This is the second time I've gotten a chance to interview Bryan Hill, writer and editor at Top Cow. The previous time is when he took over the full writing chores on Postal. Hill is a writer's writer. He has a great understanding of the craft and every decision he makes seems to have a lot of thought in it. He's got a new series coming up from Top Cow called Romulus with artist Nelson Blake II. I chatted with him about the project this week.
BRYAN HILL: Readers should know that the feeling they have, the feeling that the world is being manipulated by unseen forces, is justified. There are, and have always been, forces influencing the most powerful sectors of the world from behind the scenes. That's not tin foil hat conspiracy theory. That's just plain 'ol spooky history.
America is a nation founded by alchemists. Nazi Germany was founded on occult concepts from the Thule Society and its mystics. Masonic principles are woven deeply into the practices of the western world, with our cities built in their symbology. Modern advertising is based on esoteric psychology which is tied deeply into the occult.
Secret societies are real. Don't let skepticism drive you away from truth. Shit can sound crazy, but that doesn't mean shit isn't real, hahaha.
Readers DON'T need to know history to jump into ROMULUS, but the historical Romulus was the first king of Rome, brother to Remus, who founded the Roman Empire upon the Collis Palatinus (Palatine Hill) after slaying his own brother. Around 758 B.C.
Romulus was believed to be a demigod, spared from death as an infant by the mother's milk of a She-Wolf Goddess, given the divine task of founding humanity's greatest empire. Romulus murdered his own brother and became the king of Rome, but his vision was of a dark, autocratic empire that would expand and dominate the whole world.
In ROMULUS, that history has led to The Order of Romulus, one of the oldest secret societies in the world, the most powerful, the most influential. They're consolidating their power until the day they can emerge into the light and claim the entire world as the New Order of Rome.
DW: Now let's take a look at the Order of Romulus. Who are they and how have the existed through history? What types of things have they done?
BH: The Order of Romulus sank into the darkness after the fall of Rome, but they remained. They used wealth and influence to shape the formation of our modern nations, our banking system, the development of the modern world.
They've done this through assassination. Blackmailing nations and corrupting leaders to continue to march of wars through history. Infecting the banking system so they can control the world with financial debt. Controlling the revelations and applications of new technologies so they determine which societies will grow and which will fade. Using the spread of disease to weaken countries standing in their way.
They still worship their Wolf Goddess and believe she gave them the task of transforming our world into a New Global Roman Empire.
They believe that when they unify the world under their control, when they FINALLY step from the shadows of history into the light, when the world realizes it has a new master…their Wolf Goddess will return and grant them immortality, to rule until the end of all things.
For generations, they protected themselves and their secret with assassins, women they called "Wolves" in honor of their she-wolf goddess, a legacy of The Most Dangerous Women in the World — women trained in their ancient system of martial arts, mental focus, and near-superhuman power.
ASHLAR, our heroine, was one of those assassins who now rebels against them, and uses everything they taught her to stop The Order of Romulus from achieving its goal.
She's a twenty-two year old woman that has to save the world.
DW: Since you brought up Ashlar, what can you tell us about her? Is Axis her birth mother or more of a mentor? And just what abilities does she have? Did she have much interaction with other members of the Wolves?
BH: ROMULUS is the story of ASHLAR, our heroine, and ultimately it's about her redemption. I believe in redemption as a guiding principle, that we always have the power to change our fate, and our effect on the world. That philosophy runs through most of my stories.
She was born into The Order of Romulus and raised with their cult-like doctrine, trained from birth to kill for them and help keep their existence secret. Her mother, AXIS, was also her mentor in the ways of The Order of Romulus…but both of them have a conscience that won't let them go. Conscience is Hell until you follow it.
To free themselves of that Hell, Ashlar and Axis realize they need to turn on their masters. Conscience that starts as a candle-flame can turn into an inferno if you listen to it.
Their training is based on my martial arts experience, concepts of mind over body and maximizing your physical performance with mental discipline. When you channel your own Ki/Chi/Qi and you shatter concrete with your fist you FEEL something. Something primordial. Something clearly linked to ancient methods of focus and martial spirit.
The "Wolves" still train in the ancient methods: meditation, emotional control, and mental focus during combat. In that sense, Ashlar has shades of BATMAN, AZRAEL, IRON FIST, DAREDEVIL, but she doesn't have "powers" that are necessarily beyond what you or I could do…with years of training and mental techniques that shatter our pre-conceived limitations.
Martial arts and occultism have had a long-standing connection. The experience is spiritual as much as it is physical. Through Ashlar, we're going to explore those techniques and bring readers into those real concepts, the near-hidden aspects of the martial arts that have deeply affected me in my life. Nelson Blake II, the artist and co-creator, is also a martial artist so this aspect of her character is VERY important to us.
