After 14 years, "Sympathy For The Devil" marks the final tale in the epic saga of Nikolai Dante.
Created in 1997 by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, Nikolai Dante made his debut appearance in 2000 AD Prog #1035, and for over 15 years has been a staple character in the progs. Over the years, the swashbuckling thief turned revolutionary heroe has enjoyed countless adventures, wooed many women, and time after time has proved true to his word that he is “too cool to kill.”
Now, with Dimitri Romanov finally vanquished, and Konstantin Romanov defeated, Nikolai and Jenna are preparing to wed. However, Tsar Vladimir the Conqueror isn’t quite prepared to walk Jenna down the aisle, to say the least!
To find out more about this final chapter in Dante’s saga, 2000ADonline.com’s Ed Kaye caught up with Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser...
2000 AD: Last time readers saw Dante he’d just defeated Konstantin Romanov in a duel for control of the empire. How much later do we pick up the story here?
Robbie Morrison: A few weeks at most. The Empire is seemingly at peace for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, and everybody is looking forward to the royal wedding. After everything that’s happened, all everyone wants is for Dante and Jena to live happily ever after…
2000 AD: While a lot of loose ends were tied up in the recent “The Dante Gambit,” readers know that Tsar Vladimir the Conqueror is still very much alive, and is no doubt out for revenge. What can we expect to see from him in this final series?
Robbie Morrison: Vladimir Makarov will be doing his damnedest to reclaim the title of ‘Most Evil Man in the Empire’ from the late Dmitri Romanov.
Simon Fraser: Tsar Vladimir understands the nature of Dante's situation all too well, and he will take advantage of it.
2000 AD: Lulu Romanov has changed allegiances a number of times the years. Can we
really believe that she’s on Dante’s side now, or does she have her own agenda?
Robbie Morrison: The only thing you can expect of Lulu is that she’ll always do the last thing that’s expected of her. Does anyone really want her to turn ‘good’ after all those years of being bad?
Simon Fraser: The only thing you can be sure of is that Lulu has her own agenda. She has reasons for her loyalty to Dante though, as she will make plain.
2000 AD: Victor is still something of a wildcard, what part can we expect him to
play in this closing chapter?
Robbie Morrison: Can’t say. Check out Episode one of “Sympathy for the Devil” to find out…
2000 AD: Will Jena and Nikolai ever make it down the aisle?
Robbie Morrison: I couldn’t possibly comment.
2000 AD: Do you have a favourite moment from this final story?
Robbie Morrison: From the final story? Quite a few actually, but again, you wouldn’t want me to spoil it, would you?
Simon Fraser: I have always loved drawing the Tsar, he is not like other men. He has made sacrifices and embraced ugly truths that more reasonable men would find too hard to bear. This ending is about Tsar Vladimir Makarov as much as it's about Nikolai Dante.
2000 AD: What are some of your favourite Dante moments from over the years?
Robbie Morrison: Looking back, way too many to go into, which is a good thing as I guess it means I’m happy with the series on the whole. A few off the top of my head: the final episode of “The Courtship of Jena Makarov,” when Dante and Jena get romantic for the first time, only to be torn apart by the declaration of war; the death scene of Andreas Romanov, one of my favourite characters; the flashback episode in which Katarina Dante abandons the 10 year-old Nikolai.
My favourites are actually the smaller character moments, because they’re the ones that hopefully make you care about the cast. All the spectacle and action doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t genuinely care about the characters who are in danger. Also, I like the moments when the characters ‘take over’ and do something that even I wasn’t expecting - Dante recklessly stabbing the Tsar in “Amerika” was one of those moments.
Simon Fraser: Pretty much any scene with just Dante and Jena alone together. I've always been a big fan of the screwball romance, where the romantic partners may not even be aware of how strong their feelings are, because they are having so much fun fighting with each other.
2000 AD: A lot of different artists have drawn Dante over the years. Which are some of your favourite takes on the character?
Robbie Morrison: Simon’s, obviously. He’s the co-creator, possibly the best ‘character acting artist’ in the business, and more importantly a good friend. It’s been great working with him on it - even if he was having palpitations at the thought of me never getting around to finishing the series. Come and celebrate the end of the series, and the release of the final book collection with us at the Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds in November.
That said, John Burns runs Simon a very close second. He’s the last of a certain kind of classic British artist, and it’s been a pleasure and an honour to work with him too. They both brought different elements to Dante, and I tried to write to their considerable strengths, which maybe helped to raise my game too.
I’ve been lucky with artists - Chris Weston, Henry Flint, Charlie Adlard, and Andy Clarke all did nice work on the series. On a separate creative front, Annie Parkhouse deserves a huge round of applause, and a big kiss from Captain Dante himself. She’s the only person other than me to have worked on every single episode of the series, which is saying something.
Simon Fraser: It's hard to pick a favourite, everyone has brought their own personality to the tale. I think the best Dante was Charlie Adlard's though . Charlie even looked a lot like Dante himself for a while. He really nailed the essential boyish bravado of the character. As much as Dante goes through some grim stuff in his life, it's that boyishness that keeps him vital and stops him becoming yet another brooding loner. John Burns obviously does that epic swashbuckling sweep better than anyone.
2000 AD: How does it feel to say goodbye to this character, who you created nearly 15 years ago?
Robbie Morrison: It’s probably a bit too early to say. Dante’s been a big part of my life, and I’m certainly going to miss writing him (especially because he almost writes himself), but I think we’re doing the right thing. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, and think it’s a good ending.
Simon Fraser: Odd, like a parent watching a child go to college. I feel that we've done everything that we could to make the story fly, now we have to step back and let it go.
2000 AD: Can you ever see yourself returning to tell stories from earlier in
Dante’s life, or those of other characters from the series?
Robbie Morrison: I’m not keen on prequels, because there’s no sense of danger to them, as you already know what happens to the characters further down the line, so certainly no plans on that front. No plans to do anything with any of the other characters either, but never say never. Lulu Romanov might be hard to resist if she ever came calling. I’m not averse to doing other stories set in Imperial Russia, a couple of hundred years before or after Dante, maybe, but again, nothing concrete in mind.
2000 AD: Is Nikolai Dante really “too cool to kill?”
Robbie Morrison: Well, I’m biased, so, ‘Aye.’ Doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t, though.
Simon Fraser: As we get older how many of us are really as cool as we thought we were?
2000 AD: Good answers!
“Nikolai Dante: Sympathy For the Devil” begins THIS WEEK in 2000 AD Prog 1786, which is available now from all good newsagents in the UK, and will be available in North America in July.