Rodney Barnes Readies the Next Phase of Killadelphia’s Supernatural War

Rodney Barnes talks his horror comic series, Killadelphia, and the big guest stars appearing in the next arc; Spawn, the Savage Dragon, and Blacula.


Writer Rodney Barnes and artist Jason Shawn Alexander’s creator-owned Image horror comic series Killadelphia started off as a tale of father and son cops investigating murders on the streets of Philadelphia that were being carried out by a vampire army led by American founding father, John Adams. From there, the conflict between humans and vampires got bigger and weirder as more figures from American history like Adams’ wife Abigail, Thomas Jefferson, and even George Washington became embroiled in the supernatural war on Philly’s streets, but so did werewolves, witches, gods, demons, and characters from Barnes’ other creator-owned Image books like Nita Hawes’ Nightmare blog.


That all happened over the course of the series’ initial five arcs, and when Killadelphia returns this November for Issue #31, the series’ apocalyptic war will get even bigger. Characters from other Image books and a classic ’70s horror film will join the fight. Spawn, the Savage Dragon, and Blacula are coming to Killadelphia. CBR spoke with Barnes about his plans for his guest stars, the evolution of Killadelphia, where it’s headed, and how it’s become the flagship book of a horror universe.


CBR: Let’s start with the big news, which is that Spawn is becoming a player in Killadelphia when the series returns in November. How did this come about? And was bringing Spawn into the book something you always wanted to do?


It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The book started as a pretty grounded book on the streets of Philadelphia. If you read Issue #1, you never would have thought that we’d be dealing with the Devil, gods, and all the stuff we eventually go to. So, once it became a fantasy book as well as a horror one, Spawn just felt like a natural fit since he’s so many different things.


Do Killadelphia fans who may have never read Spawn or are lapsed in their knowledge of the character need to know anything?


Nope. Jason Shawn Alexander has a history with Spawn. So, I think we give you a pretty good intro not only into Spawn but how he fits into the world of Killadelphia. There’s a bridge right when he’s first introduced beyond the last page of Issue #30 as to why he’s here, how he fits, and who he is.

When I first heard about Killadelphia, I knew, given the horror flavor of your work on Marvel’s Falcon series, that it would be a labor of love for you. What I didn’t know, though, was that this would be a blend of some of the other things you find fascinating; crime stories, history, and mythology. Is that what you were aiming for? And was that what Killadelphia was always going to be?


Big time! I always wanted a book that didn’t have limitations. There are so many books that I think sometimes define themselves by the boundaries they’re in. Killadelphia started off as a grounded book, and you’d think that’s what it would always be. But, like you said, I have so many different interests, and I wanted to play in many different spaces. Oftentimes, books that are set in a certain environment and have a cultural identity limit themselves to just having and just being this one thing. I wanted to not define this book by any one idea. It could go anywhere as long as the rules applied. I didn’t want to break rules for the sake of breaking rules. I wanted to create a world that was flexible enough that you could go to these places, and it would feel natural to what the book was. And then you come back to your reset place and go anywhere you wanted to go.


During a recent reread, I noticed you planted the seeds for those big developments early on with Seesaw and the book.


That was the purpose of him; that he would have no limitations and that he would be that person that could break the boundaries of what you think a conventional vampire story set in the city could be.Often times in real life, you see guys like Seesaw, who come from a city, who come from a lower economic idea of what certain places are, and those characters stay limited. They’re sort of the comic relief, or they’re there to talk about pain. I wanted a character who came from that area and idea, but he had absolutely no limitations. And he continued to evolve. And as he evolved, his power and self-awareness evolved. I think all of us have the ability within us to evolve if we choose to go down the darkest paths of who we are as people, and I wanted to create a character who embodied that idea. As he was growing, we were growing within the story. It speaks to the level of potential that all of us have as people.


Two other characters who have been with Killadelphia since the beginning and have remained mostly mortal in a supernatural world are James Sangster Jr. and his partner Jose Padilla. What can you tell us about their roles in the series moving forward now that much of the book’s vampiric cast has been killed?


Nita Hawes from Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog has sort of moved in and become part of the story as well. So between Jose, Jimmy Jr., and Nita Hawes, they’ll have their own mission of sorts that’s coming in soon with some of our other guest stars.


I said it on my Instagram page, but Savage Dragon and Blacula are joining us as well. That also means Dracula is joining us, too. So, they’ll have their own thing to deal with that is connected to the Blacula book I did last year.


So, Killadelphia is evolving. I’m really excited about this next story arc and just being able to pivot. We could come back to some of those earlier stories and ideas, but being able to have all of these guest stars forces us to tell different types of stories, go to different types of places, and elevate certain characters like Seesaw to a different level of power and influence over the universe

Guest stars may seem out of place in this book, but if you’ve been reading from the beginning, you know that Killadelphia has featured cameos from Carl Kolchak, the agents of The X-Files, and Robert Neville from I Am Legend.


[Laughs] Yes! You’ve got a keen eye. A lot of those folks that jumped in from the past were there because I’m a huge fanboy, and so is Jason. Here though, they’re actually part of the narrative. They play a purpose within the ongoing story that we’re trying to tell. So, I’m honored that Todd McFarlane, Eric Larsen, MGM, and all the other players were willing to let us play with these characters and put them in our world.


Another major player in Killadelphia has been the trickster god, Anansi, whose love for humanity means he can’t sit on the sidelines of the looming apocalyptic war. What made you want to cast Anansi in this role?


I first wrote Anansi on the TV show American Gods. I was a writer and producer on that show for a season. I fell in love with the character and Orlando Jones’ take on him. It was also an extension of Neil Gaiman’s work as well.


