The New Age of Heroes line from DC Comics is uniting some of the company's highest profile writers and artists to introduce new characters into the midst of "Rebirth."
First up is Damage, which kicks off next week with art by Tony Daniel and scripts by Robert Venditti, who admits the concept is a new type of story for him with its blockbuster, action-heavy approach.
The series introduces Ethan "Elvis" Avery and jumps right into his predicament as he tries to escape from the military. As Venditti put it, Ethan is "a guy who went into the military to become a hero, and instead they made him a monster."
Newsarama talked to Venditti to find out more about the series, why's this type of script is new for the writer, and what readers can expect from his collaboration with Daniel.
Newsarama: Rob, to tell you the truth, this book feels like it's very different from the things you've done before, particularly in the DCU. Would you agree?
Robert Venditti: Yeah, absolutely. With Damage, I wanted to do a style of book that I've never done before, have it be really big, have it be really wide-screen, have it be really bombastic. But like you said, I've never really had an opportunity to do something like that. And it's not something you see a ton of in comics at all anymore.
So I wanted to lean into that and have some fun with it.
That's not to say this series doesn't have its themes and isn't going to have strong character work. We definitely have mysteries that we're building toward. But I really wanted the first issue to be full of action, really in-your-face — just drop you down into that blender and pick the story up from there as opposed to a more traditional first issue where you might tell more of an origin story.
Nrama: Yeah, we pick up bits and pieces about Ethan's origin, but I assume we'll find out about it as we go along?
Venditti: Yeah, the origin story is part of the mystery of the series, and as it progresses — as Ethan himself starts to remember and learn about how he became what he is and discovers more about himself — the reader will make those discoveries along with Ethan.
Nrama: Let's talk about Ethan. He's part of the military, right?
Venditti: Right. Ethan's a guy who went into the military to become a hero, and instead they made him a monster.
Nrama: Or rather, "she" made him a monster, as he says in the first issue.
Venditti: Right, by the end of the first issue, you get to meet Col. Marie Jonas, who is the leader of the Damage Program and helps develop Ethan into this.
Her reasons for doing that — she is a military mind, and she's not some evil, mustache-twirling villain. For her, he's a battlefield asset. And if she can drop Damage off into a war zone, and if he can handle the whole thing by himself, then that's an untold number of soldiers that don't have to march in there and get killed or get injured.
She cares about her troops and she cares about Ethan. But she needs Damage.
Better to send in one Damage than 10,000 troops. And that's kind of the battlefield calculation she makes. And that's why Damage is so important to her and so valuable to her.
She, having come up through the military, has experienced loss on the battlefield, and in Damage, she sees an opportunity to make that stop.
Unfortunately, Ethan has to be a prisoner of the military to an extent in order to make that happen.
And what Ethan and Damage want now is to just be able to control their own destiny. Ethan did not want to become this monster, but here's where he is. And now he wants to have ownership over his own life rather than just be a weapon that gets deployed for endless destruction.
Nrama: The series features Ethan's inner voice, but it's almost like there are two voices in his head. Was that on purpose? Is that the Damage side of him talking with the more human, "Ethan" side of him?
Venditti: Yeah. Ethan can talk to Damage, and Damage can talk to Ethan, depending on what state Ethan is in. So when we open up the series in the first issue, you'll see that Damage is sort of urging him to break out.
Later on in the issue, you'll see Ethan responding, trying to rein Damage in.
It's that push and pull, where it's almost two parts of their personalities, separate from each other. They rely on each other and they're trying to find out how they ended up in this position and how they became what they are.
As you progress through the series, those things will be revealed, but it also gives you a sense of those two forces pushing and pulling against each other — and the extent to which they want to be in control of their own destiny.
Nrama: So when Ethan is in Damage form, there's this ability to communicate with Damage?
Venditti: Yeah, but I don't want to say too much about it. The two voices communicating to each other now is part of the mystery. It wasn't always that way, I guess we'll say.
With that ability of Ethan to communicate with Damage when he's in Damage form, there's also a return of a conscience. And that's not what the military wants out of their weapon.
So this kind of all goes together, the voices being a part of the character and the mystery of the series.
Nrama: Col. Jonas has an Amanda Waller feel about her, so it's interesting that by the end of the first issue, you're setting up a meeting between Damage and the Suicide Squad.
Venditti: We wanted to immediately drop this series into the DC Universe, and while we're reading about Damage for the first time, you can tell from this first issue that Damage has been around for a while. We're just learning about it now.
Jonas has had this program going for a while. Waller obviously knows who Damage is before this moment.
So as part of dropping this series into the DCU, we've established that there's already an existing rivalry between Col. Jonas and Amanda Waller.
Nrama: Not friends?
Venditti: They hate each other. One sees the other as just a soldier/yes-man who takes orders, and the other one sees Waller as a bureaucrat with no sense of honor in what she does. They hate each other.
But you can see why Damage would be useful to both of them. I explained why for Jonas, but for Waller, this would be a great asset to add to her Suicide Squad at Belle Reve.
So they are antagonists of each other. They're similar in the sense that they do things covertly. But the two of them would never recognize those similarities in each other. They see each other as polar opposites.
Nrama: You're also featuring Wonder Woman in upcoming issues. Is that also part of bringing him into the DCU, and will that continue for a while.
Venditti: Yeah, absolutely. In issue #2, he goes up against Task Force XL, which is the heavy-hitter squad Amanda Waller has put together. So it's the large version, I guess you would say, of Task Force X — characters like Giganta and Solomon Grundy and Parasite. It's her group of heaviest hitters. You know, the most brute-force of all the brute-force weapons that she has.
Then there's Wonder Woman in issue #3.
And the second arc, Damage is going to come up against Poison Ivy and Gorilla Grodd.
So as Ethan is on the run, trying to stay ahead of Jonas and trying to get lost in the expanse of America so that he can go on living his life and control his own destiny, he's going to encounter more and more characters across the DCU – including some I haven't even mentioned that I've already written and have already been drawn.
That's going to continue throughout the series, and I think you'll even get a sense at the end of issue #3 how the encounter with Wonder Woman is leading toward something much, much larger later on in the series.
Nrama: As you mentioned, this is a big, bombastic style comic, so it relies heavily on the art.
Venditti: Very much. The entire New Age of Heroes line, at its core and as its concept, is to be very artist-driven. So as a writer, this is the first time I'm working plot first. I've never done that before. But it's a much looser form of scripting where a lot of the action and pacing and things like that are up to the artist's discretion and the choices that Tony makes.
That being this type of series, we both wanted it to be something that was really wide-screen and bombastic and big and in-your-face and just have a ton of fun with it. And Tony is a great artist to work with on that style of book.
He's already drawn all of issue #2 and he's almost done with the third one, and it just keeps getting better and better — the size and scale and scope and the power on the pages.
It's so much fun to look at, when I get the pages and I see the them, even though I know what's coming, I'm still excited about it and surprised and having fun looking at it. So I think that will translate over to the reader as well.