, in passing," he revealed.

When asked which Shazam, Giffen laughed, "Captain Marvel, the one that Billy Batson turned into with the long white hair."

Giffen continued, "Almost everyone is going to make an appearance at one time or another. Zatanna, Dr. Fate, Ibis the Invincible, Sargon, The Creeper -- in a weird kind of way-- The Demon, Blue Devil, Black Alice, and I know I am missing some. Basically anyone who is mystically connected to DCU, I am hoping to have show up at least in a cameo. But I know it's impossible. So if your favorite isn't there, forgive, I just didn't get around to it. Prince Ra-Man. He has a noodle stand in Hell -- kidding, kidding, kidding."

The writer also confirmed "Reign in Hell" does not tie into the birth of the new New Gods in Grant Morrison's "Final Crisis." "['Rein in Hell'] is a completely self-contained story," he said. "It takes place in Hell. What ever is going on up on Earth is going up on Earth, whatever is going on in 'Final Crisis,' is going on in 'Final Crisis' or wherever. I've got the underworld. I am telling my story. That's it."

While the limitless nature of magic seems like the perfect sandbox for a creative mind like Giffen's to explore, the writer said he will be cleaning up some of the sand toys before he leaves. "I don't think the magical characters have been underused. Zatanna has been all over the place. And 'Shadowpact' did a lot for elevating some of the lesser known characters. But it's the same thing with Marvel, it's the same thing with any company that has magical characters, the writer brings his own sensibilities to how the magic works," Giffen explained.

"Most of magic is the 'point and click' variety. You extend your index finger and your pinkie, make the Spider-Man thing and shoot a spell or just talk backwards. I used to keep thinking what would happen if Zatanna started talking backwards in her sleep? I guess I am trying to make it a bit more difficult for people to access magic and again, everyone always talks about the price you pay when you are doing magic. But that price has always been, 'I am going to cast a spell and oh, no, I threw up a frog.' I don't think that's what people mean about the price of magic. It's the price you pay in altered perception. Its effect on the soul or whatever you believe to be the soul. How it affects you as a person to be dabbling in energies and incantations and different abilities that are unquantifiable."

Giffen was tempted to say he was trying to put a little of the "dignity" back in magic but he said that's not exactly true. "And that's really arrogant because these characters have been handled well before, sometimes in an undignified manner but that's been really rare," he offered. "Look, let's redefine Hell and in doing so, redefine access to infernal powers and see if we can spread that from infernal powers out into the greater realm of DC magic. That said, I am not writing a bible here. It's not after 'Reign in Hell,' my word is etched in stone. It's my way now. We're not doing that. We're just trying to see if we can at least lay a foundation."

And that foundation needs balance.

"DC has played the balance game for a long-time ordering chaos and all that, Heaven and Hell. So if you accept the universe has a series of checks and balances then that's a pretty good foundation to work up from," Giffen explained. "It really never goes further than the balance. Magic is always tough because sometimes you have to think around how stupid the character is acting.

"Why doesn't Zatanna just walk into a supervillain fight and say backwards, 'You are all in jail.' What would happen if she said, 'I am God' backwards? At what point do her vocal chords refuse to respond. What is extent of her logomancy?

But, Giffen added, this is a problem for both the supernatural and the superheroic. "What about the Flash? We have seen how fast he is. What if he spent an hour every morning gathering up all the firearms -- every morning? 'Oh no, Clayface escaped from jail.' 'I got him.' Sometimes having to work past the limitless powers of the characters, actually a lot of the time, that's done by putting silly speed bumps in the way.

"That's why dealing with magic can be frustrating. Can you really paint yourself into a corner in a story using magic? No. Because someone wiggles their nose and it's all fine and good. And I have been trying to really stay away from that. Set some kind of limitations on the characters without being patently ridiculous.

"Like, Dr. Fate can do this, this, this and this but then he's got to have some Kool-Aid. No, no, no."

With art by Matt Clark and Stephen Segovia and covers by Clark and Kevin Nowlan, "Reign in Hell" #1 is due in stores July 30 from DC Comics.

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