Is there anything scarier than a fast-spreading disease ripping through a major metropolitan area, leaving people dead and dying in the streets in its wake? Lately, it doesn’t seem like it, especially if you’ve been watching CNN. Now, those fears of contagion have infected the DC Universe in the latest arc of Justice League, “The Amazo Virus.” The titular virus was created by Lex Luthor as a metahuman countermeasure, but it was never meant to be deployed. However, during an attack on Luthor’s private laboratory, it managed to escape and now the whole of Metropolis is infected, and the disease is starting to spread. It’s up to the Justice League to contain the illness, but there’s a catch — the virus gives the infected uncontrollable superpowers for a short time before ultimately killing them from within. Now it’s a race against time for Luthor and the Justice League to not only save the day, but for Lex to answer the question of whether or not he can ever put his past behind him.
Recently, I spoke with writer Geoff Johns and artist Jason Fabok about the new issue of Justice League, what to expect from Lex Luthor, how the Bat-Hazmat suit came to be, and much more.
Nerdist: Let’s talk about the Amazo Virus! I really enjoyed the issue, and Jason, I’ve really been digging your artwork, so it’s a pretty terrific debut right there.
Jason Fabok: Oh, thanks!
N: Yeah, so, let’s talk about that first. Jason, you just joined Justice League. How’s the experience been so far? How does it compare to previous books you’ve drawn?
JF: Umm…I’d have to say that joining Justice League – at first I was kind of overwhelmed with everything that was being presented to me. Here’s an opportunity to draw one of DC’s biggest books, with DC’s biggest writer, and just having the chance to play in this new playground with all these legendary characters that – I had only really drawn Batman universe back to the last couple of years. To now have to draw Superman and Wonder Woman, the Flash and Lex Luthor and all these characters – at first it was kind of daunting.
I’ll admit that that first issues I was kind of stressed, and I was kind of scared of was I doing a good job, was I depressing? I’m trying to impress a new editor and a new writer and all these things all at once. But in the end I really feel – I looked at this book, when I got a copy of the book the other day, and seeing it on paper with the nice glossy paper and everything, I really just was proud of it. I think that we all kind of came together – Geoff, myself, Brian Cunningham as the editor and Brad Anderson the colorist – I’ve got to give him a shout-out because I think he made the piece look so awesome. He really took my artwork, the lines that I give him, to another level.
I’m just so proud of this book! I’m usually so negative about everything that I do, and i never really enjoy it. I sat down and I read the issue last night, and I just felt really proud. To me, that’s something that doesn’t happen very often, but I think that all of these, just this whole collaboration – the teamwork, the building up of confidence – Geoff allowing me to kind of play, and I think it really just creates something – I feel like I’m going to really have a great time on this book, and I feel that I’m going to produce the best and the strongest material of my career so far. Yeah, it’s been great.
N: That’s awesome! Do you have a favorite character to draw so far?
JF: Umm – Batman’s really my favorite, but of the new characters, I’d say Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor – I just felt like I clicked with them immediately, and I just got them. Whereas Superman I feel like I’m still getting there. I like the way he’s looking, but I kind of like to make it my own, and I think that’s going to take me a little bit. But especially Lex Luthor – I don’t know, he’s one of those characters that I probably wouldn’t think I would really dig, but ever since I saw – when I read “Forever Evil,” I really started to like the character quite a bit. Getting to draw him with Supe is just so cool, and you can play around with shininess and angle, or shininess and all the cool contours of armored suit. It’s just something different to draw, and it’s actually a lot of fun.
N: I’m glad you brought up “Forever Evil,” because I really enjoyed that arc, and definitely one of the biggest impacts on the DCU seems to have been this sort of reinvention of Lex Luthor. “The Amazo Virus” feels like Lex trying and failing a little bit to escape his past. I wonder if you could speak to that a little bit. What can we expect from Lex going forward?
