With a slew of Dungeons & Dragons fans in the DC offices and the success of Game of Thrones over in its sister company HBO - DC is going all-out for the publisher’s new fantasy-horror series The Last God, with extra pages of world-building in every issue and a source book filled with back-up material.
Published under DC’s Black Label imprint for mature audiences, the 12-issue series combines fantasy with horror, taking readers into the brutal, ongoing battle between the heroes of Cain Annun and the destructive god of the void, Mol Uhltep.
Written by Eisner-nominated author and musician Phillip Kennedy Johnson, The Last God features detailed artwork by Riccardo Federici, best known by DC fans for his work on Aquaman and his horror-infused art on several Dark Nights: Metal tie-ins.
And to support the series, DC has added extra pages to allow Johnson to share the world-building material he’s generated for The Last God, including original sheet music for songs featured in the story, journal entries by characters, and epic poetry from in-story. And halfway through the 12-issue series, DC will publish a source book to provide even more supportive material for the world of Cain Annun.
According to Johnson, the extra support DC is giving the book can be at least partially attributed to the fact that “there’s a lot of Dungeons & Dragons fans in the DC offices” who want this world to be playable by tabletop gamers.
Newsarama talked to Johnson to find out more about the fantasy series, how Federici’s “unbelievable eye for horror” sets the tone for the book, and what else readers might expect from all the back-up material in The Last God.
Newsarama: Phillip, you’ve had a lot of experience with fantasy stories. Where did you first get the idea for this series? And what was the process of getting it turned into a Black Label series at DC?
Phillip Kennedy Johnson: Yeah, I’ve had these big, ambitious ideas floating around in my head for awhile that I wanted to do, and honestly, I thought they were too ambitious. This story is really big.
My editor on Aquaman, Amedeo Turturro, came to me - he’s a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan. He thought there was a place at DC for an epic fantasy series, and we decided to do an epic fantasy/horror mash-up.
And I just kind of fleshed one out, an idea that I had, and it became this huge, creepy, ambitious thing with world-building for days and days. And they went for it. And it came together. So now we’re doing it.
I still kind of can’t believe that DC took a chance on this. It’s turning out beautifully. It’s got the best art I’ve ever seen in a book. It’s kind of a dream-come-true.
Nrama: You used the word “creepy.” How would you explain the way this story incorporates horror? Would you say it’s a fantasy story with a tinge of horror?
Johnson: Not just a tinge. It is a true epic fantasy/horror mash-up. It goes all-in on both genres. It takes moments that everyone looked forward to in Game of Thrones where the Night King storms Winterfell, or you know, when Melisandre gave birth to the Shadow creature under the bridge. These awful moments that are ramped way up by the fantasy elements — those are those moments that I live for.
I wanted a story that was more like that, that leaned harder into the horror elements while also exploring the fantasy elements.
I mean, fantasy is this endless playground where you can do anything. It’s just this playground with no rules. You can ride a crazy idea as far as your imagination will take you, which in my mind makes it perfect for horror.
I love both genres, but I really wanted to do one that went all-in with both.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the world where this story is set and who the “Last God” is. Can you set the stage for the story?
Johnson: The world is called Cain Annun. It’s a fantasy world that’s still in its infancy. It’s still in the first couple millennia of history. There’s a pre-history that we get into eventually in the story that deals with the origin of this world and the gods.
Without giving too much away, the “Last God” is part of this pantheon of gods that was in Cain Annun previously, and as they started to die off, one by one, they gave way to the god-born - like, if a god would die, its life would pass to its descendants. That god with have children, sort of.
For example, the “God of Things that Grow” became the Aelva, and the “God of the Hunt and Conquest” became the Dragon. These were the god-born.
There’s also a god that existed outside of Cain Annun who’s called the “God in the Void.” He has a whole origin that will be revealed throughout the series.
But he is the void. Mol Uhltep is the God in the Void, and he is the void himself, beyond the realm of creation. And he sees creation as a great theft.
There was never supposed to be anything. It was always supposed to be void.
So he’s this hateful god that looks in from the outside and wants us to not exist.
Through his machinations, he creates this supernatural plague called the Plague of Flowers, that turns the dead into ravenous creatures that turn the world to nothingness. And he’s trying to overrun the whole world and end it.
That’s what our heroes are up against in The Last God.
