Next June, movie audiences will get their first chance to visit Themyscira and meet the Amazons who live there — the home of the tribe of immortal women who gave the world Wonder Woman. But months earlier, DC Entertainment will be delving into the historical origins of the Amazons in a brand- new comic book series launching in January.
Written by Underworld creator Kevin Grevioux, with art by Ryan Benjamin, The Odyssey of the Amazons follows a group of Amazons as they travel around the world looking for others like them, only to run afoul of other mythical creatures along the way. Ahead of its debut, Heat Vision talked to Grevioux about the origins of the series, the influences behind it and why he keeps coming back to comics.
Odyssey of the Amazons is an unusual series, in that it’s connected to the mythology of Wonder Woman, but takes place far before she was born. It’s more of a historical, mythological adventure story than a superhero story as audiences would recognize it. How did the series come about?
It got started because I wanted to play in DC’s playground. I’d done stuff at Marvel — created Legends of the Blue Marvel, a character I’d created in part as a kid — and so, I wanted to expand my horizons. They were talking about doing something with the Wonder Woman mythos. In talking to [DC co-publisher] Dan Didio and [editor] Jim Chadwick, it was decided to do something with the Amazons that took place in antiquity, and kind of looked at who they were as characters before Wonder Woman. What they did, and what made them who they are, what their mission statement was, before we get to the point where Diana leaves in the modern age; more or less explain who they were.
We were looking at the great epic poems, like the Iliad, Jason and the Argonauts — what if we did something with the Amazons that had that same epic power. That’s how it really started. In this one, we have, essentially, the origins of the Amazons. Where they came from, why there are so many across the planet? One of the legends of the Amazons is that they began in the Middle East, others have them near Greece, there was even a kind of Amazon in Africa amongst the Senegalese peoples. There were even the Valkyries in Norse mythology. What I wanted to do was find a way to explain that all these powerful women exist for a reason. The series is about these women traveling around the world and finding more of their kind, while trying to answer the question why they exist, and how they are who they are. It’s very interesting.
You’re dealing with a lot of, almost, pre-history for the DC Universe with that material. Did you have much concern about how it would play to a contemporary audience?
What helps is the connective tissue that you build into the mythology as it relates to the modern world. You’re able to trace back its origin, so I think that’s where the real interest is, and what helps audiences connect. How did we get here? How did Wonder Woman’s culture live, that actually spawned her, so to speak? Once you dig into that, you find some very tasty tidbits in there, things people have been wondering about for years.
You mentioned wanting to work with DC, and you’ve obviously done your research into the history of the Amazons — did you have a lot of affinity with Wonder Woman before you came to this project?
You know, Wonder Woman has always been one of the top- tier characters in the history of comics, and I’ve always wanted to work on those characters. When you come to a particular character, there are certain natural stories — some are plot driven, but natural stories come from looking at the character’s history and saying, “You know what? There’s a story here. How did this character get like that? What motivates them?” In that sense, looking at Wonder Woman with this rich background of Greek mythology but with a racially diverse group of characters, how did it get like that? Here’s where we try to answer some of these questions.
Ryan Benjamin is the artist on this series, and his work fits into the adventure genre as much as the superhero one. How did he end up on the book?
Ryan is, I guess, what you’d call a quintessential artist. This is a cat who can draw, sculpt, paint, work in various media. Working with him has been what you always hope for when it comes to a project like this. He has a sense of the epic, and he has been turning in some of the most amazing work that I’ve ever seen him do, and I’ve known him for a long time. We were searching for an artist, and Jim Chadwick wisely brought up his name. I thought, “Oh, man. Why didn’t I think of that?” Ryan has not only met, he’s exceeded what we expected from him with what he’s been turning in.
You talk about Ryan’s multiple talents, but you’re a man who’s worked in comics and film, as writer and actor.… What is it about comics that brings you back, time after time?
Look, film is a great medium. After having created Underworld and written the original screenplay for I, Frankenstein, I love film. But it’s very collaborative, and you can’t be married to any ideas. I think, too, that there are expectations with some of the ideas you bring to film, and the wider audience might not understand that straight off. Part of my process is [asking] “What haven’t I seen before? How can I break the mold and bring something that hasn’t been done to the table?” and, with Underworld, they had never really had vampires or werewolves as races — they were all singular individuals, and I wanted to eschew that. Same with I, Frankenstein; I wanted to turn it on its head and say, “What new can we do with this?”
Comic books is the same way, but with comic books, there’s more of a willing suspension of disbelief with the audience. With film, especially with producers, it can take a while for them to understand. Comic book audiences, they’re right there. They’re going with it, and they can see past that, to the story itself. That’s what comic books do. Not only that, but with comic books, you don’t have the same problems with budget that you do with film. [Laughs.]
The vastness of the universe you’re able to create with comic books can be completely unique. You could create worlds unto themselves, and the sky was the limit.
You talk about creating a unique universe, but Odyssey is explicitly creating a backstory for a shared universe that’s existed for more than 75 years already. Is that something that’s in your head when you’re working on this — the idea that you’re laying groundwork that others might be picking up another 75 years from now?
Hopefully, other writers and artists will be able to pick up on some of the things that we’re doing. It’s really quite rewarding. You realize that you’re helping shape another world, putting your stamp on it. We haven’t really seen that many Amazons, or known them by name — I’m creating a whole new set of Amazons that hopefully other writers will use. Previously, we’ve seen Hippolyta, Hessia — who’s the star of this book — as well as Artemis, and a handful of others, but we’re creating an international group of Amazons from difficult cultures, for the future. We’ll be seeing Aztec Amazons, Persian Amazons, German Amazons, Chinese Amazons, Slavic Amazons. It’s just great.
The Odyssey of the Amazons No. 1 will be released Jan. 18 digitally and in comic book stores, and is currently available for pre-order.