Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: I’m here with Robert Venditti. You’re getting ready to wrap up X-O Manowar after five years on the project.
Robert Venditti: 56 issues, just about five years. It was the first single issue that New Valiant published when they came out in 2012. It was also for me the first issue of a monthly comic book that I had ever written, so I didn’t know what to expect. I obviously wanted good things to happen, but I didn’t know if I would make it 12 issues or 24. I figured at 24, I would be totally happy if I could go that long.
To be here, going up close to five years and 56 issues, I feel so fortunate to be able to that. Not just from a creative standpoint to work with one character and build up all of this mythology and really have long form arcs with the character, but even in this market, staying on one book for that kind of tenure isn’t really common anymore. The market tends to turn things over faster.
I was able to really come out of the gate with something I’m really proud of. I will always be able to say, “Hey, I went five years on a book,” which I don’t think a lot of people can say.
CB: 50 issues is more than almost anybody does in a series these days. Even ever, right? I mean, other than Peter David, Mark Gruenwald and Stan Lee, it’s hard to think of a lot of people.
Venditti: Bendis was on Ultimate Spider-man for a long time. Obviously Kirkman is writing Walking Dead and things like that. But in terms of where we are in the modern market, if you’re talking about shared universe type of stories (Marvel, DC, Valiant, that sort of thing), it seems like it’s probably a pretty long tenure.
You factor in annuals and zeroes and whatever. But those 56 issues might be more than the New 52. The New 52 is more than 52 issues, right? Because they had a zero and they had a Future’s End and they had a villains month and things like that. But a lot of those series turned over writers at some point or had a fill-in at some point or whatever.
I’m the only person who has done X-O for 56 issues. The one thing I do know, because Valiant told me, is I’m the longest-tenured writer on any character ever at Valiant. Even going back to the ‘90s.
CB: You’re seeing the fruits of the seeds you’ve planted in the first years paying off now.
Venditti: When I wrote issue one, I put a ton of subplots in there. You don’t know if you’re going to be around long enough to be around to do them all. But they were always there. I think when we get to this last arc and what we’re going to do with the arrival of the torment, which is this race of uber powerful beings that were thought to mythological, but we’re going to discover they were real. You’re going to see how it’s really this long arc in the narrative.
All these elements that we have brought in throughout the series, whether it’s the Armorines or Ninjak or the vine, are all going to come around in this last arc in a way that’s certainly organic in the way that it developed. Hopefully it reads as organic on the page as well.
CB: How does it feel to be wrapping up that run? You’ve known Aric for a long time.
Venditti: I was talking to another writer the other day about X-O Manowar. The questions that they were asking me, you don’t realize how much you know this character and how much you’ve thought about it and how much you know what his relationship was like with his mother when he was little and all of these little intricacies that a lot of times maybe don’t even make it to the page. You really come to know that person over that span of time.
I think I’ll miss doing it. It certainly won’t be the last time I write X-O Manowar ever. He’s one of Valiant’s big characters. He will pop up in other places. I think I’ll miss him. It’ll be a little sad.
CB: You already got to write his ending, right?
Venditti: I did. Well, as I see it.
CB: Oh, so it may not be cannon?
Venditti: Well, I wouldn’t want to hamstring anybody else who comes on to the book after me. But as far as me, that’s the ending of that character. I don’t own X-O Manowar. Valiant can obviously do whatever they want. From my discussions with them, it’s how they see the end of the character as well.
CB: What is the aspect of the character when you think back to when you first starting working on it that you think is surprising? Did he evolve in any ways that you didn’t expect?
Venditti: It became a story really about heroism, which I didn’t know that from day one. It became a story about how heroes are defined and how that changes over time.
In Aric’s own time (5th century A.D.), heroism was defined by charging into a battlefield and lopping off as many heads as you could. It was very brutal. Heroism is very different today. When he comes into our modern day and he has his ethic that he grew up with, the world views it differently than it was viewed back then. He’s still being a hero by his own terms and by the terms of the society that he comes from. But our modern day is different.
How does heroism change as a notion? How do our characters, even in the short time going back to when Action Comics #1 was out, how has heroism changed in film and in television and in comics and things like that? It surprised me that that’s what the series ultimately became about. I did in a way that I’m very happy with.
CB: The thing that surprised me as I reread your run was how close the feeling of family is to him. He’s obviously got his wife, but also there is a real feeling of obligation to his people. You really feel that during the Armor Hunters arc, where he feels such a strong obligation to them. It’s almost like it transcends a king’s love for his people. It’s more like a real love of humans in similar experiences.
Venditti: Which he actually had to grow to understand that as well because he comes from an era when the entire world he knew was inside of the circle of wagons of the Visigoth camp because they were moving throughout Rome. The idea of another continent or another planet or any of those kinds of things is completely alien to him. As he grows throughout the series, it’s almost like Earth becomes within the circle of wagons.
