Robert Venditti has quite a few projects coming out at DC Comics at the moment, all dealing with history in unique ways. There’s “Hawkman” with artist Bryan Hitch where Venditti is revitalizing the history of the Carter Hall. There’s “Freedom Fighters” with artist Eddy Barrows where we’re getting an alternate history in the DCU where the Nazis won World War II. And, finally, on a person leve, Venditti, reporter Kevin Maurer, and artist Andrea Mutti have a graphic novel coming in May, “Six Days: The Incredible True Story of D-Day’s Lost Chapter” about the Battle of Graignes, which Venditti’s uncle fought in. We sat down with Venditti at C2E2 to talk details of these projections, connections between them all, and his fascination with history.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us over at Multiversity! All three of the books you have coming out at DC at the moment, “Hawkman,” “Freedom Fighters,” “Six Days” which hits stands in a couple months, they all have to do with history and sort of the power of it. At one point at the end of the most recent issue of Hawkman, Carter says, “I’m using history to save the future. My history.” What draws you to stories about history and responsibility as a writer?
Robert Venditti: I don’t know. I was always drawn to history even when I was a kid, you know, like when you talk about something like Freedom Fighters and Six Days. My grandfather was always telling me stories, both my grandfathers, about their time in World War II. The interesting thing about it though, I’m a little embarrassed to say it, I only ever thought about World War II from the the perspective of the people who survived. They were the people I heard stories from. Working on “Six Days,” which is me trying to reconstruct the events of my great uncle’s life who was killed in a battle during D-Day, was the first time I thought about the war from the perspective of the people who didn’t survive. It was really a much different experience, and also very difficult at times to do. But history has just always been a draw for me. I think I’ve always been wired that way.
You’re telling stories about alternate history in the midst of time and space, rewriting the history of a character, an alternate history, and then in “Six Days, a real historical that a family member of yours was a part of. What’s it like getting to play with all those different facets of history? Do you see any sort of through line in that work?
RV: For “Six Days” and “Freedom Fighters” for sure because I was already working on “Six Days” and drafting the early portions of that book when DC approached me about doing “Freedom Fighters.” So it was an opportunity to look at the same material but from a different angle. “Six Days” is about the sacrifices made by the soldiers and civilians and the world that we live in now because it was enough to win the war.
But “Freedom Fighters” looks at it and asks “What if those sacrifices hadn’t been enough?” It’s set on an alternate version of Earth where Nazis won World War II and 55 years later into history trying to imagine what America would be like after 55 years of Nazi rule. It’s also a very difficult subject matter because it takes you to a really dark place where you have to really imagine how the Nazis would govern. It’s uncomfortable stuff. So definitely connective tissue between those two. For “Hawkman” I don’t know that I see the connection as much, other than it being historical. But I maybe consciously tried to skew away from World War II era stuff because I am doing so much of it in “Six Days” and “Freedom Fighters.”
So let’s talk first about “Freedom Fighters.” Issue #4 comes out this next week [out March 27th, 2019] and Uncle Sam is set to make a come back. What will it mean to this America, this version of America on Earth-X, for that character or symbol to make a return?Continued below
RV: Well partly it’s what does it mean for him you know? The continuity that we’re setting up in the story is that in the 1960s the original group of Freedom Fighters was executed and that was sort of when the revolution died and America stopped believing that we’re gonna be able to beat the Nazis and have our country back. Uncle Sam disappeared because he’s the Avatar of America. As the American spirit goes, and the belief in the American ideal, so goes Uncle Sam. So he disappeared into the Heartland which is this extra-dimensional realm where ideas and concepts reside. And he’s been gone for 55 years so for him to even be back means that the Freedom Fighters have been successful enough in stoking belief in America, and that it can return, to bring him back. And that’s not just in the American people who want to be free, it’s also in the Nazis right? Because for the Nazis to fear Uncle Sam, to fear America, they have to believe in him, you know?
So the attacks the Freedom Fighters have been doing throughout the series have been very visible and very public. They’ve been just as much about letting the American people know that we can fight back, that we can return to our ideals, as it has about letting the Nazis know that we’re coming for you and you need to be afraid. Because it all goes into that well of belief that resurrects Uncle Sam. Now that he’s back for the first time in 55 years, it’s obviously an addition of a hugely powerful character to the team, but he’s not all the way there yet. He’s just out of the grave so to speak. So there’s a lot more work to be done to get him up to full strength and to finally execute this final plan that the Freedom Fighters have.
Moving over to “Hawkman,” the most recent issue came out a couple weeks ago and the conflict between Carter and the Deathbringers and all his past lives are coming to a head. You’ve been on this book almost a year now, what’s it been like to get to reinvent this character for the Rebirth and post-”Metal” era?
RV: Yeah it’s been really great. There’s not a ton of characters that you really have an opportunituy to do that with you know? Like when I took on “Green Lantern” I was coming in after Geoff Johns. He had just done that. I did “The Flash,” but you have the Mark Waid run. For “Hawkman” I really saw it as an opportunity to unify the continuity and embrace all of it, have respect for all of it, but also push it in new directions.
