Kratos is not the man he once was. After picking fights with virtually every figure in Greek mythology, this year’s God of War transplanted the savage Spartan warrior to the world of Norse lore where he faced something far more stressful: fatherhood. Director Cory Barlog gave the long-lasting video game character a new purpose with this Playstation release, and now writer Chris Roberson and artist Tony Parker are expanding this story even further.
EW has an exclusive preview of the new God of War prequel comic from Dark Horse, set shortly before 2018’s God of War and well after Kratos’ Grecian roots in God of War III.
With a team of E.M. Gist (cover artist), Dan Jackson (colorist), John Roshell (letterer), Spencer Cushing (editor), and Patrick Thorpe (editor), Roberson and Parker tell the tale of how Kratos inadvertently ticks off a cult of berserkers, a line of bear warriors, when he saves a stranger from a mauling in the woods.
It’s a story Roberson has been fiddling with since the earliest teasers were released for the God of War game. And Parker, a God of War fan, was eager to dabble in this playground. Both walk EW through the process of working with Kratos’ handlers at Santa Monica Studios, crafting a story set in the God of War universe, and developing the visual language of the comic.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the development process like for this comic? Who approached who to kick things off?
CHRIS ROBERSON: I was approached by Dark Horse. It was a while back. I know they had released that early teaser for the game at E3 and then it was out in the world, but there wasn’t a whole lot else out there about the game. Spencer Cushing was the editor at Dark Horse who brought me on to it and put me in touch with the guys at Santa Monica Studios, who loaded me up with a mountain of backstory and world-building stuff and what they had developed for the game, and then let me go off to find a story that would be interesting to tell in that moment in the character’s life.
How long did it take you guys from working out the kinks of the story to the finished product?
ROBERSON: That’s about a year and a half at this point… It’s not typical, but it’s not terribly unusual. Particularly with a project like this where it’s kind of a moving target because while we were developing the story and working closely with Cory and the rest of the team at Santa Monica Studios to make sure it lined up with what they were doing with the game, the game itself was changing and developing as they were in the final stages of getting ready for release. It did help to really bring the character into focus, having that much time to really get into the nuance of how to portray him.
What was the approval process like with a property like this? Was there a back and forth with Santa Monica Studios or did they leave you to your own devices?
ROBERSON: A lot of notes for me, yes. A lot of notes.
TONY PARKER: For me, there weren’t as many notes. I was very happy with them. There were things like, “This is the heart we gotta stick with,” but beyond that they let me play around a lot, visually. Truth be told, I loved the game even before they brought me on. I’m a huge fan of the property and they gave me a treasure trove of all the concept art. “Okay, Kratos can’t have the costume that we see in the game, but he can have something else. What do you want to do? Here are all the different designs we had for pre-visualization.” That by itself was wonderful.
ROBERSON: And I have to add that the notes I got were constructive ones. They didn’t feel like someone was being proprietary. There was enough back and forth that it ended up being easier to have some conference calls with the writers at Santa Monica Studios because it was really granular tweaking. I found that I kept about 25 percent too many words in Kratos’ mouth in any given sentence and Cory and the guys helped me figure out which ones to get rid of and constantly reminding me that he cannot use contractions in his speech. And when I got a little demoralized at one point, because they kept having to help me get there, I think it was Cory who pointed out they had trouble getting his voice right as well.
How long did it take you to settle on a consistent visual aesthetic for this comic?
PARKER: When they first said, “Hey, Tony. How’d you like to do this?” I was like, “Oh god, yes. Please. What can I do to make sure I get this?” Before they asked me what I think, I was like, “Let me draw up designs of how my artistic style would look with this.” I sent them a design and they said, “That’s too angry ‘90s,” so I did a whole separate one. This is all on my own. This wasn’t a “Hey, we want to see this.” By the second one, it was so much closer. [They said,] “Just draw back the details a little bit. We want something that’s a bit more loose, a bit more fluid, a bit more open, a bit more kinetic.” After the first page or two, everything really snapped in.
