When writer Alisa Kwitney started brainstorming about a magical university in the DC Universe, she realized she would need to explain how several of her favorite DC characters were suddenly college freshmen.
The idea evolved to become Mystik U, a new miniseries featuring art by Mike Norton. In the comic book, Zatanna and four other magician students - Sebastian Faust (Felix's son), the Enchantress, a young Sargon the Sorcerer, and a new character named Pia Morales - are all part of a mystery surrounding which of them becomes an evil villain who betrays them all.
As the prestige-format title's first issue is released this week, Newsarama talked to Kwitney to find out more about the idea, what Mike Norton's designs bring to the book, and how the creators explain Zatanna and friends suddenly becoming college students.
Newsarama: Alisa, this is such a unique concept. Is this an idea you came up with, or did DC approach you about doing it?
Alisa Kwitney: This is something I came up with. I had spoken initially to [DC executive] Bobbie Chase, I think it was three years ago.
Nrama: Right, I remember it was announced back in 2015 for the "DC You" line with Mauricet drawing it.
Kwitney: I think it started with the idea of, actually, cosplay at a college. And then I began to play with the idea more and more and I realized that I was just really interested in it as a magical university - taking the costumes and cosplay out of it.
But then I began to think, as a comic book fan and a comic book reader, that in order to have interesting people in the university, I would want to include how these magical characters learn to be magical. The interesting thing is if there's been a school around for hundreds of years.
And as a comic book reader, I would want a really good rationale for why Zatanna is suddenly now an 18-year-old college freshman. That's how the idea evolved.
Nrama: Introduce us to Zatanna as a main character here. Who is she as you're writing her, and what's the set up for her story as you start the first issue?
Kwitney: At the very beginning, there's a prologue, and we see Zatanna running away from a malevolent force who's called the Malevolent. She's at Columbia University, which has been pretty much destroyed. And she thinks she sees John Constantine, who's dead, but it's not - it's actually Doctor Occult, who dies, leaving only his Rose Psychic personality.
And we just know that there has been some kind of magical being who has decimated all the magical folks.
In a last-ditch effort to change this, Rose and Zatanna cast a retroactive spell.
And that spell goes back and creates a magical university - Mystik U - which has been around for hundreds of years.
So this is the go-to place for magical people to go and get trained.
Rose is hoping that someone being nurtured and educated, and bought into the framework of magical people, that this person is going to become a good magical citizen instead of the Malevolent.
Nrama: And there's a core group of students who are in the forefront, right?
Kwitney: Yes, there's Zatanna; Sebastian Faust, the son of the evil sorcerer Felix Faust; Sargon the Sorcerer, whose family is from Iraq; June Moon and her alternate persona the Enchantress; and a new character called Pia Morales.
And these characters are the characters we follow because the omens are telling all the magical faculty that one of these five is still on track to become the Malevolent.
Nrama: So you don't know who is going to grow up to be this evil force? Sounds like there are a few curveballs along the way in this story.
Kwitney: That is my hope!
For me, I'm more interested in the psychological elements and the group dynamics and that whole feeling you get at college where it's a theater and people come to improvise themselves and figure out how they're going to be who they're going to be.
That, as a writer, is what grabs me the most.
Nrama: You're working with an artist that's been doing some cool designs on this.
Kwitney: Mike Norton is just amazing. It's kind of like one of those arranged marriages in the sense that I hadn't known him before but it's like wow! Perfect!
He's just brought so much focus and creativity. Whether it's the personalities of the characters coming out through their wardrobe choices or their facial expressions, which feels really important to me in a book like this, or just the lush richness of the setting. We're in a university, and I wanted it to feel like this amazing setting, but that's really up to the artist. And he just went crazy with every little bit of wood paneling and these Victorian rooms and stained glass. He puts this great texture on everything.
He's really done an amazing job.
Nrama: Mike has a real knack for drawing young people, I think, or for injecting a kind of youthful feel.
Kwitney: Yeah! The energy and the nuance he brings to it is great.
You know how in a lot of comics, it tends to be the female characters who are often undressed? If somebody's got to be in a shower or in a bathing suit or in a little nightie, it's the female character, right? But in this one, it's mainly my bad boy, Sebastian Faust, who's often not dressed. If anyone's going to have his clothes off, it's him.
But then there was this scene that's a little bit of a romantic scene, and I just noticed that I hadn't called for it in the script, but Sebastian Faust has no shirt on. I just thought, wow, Mike has completely got this!
And there's one character who's kind of a jerk, and I described him slightly differently than Mike ended up drawing him, and it was just such an instant improvement! It was much better. His take on it was just more current and right.
But in other ways, he follows the script, and if he ever has a question he talks to me about it. It's been a really great collaboration. I feel regret that it's going to come to an end.
Nrama: I feel like there are a lot of characters mentioned in the beginning, but you really don't have to know them to understand what's happening. You kind of start fresh right after that, as the Mystik U part of Zatanna's life kicks off. Do you feel like it's particularly new reader friendly?
Kwitney: Oh yeah. It's not difficult to pick up. One of the things that can be a little bit daunting is, if you like to read comics or have been watching TV shows or movies based on comics, but you feel like, oh there's 50 years of continuity and changed continuity. And where do I start?
This story is very self-contained. And it is very easy to just pick up and follow.
But on the other hand, as a long-time comics reader, I have included nuggets so that if you are familiar with Sebastian Faust or Sargon the Sorcerer as he's been depicted in the past, you can see the places where I've tipped my hat to the past and then places where I've created a slightly different background.
Nrama: Like with Sargon being from Iraq.
Kwitney: Exactly. But there are lots of very familiar characters and nods and salutes to things all over the place for long-time readers, while there is also a new story for new readers to get to know these characters.