Working with Bryan Hitch on that, what we’ve been able to do in terms of storytelling and the scale and the scope, the earthbound, the cosmic, Dinosaur Island, Thanagar, Krypton, Microverse, all this stuff, to really build up Hawkman as the living historical document of the DCU. His lives have been everywhere, they’ve seen everything. As he gains more and more of those memories back…you know he’s now the only person who watched the death of Krypton and has memories of it. Nobody else can say that in the whole DCU. He’s been in the Microverse. He’s been all these places. It really hopefully elevates him as a character and makes him very central, to not just his own stories, but to the DCU in general.
I can’t say enough good things about working with Bryan on it. Not just his ability as a graphic storyteller, but his ability as a storyteller in general. His ideas, his energy, his enthusiasm, his kindness, his generosity. It’s really been a wonderful experience. We’re really excited to get to issue #12 and see what everybody thinks about this first year when it’s done.
With Hitch rolling off the book at #12 what can we expect when Will Conrad takes over? Where we heading? Are we going to get some crossover with the “Justice League” titles?
RV: Will Conrad is doing issue #13, which is sort of a standalone adventure about Carter Hall resurrecting in this alien war that’s gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years. He dies on one side and then ends up on the other side and then goes back and then goes back and then goes back. So he fights the war from both sides.Continued below
After that, there’s another artist whose coming in that hasn’t been announced yet who will be taking over the next story arc. I’m already almost all the way through that story arc. We know what the next arc after that is, but I can’t talk about any of it. [Laughs] But it’s definitely going to connect to a lot of other things that are going on in the DC Universe, and that’s part of the reason why I can’t really say what those things are.
Sure, sure. So then finally, “Six Days,” your Vertigo graphic novel with journalist Kevin Maurer and artist Andrea Mutti is hitting stands in May. What’s it been like to write a historical graphic novel and what’s the process like working with Maurer who is a not a comic book writer but a military journalist?
RV: It was very different and I was so thankful to have Kevin on the book to really back me up with a lot of those things. I’ve been doing fiction. I’ve written 250 or more comic books that are all fiction. So to do something non-fiction I don’t know that I would have the courage to really do it without somebody like Kevin, who isn’t just a journalist. He’s been an embedded reporter. He embedded within the 82nd Airborne. He knows a lot about these kinds of things and that’s what the book is about. My uncle was in the 82nd Airborne.
We also work with another historian named Marty Morgan who is an authority on this one little known battle. He was a huge help to us to be able to talk through things with us. A lot of it is based and inspired by real events. Based on and inspired by real events, because there’s so much we can’t know. I don’t know that my uncle was in the church when the battle started, but I know that some soldiers were in the church when the battle started. You don’t know, when people were killed there, and so much was lost to history, there’s a lot that we have to fictionalize. But hopefully the spirit of the event is there, and what it meant to the soldiers and the civilians is something that we’ve been able to retain, while also making a point about where our world is today.
How do you make those kinds of decisions about what you pull directly from history and what you fictionalize?
RV: I tried not to ever directly contradict the historical record. If I knew something to be true I didn’t want to go against it. But, if there were things that were unknowable, then I tried to fill in the gaps. And that even goes for my own uncle. There’s only two people in my family that are alive that remember my uncle, and they were like 5 and 3 when he went off to war. So their memories of him are even very small. So just speaking to them, distant cousins, and having them tell me, “You know he liked to tell a joke,” and “He loved kids.” They were his nieces and he loved to go out with them and stuff like them. Trying to construct who this man was when there’s so little living memory of him, you just try to fill in those things as best you can, while also trying to tell a larger story.
What’s it been like getting to tell this story for you and your family? It sounds like it would be really personal.
RV: It is yeah!
Have there been stories or other things that have come up or other cool interactions?
RV: Yeah it’s been very personal. Interviewing family members I’ve met and had talks with family members I had never met before when I started working on this book. Distant cousins and things like that. It’s definitely been a different kind of project for me, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot even though the subject matter is really difficult. I had to write these stories and fictionalize these events of my uncle’s life as he spent six days in this idyllic French town and he never came home from the war. He didn’t get to have a wife and kids like I did. It’s been very difficult in parts where I’ve had to sort of step away from it. You know, gather yourself. And the events that even happened after the battle, the Nazis came in and executed civilians and executed soldiers, and burned the town, and all these kinds of things, it’s very difficult stuff.Continued below
But I’m very thankful to have been able to work on a project like that. And for DC to take it on. I mean this isn’t what Vertigo usual does. But to do an original graphic novel that’s a story based on non-fiction events is a very different project for them. But, you know, they really believe and I do as well and hopefully people will respond to it.
Well thanks for taking the time to do this. Is there anything else you’d like to tease or talk about or promote before we go?
RV: I think we’ve pretty much covered it. Keep an eye out for “Hawkman” #11, we just sent it to the printer yesterday. It’s the issue I’m most excited about. Now that the entire cast of Hawks is in the present we’ll get to see them all in action. We’re even throwing in some others you haven’t seen yet. There may or may not be a New God Hawkman in there. We’re doing some really cool stuff. It’s just the most fun to be able to work on something so big with so much stuff going on. So keep an eye open for that!
“Freedom Fighters” #4 is on shelves now, #5 is out April 24th. “Six Days: The Incredible True Story of D-Day’s Lost Chapter,” will be on shelves on May 8th. “Hawkman” #11 is on shelves this Wednesday, and you can find a preview for the issue over at FreakSugar.