May 16, 2011

BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS, the Interview, Part 1

This is PART 1 of an exclusive interview conducted with David Hontiveros, the writer of BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS. We discussed the comic book in all of its aspects, from its conception and themes to execution and the final product. The first part of this interview appeared abridged in BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS #3, which was released at the last Metro Comic Con, and will continue until the final (eighth) issue.

If you want to get yourself copies of the first three issues, kindly contact me and I will refer you to David Hontiveros or his artistic co-creator, Ace Enriquez.

Without any further ado, the interview:


After Gerry Alanguilan proposed the concept of "Superman vs. The Apocalypse," was there any more development on his end? Or was that it, and you took it from there?

In terms of the narrative, that was pretty much it. Gerry did do his own costume design for the main character, but as far as the story proper and script goes, that’s all me.

Much of the Book of Revelation is meant to be symbolic. (Such as creatures with seven eyes.) How did you decide which aspects to take literally?

Some of the guidelines I set for myself when I sat down to write Bathala were, I didn’t want to do what I’d seen a lot of in other interpretations of the material. I also wanted to depict aspects of the Book of Revelation that hadn’t really received much attention in the past, so there would be new things to see in “our” Apocalypse.

Can I ask which sources you were looking at for other interpretations of Revelation? Obviously, there is an existing "Superman vs. the Apocalypse" story in KINGDOM COME, but that wasn't really a work that took anything literally.

As a general rule of thumb, I read a lot, including non-fiction titles (which often serve as research material for my writing, as was the case with Bathala), and though I can’t rightly tell you all the titles I read for this (some were borrowed, and this was 13 years ago), what I can see at a glance right now as I type this, is Mysteries of the Bible.

What I’m also certain I consulted for Bathala were the encyclopedias around the house. There’s a wealth of information in encyclopedias just waiting to be shaped and sculpted into stories, and I’m lucky enough to have two editions of the Britannica here, one older than the other (so the content differs in some cases), as well as other encyclopedias like Collier’s. (My Dad was a firm believer in the power of encyclopedias.) I’m sure I consulted them at least twice for Bathala. Once, 13 years ago, since the encyclopedias are usually one of my first stops during my research phase for any work, and the second time, last year, when I needed a quick immersion into the material, for when I had to go over the scripts again to polish them up, when Ace came on board as artist.

The 200-page count that Gerry asked for was also a huge factor in my choices; if certain elements had actual literal physical forms, they would invariably take up pages and panels, while if they were kept on a symbolic level, they could be part of the background. I had to pick and choose which elements, to me, seemed to present potentially interesting opportunities, if they were presented as literal, physical entities.

I take it then that that means that the 200-page count was liberating? I can imagine a theme of this magnitude leaving a writer wanting much more room for even more complex story development.

I don’t know that I felt “liberated” by the page count, exactly. It was more along the lines of, Well, there are your parameters. Go and tell your story keeping them in mind.

As you’ve pointed out, what Bathala is about is so potentially sprawling, that the immediate urge is to have lots of pages to tell the story. What Gerry did by laying down the page count, was to effectively rein in those urges, making me consider the story in those particular terms. It may not have exactly been “liberating,” but it did make things easier, in a way, since the lines were most definitively drawn, and I couldn’t stray far beyond them, so I had to shape a story that could be effectively told within those lines.

Thus, I decided on 7 chapters (7 being a central numerical motif in Revelation) of approximately 30 pages each, resulting in a grand total of 210 pages, just a smidgen over the 200-page count. (And as I mentioned in the first issue, the final draft of the Bathala script came to a total of 226 pages, again, a smidgen over the 210 page mark.)

There were also cases where the decision went something like this: “Creatures with lots of eyes covering (and inside) their bodies would look really interesting and have that horror movie feel to them and they would look absolutely awesome,” and as many of my readers know, I’m a horror geek as much as I am a comic book/superhero geek, so there was that, too.

Actually, Bathala really was a no-brainer for me, since it was a delirious mash-up of two things I was a geek of: superheroes, and Apocalyptic imagery. (My fascination with the Book of Revelation was an outgrowth of my horror geekery, stemming from The Omen, and all the other Apocalyptic fiction and films that came in the wake of its success.)

And of course, apocalyptic imagery works well with comics as it is a visual medium. Sometimes the symbolism doesn't matter so much as the coolness factor. Were you ever worried that you were sacrificing one for the other in certain scenes?

Well, I’ve always been concerned with subtext, with the stories I tell being about something other than just the tale being told, so that’s normally my default mode, more so perhaps when I’m writing comics, since, to a certain extent, I’m also depending on the artist to bring some of his own “cool” to the table, by his art style, by his character designs, by the way he frames the action. Naturally, I still have the storyteller’s desire to have kickass set pieces in the narrative, and I try and make sure those are in the scripts, but I suppose I always tend more towards the Substance end of the spectrum, over the Style.

Having said that, I’m also aware that as far as my prose and storytelling go, I’m definitely a stylist; I believe how you tell a story is, in many ways, more important than what the story you’re telling is. Just ask Shakespeare; every story’s been told before. It’s a matter of figuring out how to tell the story in a fresh and interesting way, and how to make the story about something more than just the story.

Substance and Style. I guess I should have bumper stickers made…

I understand that you also researched Nostradamus' prophecies in depth for this comic. Being unfamiliar with Nostradamus beyond the occasional chain mail, would you mind elaborating on that research process and what you took out of it?