He comes from a culture that’s dead. His language is dead. We don’t know much about the Visigoths from the era in which he lived in the real world. It’s almost like a dark period of archeology because they had no cities. They were nomadic so there are no archeological digs or anything like that. He comes from a culture that’s evaporated. Every human becomes a Visigoth in a way.
CB: The idea of a culture that evaporated is really intriguing. There is of course the early arc where he moves all of the people to Romania. You took a completely different direction from that than I expected. Did you intentionally set it up in a way to give readers a swerve?
Venditti: It definitely plays into the idea of heroism that I was discussing earlier. In the era that he comes from, if you had the best weapons, you went and took what you wanted and made it yours. That was just the way the world functioned, whether it was Rome or the Huns or whoever.
He comes from Romania. That’s the area of the world that he was from. The Visigoths were chased out of that by the Huns, who had superior technology. Some say that the Huns came in with the stirrup. That was what made them so formidable because they were able to really put more thrust into their spears and all of these kinds of things. And so they ran the Visigoths out.
Now our Aric comes back with a bunch of Visigoths. He’s got the Manowar armor, which is the most powerful weapon in existence. He goes and takes what he wants and calls it his. That’s what a hero did. But in our modern day, he almost kicks off World War III. It doesn’t make him bad; it makes him a hero of his own time and not in ours.
CB: He does slowly settle in and become part of this world. Part of it is that he has friends and allies that he can respect and appreciate.
Venditti: Very much so.
CB: I love Lady Colonel, too.
Venditti: I like her character a lot. I do like that he calls her Lady Colonel all of the time. I don’t think we have ever done it on the page, but I intentionally leave it vague whether he’s doing it because this is what him and his fifth century way of speaking would do or if he’s doing it to kind of dig at her a little bit the way that they have a push and pull relationship between themselves.
CB: It actually read a little bit like a touch of respect. Like, ‘In my day, a woman would never be a colonel. You’re doing okay by me.’
Venditti: They do have a ton of respect for each other. But their relationship wasn’t always mutual. In the beginning, he was only working for her because she was pointing weaponry at his camp and literally had a gun to his head. He bristled at that. That was when he started to call her Lady Colonel.
CB: He doesn’t actually get nicer during the storyline. I think he becomes more of a person who settles into society. At his core, he’s still the same person.
Venditti: He is. He’s not as quick to action. He’s not as quick to violence as he once was. He’s a very intelligent individual and he always was. It was just the things he was intelligent about come from a different era. We always knew when we sat down and looked at the character that he would evolve and his intelligence would allow him to adapt and he wouldn’t be a caveman-ish short or anything like that. He’s nicer, but if you get between him and his people, he’s going to get pretty angry.
CB: The Eternal Warrior is a very different character. Do you see him as a man who has had a lot of loss in his life compared to everybody else?
Venditti: When I was looking at that character, I think the natural default for a story about an immortal character that has seen countless wars and all of these kinds of things might be for him to be extremely pessimistic and to be down on humanity. “Why are well still fighting?” and all of these kinds of things.
For him to keep coming back to life and to keep fighting for us, he would have to be tremendously hopeful. He would have to do it because he has seen us improve and the world is better than it used to be in a lot of ways. Yes, we still have a lot of things we have to do, but our ethics and our societies have evolved in ways that are way better than they were 5000 years ago.
He sees us advancing. Everywhere he looks, he sees beauty that’s worth fighting for. He ultimately believes that mankind is inherently good and that we will eventually work everything out. Otherwise why would he get out of bed and do what he does every day?
CB: That’s the thing. The first several chapters of Wrath are so heartbreaking because he’s breaking away from a paradise. He goes through hell in order to emerge in human society.
Venditti: Nobody would fault him for going, “Hey, you’ve done your part. Go ahead. Stay in the afterlife with the wife and the children that you’ve lost,” which is the afterlife that we would all hope for ourselves. But he says, “No, humanity still needs me. I believe they’re worth fighting for. I’m going to leave this afterlife behind, climb my way through hell, and earn my way back to the living world so I can continue to fight for what I think is good and decent.”
I don’t know if there is a better way to define a hero with that amount of self-sacrifice.
CB: I really believe that I would stay back there with my wife and children. It really was a paradise.
Venditti: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. A lot of that is from my own experiences. It’s one of the things that I like about Wrath a lot. I’m married. I have children. You don’t get to write those kinds of relationships often in comics.
We’re cheating a little, right? We’re having our cake and eating it, too, because he does have a wife and children, but they’re in the afterlife. They’re not here in the present, with him in the real world. We have a foot in both pools. But I really enjoyed writing those scenes. This daughter that passed away when she was very young in ancient Africa and the horrible gut-wrenching memories of that for him and then being in the afterlife and seeing her bound down the stairs and him playing the smell the feet game with her. Who wouldn’t want that for themselves?
