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Venditti Sends “Demon Knights” On Grail Quest, Saves John Stewart

by  in Comic News Comment
Venditti Sends “Demon Knights” On Grail Quest, Saves John Stewart

Writer Robert Venditti has made quite a splash at DC Comics in the last year. After taking over “Demon Knights” as the ongoing writer from Paul Cornell, Venditti was also recently announced as the new steward of “Green Lantern” and co-plotter of “Green Lantern Corps” — and while his tenure in the galactic realm of the DCU doesn’t begin until June, his second arc of “Demon Knights” begins in May as he takes the super team of the past on a quest for one of the most recognizable and powerful relics of all time: the Holy Grail.

Venditti spoke with CBR News about his plans for the Knights moving forward, including the challenge of putting his own spin on the characters, exploring the past history of the DC Universe, the artist change for the second arc and the impact of the Grail on DC history. Plus, he discusses his upcoming “Green Lantern” run and addresses the “Green Lantern Corps” rumor involving John Stewart.

CBR News: Rob, you inherited “Demon Knights” from Paul Cornell, who really put this team on the map. During your first arc, what was the challenge of reuniting them and putting your own spin on such a niche book?

Robert Venditti: I had never done a team book before of any kind and that was one of the things that made me want to try to do this, because I always try to do something different with each project and try to challenge myself with new things. One was the aspect that it was a team book and two, it was the aspect that it was fantasy, which I hadn’t done before either. For me, because it is a pretty large cast — eight characters if you count Etrigan and Jason Blood separately, even though they’re never really both on screen together — it’s a lot of personalities to juggle. I wanted to find a way to reintroduce them to the readers, re-establish everybody, and my way to do that was to have them jump forward in time, where we move forward about 30 years and the characters are brought back together as a group again after having been apart for quite some time. So they sort of have to reintroduce themselves to each other and, through that, reintroduce themselves to the reader, too. That was kind of the way we solved it.

One of the major elements you’re exploring in the next arc is the discovery and protection of the Holy Grail, an artifact that has some major significance in both the real world and the DCU. What sort of repercussions does such a powerful artifact have on the rest of the DC Universe, especially considering how far in the past “Demon Knights” is set?

Yeah, you really hit on some things there that are going to be really key to this next arc. The Grail has always been a large part of what “Demon Knights” has been about going back to issue #4 when you get this whole background on Shining Knight and the history of the character’s quest and what that character is going for throughout the course of the series — you have Camelot and now the Holy Grail sort of is an artifact that allows there to be sort of the construction of not just the Camelot that we all know through Arthurian Legend, but the ideal of Camelot as a city on the hill that is able to be recreated throughout history. The Grail is all somehow a part of that. So yes, it is a very powerful artifact in ways that I think, or I hope, will surprise people. It’s not going to be the typical, “Drink from the Grail and you’re immortal” type of situation that we’ve seen in a lot of stories up to now. There are a lot of other powers associated with the Grail that we are going to be bringing in to the series that I think are going to be new for what people know about that artifact, and all of that will explain why it’s so sought after, why it’s so important, why it’s so powerful and what exactly is the nature of it that allows it to let these cities on the hill, so to speak, be created around it throughout history.

The previous format of the series could characterize it as a definite team book, but certain issues would focus on a single character as well. As you move forward with the series, how do you plan to stick to or deviate from that formula? Where’s your comfort zone in writing these characters: the individual issues or the ensemble issues?

I would say a little bit of both. I think one of the things I wanted to do with the book — and I guess maybe it sounds a little crazy for a book that’s called “Demon Knights” — is those first two issues, I really wanted to focus on the rest of the cast that I felt a lot less familiar with. I would say to the average comics reader, probably the two most well-known characters on the cast would be Etrigan/Jason Blood and Vandal Savage. They’re the two that have been used the most throughout DC history. Of course, Ystin has been used more recently in “Seven Soldiers of Victory” and things like that. Madame Xanadu [has been used] as well. Horsewoman, Exoristos, Al Jabr — characters like these that have not really been used before in the DCU, I really wanted to focus on them and give them some screen time. The only way I could come up with to do that was to literally take away — if you will — Jason’s voice so that Etrigan couldn’t really even be in the book. He was still a central part of the book because everybody needed to get in and release him to have access to his power because of this great threat that was threatening Europe in the first part of the story. By taking away his voice, we made it so Jason couldn’t summon Etrigan. Etrigan really only has one page of the entire first two issues of my first arc on the book. We really focus on these other characters to really give them a time to shine.

