Erik Mona talks Pathfinder: Worldscape, which combines the Pathfinder world with the sword and sorcery characters from the Dynoverse. Issue one is on sale in October from Dynamite. Covers by Reilly Brown, Ben Caldwell, Sean Izaakse, and Tom Mandrake.
ERIK MONA: Dynamite has a long tradition of teaming up its various licensed characters, and while Swords of Sorrow is an excellent example of that, the Pathfinder: Worldscape idea started a few years before that miniseries came out, and was really inspired by the Masks book, which ties together most of Dynamite's pulp properties, as well as Bill Willingham's series Legenderry, which put a steampunk spin on a variety of popular characters. If the publisher had a pulp super-group and a steampunk super-group, it made a lot of sense to also introduce a fantasy super-group. With titles like John Carter of Mars and Red Sonja in the Dynamite roster, we were hardly starved for choice when it came to team members!
BB: Wow, I know you are used to dealing with a big cast in your usual Pathfinder comics for Dynamite, but how does a writer meet the challenge of also including some of Dynamite's finest from the worlds of Hyboria, Barsoom, Golarion and Earth?
EM: It's not so easy, as once you add in the villains we're talking about a TON of characters involved in this epic story. One way I'm handling it is that the four Pathfinder heroes at the center of the story—the fighter Valeros, the sorcerer Seoni, the cleric Kyra, and the rogue Merisiel—vanish from the Pathfinder world of Golarion while on a mission together, but they all manifest in the weird multi-dimensional Worldscape in different locations. The bulk of the first issue focuses on Valeros appearing in this strange new world and encountering otherworldly creatures like Barsoomian White Apes and World War II-era French alchemist-explorers before eventually running in with the mighty Red Sonja. The second issue largely features Seoni appearing in a distant jungle portion of the Worldscape, where she encounters Thun'da, Tars Tarkas, and an army of vicious gorilla warriors culled from the simian scum of three worlds. It takes a while for everyone to get together for a big climax, so although Pathfinder: Worldscape is a sprawling, epic story with a ton of heroes, monsters, and villains, we're rolling it out in a deliberate way that shows you each character's entrance into the world on an individual basis.
BB: What can you tell us about the storyline of this book? What is the "Worldscape"?
EM: Pathfinder: Worldscape features the exploits of four Pathfinder adventurers who are plucked from their world of Golarion to a mysterious prison dimension called the Worldscape, where the greatest warriors of three worlds are drawn into an endless struggle by the whim of an ancient, long-dead arch-wizard. As the four Pathfinders attempt to survive and reunite amid this deadly backdrop, their travels and machinations bring them into contact with other heroes, villains, and monsters plucked from Earth, Golarion, and Barsoom. In time, the heroes become embroiled in a conflict for two powerful magical artifacts—the Scepter and the Crown—that promise control over the Worldscape—and perhaps also escape from it. Gathering both artifacts and punching a hole back to their home worlds will require teamwork and alliance with a rag-tag group of the greatest warriors of three worlds.
EM: Sure! It's rather enormous. Dynamite challenged me not just to include awesome characters from their list of licensed heroes, but also to delve into heroes from the public domain, which I'm afraid grew the cast even larger! There are far more characters in the story than the list below, and even a ton of little Easter eggs packed into nearly every crowd scene.
Valeros: A brash fighter and newly minted member of the Pathfinder Society, Valeros holds much-inflated impressions of his personal prowess with both the blade and the tankard that suffer some significant blows when he encounters Red Sonja, his superior in all the ways that matter most to him—fighting and drinking.
Seoni: The nominal leader of the Pathfinder adventurers, the beautiful and capable Seoni finds her magical abilities in high demand in a world largely dominated by monsters, cutthroats, and swordsmen. As she comes into contact with true heroes like Red Sonja, John Carter, and Tarzan, she learns what it means to truly stir the hearts and ambitions of those who follow her heroic lead.
Kyra: As a devoted cleric of Sarenrae, goddess of healing, Kyra's ability to use her faith to knit together wounds makes her a valuable ally to those who would stop the endless bloodshed of the Worldscape. Separated from her lover, Merisiel, and cast into a world filled with conflicting religions and alien gods, Kyra's belief in the light of compassion is put to a severe test in a world beset by darkness.
Merisiel: The elven rogue Merisiel finds herself in a much different position than her ally Pathfinders when she appears amid the court of the Worldscape's most dire villains—all of whom seem to know her and treat her as a long-lost ally. Has she somehow been to the Worldscape before? Does her association with villains make her a villain herself?