Geoff Johns: Yeah, that’s exactly the whole point of the arc, Dan, is to not only – our challenge is presenting the Justice League with something that never kind of had gone up against, but also as you said, in regards to previous issues, you can’t just erase your past. It about trying to keep Luthor’s past from blowing up in his face, but also to have him struggling to not only correct it successfully, and also keep the trade secrets behind what the Virus is, and why it was created for everyone.
There’s a lot of secrets to this that will help pull us through the arc, and it really is about how you can’t escape your past. And can Luthor be – can he ever really truly be a hero, or is it impossible with everything he’s done? And I’m not sure how I’ll answer.
But going back to Jay – I’ve just got to give him props too. I’m beyond thrilled that he’s my partner in this book, and he – I think your Superman on the cover of #37 is one of the best Superman’s I’ve seen. I think it’s fantastic. I think he has that character – I do, myself. But Jay coming on the book, a lot of the -it just kind of resets things, and gets a successful place that we sort of, on the team – we really designed issue 36 to be something that anybody could pick up and read, and while they get into it, follow and hopefully be intrigued by both the characters and the mystery of the Amazon Virus.
N: I like that it is a nice jumping on point for people. Granted, it’s one where things have rapidly gone to hell, but it’s definitely an exciting place to jump on.
With the Amazo Virus, how much of this is inspired by sort of current fears over rapidly spreading diseases, like ebola, or is that just sort of a grisly coincidence?
GJ: Well, I started writing this stuff back in May, so well before that. It’s kind of eerie The serum, I think one of the really interesting facts, it’s in one of our issues, actually, but no one can say, the Black Plague – people think that it’s this diesease that killed, like, billions of people and now it’s gone, but the reality is that 2,000 people each year are still affected by the plague, and I think the fear of something that you can’t reason with or talk to or negotiate with, or even really stop sometimes, it is scary.
The danger, I think, overreacting with fear and panic – with the Justice League, their mission really became to provide – to not to give into fear, so it was just a kind of threat maintenance, sort of looking at the news cycle going on now.
I’m glad it’s actually something that we talked about it. The best superhero stories are, for me – when I look at Green Lantern and following that, it was always about the emotion of fear and the power of what that emotion can do. You can have a lot of fun with our characters, but also hopefully have a story that resonates and relates to the readers. But our disease, by the way, is much scarier than that.
N: [laughs] Yeah, I’ll say. You sort of approached this notion of rapidly spreading disease and quarantine before in your old Avengers arc, “Red Zone”. Did any work on that or research going into that help inform how you approached this story?
GJ: “Red Zone” was more of a bio-terrorist attack. Actually, I was really proud of that story. I thought that was – I still really hold it up as one of my favorite stories I’ve worked on. But most of my research back then was on bio-terrorism and the weapons of the day. That was in the wake of 2001 and anthrax being passed around,.
I mean, I was shocked by – you always worry about people who stockpile bio-weapons and nuclear weapons all over, but the truth is they have their own CDC over there that’s got stockpiles of all the classic crazy viruses. It’s all about hopefully eradicating, and quite frankly that stuff’s probably more danger probably than any nuclear warhead.
So the research I did on viruses and diseases was really to help support the story. We never considered if another species evolved and it was like, what if it’s a virus? What if a virus was evolving into something that was like an equivalent of a Superman, but had the power and strength for it to propagate itself. It’s a pretty frightening thing. And it’s going to be personified in a way I don’t think people see in books, and that’s really what we’re going for.
But again, that’s a base level – we’re probably getting way too theoretical for a base level. This story is about something Luthor created that gets loose, and now somebody has to clean up the mess, and Luthor has to face the consequences of an act that ultimately, and hopefully he can hold up the secrets behind it, but we’ll break those open and we’ll see if he can recover from it.
N: I also want to talk a bit about the visual aesthetic you guys have created with this. The city is ravaged – things have rapidly broken down. I thought you guys did a great job of showing just how quickly a rapidly-spreading disease like this or virus like this can really destroy a major metropolitan area. So what do you guys look to in order to create this sort of sense of destruction?
