Laying Out the Warrior Spirit

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Following Red Sonja and prior to the releases of Battlestar Galactica, Lone Ranger and Highlander, Dynamite Entertainment is set to unleash another licensed television property on the comic book world with Xena, debuting tomorrow.

BF spoke to series writer John Layman about his fondness for the character, how the Dynamite series ties into the TV series and whether or not a showdown with Red Sonja is in the cards for the Warrior Princess.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Were you a big fan of the original TV series, or didn’t you get fully immersed in the world of Xena until landing the writing gig on her comic book adaptation?

JOHN LAYMAN: A fan, but not so rabid that I had committed every episode to heart. I had to do a bit of TiVo ‘refreshering’ when I got the gig… and in doing so, discovered really how much I loved and missed the show.

BF: Good! Do you get an equally high kick out of plotting Xena’s stories as her fan base will when they pick up the final product?

JL: Yes, I’m enjoying it greatly. I’ve been fortunate, in that I’ve enjoyed 95% of the projects I’ve taken on, and Xena is no exception. It gives me a lot of freedom to have fun, and that goes a long way to keeping me satisfied on the job. I try to only take writing gigs that I know I’m going to be into, just because I know, that way, I will end up giving it my all.

BF: I’m sure it’s a question you get a lot when dealing with adapting material, but how much will the ongoing series tie in to what happened in the TV show? Do people need to know a lot about Xena’s back story for them to fully enjoy the comic?

JL: Almost no knowledge is required, though it would probably help to see the show for an episode or two, just to know who Xena is, and Gabrielle, and various other supporting cast regulars. But I’ve taken great pains to avoid vexing continuity issues (like why the main character who was killed in the last episode is now alive!) and present a “classic Xena” sort of story. We’ll tie up loose ends in further storylines, but the first one is going to be as accessible as humanly possible.

BF: Now that DC and Batwoman seem to have really kicked open the door for gay super-heroines, will you play around with the romantic interest that may or may not exist between Xena and Gabrielle over the course of the series?

JL: There will be overtones, just as there were in the series, and different “are they or aren’t they?” moments, but it will not be overt. It won't suddenly transform into an Avatar Comic or a Cinemax movie, if that’s what you are asking.

BF: One could say that readers in love with another character from the Dynamite stable, Red Sonja, a warrior princess in her own right, will likely be attracted to Xena as well.


BF: Where do you see the similarities between both characters end and the differences begin?

JL: Both are hard warriors who have led rough lives. The big difference is that Xena has been softened over time, and a lot of that is the result of her supporting cast, and the bonds of friendship, particularly the “friendship” she shares will Gabrielle. As far as similarities, both are rugged, capable, competent warriors, who totally kick ass, and should not ever be underestimated. I’d love to see them face off sometime. I can't imagine the good folks at Dynamite not wanting the same thing too, sometime down the line.

BF: Speaking of which, as someone who’s written both characters, has it been hard for you to get a distinctive feel for Xena and her adventures, so that you avoid her becoming the black-haired version of Red Sonja?

JL: Not at all. Red Sonja I played straight, which was actually difficult for me, because I love a bit of humor in a book. Xena is a much more natural fit for me. I loved that the show could be light and fun and then heartbreakingly sad and somber, sometimes from episode to episode, sometime from scene to scene. Red Sonja, in my opinion, has always been played a lot more straight.

BF: Dynamite isn’t the first company to scoop up the Xena license, as Dark Horse did the Xena: Warrior Princess series, which ceased publication with issue #14 back in 2000. The fact that current Xena series artist Fabio Neves also pencilled some issues for the Dark Horse title must make him the perfect fit on the second go-round, does it not?

JL: I don’t know. He’s perfect, but I’m not sure that has anything to do with his prior work. His stuff now is just leaps and bounds from the previous work. He’s capturing the spirit of the show, and the acting of the characters and the various million-dollar “special effects,” just perfectly. It’s a pleasure to be working with him, and I hope this first story arc is the first of many pairings with Fabiano. Our Xena will be better than the Dark Horse version. [Laughs]

BF: The first arc of the book is called “Contest of Pantheons”. As the title suggests, readers can expect several godlike individuals to show up, right?

JL: Not only that, but warring Gods. Egyptians vs. Greeks, so things are bound to escalate to cataclysmic proportions – with Xena and Co. in the middle of things.

BF: Closing off, let’s switch our attention to Dynamite’s wide assembly of licensed comics next to Xena. Between properties like Battlestar Galactica, Lone Ranger and Highlander, which adaptation are you looking forward to the most from a fanboy point of view?

JL: Lone Ranger, because I’m a huge fan of Cassaday, and he usually only associates himself with high-quality stuff. Also, I absolutely LOVE Battlestar Galactica. It’s probably my favorite show on TV other than The Office. Highlander is one I’ve never got into… it just sort of passed me by, and I don't think I’ve ever seen any of the movies or the TV show. I know it has a monster fan base, and a lot of people are looking forward to it, but it's something that I’m not really hip to.

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