Red Sonja: Red Sonja is no stranger to the Worldscape, having been drawn to the dimension in a number of different incarnations over the years. We meet her in issue #1 as the arena champion of the Worldscape's largest settlement—Shareen—doing battle for the pleasure of a wicked immortal Empress and her demented court. The She-Devil was tempered in an arena, so while it seems as though Red Sonja is a prisoner forced to fight for the pleasure of the wicked, she's got some wicked plans all her own…
John Carter: The consummate hero, John Carter leads the resistance against the evil rulers of Shareen, who possess the Scepter and who quash out what little good appears in a dimension populated by cutthroats and killers. His underground efforts bring him into contact with Kyra, a kindred spirit whose compassion can be used as a powerful weapon for his resistance army.
Tars Tarkas: John Carter's boon companion, the Green Martian Tars Tarkas, has split off from his ally to assist a group of jungle heroes investigating an overgrown lost city in a forbidden, haunted region twisted by taboo magic. Separated from his best friend, Tars Tarkas must work with Seoni, Thun'da, and the jungle hero's mysterious allies in the Council of Jungle Kings to thwart the machinations of an evil ape army before bringing his new friends into an alliance that can break the back of the villains ruling the Worldscape from the city of Shareen.
Thun'da: Thun'da, the famous jungle hero created by Frank Frazetta, is a leader of the Council of Jungle Kings, an array of seemingly ageless jungle-themed heroes marooned in the Worldscape for decades. Unlike many of the other heroes in the series, who were plucked individually from their home worlds, Thun'da's lost valley—the Dawn World—was brought entirely into the Worldscape, with all of its ruined stone cities, cave men, dinosaurs, and bizarre creatures. His lover, the incomparable warrior-queen Pha, once ruled the city of Shareen but is now forced to battle in its fighting pits for the amusement of the settlement's wicked empress, and Thun'da—ever the man of action—has had enough of tyranny.
Tarzan: It's been decades since anyone in the Worldscape has seen or heard from Tarzan, the legendary First King and founder of the Jungle Council. After securing the Crown, one of the two artifacts that grant their bearer complete control over the Worldscape, Tarzan retired to his forlorn cabin at the heart of the Worldscape's jungle to live in melancholy reflection of the Earth-life he left behind so many years ago. Now more a symbol for generations of jungle heroes who followed in his bare footsteps, Tarzan looms large in the Worldscape, a jungle phantom drawn back into the struggle by the arrival of the Pathfinder heroes and the final push of a wicked alliance of villains who seek to claim the Crown for their own.
Fantomah: Oh, God. What can I say about Fantomah? When Dynamite told me to expand the cast of characters to include a few from the public domain, Fantomah was at the very top of my list. The original Fletcher Hanks take on the character always struck me as absolutely bonkers, and I'm obsessed with the "look" of the character. She shifts from a sort of Veronica Lake jungle nymph to this muscular, powerful skull-faced spirit of vengeance with a morality that always struck me as something other than human. In Pathfinder: Worldscape, I've cast Fantomah as a near-omnipotent jungle goddess. It's unclear if she is friend or foe to the various factions involved in the struggle over the Scepter and the Crown. Fantomah actually LIKES being trapped in the Worldscape, so rather than working for one side or the other she instead works to protect the dimension that has become her home and refuge. Of all of the cool characters I get to play with in this series, Fantomah is probably the one that excites me the most. Clearly, I'm a deeply warped individual.
Camilla: Another fun public domain character, Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire, comes from 1940s jungle comics. As a genre, mid-century jungle comics have an awful lot of problems from the perspective of 2016, but they certainly didn't lack cool ruined cities, exciting magic, and despicable villains. Although Camilla later morphed into a fairly generic zebra-skin bikini-clad jungle hero, her original appearances cast her in a very evil mold that made that version of the character the perfect "leader" of Worldscape's villains.
The Holy Therns: The cult of Issus, Goddess of Life and Death, is one of my favorite elements of the John Carter mythos, tying into my favorite John Carter story, The Gods of Mars. In that book, John Carter and company reveal their entire religion to be a fraud, but worship of a death goddess goes hand-in-hand with a realm as blood-soaked as the Worldscape. Consequently, I brought in the Holy Therns to act as Camilla's religious order, which gives me the opportunity to explore faith as a subplot throughout the series. The Therns have belief, but their god isn't real. Earthlings like John Carter have their own Earth religion, with all of the wonder and mystery (mostly mystery) that comes with belief and faith in something you can't necessarily reach out and touch. Kyra, on the other hand, comes from a world in which the gods are manifestly real. Bringing in the cult of Issus lets me look at faith from all three of those perspectives, which adds an interesting human element to a story that largely concerns itself with swordfights, blood magic, and derring do.
