The British aristocrats of Downton Abbey might be fascinating now, but just imagine if they — and all other royals in the world — had superpowers.
In The Royals: Masters of War, a new six-issue mini-series launching in February from Vertigo, writer Rob Williams has created a world where royalty means superpowers.
And the purer the bloodline, the more powerful the abilities.
As the first issue begins, it's 1940, in the midst of World War II, and London is suffering under the Blitz. And although the Royal Family has a pact with other rulers around the globe that they will not intervene in the battles between commoners, England's Prince Henry can't stand the suffering any longer.
Prince Henry flies into action to save his people. But when one superpowered royal fights back, what will other, ultra-power kings and queens do?
Williams, who recently wrote a story for Adventures of Superman, is working with illustrator Simon Colby on the series, which he compares to The Authority in tone. The release is one of several upcoming projects for Williams, including his creator-owned series with artist D'Israeli called Ordinary, which also puts a new twist on superhero stories.
Newsarama talked to Williams to find out more about The Royals: Masters of War, learning details about all the research behind the comic's war story — and what happens to America in World War II when there are no royals to fight their battles.
Newsarama: Rob, this comic sounds like it comes from a British perspective, but it should touch upon the worldwide fascination with the royal family, since the premise is that the royal family has superpowers, right?
Rob Williams: Yeah, but it's not just British royals. In this world, the only people who have superpowers are royalty. And in this world, World War II is happening, as it did in our world, but the royals — even though they've got these amazing powers, all around the world, have signed a truce, and they don't get involved in the wars of commoners.
Nrama: Why don't the royals want to get involved?
Williams: Because on one hand, they would increase the level of destruction and suffering, being so powerful, and on the other hand, why do they want to get involved in the wars of commoners? They're still in their lovely castles, having the nicest time, eating the best food and drinking the best wines.
So it's a war book about World War II, but it's also a superhero book. And then we have these teams of class going as well, so it ticks a lot of boxes that are interesting to me.
Nrama: But there's a prince that breaks the truce, right?
Williams: Yeah. As with any book you write, you want to make these characters three-dimensional. And there are members of our British royal family in the book who are self-serving, but there are some good-hearted people in there as well. And that's our catalyst, our inciting incident, is that one of the young princes, in the time of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, sees Nazi bombers flying over every day and bombing the hell out of the east end of London, and he can't take it anymore. And he gets to a point, despite the fact that he's banned from getting involved, he can't stop himself. He wants to do something to help his people, that he cares about.
But then, it's one good act, and it leads to far greater implications, because suddenly, if the truce is broken, then royals from all over the world are going to join in. And there are far more powerful royals out there.
One of the ideas in the book that interested me was the idea of a "purity" of a bloodline, which explains all the inbreeding in royal families that has gone on over the years, because they want to keep a bloodline pure. And that goes back, to its largest extent, in Japan, there's the immortal Emperor Jimmu, who is historically the original emperor of Japan. And in our book, he's lived thousands of years, and he's the most powerful royal on the planet. And all of the sudden, if a truce is broken, and he gets involved, what happens to the rest of the timeline of World War II?
Nrama: Are there different levels of royals? Like, different levels of class, but with superpowers?
Williams: Yes, exactly. Those layers of class come into the book, because as you go through human history, the royals are often living in their castles, eating the best food, drinking the best wine and wearing the best clothes, while the peasants are all outside the castle gates, starving to death and living in their own dung. And even though things have changed to a large extent, in modern day, during World War II, there was still a very strong class divide.
So you have different levels of royals, based on this idea of the bloodline. And the further down the class structure you get, the further away from those bloodlines, the less powerful the superpowers are.
Nrama: You mentioned Jimmu before. So some of these royals are based on real people?
Williams: Yes. It's a fictional universe. Although Jimmu actually was the original emperor of Japan, the rest of the main characters in this are fictional. But they interweave with real-life characters. You'll see FDR, you'll see Winston Churchill, you'll see the czar of Russia… it's our history, but with a different slant on it.
Nrama: I just realized that America is at a disadvantage, because we don't have any royals at that time in history.
Williams: Yes! Exactly! But Americans are in it, because the bloodline has trickled down to some really well-bred American aristocracy.
So there's this group of superheroes from America. You'll meet them in the newsreels, put together for propaganda purposes. The troops put together a super team of the most powered royals in America. But these guys, because their bloodline is several centuries dissipated, all they can do is just about lift a car off the ground, and they're going to give themselves a hernia doing it.
Then you've got royals from other countries who can smash warships in two.
But again, this is a slightly askew look at real history.
Nrama: Looking at the art from Royals: Masters of War, I get the feeling that this pays homage to war comics, but takes it a step further with a very modern take. It feels very immersed in the World War II era.
Williams: Yeah, I have an interest in World War II and find myself reading a lot of books on the subject. And one of the things we wanted to do on this series was do the research, so if there's an aircraft or a vehicle or uniform in this book, we like to think we've researched it pretty well and it will be the actual one. Myself and Simon Colby, who drew this, we decided that if we're going to do this, we're going to do this properly.
As a result, it looks amazing, and you can see the amount of work and research Simon's done. And a lot of it is in the script as well.
The down side is that Simon said to me, after we finished, that he would never, ever do a period book again, because it involved so much work. It's a lot easier for an artist, I think, to draw a fantasy landscape. But when you're actually trying to capture an era, the way we have, there's a lot of work involved in that. But I think it shows in the pages. I think it's a beautiful looking book.
Nrama: How would you describe its visual tone? Was there a certain feeling you guys were hoping to achieve?
Williams: I think this book, from a visual point of view, kind of goes back a little bit to the era of The Authority. We're kind of embracing the wide-screen action thing. Because some of the set pieces here are just enormous. Simon's done an amazing job.
In the digital era of comics, where everything is based on iPads, this is like the last hurrah of the double-page spread, I think. There are some double-page action spreads in this that are just, like, whoa. So it's got that sort of visceral, action-movie feel to it.
But it does have the historical background and all these other aspects as well.
And hopefully, it's got a strong, emotional core as well. My mantra, all the way through, when I got intimidated by the research, was that, no, it's about this family. And that's the core of the story. And hopefully, people will care about these characters as well.