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Exclusive: LOTR meets body horror in The Last God - Phillip K. Johnson's new DC Black Label comic
When DC Comics closed its Vertigo label, there was great sadness that the legacy of original, mature, creator-owned stories like Sandman, Preacher, 100 Bullets, Sheriff of Babylon, and countless others would be ending. Given the Black Label announced over the past year, it appeared that the only mature audience titles would involve takes on DCU heroes or those in Brian Michael Bendis' Jinxworld imprint.
That is not the case at all. The Last God is an upcoming DC Black Label title, co-created by Phillip Kennedy Johnson (The Last Sons of America, The Power of the Dark Crystal) and Riccardo Federici, which the creators describe as Lord of the Rings with body horror. SYFY WIRE has a preview of some of Federici's breathtaking art with Dean White's complementary color work. We also have an exclusive preview of some of the back-of-the-book material with Phillip Kennedy Johnson to walk us through it.
As with all fantasy stories, Johnson says The Last God is influenced by the genre godfather, J.R.R. Tolkien, and his tropes — but only to subvert them. "We have the fellowship of heroes that you expect to see, but what if they failed?" Johnson tells SYFY WIRE. "The fellowship’s mission is to save the world, but instead we see two parallel fellowships, fighting 30 years apart, against the hordes of The Last God."
But who and what exactly is the Last God?
"I can sum it up by saying 'Nature abhors a vacuum.' That goes both ways in this story. Imagine that the entire world is known by everyone to be a finite space, surrounded by a true Void, a place without stars, or sound or life or light, just nothingness. Then imagine that Void is sentient, hateful, and came first in regards of all creation," says Johnson.
"As long as the world Cain Annun has existed, the Void has been desperate to take it back to consume it. The Void got a foothold in this world and created a Plague of Flowers, a natural plague that makes all dead things ravenous servants of this Void. Eventually this group of heroes saves the world and now the void is dead and the heroes are running things."
This is where the fiction within the story begins. For generations, the public thought the world was safe from the Void, and begins to doubt its existence. Something triggers Mol Uhltep, the void itself, aka the Last God's return to Cain Annun, and King Tyr's lies are exposed.
"The second fellowship features a slave who spent his entire life admiring King Tyr," adds Johnson. "Eyvindr is unimpeachably loyal to his king and over the course of the series learns more and more what actually happened and becomes the hero that his hero should have been."
Where Tolkien influenced Johnson the most was in building an entire culture around the world of Cain Anuun, and for The Last God he's written and recorded songs, and written poetry, ancient secret texts, and historical documents that will be sprinkled throughout the series as supplemental material in the back of each issue. SYFY WIRE has the exclusive reveal of the first song, "Petal Black, Petal Grey," featured in the premiere issue.
"It adds a whole level of depth to the culture that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They have culture, taught by their own ancestors, and it all feels so real. I love seeing culture of characters in the books. I’m not going to shoehorn it in, but I want there to be poetry and songs in every issue if possible," says Johnson. "It’s just a concise and beautiful way to show who the characters are and what they’re thinking and where they come from. I recorded 'Petal Black, Petal Grey' for the video trailer for the series. This is a book that extends past the edge of the page, and I want it to be as big and out there as possible."
As for what sets this fantasy epic apart from others, Johnson stresses the infusion of horror and Ricardo Federici's art.
“It’s one of the truest collaborations that I’ve ever had with an artist. He reacts to what I give him, and then I react to that in turn, and it’s been a very dynamic relationship and hugely rewarding. We just continue to inspire each other.”
See for yourself what a work of art The Last God is in our three-page preview below, along with a cover gallery of the first two issues by Kai Carpenter. Then be sure to be on the lookout Oct. 30 for the complete first issue at your local comic shops or wherever digital comics are sold.