Well, I went through his quatrains, and determined which were largely thought of by scholars as referring to the Book of Revelation and the End Times, and paid close attention to those, keeping them in mind as I developed the story.

In a way, it was a similar approach to what I did in transposing the Book of Revelation onto the mythos of the Superman archetype; I was looking for correspondences, I suppose. Points where both bodies of information intersected in interesting ways.

Thus, certain of the disasters and calamities featured in Bathala are attributable to certain Nostradamus prophecies.

Additionally, all the chapter titles are from Nostradamus’ quatrains; not necessarily all from quatrains that referred to the End Times. In terms of the chapter titles, I was more interested in finding appropriate phrases or words that evoked what each chapter was about.

I'm sure it would have been from the ones that referred to the End Times if it had been applicable. I assume that you wrote the story and then decided on the titles instead of wrote the story to conform to the titles, for which I'm glad.

Thanks. Yeah, the individual stories came first. Once I completed each script, knowing what it was I had written about in that particular issue, I then set out to find the right title for it. (Which is usually my MO when it comes to christening my stories.)

There's obviously a great deal of Superman influence here - one of the fun things to do is "spot the analogue." I have to ask - did you originally conceive this first as a loose Superman story (without the details) and then change it around, or did you first decide which changes you would make, and then craft the story. In other words, where did the decision to create Leo come from?

To answer the general question first, I have a very organic approach to storytelling, so given my springboard was Gerry’s question “What would happen if Superman had to deal with the Apocalypse?” I knew that I would be working with the mythos of the Superman archetype, and it was a matter of finding how best to lay the Book of Revelation out onto that superstructure, to see, for example, which events in Revelation could be attributed to aspects of the Superman mythos (which villains could be responsible for which catastrophes, etc).

Begging the question - did you think, for example, "Oh, hey, Brainiac could have done this, so I'll have my Braniac analogue do this," or did you already create Cerebellax prior to needing to use Brainiac?

If memory serves me right, I believe the creation of Cerebellax came before the idea of what role he would play in the narrative. It started with my liking the name, really. That the name “Cerebellax” had this Brainiac-y supervillain sort of ring to it, and I knew that I’d like the name to be mentioned in some casual, throw-away fashion (thus, Andrew’s line in issue 1). It was after all this that it became apparent that I could use Cerebellax in the narrative proper.

As I mentioned in answer to a previous question, it was a matter of finding the interesting correspondences.

To answer the specific question, the decision to introduce Leo into the narrative (and the character’s evolution therein) actually had more to do with some other thematic aspects of Bathala, namely the doubling motif that we see in the narrative, coupled with the concepts of the Jungian Shadow and the mythic motif of the Beloved Executioner.

The doubling can be seen in Andrew/Bathala, in Andrew/Leo, in Leo/the UP (uploaded personality), in Bathala/ThaBa’al, in Bathala/Harold, among others; doubling in the sense of two sides of the same coin, potentially complementary (as in the Andrew/Bathala tandem), but also potentially opposing, clashing forces (again, as in the Andrew/Bathala tandem, that whole Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy at work).

Interestingly, I just finished reading and rereading, respectively, FINAL CRISIS and ASTERIOS POLYP, both of which reject the theme of duality and instead go with the theme of a spectrum, or symmetries. Could that also possibly apply in this case, considering that you just named, for example, four reflections of Andrew? It does seem to lend itself more to a prismatic model as opposed to a direct reflection.

Putting it that way, you do have a point, though it was, in all honesty, something that wasn’t at the conscious forefront of my mind at the time of Bathala’s writing. My citing of four reflections of Andrew was due to my idea that each double reflected a certain aspect of Andrew; thus, Bathala is the more overtly idealized, heroic version of Andrew (Andrew as superhero), while Leo is the normal, powerless version of Andrew (Andrew as ordinary human being). ThaBa’al is then the Nega-Bathala (Bathala as his own Nemesis), while Harold is, in a sense, the Nega-Andrew (or how Andrew could have turned out, had things been different).

Now that you mention it, there does seem to be some prismatic action going on in there…

The doubling gets interesting when we bring in Jung’s Shadow, that is (in my own self-serving interpretation of the concept) the darkness in all of us, that we must wrestle with. A darkness that is our greatest enemy, because it is us, it knows who we are. In many ways, it is our ultimate foe, our Nemesis.

So, ThaBa’al is Bathala’s Shadow, just as the UP is Leo’s.

The idea of the Shadow can then be taken further, particularly in myth and in comics, externalized, to be represented by the hero’s other, his Nemesis, his arch-enemy; an individual so intertwined with the hero, either through their long, protracted antagonism (which may have been preceded by a close friendship), or by the fact that the villain is the exact ethical and moral opposite of the hero, that they are very nearly the same person, but seen from opposing angles.

Taken another way, the light projected by the hero is so brilliant and blinding, that the shadow cast by it is just as equally deep and dark, and it is in that shadow, that the villain is born and nurtured. Note how Luthor basically becomes the raving ego- and megalomaniac that he is because of Superman’s presence in the world.

In this context, one of Bathala’s other Shadows is Harold (just as Luthor is Superman’s). And, by extension, since the UP is Leo’s Shadow, but Leo is Andrew’s twin, the UP is also another Shadow to Bathala.

(As an aside, one can attempt to define any significant hero/arch-enemy antagonism from comics—like Batman and the Joker, for example—in the context of the Shadow archetype.)

Be sure to check out BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS, and stay tuned to The Comics Cube! in the future for the rest of the interview!

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