Writer Doug Wagner On the Deadly Heroines of February's 'Witchblade/Red Sonja'

Talking to Witchblade/Red Sonja writer Doug Wagner, it's clear he knows he's working against a template, here. The Top Cow/Dynamite crossover is bucking against decades of "they fight, then they team up" cross-company stories, and he's looking to do something a little different with his leads, pitting them against a common threat across their respective eras without falling into storytelling traps that it would be so easy to write his way into.

Here's the synopsis:

Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword, pursues a cannibalistic monstrosity into the heart of a dead, black mountain. Meanwhile, Sara Pezzini, modern day bearer of the Witchblade and NYPD Detective, investigates the ghastly death of a Catholic Priest. Join Dynamite Entertainment and Top Cow Productions as they bring two of comics most celebrated heroines together in one terrifying tale of loss and redemption.

We got a few questions over to Wagner by e-mail recently about the project, working with these two characters, and teaming with artist Cezar Razek to get it told.

Geek: So why are these two characters a good fit for a miniseries together? Besides being dangerous ladies?

Doug Wagner: Of all the Dynamite and Top Cow characters to choose from, these two characters actually fit together the best. Red Sonja is the epitome of vengeance. She’s a barbaric warrior that settles her conflicts through willpower and bloodshed. Sara Pezzini is quite the opposite. She’s a detective and that requires she approach life from an analytical nature. They balance each other out quite nicely. A yin and yang if you will.

Geek: Along the same lines, what do you think is key to a good Red Sonja story? And Witchblade?

Wagner: A key element to every good Red Sonja tale is heart. My favorite Sonja stories always revolve around her spirit being tested or tempted and ending with her overcoming her own fears and doubts to settle the conflict with blood spatter. She is the She-devil with a Sword.

As far as Witchblade, the key is a mix of mystery and the paranormal. It’s central to Sara Pezzini’s character. She’s a detective that bears the Witchblade, so all of her best storylines involve her solving a mystery that requires the use of the Witchblade.

To return to the previous answer, these two keys are vital to their characters. A warrior is all about heart, and a detective is all about the mystery.

Geek: How did you come aboard the project?

Wagner: Just after Dynamite and Top Cow agreed to the crossover, Ron Marz brought me in to co-write the book with him. However, Ron found himself with a bit much on his plate. Ron liked the work I was doing at the time and suggested I run solo on this series. Both companies agreed with Ron and off we went.

Geek: While prepping for the project, were there any particular runs of either title that you referred to?

Wagner: All of them. Yes, I just said that. I read every Red Sonja trade and Witchblade trade I could get my hands on. The first read was for pure enjoyment. When doing research, I can’t emphasize enough how important your approach to that first read is. If you don’t know why you enjoyed something, I believe it’s impossible to recreate the essence of the characters. Then I read them again, and again, and again. When you’re working with established characters, I find it essential to identify with and love those characters. You have to break them down, know how each character reacts and why. If I can’t ask a question of a character and automatically hear their voice answer, I haven’t finished my research. There’s no easy way around that… keep reading.

Geek: What ‘s the process been like working with artist Cezar Razek? What did he bring to the series?

Wagner: Cezar is an incredible addition to this series. The process has been rather clear-cut. I pound out a script, and Cezar sends me the pages of the Gods. He brings an amazing sense of storytelling and pacing. The moment I see the pages I know he understood exactly what I was aiming for. Cezar makes it incredibly easy on me. No changing dialogue to fit, no scratching my head wondering what he was thinking, we’re completely in sync on the flow of the book.

Geek: Could you tell us a little about finding a threat that would make sense for both characters?

Wagner: Typically they deal with very different kinds of enemies.

It took some time to find the perfect villain, that’s for sure. The requirements were fairly straightforward – timeless and nasty. I ran through all kinds of scenarios until through my research I ran across the Grigori. Yeah, I hadn’t heard of them before either. Basically, the Grigori refers to the group of fallen angels sent to Earth at the dawn of man to watch over the little hairless apes. The villain in our story is one of these freed from his years of slumber. He’s ageless, consumed with vengeance, and capable of unspeakable acts.

Geek: The solicitation was very clear that when putting this series together, you were cognizant of the tropes in these kind of team-ups. How did that help or hinder your writing?

Wagner: Without a doubt, it helped. I owe my creative predecessors much. Tackling a project of this magnitude is no simple task, so being fortunate enough to have previous works to study was an enormous benefit to me. During our developmental discussions, everyone agreed we wanted to stay away from the stereotypical crossover. Luckily, my editors understood it would take more time than usual to develop something different. Being cognizant of the tropes was beneficial, but required SOOOO much more time to develop than the average story.

Geek: What are you working on next?

Wagner: I’m almost finished with a World of Warcraft original graphic novel. The book is 144 pages of mayhem entirely from the Horde perspective. The art is by Jheremy Raapack and is nothing short of spectacular. This is going to be one of those graphic novels you’ll buy just for the art only to find out you actually enjoyed the story.

Geek: Any big teases for the series that you’d like to share with our readers?

Wagner: All I have to say is this…Red Sonja, bearer of the Witchblade.

Witchblade/Red Sonja #1 will be on shelves in February from Dynamite and Top Cow.

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