GJ: Well, it’s funny – when I first started the script, we really wanted to create a city of particular size, a city that clearly was deserted quickly, because that’s what would happen. If something like that hit, everybody would be out of there as quickly as they could, except for the people who probably couldn’t make it out because they couldn’t. And the idea of having the starting with money floating in the air, with no one there to take it. For us that said a lot, and Jay did that beautiful double-page spread, and you could see right away the city itself – the city’s in pretty bad shape. So the idea set the tone, very, very quickly.
JF: And visually, I had just finished playing with the video game The Last of Us…
N: Oh, nice!
JF: …and I really loved the eeriness – you could tell in that game, there would be cars just piled up on the freeway, and people were probably just escaping from their car and running away from all the zombies and stuff that were coming. So I wanted to get that sense, that if you were in a big metropolitan city and something went down, especially when you’re near ground zero or whatever, which was the Lex Tower there, it’d be neat to see all these cars just abandoned, and Batman and Superman kind of walking across the tops of the cars as they’re making their way to the source of everything that’s going.
I love visual things like that, and it’s a lot of work to draw all those busted-up cars, but it looks so cool on the page when it’s in print, and it adds so much depth and mood to the book itself, and to the pages that you’re seeing.
N: It had a super creepy vibe, in all the right ways. One of my other favorites was the Bat-Hazmat suit. I love the biohazard symbol behind the Batman emblem on his chest. Tell me a little bit about this design? How did that look come to be?
JF: Yeah – Geoff had described it in the book, Batman suit, and I believe Batman has that suit. I had drawn one for Detective Comics, but I wasn’t 100% happy with it back then. So I wanted to do something different, so I looked at a lot of different hazmat suits, and I looked at some sci-fi art and things like that. I started coming up with the design – I just wanted to do a pure black suit. I really like the play of black and orange together, and I just thought it was kind of nice, it would work well there.
But the Bat-Hazmat bio-hazard symbol was something that I was playing around with different configurations, and I just took a Batman logo that he has on his chest, and I kind of stuck it on top of a biohazard logo, and the way that the wings of the bat fit, it fit perfectly inside of the bio-hazard logo. I thought, man, this is meant to be! So I combined them and I just really felt that it gave it a really unique look. I love creating things like that.
I love to joke that I’d do an action figure of it. Because that’s kind of one of my dreams – I’d love to do some action figure designs. But I really love experimenting and playing with some of that stuff. I’ve been able to design a few different costumes for some different characters, create a new character or two, and those kinds of things get me excited to have an opportunity, to somehow add to the DC universe, and put my own kind of stamp on it. Geoff comes up with great characters and great ideas as well, and we just kind of feed off each other in that aspect.
N: That’s awesome. I have to say, that definitely brought me back to my days of drooling over the myriad Batman action figures in Toys ‘R’ Us. So job well done!
GJ: That was actually the goal. One of the scenes we’re going to be doing in the series, Dan, with Jay coming on, this really great designer, I saw this really awesome kind of tweak on a Wonder Woman uniform, and I was like, “Let’s do that!” Our characters are versatile. They’re going to have different outfits and weapons and things they rely on, so throughout our run we’re going to start to expand that, like everyone’s utility belt. And then we’re also going to get more into them calling upon their their connections to the DC universe as the book starts to build toward “Darkseid War”, and a bit more involved with the rest of the DCU.
N: That’s awesome. And speaking of “Darkseid War”, have you guys already begun dropping hints into this arc, or is there anything eagle-eyed readers should go back and give it a second read?
GJ: We’ll see some stuff happening that ultimately it will help to start set – there’s some stuff ahead that starts percolating and lead up to it. But yeah – we’re on the eve of the Darkseid War, unbeknownst to I think everybody there in the book – we’re on the eve of the Darkseid War, and that’s going to be a lot of fun when it gets here.
Justice League #36 is available everywhere today.