The Gorilla King: One great thing about Earth, Barsoom, and Golarion is that they all feature several varieties of evil monkey men and gorilla people, from the Mangani of Tarzan to the Charau-Ka of Golarion to the White Apes of Barsoom. Comics in general have a long tradition of killer apes as well, so when it came to the Pathfinder: Worldscape project, I knew I wanted to load it with as many apes as I could. That naturally brought me to Ruthazek the Gorilla King, a character so primal to the Pathfinder world that he appeared in one of Paizo's very first adventures, before we'd come up with Golarion or even with the name "Pathfinder." He's appeared a few times since then, but with Pathfinder: Worldscape I gave him the spotlight he deserves as the general of Camilla's gorilla army. He's probably the least agreeable of Camilla's band (which is really saying something), but he and his legion play a critical role in the drama of the series.
Kulan Gath: While Camilla may be the titular ruler of the Worldscape's foremost group of antagonists, the chief villain of the Pathfinder: Worldscape series is actually her court wizard, Kulan Gath. Kulan Gath has a far greater understanding of the magical inner workings of the Worldscape than anyone imagines, and his plans for the realm after reuniting the Scepter and the Crown go far, far beyond what even Camilla and her allies are expecting. I'm thrilled to get to use Kulan Gath not just because he's probably Red Sonja's best-known and most interesting villain, but also because he was the villain in the amazing 1985 Uncanny X-Men #190-191 two-parter that saw the arch-mage cast the island of Manhattan into a fantastic barbarian wasteland. As a kid obsessed with D&D I loved seeing sword and sorcery versions of Captain America, Colossus, and the like, and that storyline has always stuck with me as one of the coolest from a very cool era of a book that was enormously formative for me as a young comics fan. Getting to use the same villain—in the same outfit, no less—has been thrilling.
BB: Every writer I interview who has worked on a Red Sonja story falls in love with the character. What is it about her that makes this Dynamite mainstay so popular, with creators and with fans?
EM: Well, part of it is the iconic look, of course. But the best part of Red Sonja to me is her utter competence and her ability to shift from angry killer to rambunctious lush at the same time. Despite her somewhat tragic, blood-soaked past, Sonja is a character who has fun doing what she's doing. Sure, I enjoy the scenes in her comics where she's cutting the heads off her enemies and proving what a badass she is, but I think I prefer the scenes where she's surrounded by empty tankards singing some bawdy tavern song. In relation to the Pathfinder heroes, Red Sonja is everything Valeros pretends to be, only better. Putting those two characters together has been delightful!
BB: How has it been to work with artist Jonathan Lau? Did he do any new designs for this series?
EM: Jonathan has been great! The Pathfinder: Worldscape project started over two years ago, so every time I get a new page from him it's a fantastic payoff for something I've had in my head for ages. The only difference is, Jonathan is a great visual thinker, so what he turns in is often better than I had imagined it! The series is absolutely LOADED with new character designs. We've intentionally gone very traditional with the looks of characters like Red Sonja, John Carter, and the like because, since the purpose of the Worldscape is to draw in legendary heroes, we want to depict those heroes in their most legendary, recognizable form. On the other hand, the magic of the Worldscape doesn't work perfectly, and not every sword-wielding scumbag drawn to the dimension is destined for greatness. Some of my favorite panels from Jonathan are scenes where these background characters come into their own. I'm afraid I've gotten pretty insane with the art reference for this series, so sometimes the description or a panel of random losers cheering in an arena is packed with minor character references culled from my lifetime of collecting old comics and pulp magazines. I hope these crowd scenes are as exciting for other nerds out there to deconstruct as they've been for me to concoct and Jonathan to execute!
BB: Erik, as well as writer for this series, you are the publisher and chief creative officer of the entire Pathfinder franchise. Any projects current or near-future coming up for Pathfinder?
EM: With new adventures, sourcebooks, and rulebooks every month, there's always something exciting coming up for Pathfinder! One of the coolest things about the Pathfinder: Worldscape series is that each issue features an RPG appendix with a pull-out encounter map and game statistics for some of the creatures, heroes, and equipment encountered in each issue. I'm currently working on official Pathfinder game stats for Red Sonja, for example, and I think a lot of folks are going to enjoy adding these famous characters to their Pathfinder RPG campaigns. We're also discussing further RPG product ideas with Dynamite that I'm very excited about, and hope to be able to reveal more about soon. Beyond that, we just released a new horror-themed hardcover called Horror Adventures, which dovetails with a 6-volume monthly Strange Aeons Adventure Path, which brings the Cthulhu Mythos to the world of Pathfinder in a sanity-warping fantasy campaign inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. In 2017 we'll be launching the brand new Starfinder science fantasy RPG, and some of the early work on that that's crossed my desk in recent days has been absolutely killer. It's a great time to be playing Pathfinder!