DC's Phillip Kennedy Johnson Talks Building a Deep and Epic Fantasy Adventure in The Last God
DC is known for its superhero tales and iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, [...]
DC is known for its superhero tales and iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, but that doesn't mean superheroes is all they do. All sorts of stories live under the DC umbrella, including the sprawling fantasy adventure The Last God, which feels in many ways like a Dungeons & Dragons adventure in comic form. The Black Label series is written by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and drawn by Riccardo Federici, and is a completely original adventure that follows two sets of heroes. One group has achieved legendary status after saving the world from a dark evil, while the other group deals with the consequences of that first team's actions and all the secrets they've buried for so long. ComicBook.com had the chance to speak to Johnson all about the series and the upcoming issue #7, starting with where the idea for a story this epic in scale came from.
"What inspired the story? Honestly, the spark that got the whole process started of The Last God being created was a little poke from my editor, Johnson said. "Amedeo Turturro, who's my editor, and I worked with him on Aquaman before, is this huge tabletop gamer. He loves D&D. When he's not doing comics, he's doing that. At some point, he made the jump from the superhero books over to Vertigo and Black Label, and he reached out about doing another project over there. So we talked about a couple of pitches and at some point, he was like, 'Have you ever thought about doing... Would you be interested in doing a horror story in an epic fantasy world?' And I mean, what are you going to say to that? It's almost a dream come true."
"The only reason I hadn't pitched something like that is because I would want it to be something really huge," Johnson said. "I want it to be something really big. If you're not the Rick Remenders or Ed Brubakers of the world, asking them to take a chance on this gigantic epic story seemed like an easy no. But Amedeo really thought we can get one across the plate, and I was like, 'Man, if you think we can get away with it, I would love to do that.' I always try to tell stories that matter to me. Just kind of dress them up in a comic booky way. I said, 'I'll make it fun and interesting and exciting, but still with the stories underneath that mean a lot to me personally.'"
While The Last God deals with the fantastical, it's a very personal story at its core, one of a father and son and one of children dealing with the consequences of those who have come before them.
"As a new father, I wanted to tell a story about that," Johnson said. "About what it means to be a father and a son, and about the lies we tell our children. I want my son to see me as this awesome, heroic figure that I'm just not, and I explored that idea, took it to the nth degree. I wanted to do a story about two fellowships of heroes. One that is a lauded as the god slayers, the greatest heroes of all time, and then another generation that in essence discovered that it was all bullshit and that the world is doomed, and how to actually become the heroes that they thought their predecessors were. So that's where the whole thing started from. It was just ideas of a father and a son."
There are several standout characters in this world, though one of the earliest highlights is Veikko. "Veikko is probably my favorite character of the book," Johnson said. "I really, really like Veikko, and for all kinds of reasons. She's not exactly the moral compass. She has her own motivations, and Tyr does as well. Where Tyr started out as a Reaver that's always kind of at his core who he is. He's ambitious, but he's ambitious and cunning, and still always kind of in it to pillage. Even when he tells himself he's a hero that nature of being a Reaver never really leaves him."
"Veikko is always in it for... She's a member of the Aelva who is like...unlike other epic fantasy stories, we see where the elves are shiny and immortal and superior, and just better than us in every way," Johnson said. "There are aspects of that to the Aelva as well, where they're mysterious and they're in tune with magic, but they're also subjugated. They're a subjugated Aboriginal race that has been beaten down for centuries by this point, and her big motivation is just to protect the Aelva, to be their guardian, to destroy their enemies, and she finds allies in these humans for the greater good. But at her core, she still cares about much more than the world at large. That's her thing. She's a very proud member of a proud race that has been downtrodden for a long time."
Johnson wanted to embrace the fantasy elements of past classics but still make sure there was a modern and meaningful depth to them. "The heroes that we thought we had turned out to be a lie, and the next generation tries to be what they weren't, but I also wanted to tell that story at a macro level as well," Johnson said. "What if the stories that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien told us... I wanted to kind of put that as like the shiny version of what fantasy is. Now here's our version of fantasy, but this one's not bullshit, and now there's racism and there's corruption. There are real hardships here that you never really see. There are all these different religions, and they clash with each other, like nobody knows who's right, and sometimes they literally clash, and they go to war with each other. There's a lot of chaos and cruelty and you still have things like elves and dwarves, but they're just a truer harsher version of those things."
Johnson created a series of languages and lore for The Last God, and if a question popped up that needed explaining, he didn't just gloss over it, but stayed with it until he could define it and explain it.
