Vita Ayala's Writer's Commentary on Xena #6, on sale now from Dynamite Entertainment.
Hello. For those of you that don't know me, my name is Vita Ayala, and I am a freelance comic book writer.
XENA as a body of work is very much about the relationships that we form over the course of going through our lives, and how they fundamentally change a person. One of the things that I really loved about this sub-theme was that it explored both the good and bad ways this can happen. Xena went "evil" because of what was done to her and her village by a warlord, and begot Callisto in the same way. But meeting Good People affected Xena too, showed her that she could be more than what was expected of her, revealed to her that she had a CHOICE.
Friendship and love are not a savior, but as a choice they are is beautiful in that they give a person autonomy over their actions while offering redemption. You are RESPONSIBLE for what you do, but there is always hope for the future.
In this arc, I wanted to explore what that meant for a character that was by design supposed to be immutable/an archetype. Discord's purpose is in the name. But if there is anything that Xena has taught me, it's that there is no force more powerful than love (familial, friendship, and romantic) – not even Fate. Even the Gods are not immune.
This is the close of our grand adventure, and we thought that there was no better place to set it than back in Greece, back where they started.
This IS a road trip story, but more than that, this is a coming home story.
In this page, I really wanted to touch on the current dynamic between the women, and also point out that Discord has been changed in a more subtle way. She has been very insistent that she doesn't need these people, that they are not friends, and that she is unbothered by what has happened to her. I wanted to show that doubt here so that it made more sense in the next few pages when…
…she is extremely cranky at the thought of being abandoned. She is hurt when she thinks that Xena and Gabrielle's excitement at being back home is really their desire to be away from her and to leave her to face her hardest trial (facing her family) alone.
But, we all know that if there is one thing Xena and Gabby won't do, it's leave a friend to face their demons alone. Even if their friend is a brat.
Also, I wanted to shout out Gabby's dislike of sea-travel (a little nod to longtime Xena fans). I have always been someone that likes the little details that come up time and again in a series, and this was a little moment where I could do that.
Honestly, beyond setting up the classic Greek Maze, this scene was about letting Olympia do something different. We have told a pretty straight forward story visually for the most part, and I wanted to give her a chance to stretch her legs and do some cool perspective and panel stuff.
Labyrinths are easily recognizable as a mythological location, and that seemed fun.
I needed there to be a reason that mortals didn't just come calling on Mount Olympus all the time, and a big maze fulla monsters seemed to make sense. Also, I knew that we had to have an action set piece that would bring something more to the table without bogging down the story, so… this was a solution I think worked well! Discord, of course, would know the way through, but there are still the Harpies to contend with…
Enter The Minotaur!
I thought it would be a little tragic but endearing if Discord DID have a friend, just one that wouldn't be traditional. I wanted to add a little melancholy to things. Most people might find this tragic (Xena and Gabby feel a little sorry for Discord playing in this dark, hostile place as a child), but Discord is unbothered and doesn't need that pity. She also seems like the sort to have a soft spot for beasts that others discarded.
I absolutely love both Ares and Aphrodite as characters, and I desperately wanted to find a way to bring them back in, even for a brief cameo. When I reached this part of the story, I realized I was running out of pages and needed to find a way to teleport the gang up to the throne room for the final confrontation. A PERFECT opportunity to bring back Love and War!
I wanted to give Discord a chance to have it out with Ares, who is her closest sibling and someone she expected to help her. In the earlier part of the series, Discord is expecting a rescue from her twin, and it was important for me to have this moment between them to address that.
I wish I had a double-sized issue to give this scene more time, but I think that we did well with the space we had!
There wasn't much room, but I wanted to set up why Zeus would allow an audience, and having a God that WASN'T Discord call for it made the most sense. Ares is far from his favorite, of course, but he combined with Aphrodite (canonically his favorite) was a clean way to do it, I think.
This is also the scene we get a fuller explanation of how/why Discord became tangled up with those villages …
…and here is where we see WHO was really behind Discord's betrayal. The only one more sneaky than the Goddess of Chaos, Strife, the God of Mischief.
It is pretty common for Discord and Strife to work together, and to betray each other. There is never any lasting bad blood between them, but even here, Discord did not expect this level of backstabbing. But, on the other side, Strife did not expect the punishment for Discord to be so harsh. A miscalculation all around.
Again, I wish I had a double-sized issue to close this, because there was a lot we could have done here between the two Gods, but with having to wrap not just this scene but the whole series in less than 5 pages, we thought it worked most smoothly to have Zeus interrupt and dispense justice here.
There was a subplot having to do with Discord's dagger (the symbol of her Godhood) that was a nod to when Ares had his sword stolen in the episode Ten Little Warlords, but we never had enough room to really develop it, unfortunately. But I thought it was something that wouldn't feel DISTRACTING or wrong if I brought it up at the end here, because we HAD shown her dagger throughout the series and it was broken (in Issue 3, she even stops in the middle of a fight to retrieve it when it falls). So, just know that there was more to it, but we didn't have the space to explore it as fully as I would have liked!
This scene is the emotional wrap-up between the three travelers. This is something that was important for me to have in the issue because they have come a long way, not just distance-wise, but relationship-wise as a group. I wanted to give Discord the chance to say thank you and goodbye to these women whom she has come to care for, in her own way. And I ALSO wanted to remind people that she is still, at the end of things, a bit of a brat even when she likes you.
Also, importantly, we had to wrap up the capybara thread, because there is nothing that my editor has enjoyed more than our little rodent friend.
One of my favorite parts of any Xena episode are the final moments, when we check back in with the Warrior Princess and Battling Bard. These moments are always sweet and charming and often funny. This is where we get the light-hearted relationship stuff. This is where we see what love looks like for them when they are not in crisis. I am a HUGE sucker for these soft moments, and I wanted nothing more than to give Xena and Gabby the chance to be Cute Married Babes together.
I also like that often times these moments are a call back to something they discuss in the opening scenes, and so I made sure in #1 to include a bit of banter I could circle back to.
Xena and Gabrielle are partners, in every sense of the world. They are In Love. They have gone to literal hell and back for each other, and not just because they are "good friends." They have fought death for each other, they have defied the Gods for each other, they are Together. That is canon. And we, like they, deserve this moment.
Long Live Love, and Battle On.