A Writer’s Commentary: Genevieve Valentine talks Xena: Warrior Princess #3, on sale now from Dynamite. Cover is by Jenny Frison, with interiors by Ariel Medel.
So, the general tenor of this arc is on the more dramatically subdued end of the Xena scale. (The Xena scale is a 1-to-10 slider, with a 1 being every time somebody dies so hard an emotionally ravaged soulmate must go retrieve them in the afterlife, and a 10 is the episode where everybody in that village learns how to chicken dance.) But it’s not an arc of Xena without at least one caper and an old-fashioned rescue, so here we are! Sure, everything goes wrong, but it’s still a caper.
This is straight-up heist movie nonsense and I was so, so excited to get these pages in from Ariel. They’re exactly as I hoped – we wanted to set the tone of the caper early, since the rest of it moves at a brisk clip and things go increasingly wrong from both sides. Plus, the show loved getting everybody in undercover formalwear, and who am I to question it? (Also, I spent what is probably too much time researching Roman games of chance to make sure this casino would be in full swing.)
The scale of this souvenir kiosk was so much larger than I imagined – that statue is terrifying. (Those modern-meta plushies and shirts are 100% Ariel, and I love them.)
Also, Xena and Gabrielle’s temple kiss is one of my favorite beats in this issue. It was important to us that Gabrielle not just arbitrarily withhold information from Xena that could be helpful. But with nothing but her own nebulous visions of the future, she knows Rome is a threat – and that’s all. Xena, of course, also knows Rome is a threat, and that dynamic means Gabrielle is in an even tougher position when it comes to keeping Xena safe. Xena totally believes Gabrielle; it just doesn’t change anything in terms of what either of them can do in the moment.
When I introduced the Harpies, I wanted to make sure they weren’t a monolith pushing against Xena and Gabrielle – or even a monolith assisting them. They’re all vastly different people, and their individual experiences affect how they approach the threat of Rome, what they feel about being asked to participate, and how they feel about Xena and Gabrielle. Chilapa’s reluctance and suspicion are totally justified; Batbayar’s welcome-to-the-party vibe makes sense for a woman used to hard choices who knows the Harpies could use all the allies they can get; Seyma’s pessimism is being borne out by events, and it makes sense why she’d opt not to charge into a battle that’s almost doomed to be a disaster.
Xena and Gabrielle, playing things cool at the top of their undercover game. (It is not a subtle game; they tend to approach things like this with palpable glee, and the sort of plot blinders that keep you too busy arguing with your sting partner to notice the guy giving you a hard time sounds a lot like the guy who used to give you a hard time.) The Xena-of-Rome premonition looks especially formal and unsettling amid everybody’s casino chaos, and Nanjan’s wash of Roman gold is a great touch. (And it’s important that Gabrielle’s visions are changing; now Xena isn’t a victim of Rome, but an agent of Rome. Nothing about the future is ever certain. By now, for these two, that’s no surprise.)
Of all the Harpies and their various grudges and demons, Batbayar’s great strength as a fighter is that she honestly just does not care. Maintain cover? Eh. Strategy? Pass. She’s going to crawl up the outside of the building, but she’d be just as happy punching Romans, and she knows that much about herself.
Though everything goes to hell shortly after this, I wanted to make sure the plan actually does work – they find the guy, poison him without much fuss, and are poised to overwhelm the dealer with their numbers to get the General out the window and into custody. But the commotion downstairs is too much trouble for them to risk kidnapping on top of whatever charges would await them for interfering with Roman messaging. When he wakes up, that General’s only ever going to remember a really shitty roll of the dice.
Everyone else jumps; Xena floats, obviously.
Ares! I knew I wanted to have Ares come back in the secret-history canon space between losing his immortality (for saving Gabrielle’s life, no less) and regaining it. As a man who’s fallen back on fighting regardless of the situation, it makes sense he’d be selling his services and looking for the best way to get a little earthly power. Plus, he’s one of the few people Xena and Gabrielle know who’s still alive and well, and it was awesome to get to play a little with all that history.
…of course, not all that history is positive. Ares has given up a lot to help Xena and Gabrielle; he’s also famously opportunist, and Xena’s playing it smart by keeping her distance. It opens up space for what I’ve always thought was one of the show’s most interesting dynamics: Gabrielle and Ares. His respect for her grew, begrudgingly, over the course of the show, and though she never trusted him – even to the extent Xena sometimes did – there was a certain sense in later seasons of them being reluctant compatriots. The tension between people who know each other and don’t particularly like each other is always interesting.
We open with a caper shot; we end on a superhero shot. It’s gonna be a rescue.