CB: No, I think the treatment of the marriage there was very knowing also. I recognize a lot of that from my own life, just the way you have this casual teasing, a nice, complex relationship that’s also very easy at the same time.
Venditti: I try to approach it almost like he’s sort of a traveling salesman. He blows through the door once in a while and feeds the dog from the table and plays with the kids. Then he’s off to work again and his wife is like, “I’ve got to teach the dog not to beg at the table after you leave.” That kind of push and pull.
It’s really her home and he shows up once in a while. They both love each other very much. They’re both very happily married. But that push and pull that you have a with a husband and wife.
CB: He goes through hell. It looks like he’s going to have a pretty intense adventure ahead of him.
Venditti: We’re going to get the background on Callum, his firstborn child who he has an estranged relationship with in the afterlife. We’re going to find out how that relationship became estranged.
It’s all going to tie into the introduction of this villain called the Dying One, which is an immortal character. Every time it comes back, it reincarnates into a different body in a different place. It has no sense of continuity the way Gilad does. He dies on the battlefield; he can wake up on that same battlefield. The Dying One could die in Spain in the 1500s and wake up in Central America. Everything he had done and everything he had built would be gone. It’s very frustrating. He has no control over his own gender or his own race, any of these basic things by which we identify ourselves.
Now he’s trying to study Gilad and figure out how Gilad does it the way he does.
CB: It’s going to be interesting character, especially in contrast to X-O or Hal Jordan. People know who they are, very much so.
Venditti: I enjoy writing the Dying One. I hope other people enjoy him as well. He’s a very brutal character, a very angry character, and a very frustrated character. But he’s entertaining to write. I think he’s sympathetic in his own way.
That’s what you want even in your villains. They can be mean and terrible and nasty, but sympathetic so that you will at least understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. You don’t agree with their methods, but you understand their motives.
CB: You’re on Wrath of the Eternal Warrior for the foreseeable future then? You’re going to be able to build that universe and hopefully develop as interesting and complex of a world as you did in X-O.
Venditti: Yeah, it’s like X-O; you don’t really know when you start a book how long you’re going to be on it. But I tend to think two arcs ahead of where I’m. Then you go back to the publisher. If they want to do more, you work on the next one. Then you work on the next one. You just keep going.
CB: Right. You’ve had Green Lantern for a while.
Venditti: 34 issues.
CB: Did you enjoy where you went with Renegade?
Venditti: I have. It didn’t come out exactly the way I wanted it.
I’m looking forward to Rebirth. I’ll be able to work with Ethan Van Sciver and Rafa Sandoval. We’re going to be focusing on Hal as a lead, but also the entire Corps as well. John Stewart is going to be leader of the Green Lantern Corps. He will play a heavy role in the series.
Guy Gardner will have a good role in the series. He’s a character that I enjoy very much. I enjoy John very much as well. I’m looking forward to it.
CB: It’s an interesting group of characters. They definitely contrast each other.
Venditti: They do, very much.
CB: It was fun to see Hal go a little off the reservation. He literally let his hair down for a change.
Venditti:. We always knew it was going to be temporary. It was never something we were going to do permanently. It was just one or two story arcs and then put the toys back in the box. I think when you see Rebirth, you will see how it plays out, which was the plan all the long.
Rebirth is very much like what the concept of what Rebirth was in the Flash and the Hal Jordan story. It was a brand new jumping off point. It felt like a new beginning. But it also contained all of the history of these characters. That’s very much what the Rebirth plan is this round as well.
CB: You obviously love the history of all of the characters you write. It seems to be important to you to build them up from their fundamentals.
Venditti: It was different for X-O and for Eternal Warrior because those are the things you’re starting out and you’re really building it all from scratch in a lot of ways. Coming on with Hal Jordan as a character, you’re dealing with nine years of a Geoff Johns run. He did all that mythology building. You’re not building him from scratch; you’re building on top of a really nice scaffolding that has already been erected for you. It’s a bit of a different challenge, but it’s always fun.
CB: Do you have any other projects coming up?
Venditti: That’s it for right now. I write children’s novels. My second children’s novel actually will be out in June. It’s called Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape: Rise of the Robot Army. Other than that, that’s pretty much it.
CB: How was it exercising those different muscles?
Venditti: It was fun. It was a lot of work. It was very time consuming for me to do a novel. It’s a whole different style of writing that I had to teach myself how to do. But I enjoyed it. I have been able to do two novels in the series so far. I’m very thankful to have had the experience.
CB: It really is an interesting challenge, isn’t it? I’ve done some graphic novel writing, some prose novel writing, and some history writing as well. They’re different sets of muscles.
Venditti: There are so many different ways to write. There are a million different ways, from advertising copy all the way up to the great American novel. It’s all creativity in one way or another.