♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his eleventh in a regular series about comic series that never were. Today it’s the turn of Barry Lyga’s Warrior Nun Areala…
Barry Lyga’s Warrior Nun Areala…
Before acclaimed author Barry Lyga was writing novels based on top-selling comic book properties, like Marvel Comics’ Thanos and Wolverine, and DC Comics’ The Flash, he was writing comic books themselves. In the 1990s, Lyga was ready to introduce the world to new levels of adventure within the pages of Warrior Nun Areala.
Created by Ben Dunn and debuting in 1994, Warrior Nun Areala tells the story of Sister Shannon Masters, a heroine of the Order of the Cruciform Sword – a military order of Warrior Nuns and Magic Priests in service of the Catholic Church. The order was created in 1066 when a Valkyrie named Auria renounced her pagan ways and turned to Jesus Christ for salvation. Since then, Auria (now Areala) has chosen an avatar every generation to carry on her mission. In modern times, The Order has grown to a world-spanning organization with the current Areala, Sister Shannon, as its best and brightest. With her friends by her side, Sister Shannon leads the forces of good against evil in all its insidious forms.
In his proposal, Lyga explained that Dunn’s original concept for the character was the creation of a class of Catholic warriors, and that her stories did not have to end with demons and demon invasions. But how did he want to pursue her story?
“There’s a Bruce Springsteen song called ‘If I Was the Priest,’” said Lyga, “which is basically a scathing allegory for the Catholic Church. The first record executive who heard it said, ‘This guy’s gotta be Catholic — only a Catholic could hate the church that much!’” I sort of went into it with that attitude — I wanted to do more than just have Areala swing her sword and thereby resolve moral and ethical arguments. The Church has a millennia-long history of good works and bad works and just plain crazy shit. I wanted the book to reflect that. All of it – good, bad, and ugly. I spent a ton of time reading about what nuns actually do, as opposed to the popular conceptions in our culture. I wanted to show a dedicated young woman working for a flawed organization, trying to balance good works with the complications of dogma. That’s a lot more interesting, to me, than another sword fight.”
Before becoming Warrior Nun Areala in the mid-1990s, the title character was almost a supporting character in her own comic book. How did Lyga remedy that?
“I’m honestly not sure if I did,” Lyga said. “I wanted to zero in on her as a person, to develop her beyond the idea of her just going around killing demons. As a result, I minimized the fighting, and there were some complaints around the Antarctic offices that she wasn’t as tough any more. I was just trying to show her under very adverse circumstances, so that her core self could come out.”
The adventure started with his first story arc — “The Hammer and the Holocaust” – with one-offs and multi-part stories following.
“In a nutshell,” Lyga said, “I was working through my own bi-faith upbringing, having one Catholic parent and one Jewish parent. ‘The Hammer and the Holocaust’ focused on the Hammer, a Jewish warrior who had missed his opportunity to stop the Holocaust and spent the rest of his life repenting, hunting Nazis, etc., and now the time has come to take down the Catholic Church for its complicity in the Holocaust.
But, who was The Holy Man? What was his backstory, and how was Warrior Nun Areala going to defeat this deadly antagonist during the run?
“I’m not sure I ever really had an origin or backstory planned for him,” said Lyga. “I had this idea that he was just this utterly irrational force that appears and wrecks her life. He’s not a traditional villain — he truly believes that religion is a hideous force in the world and wants to eradicate it. Some people said he was a paradox of a character — that if he didn’t believe in God, why did he think worshipping God was so dangerous? And it’s funny ‘cause I never said he didn’t believe in God. He’s not an atheist — he’s an anti-theist. He thinks God and religion are negative influences and wants to destroy them. Totally different.
“As to how she would have beaten him …. Throughout the series, I was dropping hints about how dangerous it was to use the God Armor. Ben had set up in the original mini-series that the God Armor could drive its user insane. Well, eventually Areala would have no choice but to use the God Armor to stop the Holy Man, and the result would have been her going all Dark Phoenix.”
Lyga was originally signed up for four issues of Warrior Nun Areala, finished six issues, but had planned for a 30+ issue epic. What happened to those plans?
“Sales, man,” said Lyga. “Look, when Ben first asked me to take on the book, no one knew what the result would be. The original two mini-series were very much ‘Hey, look, it’s a hot nun with a sword having adventures!’ The folks at Antarctic weren’t sure if that was sustainable, so they asked me to take a more serious approach. I did, and it didn’t work. Readers didn’t want a ‘realistic’ look at a nun with a magic sword who works for a secret supernatural Vatican army. Go figure, right? 🙂
“Sales started strong, then dropped really fast, especially once we went to a bimonthly schedule. My last issue was supposed to set up the Nebelhexa Gambit, but since I was gone from the book by then, Ben rewrote the last couple of pages to tie it up.”
Although his run on Warrior Nun Areala introduced him to new readers, it’s been his Young Adult novels that have made him a household name. In fact, according to Lyga, he’s currently working on a million things at once.
“I have a book coming out in Fall 2019 that I wrote with my wife called The Hive,” said Lyga. “And my opus Unedited comes out in 2020. And there are some other things I can’t talk about yet.”
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