Exclusive Mystik U #1 preview and writer Alisa Kwitney teaches us about DC's magic school

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Nov 27, 2017

Class is in session at Mystik University, and magic is on the curriculum in this new Harry-Potter-meets-The-Magicians prestige miniseries set in the DC Universe, starring Zatanna Zatara, Enchantress, Faust, and more.

Written by novelist Alisa Kwitney (also behind Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold), Mytik U avoids being a flashback story, or even a retcon, by instead introducing a magical threat so dangerous that Rose Psychic (and Doctor Occult) cast a unique spell that retroactively changes Zatanna’s past, and re-casts her as a magic-school student.

The result is a title with humor, sex, odd creatures, magical hi-jinks, and adventure, where the reader is introduced to familiar magically gifted -- and culturally diverse -- characters from the DCU in new ways. But Mystik U is also a villain’s journey, where one of the students is destined to become the big bad: The Malevolence.

Available Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, Mytik U #1 also features art by Mike Norton, with a cover by Julian Totino Tedesco. And in the SYFY WIRE exclusive preview below, you can read the first 11 pages of the issue before it drops.

Additionally, check out my conversation with Alisa Kwitney. In the interview that follows, we discuss the origins of Mystik U, and why college is the perfect setting for a magic school.

Where does Mystik U stand within DCU continuity?

Alisa Kwitney: I remember when I was on staff at Vertigo where we were discussing the slightly competing versions of hell going on in Hellblazer and Sandman at the time. What we ended up saying was both these things are true, and belong to this universe, and yet they are slightly different aspects of hell. So the way I’ve been looking at this is that it really is happening. It is not some other universe. But since the spell is a retroactive spell, it changes the past. If they take me up on this, Mystik U has been around hundreds of years in the DCU.

You get to take new approaches with familiar characters, but did you also feel the challenge of honoring these characters’ pasts?

AK: I always want to make the story personal to me. I want to write these characters from the inside out, and inhabit Zatanna’s skin. But I am also a comic book reader, and want to acknowledge the stories that have gone before. Having the altered past allowed me to thread that needle.

Why Zatanna as the entry point, and why set this story in college?

AK: I wanted to write a character who had been told they’d be the greatest wizard of their generation, then arrived, and finding themselves not able to do the things everyone said they should do. There are elements of that in Harry Potter, but I had a slightly different take on it. It is so much a part of the experience of going to college. You’re going to college to find out what it is that makes you special. Then there is this realization that there are other people out there who seem more adept than you, and you are not performing the way you thought you would. That’s humbling. I wanted a character who was going to figure out what it was they thought they’d be able to do, and how to find their way into doing what they’re really good at.

Your take on Sargon is fresh because he is a person of color, and not a white guy as he traditionally has been…

AK: When I was looking at who I was going to cast, Sargon seemed like a good candidate because he hasn’t been used in a long time. He hasn’t been used in a way where he was young, recently. There were two Sargons, both Caucasians in the area of Iran/Iraq. But if you were a Ruby of Life that had a connection with one of the original Sargons, it feels more fitting to pick someone of that region – whose ancestors may be from that place. That’s the intellectual rationale. The personal rationale is I had a period I was teaching writing at a high school for kids with dyslexia. I had one student who was a huge comics fan, and he was from Saudi Arabia. I loved getting to know him, and he was both a comics fan, and someone I related to on different levels, and that informed the character for me.

Meanwhile, you’ve introduced the new character Pia. What should we know about her?

AK: When writing comics, I feel like I’m a showrunner in a way. I felt, in this day and age, you want to Shonda Rhimes it and have the feeling you had an open casting call, and that it didn’t matter who was cast in the role. I imagined Pia as the wise-ass of the group, the Janeane Garofalo type. On a personal note, Bob Morales was a comic book writer, and friend of mine, who died way too young. So I named her with a nod towards Bob.

One of my favorite stories about Bob was Neil Gaiman asked him, regarding Anansi Boys, the best way to let readers know the main character was not Caucasian without describing skin color, or something that feels artificial. Bob, as I recall, told Neil it’s easy: Just have the character think about how weird white people are.

You’ve described this as a villain’s journey. But when you have a premise where we know one of these students is going to become The Malevolence, won’t readers automatically assume it’s the new character – not one established in DCU where we know their story -- who will break bad?

AK: I tried to make a good argument for each of the characters to be The Malevolence. I don’t think this is going to be part of some huge crossover, and that gives me a certain amount of freedom to do some unexpected things, and take the characters into places that might not otherwise be kosher.

For example, my take on Enchantress is a very different take than what you would have seen in recent movies. For me, the interesting thing about her is the way she’s coming to college to figure out who she is, the way she wants to invent herself, and perform herself. Good side, bad side is not how I view her. She feels concerns about herself, and what it means to access her power, and access this very different side of herself. For Sargon, his reliance on the ruby is not entirely benign; it has a will, and opinions of its own. Sebastian Faust lacks a soul, and not completely in control of his powers, and there is a connection he has with a demon. For Zatanna, her desire to excel is a weakness, and lays her open to temptation. Pia thinks she knows what her power is, and is going to throw herself into situations and go for it. Sometimes lack of confidence messes you up, and sometimes too much confidence messes you up.

For all of them, there is a plausible argument they could go one way or the other.

What’s your take on villainy, and the journey to become a villain? Because villains are so often “just evil,” and made so by a quest for power, or are scorned by a loved one, etc.

AK: My take on villains is our vices tend to be our virtues, and our virtues tend to be our vices. In life, the very things we do that are our talents can also be the things that trip us up, and lead us into bad places. When you’re at a stage when you’re deciding how you’re going to do your life, like in college, there can be a fine line.

What doesn’t interest me as a writer is a big bad that is simply evil. I always had a problem watching Buffy. What is it really that makes a vampire any worse than bad people? I was never completely sure. It didn’t quite hang together in the world building that there was something inherently evil about vampires. (And if they aren’t inherently evil, what does that make the person who goes around killing them all the time?)

I am not as intrigued in writing “just evil.” It is a question of, at what point do you tip one way or the other? At what point is what you’re doing with your power creating a better environment for people, or creating a situation where more people are suffering?

We’re talking about the magical corner of the DCU, so do you have any treats on the way that readers might recognize? And yes, I’m really asking if John Constantine is going to show up.

[Laughs] I tried to have little elements that were recognizable, and characters I love from way back. There are little nuggety things. But one of the major elements that you will be introduced to in the first issue refers back to a 1970s horror/humor DC Comic. There are other smaller things as well, but my love of the ‘70s horror titles is seeded in there.

Mystik U #1 is available this Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. Check out the exclusive SYFY WIRE preview of the issue below. If you dig what you read, pick up the book this week.