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Most people associate David S. Goyer with the world of comic-book heroes, from Blade to Batman to Superman, making his latest project Da Vinci’s Demons, the upcoming Starz drama about the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, seem unusual. But in speaking with the Man of Steel screenwriter at New York Comic Con, we quickly learned there are plenty of superhero connections to the archetypal Renaissance man.
“He was certainly a mad inventor, he was known to drink a lot, there were rumors that he smoked opium — the parallels to Tony Stark are there,” Goyer explained to a group of journalists.
There also are a lot of direct parallels between Da Vinci and Bruce Wayne. Bob Kane apparently took inspirations for elements of Batman from Da Vinci, and so the Renaissance inventor has already made his impact in the comic book world. That’s part of why Goyer found himself so interested in the character.
“We’re essentially positioning Da Vinci as one-third Indiana Jones, one-third Sherlock Holmes, one-third kind of Tony Stark, so it’s Da Vinci when he’s 27 in Europe,” Goyer said. “A lot of people think of Da Vinci as the guy who did the self-portrait, and then people think he did the Mona Lisa and Last Supper, but the truth is he was known to be a really good swordsman, he was ambidextrous, he could fight with both hands, he was known to be a really good writer, he had a reputation for having a really big mouth. He was thrown in jail a bunch of times, he had a reputation for fighting, and most of his life he was living as a war engineer, not as an artist.”
Goyer took that generally unknown backstory as the basis for his series. It became clear during the conversation that he has spent plenty of time researching Da Vinci, and that it’s the unknown periods of his life that really intrigue him. Although “about 85 percent of the show is based on historical fact,” Goyer did admit they’ve used artistic license.
“At the time of his death, he had about 13,000 notebook pages and, within a year of his death, 7,000 of those pages went missing — again, all true,” he explained. “The show is really about those five years and the missing 7,000 pages.”
But Goyer did take some creative liberties, like with the “demons” of the title. He teased that “If you like Lost, you’ll like our show,” and revealed there’s a mythological element to the series.
“The demons are allegorical and literal, and without giving too much away, the show’s a lot of fun but it’s also a dark show. He’s definitely haunted,” Goyer said. “There’s a mythology around the show, and part of the mythology deals with a real-life mystery cult called the Sons of Mithras that you can Google, lots of books have been written about them. They’re the original secret society. Plato, Aristotle were members of this — I didn’t make this up, this isn’t Dan Brown world. This is real.”
He continued, “Da Vinci considers himself a scientist, an empiricist. He starts this show saying, ‘Demons don’t exist.’ In a weird way, he starts the show sort of like a debunker, but part of his journey during the show is he comes to believe that there are sort of things beyond science that ultimately can’t be explained. He doesn’t like those things because they make him feel uncomfortable.”
Because much of Da Vinci’s Demons is factual, viewers will get to meet many familiar characters on the show. Da Vinci knew people like Christopher Columbus, Tor Kamata, Niccolo Machiavelli and Vlad Dracul, and Goyer confirmed that at least Dracul will be a character on the series.
Goyer’s plan is to have Da Vinci’s Demons run at least three seasons and, hopefully, a total of five. He teased that the clues for the end of the series are all in the first moments of Episode 1. This series is “not pretending to be a PBS show,” and it will take viewers on an interesting mostly historical journey.
“We think of Da Vinci as this dry guy and he’s not that at all. He was this amazing character,” he said. “He’s just always fit in this storied place in history. He seems to be at the center of all these crazy things, so the show is about that.”
Da Vinci’s Demons premieres in the spring on Starz.