I really enjoyed what I was able to do with Horsewoman in terms of fleshing her out in terms of what kind of relationships she has with her mount and setting up the scenario where we introduce a new horse for her called Brickwedge. He’s not the regal, thoroughbred-looking horse you would associate with the Horsewoman. He’s more a frumpy old horse, but he’s been in the town’s center for a while, so he’s had much more of a social life and is much more knowledgable about people. That’s what she’s looking for in a mount — it’s not necessarily looks or battle prowess, but conversation, because Horses are the only things that she can really relate to. An extension of that — I don’t know if anybody’s noticed — is Brickwedge her horse is the only character that calls her by her first name. Everyone else knows her as Horsewoman, but horses know her as Sarah because she establishes an intimacy with them that she doesn’t have with people. She feels alienated from people and more comfortable around horses. Just the focus on small aspects of character like that and flush out some of these lesser-known characters.

“Demon Knights” #19 put the cap on your first arc dealing with Vampires. Is this it for the undead bloodsuckers, or do you have plans to bring them back for a future arc?

They have a pretty strong presence in the DCU. We’ve seen that through “I, Vampire” and things like that. I’m done with them for now. They’ve served their purpose, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to come back. In fact, it’s foreshadowed that they will come back, but that’s not anything we’re going to see now. Basically, back in issue #4, Ystin was given a vision by Merlin of what the future of the quest for the Grail would entail, and part of it was that Ystin is shown turned into a vampire. It’s a prophecy that we know has to be fulfilled, so how does it tie in to the Grail? We’ll find out in the very opening pages of issue #20 how it all comes together and why the team in terms of the quest for the Grail had to go to somewhere and what the ramifications of Ystin being bitten by Cade are going to be and how that affects the future of the quest as well.

A benefit of “Demon Knights” is that it takes place in the DC Universe’s past. You’ve jumped time 30 years for your first arc, but do you have any more jumps planned? Will readers get to see the Demon Knights get closer and closer to modern day?

I think the series is right for that. I think you can do a lot of really, really interesting things where you’re dropping this cast into so many different scenarios between 1000 A.D. and the modern day. It’d be pretty compelling, whether it’d be World War II or the very modern, current DCU or any of those kinds of things. For now, dealing with the quest for the Grail is what the heart of the story is going to be — particularly this next arc. It’s still going to be in 1043 A.D., which is where we are right now.

You’re also transitioning artists with Chad Hardin coming in to replace Bernard Chang for the next arc. What has it been like adjusting to a new artist?

I’m having a great time working with Chad. He’s drawn some scenes in this next issue that are some of my favorites. I get the key adversary of issue #20 that’s coming up in a fight scene that I’m really happy about in the way that I move all the team members to overcome this opposition. He just drew the scene in such a fun, cool way. I’ve really enjoyed working with Bernard, and of course I’ll still be working with him again to some extent on “Green Lantern Corps,” as I’m co-plotting that series, but Chad is great as well. That’s one of the real thrills about being a writer in comics — to have the opportunity to work with so many different artists and to learn from each of them as you go.

Speaking of the “Green Lantern” books, “Green Lantern” is your second ongoing series at DC and your third ongoing series overall. On top of that, you’re co-plotting “Green Lantern Corps” with Van Jensen. Are the larger workload and getting “Green Lantern” why you decided to step back from “Constantine?”

What happened was I pitched on “Constantine” and that pitch was approved, but it was way ahead of the game because it was going to be a new launch and it was going to be way down the line. In the interim, DC asked if I would come in and write an arc of “Demon Knights” in between when the “Constantine” pitch got approved and when the first issue actually came out. I said, “Sure,” and I came in and started writing this first arc of “Demon Knights,” which was only going to be one arc, but they really liked the scripts I was turning in, they liked how they were turning out, they liked where the stories were going and where the characters were going, so they wanted me to stay on “Demon Knights.” Also by that time, I had pitched for “Green Lantern” and been given “Green Lantern.” I had already been approved for “Constantine,” I had already been approved for “Green Lantern” and then they asked me if I wanted to continue on “Demon Knights.” That’s when I said, “You know, guys, I think four ongoing series is really a lot for me to handle, to go from one to four. I’d rather find out that I can do four by writing three and having extra time, than trying to write four and finding out I can only do three.” They understood that and we all talked together to find out which of the books we would want me to stay on. It was sort of a group decision that “Constantine” would be the one to let go, I would stay with “Green Lantern” and I would stay with “Demon Knights.” That’s how all that came about.

