Talking "Xena" with John Layman

With the launch of Dynamite's monthly "Xena" series, fans have caught up with the character since the TV show came to an end. We spoke with writer John Layman about the current series and what the future holds for the character - two words: Dark Xena! Plus, we've got a preview of issue #2, due out this Wednesday.

Hey John, thanks for talking with us today. Your first story for the ongoing "Xena: Warrior Princess" series reintroduced audiences to the character. Let's talk about what's to come - what will be the focus of your next Xena story?

The first story arc was meant to be a "classic" sort of Xena tale, featuring Xena and her supporting cast as we best remember them and getting the series started. However, you don't have to be too big of a continuity buff to recall Xena was actually dead at the end of her series, and a lot of the status quo had changed; Joxer was dead, as were many great gods... even Xena's arch nemesis Callisto had turned good. This made for a fine ending to the show, but not much in the way of continuing adventures for the new comics. So this next series will explain how exactly Xena got brought back to life, and many of the supporting characters returned to how we like them best - but but, of course, it will be served up with a very big twist! Its title: "Dark Xena." This will also allow us to show what Xena was like before the show itself, when she was, literally, pure evil.

Xena's origin is dark and tyrannical, yet after meeting Hercules she sets out to redeem her murderous past by fighting against tyranny and evil and protecting the innocent and weak. How will Xena or the mythical world around her be changed after your first story arc, "The Contest of Pantheons?"

Again, we got things started with a classic tale to set up the characters and the world for new fans, while working the material for the old fans. Now, this next storyline actually takes place before "Contest of Pantheons," and will explain how Xena and Co. got to where we saw them in "Contest of Pantheons." It will also see a return to Xena being dark and tyrannical, hence the story arc title, "Dark Xena." This story will see a return to the deadly, ruthless, evil Xena of old. Needless to say, it will not be pretty.

One of the draws for Xena has been her supporting cast, all of which earned a good deal of popularity. How do you go about balancing this mix of characters in your writing? How difficult is it to stay focused on Xena when scripting the book?

In many ways Xena is reactive to the other characters. Xena is the anchor, much the way Jerry Seinfeld was to the quirky (and frankly, more interesting and funny,) characters on his show. Which is not to say Xena is less interesting, but she is more grounded, than, say, Joxer or Autolycus. And most of the time she is more grounded and stronger than Gabrielle. But not always, which is what makes Gabrielle so complimentary to Xena. Gabby is capable of great strength and heroism - and "Dark Xena" is going to challenge her like she has never been challenged before.

In the television series, Xena interacted with some historical figures such as Julius Ceasar, took part in biblical events like helping David kill Goliath, and crossed over into other literary works by assisting Ulysses in regaining his kingdom in Ithaca after returning from the Trojan War. Do your plans for the Warrior Princess include any historical cameos or crossovers?

Other than Greek gods, there are no plans to interact with actual literary characters, at least in the upcoming story arc, or even the one after that. However there are some different fictional characters that will make an appearance in the next to arc. I won't be any more specific than that, except for one hint for the upcoming "Dark Xena" arc: H.P. Lovecraft.

OK, Lovecraft fans should eat that up. Now, the early adventures placed Xena in China, Japan and Siberia; how far do you plan on having the warrior princess journey?

The third moon of Jupiter. But absolutely no further. :-)

In plotting Xena's adventures, do you do much research on the ancient times and places that define her character and journeys. Are you bringing in concepts that are of personal interest to you?

Yes, I've always been a big fan of both mythology and history, and Greek and Roman mythos have always held special interest with me. Of course, as I alluded to earlier, there will be an entirely different mythos in "Dark Xena," complicating life for Xena and, in particular, Gabrielle.

Xena pioneered being a strong female lead in an action series, paving the way for subsequent fantasy series from "Buffy" to "Alias." Now that female leads are quite popular, what do you look for to stay original in scripting Xena?

I dunno. I don't really see it as writing a strong female character. She is strong, and she is female, but I don't see her as a different type of strong because she is a female. Xena kicks ass and takes names, plain and simple. "Dark Xena," however, kicks ass and takes lives.

Xena first appeared on the "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" television series and then shortly afterwards she became the main character of the spin-off series "Xena: Warrior Princess." Which of Xena's ensemable cast would you most like to see spin off into their own series?

I like all the supporting cast, but I think spinning them off would be excessive. I have no desire to do a Joxer solo series, as much as I love the character. I think Xena's supporting cast works best in relation to one other, playing off one another. In fact, part of what will make "Dark Xena" so compelling will be seeing her supporting cast trying to work together without the "anchor" that keeps them together.

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