Was there anything left on the cutting room floor for the video game that you guys were able to use for the comic?
ROBERSON: It happened the other way. There were things that I was bringing to the table really early on only to be told that they were already doing similar things in the game. I came at this with a lifelong passion for Norse mythology, so there were lots of things that I wanted to bounce the character off of. We found one that basically had not been explored fully in the game but there were a number early on that I floated while they were still sending me those mountains of background material, that they had already lay claim to.
What were your biggest takeaways from the new God of War video game and made you excited to expand in a comic?
ROBERSON: I really responded to the lore and the world-building of it. As a longtime gamer — computer and console and tabletop — that’s the kind of stuff that I usually gravitate towards because it is an engine for storytelling possibilities. And finding the character at this particular moment in his development and then this environment immediately suggests all kinds of things we could do with him.
PARKER: I’ve played God of War I, II, and III and I finished [the new God of War] soon after it came out. The designs, the gameplay is all Game of the Year stuff. My favorite, though, was the pathos of the characters. It was about more than he’s really angry and he wants vengeance, which is great, but having those little emotional moments. Playing the game, I wanted to find what the button mashup was to give his son a hug. Through all five issues, my favorite pages are the ones where we can do the subtle nuance with the expression, where I can have the conversations between Kratos and Atreus, they can have a father-son dynamic.
There’s a big reveal at the end of the God of War game about Atreus’ true identity. Is that something you guys wanted to play with in the comics?
PARKER: What my marching orders were, we could hint at some of the character dynamics and emotional stuff that was happening in the game, but then we weren’t to go too close to any of the big stuff or any kind of reveals. We didn’t do too much with it.
ROBERSON: And I hate spoilers so there was no way I was going to do anything that might… Well, there’s a little hint here, like the little hints they put in the God of War game where it’s like, if you pause the screen at a certain point, you get a screen cap and look at that in a mirror, or whatever, you’ll see that was made for a little hint. Anything that we do if it’s in there, it’s a solid picture. So people can pour over it, they can look for any nuance, any detail. Even with this, the book’s all done. They’ve got a month between each issue to try to find any cute details we might’ve put in there. So we have to be very careful, especially with something like this where there are people who haven’t had the opportunity to play the game. I don’t want to spoil it for any of those people either. And the book is structured as a prequel so it does not contain any spoilers for the game. Anybody who hasn’t played the game can pick this up and enjoy.
The games were conscious of skipping over that period in Kratos’ life where he’s making the transition from the Greek world to the Norse world. Is that something you guys touch upon? Are there maybe figures from his Greek past who show up?
ROBERSON: I would say that our story starts 10 minutes to midnight. There’s that long period where we left it after God of War III to where he is now, he’s already the majority of the way, at least chronologically. There’s some callbacks to his past and his experiences. It’s very much more focused on where he is at this moment in his life and what’s gonna happen going forward.
Aside from what you were saying about the folks at Santa Monica giving you all this background information and concept art to work with, did Cory and narrative director Matt Sophos have any other impact on the comic?
ROBERSON: Oh, definitely. I worked on a number of licensed books before and I think that this might be the most feedback and constructive contributions I’ve had from what’s essentially a licenser. They were very keen on making sure that this worked in canon with the game. Not only were there things where they pointed out what we couldn’t do, because it might contradict something or step on the toes of something they had planned, but there were also substantive creative contributions they would make along the way as well, like how the story could play out. There were broad-stroke things, but they were also very specific.
PARKER: I’ve worked on a whole bunch of licensed properties, as well, and this is probably the smoothest and easiest one I’ve worked on in a long time, if not ever.
Have you guys had discussions about potentially doing more issues after this initial run? As you said, this world is so expansive, there’s so much to work with.
ROBERSON: I think those decisions are above my pay grade, but I would certainly be open to doing more. If called, I would answer.
PARKER: I would love to. Again, loved the game. This is a wonderful sandbox to play in for me.
God of War #1 hits stands this Wednesday.