I used to train with women that were FIERCE warriors, and Ashlar is my tribute to them in comic book form. Hopefully all readers are inspired by her struggle, and realize that with effort and discipline they can also shatter their own limitations.
DW: The hunters that the Order of Romulus have created are very different than the Wolves. What abilities do the drugs give them and how are they picked? How many are there to hunt down Ashlar?
BH: The Order of Romulus realizes that having these WOLVES, women with years of organic training, could eventually threaten them. Throughout history, especially ancient history, there's always been a fragile pact between warriors and rulers. Rulers need warriors, but the strength of warriors threatens the power of the rulers.
The Order of Romulus decided they needed assassins they could fully control so they use modern medicine to make enhancement drugs, and their "HUNTERS" are empowered by these drugs…but they're also addicted to them. It's a warrior class they can control through the addiction to the drugs that help increase their performance. The drugs make the Hunters stronger, enhance their reflexes and dampen their pain receptors.
It's Materialism vs. Spiritualism.
The Hunters were created to keep the Wolves from having too much power. Violence against violence. Killers against killers. All of it makes The Order of Romulus stronger.
Hunters come from many walks of life, recruited from the military, the criminal underworld, and civilian life. The Order of Romulus looks for the "lost," for people that they can indoctrinate and mold into servants to their cause.
How many of them are there? Enough that Ashlar, Axis and their allies never feel safe. Because they're not.
BH: Ah. Well, I'm sort of part of my own "secret society." I'm part of a group of creatives, political thinkers, ex-intelligence folks, philosophers, etc. We're all people that explore esoteric ideas and occult concepts. Nelson is part of it, as well. The word "occult" means "hidden" and it is in these hidden bastions of thought where you can discuss some of the greater truths.
We often have conversations about what a hidden order would really want…and ultimately most want to remake the planet in their image. The Order of Romulus was born out of those conversations, a fictional way to explore a very real, and hidden ideology that's operating in the real world.
Do I believe there is one, all powerful hidden group at the helm of the world? No. Human ambition breeds competition. The first act of belief systems is indoctrination, and the next act is war against other systems. The Order of Romulus isn't alone either. There are other groups in the story aiming war at them as well, but to answer your question, what do they want?
Without giving away too much plot, The Order of Romulus believes there are people that should control the fate of the world and the rest of us should serve those people…but there are just too many people on Earth. They want to eliminate most of civilization and create a new one from the "worthy" people that remain. Decimating the world's population and clearing the way for the survivors to build a New Global Empire is one of their goals, but that's not where The Order ends its ambitions.
That's where their ambitions begin.
DW: You're working with Nelson Blake II on this book. What is your working relationship with him? How much do you talk and how much of the plotting and planning of the book is he involved with?
BH: I've known Nelson for twenty years, just about, so he's a brother to me. At this point we speak in a shorthand because we know what each other is going to do on the battlefield and we can complement each other, art and script, script and art.
I talk to Nelson extensively about thematics and character arcs and then I do the plotting and planning in my journals, working out not just the nearest issue but the rest of the arc and sometimes more after that. From there, we'll discuss symbolism and imagery, share reference material, until we know everything is in its right place and then I'll script out the issue based on my plot.
When I'm in the right state of mind, the story feels like it flows through me. I don't feel like I'm writing it as much as I'm receiving it. It's a strange state of mind where you know you're working hard, but it doesn't feel like hard work. Usually if I feel the weight of effort, then I'm getting in my own way, something about my rigidity is keeping the story from flowing. The hardest thing I do in my process is get out of my way. The rest is the physics of creativity.
BH: ROMULUS is ongoing if readers continue to enjoy it. Before I started thinking about issues I wrote a journal full of notes and character ideas, plot ideas etc. I call it my "Book of Will." Nelson and I have talked about spinoff books featuring some of the supporting characters and another mini-series that specifically deals with the first days of The Order of Romulus in Ancient Rome.
I'll be blunt. I don't make comics for Hollywood. I'm not anti-Hollywood. I'm ambivalent to it, but I am anti comics that CLEARLY just want to be some fucking television show or film. A mini-series that's clearly created at the right size isn't that, but some of them stink of desperation and cash grabbing born from the silly hope that Hollywood will bless them with validation.
No creator should EVER charge readers and retailers for their hopes of Hollywood validation. That's a violation of the pact between creators and readers. It's a slap in the face of the art form.
When you think of ROMULUS think of HELLBOY, EAST OF WEST, SANDMAN. ROMULUS is here as a world readers can continue to explore for many issues to come. If readers like it, there will be more of it.
DW: If you had to boil Romulus down into the one or two sentence Hollywood pitch, what would that be?
BH: Our world isn't free. All of us, for generations, have lived under the secret control of The Ancient Order of Romulus. One young woman, raised by them, trained by them, betrayed by them, must push through her fear to take a stand against the silent evil that masters our world. Her name is Ashlar, and her war begins with ROMULUS #1