You and Van were announced recently as co-plotters with Van as the writer of “Green Lantern Corps,” replacing Joshua Hale Fialkov. Since you’re going to be on both “Green Lantern” and “Green Lantern Corps,” how closely will both tie in to one another?

I think there’s a common thread to tie all the books together, including “New Guardians” and “Red Lanterns.” That’s kind of the idea of having all the books fall under one group, but we definitely want the books to stand on their own. That’s kind of what I mean about how Van is the writer for “Green Lantern Corps.” He’s coming up with the concepts and what he wants to do with the characters, and I’m just really trying to help him co-plot it some. There will be common threads between [“Green Lantern” and “Green Lantern Corps”] and there will certainly be conflicts that tie both books together and characters and things like that, but we definitely want all four books to stand on their own, have their own feel. Particularly after hearing what Justin [Jordan] has in store for “New Guardians” and taking with him and talking with Charles [Soule] about “Red Lanterns,” I do think all four of the books are almost going to be their own subset of Sci-Fi genre in the larger Sci-Fi genre that is “Green Lantern.”

One of the things I wanted to ask about was the rumors about John Stewart getting killed off in the pages of “Green Lantern Corps” following Josh Fialkov’s exit from the book. While you’ve already tweeted that you and Van don’t have any plans to use him in that way, was his death something that was ever on the table when the two of you came on?

There’s nothing that we ever discussed and it’s nothing that anybody ever asked us to do. I’m talking about Van and I. We were brought onto the book and we had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do with John that never involved killing him. Nobody ever asked us to kill him and really I thought for a long time whether I should even respond to [the rumors and speculation online] because I don’t really talk about my stories much in that sense. You can probably tell from this interview — you’re asking me about the next arc of “Demon Knights” and I’m being evasive about it because I want the story to be presented on the page.

I think where it got problematic for me was when reports started making it sound like Van and I were going to kill John Stewart, but then there was this huge outrage about it and then we decided not to. That was the point where I felt like I needed to say something, because for good or bad, readers have to be able to trust me to write the stories that I want to write and not try to predict what the response is going to be. You could drive yourself crazy trying to write what you think your readers want to read. You just have to stay true to yourself and write the stories that you want to write and hope the readers want to go along with them. Otherwise, you end up trying to please the critics and that’s not any kind of way to make stories to begin with. That was when I came out and said we never had any plans to kill him.

Since we were brought onboard before the news of John Stewart being killed off was even out there and we never had any plans to kill him, it should seem obvious that our decision to not kill him wasn’t based on any sort of fan reaction because the decision was made before the fans knew there was something to react to.

Three ongoings, plus co-plotting, plus other projects like your “Percy Jackson” graphic novels is quite a difference from where you were one year ago. With all this work on your plate, when can fans expect to see you back in the realm of creator-owned comics?

Some of the things you’re talking about, like the “Percy Jackson” books, there’s such a lead time on those because they’re done through more traditional publishing houses — in this case, Hyperion, which is done through Disney — and books that are going to be released in 2013 through a traditional publisher are written in 2010. So, the “Percy Jackson” stuff has long been in the can. That’s not really something that’s on my plate now. I’ve got the three ongoings and the co-plotting credit, but I’m also comfortably ahead of a lot of the things I’m working on, so I am also working on something creator-owned, which is the largest creator-owned project I’ve ever undertaken by far, both in terms of length of story and amount of writing it entails. I’m hoping to be able to talk about that more freely in the near future, but creator-owned is definitely a focus. I know it’s something that I haven’t necessarily put out there in a while, but that’s just because of the enormous amount of time it’s taken to set up this project. It’s something I’ve been working on for years.

“Demon Knights” #20 hits stores May 8. Venditti’s run on “Green Lantern” starts with issue #21 in June.

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