Secret societies pride themselves on their secrets, but what if someone on the inside learned too much and decided to take them down?
That's the point of the new Image/Top Cow series Romulus announced earlier this month at Comic-Con International: San Diego. Scheduled to launch next March, Romulus pits a secret order that traces itself back to ancient Rome against one of its deadliest members who has gone rogue, named Ashlar.
Romulus is by long-time Top Cow artist Nelson Blake and the company's newly hired story editor, Bryan Edward Hill. Hill, who's written for Top Cow previously such as the recent Postal series, created the series based on his interest in secret societies and his own martial arts background.
Newsarama: Bryan, what can you tell us about Romulus?
Bryan Edward Hill: It's a violent, philosophical story about the occult forces that may control our world in secret, the various miseries they cause and our ability to resist them -- focused through the journey of a young woman, once trained by the Order of Romulus, now dedicated to destroying them.
Influences for Romulus are all over the place: 1980's era Frank Miller, Jim Starlin, James Cameron to the work of Aleister Crowley, Jim Maars and Dan Brown.
And Killswitch Engage. I'm listening to a lot of Killswitch Engage.
Nrama: When I see the word Romulus, I think werewolves and ancient Rome. Can we expect any of that in this series?
Hill: Overall, expect anything. I'm fascinated by the esoteric, the hidden histories and the truth behind myth. If it's spoken about in whispers by candlelight, then it might appear -- but when it does, it may take a new form.
Ancient Rome, and its impact on the modern world is certainly a focus for this series. Over the past two years of researching this I've learned things that have changed how I see the world around me and I want readers to have that same experience.
Nrama: What is the Order of Romulus exactly, and what are their goals?
Hill: The Order of Romulus is the secret society, the oldest, the most powerful, now spread through the bone marrow of our modern world.
Their goal is to control the development of the world, in secret, using political, criminal, corporate and religious influence to do so.
Many of us feel that the world is tipped in the favor of the elite, and a great deal of suffering in the world is suffering that serves those elite forces. From YouTube talk about the Illuminati, to verifiable organizations and traditions like the Bohemian Grove and the Builderberg Group, more and more of us are thinking about where the power in the world truly lies, and what that means for us and our future.
Romulus confronts these concepts, and through the Order of Romulus I can explore the methodology of a secret society, and more importantly explore the philosophy that may drive them.
Their ultimate goal involves the fate of five billion people.
That's a lot of lives for one person to save. Ashlar, our heroine, has a lot of work to do and the cost of that work will leave her with more than a few scars.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about Ashlar?
Hill: Ashlar, the heroine ofRomulus is really the embodiment of a lot of my crazy, [Laughs]
She's an assassin, raised and trained by the Order of Romulus with a martial art philosophy and practice that borders on the mystical.
I'm a martial artist myself, and when I went to Asia last year for another project I was able to explore the mystery schools of the martial arts, schools that seek to unlock the hidden abilities we all carry, abilities we can train and master and manifest.
I believe we are all more powerful than many of us think we are and Ashlar represents that. She's a fictional character but her methodologies are real and researched.
If readers wanted, they could learn from this book, from meditation techniques to pain management to self-defense. I'm obsessed with shattering the perceived boundaries of human potential and Ashlar is, in many ways, the avatar of my obsession.
Even with all of her abilities, Ashlar is still a young woman who has a goal but it's uncertain if she can accomplish it. She's outnumbered, outgunned and as much a fugitive as she is a hero.
She knows she might not win. She knows she might not survive, but she fights. She faces fear and doubt and circumstance and finds a way through.
Even if that way through leaves her bleeding and battered.
I grew up loving characters that helped me deal with difficult challenges, characters like Matt Murdock, Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Banner; and I wanted to create a female hero that not only had power, but endured suffering and kept moving forward, kept the faith in herself and her mission.
Nrama: Working with you on this is Nelson Blake. How'd you two come together for this project?
Hill: I've known Nelson for over 15 years and we've talked about a project like this for about as much time. Really it was a matter for finding the right company for it, finding the right moment in time to do it.
Nelson's an incredibly talented illustrator, but he's also just an interesting, thoughtful guy all around. He studies the same works I do and readers will see layers of symbolism in his pencils, hidden references and thoughtfulness that allows me, as a writer to entertain and provoke at the same time.
When I started working with Matt Hawkins on our book Postal, Top Cow seemed like the right place to give Romulus and Ashlar a home.
Matt likes thoughtful, challenging work. He heard what I wanted to do with Romulus and even though he thinks I'm a little nuts, he was incredibly supportive from the first conversation so doing it at Top Cow made perfect sense.
Nrama: Also at SDCC, Top Cow announced you've been hired on as their Story Editor. How would you describe that position, especially compared to the traditional "editor" role in comic books?
Hill: Semantics aside, what it means, in practice, is that I'm there to consult all of the projects and provide editorial support to the team and its creators. Anything from working out story thematics to thinking about adaptation into other media forms.
I'm also a screenwriter and since filmmaking and comics are so inextricably linked these days, Matt saw that I get the Hollywood thing, but I also love comic books as comic books and ultimately want to make every issue a rewarding experience for as many readers as possible.
I'm the storytelling Boba Fett. I hide in the dark side of space and follow Captain Solo to Bespin, because readers deserve the best books possible.
Nrama: What are your big picture plans for Top Cow going forward, working with Marc, Matt & Betsy?
Hill: Postal is continuing and that's great because Isaac, Matt and I have a lot more ideas for that one. I'm also working with Matt on a more projects in addition to my book Romulus.
Beyond that, I'm implementing a few initiatives that should expand the brand and create great comics, and great experiences in other media platforms. So please stay tuned.