When you’re talking about a story that comes from the streets of Philadelphia, if you were to throw in Zeus, Odin, or some other god, they might not feel right, even though some of them have made appearances in the book as well. If you want to capture the voice of the street, but through the lens of a god who connects with these types of worshipers, why not have a god that speaks the language, so to speak?


 So, Anansi fit for me. I introduced Anansi in Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog. I thought he really fit well in that world, and if I was bringing Nita Hawes over, why not bring Anansi over as well?


Tituba and the Werewolves of Elysium Gardens round out the surviving original cast. What do you want readers to know about the history of these characters and your plans for them moving forward?


I’m a huge fan of the Universal Monsters — the Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein. And I always wanted to build a world that had that idea in it, but again, from the sensibilities of what Killadelphia is.


So, when I presented the werewolves, they were set in the ’60s and ’70s originally. Their history dates back to North Africa when they were Moors. So, I wanted to give them a proper introduction, and I sometimes fear that they’ll get lost in the main story because sometimes, it’s so much about the other characters. I want to give them this platform because they have their own story. I want to give them more space in the stories to come. So, you’ll see them breathe a little more as we get into story arcs six and seven. They’ll have more of an emotional stake in the story.


What else can you tell us about the plot and action of this new arc? Spawn’s arrival and Anansi’s warning about messing with time suggest we’re in for another big escalation in terms of scope and scale.


That is one of the ways that our guest stars come into play. Once you play with time, you open the door to a lot of different possibilities. Those possibilities invite new dangers. So, like you said, the scale of the war that is taking place on the streets of Philadelphia will become bigger in ways that, again, if you had just read the first issue, you’d never imagine that this is where we’re going to go.


Another thing that I think is kind of cool about this story arc is you sometimes forget, because you’re dealing with an A-story of a war on the streets with all of these monsters, that there are people still in Philadelphia. Some are vampires and some are human, but they’re trying to survive because the whole city has been quarantined by the National Guard.


There’s a war happening, and no one is coming to help. So, these people have to figure out how they’ll survive. You’ll have a lot of intimate B-stories that are there about what’s going on with the people of Philadelphia that I’m really proud of. They touch on themes of hope, loss, love, and solid human stuff that you can sometimes forget when you’re dealing with a monster book.

What you’re saying also evokes apocalyptic stories like The Walking Dead where survivors are often forced to make difficult choices.

Perfect! Yes, the stories about survival and moral dilemmas that test you as a human being. Forget who you were when times were great! Now, you’re in a place where you’re fighting for your loved ones. So, how far will you go? What are the extremes?

We’ll ask a lot of questions about humanity. That’s the stuff I’ve always dug — those Twilight Zone-style stories that make you ask questions about yourself and other human beings.

Your long-time artistic collaborator Jason Shawn Alexander is still part of the Killadelphia art team with this new arc, but I’m guessing German Erramouspe is also part of the team with this arc?

He is. We’re continuing on [him] because I can write scripts in a relatively short amount of time. It takes a lot more time to illustrate said stories. Plus, Jason is doing more stuff. He’s got some fantastic stuff coming on Batman and some of his own work, like Empty Zone; which is coming back in 2024.

So, I’m blessed that he’s still a part of the book and is able to keep the art quality high and familiar. It takes A LOT to draw 3-4 books and the stuff that he hasn’t told me about and is sneaking around doing because he cheats on me. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Finally, one of the beautiful things about creator-owned comics that have found fan support, like Killadelphia, is that you get to decide when they end. You and Jason have built a pretty massive world together, and it still feels like there’s much left to explore. So, how far along are you in the long-form story of Killadelphia?

I do see an end of this main storyline coming. It’s still a little ways off. So, I’d say we’re probably about two-thirds along the way of where we’re going.

We live in a world where once you get past the first and second issues, things seem to trail off in the comic book space. It’s not like when I was a kid where we’d have 500 issues of a thing. Now, books don’t even go beyond 10-15 issues sometimes. So, we’re blessed right now that we’re in the ’30s and sixth story arc and are still able to talk about Killadelphia. I’m very grateful for that, but all good things come to some form of an end.

Some of the characters from my Substack books will be coming into Killadelphia before that end, though. We’ll have characters like zombies, and Johnny Gatlin, the gunslinging demonic cowboy. There will be all these characters that take the book in another direction as well.

So, there will always be some form of Killadelphia, but will it always be as it started off — a father and son trying to find out who was killing people on the streets of Philadelphia? No, that storyline will probably conclude at some point.

In a way, with books like Killadelphia, Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog, and your Substack titles, you’ve built something like the Mignolaverse. That story had its modern-day ending a few years back, but like their recent titles show, there are plenty of past stories you can go back and explore.

Exactly! And thank you! That’s a hell of a compliment, and I hope to go back and look at some of our characters because we’re dealing with a world where death isn’t death in the conventional sense. You can still go to Heaven and Hell. You can still go to places and check in on people and see where they are in the afterlife, and they can still have concerns about things. So, I’m sure we’ll see those characters again at some point, but in a book like Killadelphia that has so many characters and is so intimately approached, I never want there to be a sense of sameness.

So, when we get to a point where there’s too much of things like the father and son stuff or John and Abigail Adams bickering, I get bored. And, if I’m getting bored, I don’t want the audience to get bored. That’s why I’m bringing in elements to make the story more nimble. The ability to go here, there, and different places was always the goal.

I’m really excited about our guest stars. It’s a huge thing for us because we have our little, insulated world that we created, but being able to bring in Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Blacula gives us an opportunity to expand our world and hopefully bring in new readers and folks who are fans of those other things, while still maintaining what we do with Killadelphia. Hopefully, this will enhance the level of interest in this book.

Killadelphia #31 is due out on Nov. 15.