Nrama: You’ve got a present-day group of heroes, but the book also explores the fellowship that preceded them and beat Mol Uhltep the last time. It’s kind of a two-generation story, isn’t it?
Johnson: It is, yeah. There are two casts of characters on parallel journeys, 30 years apart, and they’re both fighting the undead hordes of the Last God.
The first fellowship kills the Last God, saves the world, and they go on to become the rulers of this world.
But 30 years later, something very unexpected happens and a huge secret is revealed. One of the heroes dies and a few people discover that maybe things didn’t happen the way the fellowship said that they did.
Over the course of the series, we see a second fellowship start to take shape, and we gradually learn what really happened to the first fellowship 30 years ago. And while we see that, we also watch the second fellowship try to redeem the first fellowship’s mistakes and do what those heroes couldn’t.
Nrama: The art by Riccardo Federici has the detail you might expect from an epic fantasy story, but the horror elements are surprisingly detailed as well. What’s it been like working with Riccardo on this series?
Johnson: Riccardo is probably the single best choice in the world to draw this book. His technique is so incredible, and he’s got an unbelievable eye for horror.
Any time I give him any kind of direction on the design of a creature, it comes back better than I ever could have hoped. It’s an unbelievable relationship where we’re constantly pushing each other. Like, I’ll give him the script and he’ll change things, always for the better, and then I’ll respond and change the script accordingly and give him something else.
We’re just bouncing things off of each other constantly. It’s an amazing collaboration like I’ve never experienced before.
Nrama: You mentioned Game of Thrones, and I wonder if you think it opened the door for stories like these, or what it did overall for fantasy and fantasy-horror. Do you think it’s heightened people’s interest? Or do you feel confined by it, because it’s created certain expectations?
Johnson: I think Game of Thrones certainly heightened interest in fantasy. There’s way more fantasy books coming out now, and soon to come out, and I think that’s great.
Over the course of comics history, it’s always been that way - it’s always kind of streaky. There will be a great run of fantasy comic books coming out, and then there will be a great run of, you know, zombie apocalypse stuff, and them there will be some westerns… it’s how it’s always gone.
And right now, we’re in kind of an upswing for fantasy.
I feel like The Last God sets itself apart, in part because of the involvement of Riccardo on art. The comic looks unlike any other book on the shelves, of any genre. And his horror sensibilities are so incredible.
So Riccardo being involved, and the emphasis on the horror elements, that are significant, and just the sheer depth of the world-building that we’re putting into this thing. I feel like it sets itself apart from the other fantasy books by quite a lot.
Nrama: DC has set this story at 12 issues. I know there’s a distinct goal for this fellowship, but with the amount of world-building you’re doing, is there room for more stories within the greater universe of The Last God?
Johnson: There is a definite ending for this story at 12 issues, but this story is a very small part of the larger history of this world. The key to good world-building is to have 100 pages of writing for every page that actually shows up in the comic. There’s so much world-building that’s gone into this book. We have created entire other arcs that are just as long as this one, just to make this one as real as we could.
So there are arcs that happen before and after this story that we could easily do.
The subtitle of The Last God is “ Book One of the Fellspyre Chronicles.” And there could very easily be Book Two, Three, Four. We’ve even started talking about what those would be.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to make sure people know?
Johnson: Every issue, because there is so much world-building, there’s just far too much to fit onto the comic book page. So DC has kindly given us four to six pages of back-matter in the back of every single issue of the series.
So instead of 22 pages, each issue will be 28, including prose folk tales in the back, poetry, in-world original sheet music that I’ve written - in the first issue, there’s a song, Petal Black and Petal Grey. There’s sheet music in the back of the first issue for that, in real-world notation, but also in-story notation that hard-core fans can transcribe and figure out if they want to.
There’s epic poetry, religious texts, journal entries by characters - anything that lore-hounds could want are going to be included in the back of every issue. And there’s also going to be a source book published in between the first and second arc, which is nothing but world-building back-matter.
Nrama: Wow, sounds like DC is really behind it.
Johnson: Yeah, there’s a lot of Dungeons & Dragons fans in the DC offices, and we wanted - of course, it’s a comic book first, but we wanted this world to be accessible enough and fun enough and deep enough that tabletop gamers - people who play D&D or other fantasy games - would have everything they need to create their own campaigns in this world and play with these characters in this world, if they wanted to. So that’s another one of our goals with the series.