"I didn't want to make anything look fake," Johnson said. "I didn't want to just... Instead of just starting from scratch like, 'Here's year zero, we're going to go through a year, 3000.' I would just start the story, and when a question came up, I would make sure to answer it before I went on. The challenge is to make sure you're answering every question that arises and still leave time to actually tell the story that you're involved in. I have glossaries of hundreds or thousands of words in several different elven languages. Because I don't want to not speak the same thing, because that seems fake to me. Because it's not how it is. That's not how the world is, right? So anytime a question arose, I just had to make sure that I answered it and not cut corners. That's the biggest challenge. Just not cutting corners and making sure the world feels big, and lived in, and deep."
While Veikko might be my favorite character in the series, the most complex and perhaps important character is easily Cyanthe, who has been by Tyr's side their first adventure and has changed too much because of it.
"She's probably the most important character in the book and she is still more or less the way I saw her in beginning," Johnson said. "The story is really hers more than anyone else because she's the only member of both fellowships that's there throughout the whole thing. In the beginning, she's almost like the observer. They literally find her hiding and she becomes... She's the least heroic of the crew, whose motives are the purest. She's just this simple country mouse that kind of got swept up in this big adventure, just the purest of heart."
"But when we see her as an adult in issue one, she's very different," Johnson said. "She's jaded, she's kind of racist. She's a little bit harsh. She's seen a lot. She's not the hero you want her to be. And the whole story of the first fellowship is seeing how she got to that place. I wanted to see her... In a way the story is about her corruption and then her redemption. We don't know yet exactly what happened at the Black Stair, but we know she's a part of it. And we see her at her truest and purest when she was a young girl, and then her at her lowest at beginning of the second fellowship where she's been literally corrupted by Mol Uhltep."
"She's probably the most interesting character," Johnson said. "She's been through the most. She goes through the most on-screen, during this course of the book, and I'm really excited for people to see the rest of her story. The spinoff that we announced, that Dan Waters is writing is all about her in between the two fellowships when she's queen, and that's a really interesting, important piece of the story that we'll get to see."
At the end of issue #6, fans finally met Haakon, who has constantly been mentioned but never show for too long. We asked if there was a point in developing the series that he was introduced sooner, but he was always going to be important to the second half of the series.
"Haakon was always going to be the missing piece," Johnson said. "He's the one that we always... The whole world knows that he's this big traitor and that he's the one who betrayed the great hero Tyr. He's the one whose image was struck from the Megalith in Tyrgolad. All their images are around that monolith except Haakon's, whose image was removed as soon as it went up because Tyr was so pissed about it. He's almost like this Voldemort-type name that people just don't talk about. He's this huge traitor, but when we see him at the end of issue six we don't see him in that light. He's like this Paladin, he's like a Paragon of virtue. It's just another question mark that I really wanted to leave."
Haakon is going to be critical from here on out, as he's a key part of why or how the other heroes and compromise their ideals.
"The first arc, the first six issues is about the building of that fellowship really," Johnson said. "Both fellowships, I guess, and then the second arc is about the fall of the fellowship. We've finally seen them all come together. With the introduction of Haakon the Peerless, who presumably becomes Haakon the Shamed later we have seen the entire group come together. Except Jorunn who's a late addition that we'll see why later, but the whole core group is there now, and then in the second arc, you're going to see that fellowship corrupted and we're going to see how that fellowship compromises and compromises until they lose themselves in it. The heroes that we thought they were and the heroes that they were at one point are lost in lieu of this other thing, and Haakon is key to all that stuff."
Issue #6 also saw the death of Skol and her death and the manner in which she died was always the plan. It was a fitting death too for someone who was perhaps the worst of the legendary heroes.
"No, Skol was also going to eat it right when she does," Johnson said. "The nature of her death changed a bit from time to time. I wasn't sure how we were going to do it. I wanted it to be very impactful, no pun intended there, but yeah, that's about how I wanted it to go down. Skol was probably the most corrupt of any of them, and the most ambitious, and to see her end the way she did was fitting to me, but I love the idea of a character that looked just like her that was completely different. Someone who literally embodies the power of the Guild, but who is herself not corrupt, because the story is all about this fellowship of youngsters trying to be what the first fellowship supposedly was, and I liked the idea of having a Skol character who was everything that she wasn't, as far as her motivations. Someone who had the potential to actually be what people thought Skol was."
"So I liked the idea that she's not actually her literal daughter," Johnson said. "She's actually a creation of Guild magic. That this kind of abomination, that despite that is very pure of heart and just knows what she's there to do and intends to do it. And is very clear eyed in her goals."
You can check out The Last God #6 now, and The Last God #7 continues the epic story when it hits comic stores on July 21st! Let us know what you think of the series in the comments or you can find me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB for all things comics!0comments