If you haven’t been reading Justice League lately, you’ve been missing out on some of the biggest and best storylines in the DC Universe. Sure, other comics may delve deeper into particular characters or tackle issues in a more focused manner, but it’s hard to beat the breathless thrill of seeing all the best and brightest in the DC Universe fighting alongside one another in the pages of a single title.
Most recently, The Amazo Virus has torn the Justice League apart as the pathogen ravages our heroes, infecting the team, and threatens to tear them apart. That the storyline hit during the height of ebola fears was mere happenstance, but added a level of real-world grit to the superhero story. With the dynamic duo of writer Geoff Johns and recently added artist Jason Fabok at the book’s helm, the title has never been stronger, deftly weaving between sprawling action sequences and bringing the supergroup together in new, uniquely challenging situations that put these superhumans through the narrative wringer. Next up, we’re heading into Convergence and the sprawling, universe-wide battle known as “Darkseid War,” which will pit Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor against one another.
Here’s the official synopsis for Justice League #41:
“The critically acclaimed team of Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok present the much anticipated, extra-sized first chapter of “DARKSEID WAR”! When the Justice League investigate a series of unexplained murders on Earth, it leads them to the frontlines of a war unlike any the DC Universe has ever seen – a battle between the two most powerful villains in existence: Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor! Meet Darkseid’s daughter – a mysterious force of evil with a bizarre connection to the Justice League! Plus: The horrible secret of Superwoman’s baby! The ultimate temptation of Batman! Lex Luthor vs. Superman – no holds barred! New villains! New allies! And so much more in the DC Event that has been building since JUSTICE LEAGUE #1!”
Recently, I sat down in the DC Comics offices in Los Angeles to speak with Johns and Fabok about what the future holds for the Justice League post-Convergence, their experience working on the book thus far, and what to expect from Darkseid War.
N: The post-Convergence relaunch is on the horizon. Justice League is obviously a hold-over title. It’s not one of the brand new #1’s. I know they wanted people to sort of push the envelope, coming out the other side. So how are you guys going to heighten what’s already a pretty heightened book?
Geoff Johns: I think the Free Comic Book Day story will set the tone for that. We’re really trying to not only continue classic, iconic, world’s-greatest-superheroes adventures, but at the same time, we’re trying to add new things to it. And I equate it to what we did in, hopefully, like Green Lantern and Sinestro Corps, is that some of these new villains, these new threats we’re adding, are layered into the mythology of the DC universe. They’ve always been there, and maybe we just reveal what they are. And our goal going into June with “Darkseid War” is to really, even though we’ve got the battle between the two biggest and most dangerous villains in the DC universe and history, Darkseid and Anti-Monitor with the League caught in the middle, the ramifications of that, and the new characters that grow from that, are a huge part of the story.
So one of the things I’ve always liked to do, whether it’s Green Lantern or Aquaman, is do the classics as best you can, but then add a lot of new stuff to it, and of course it’s a new mythology. And this is what Jay and I’s goal is, to do that through Darkseid War. But it’s going to really change the team, and hit the team pretty hard.
N: That seems like it’s also in line with the big party line that I’ve been hearing, that story will trump continuity. Now with a book like Justice League, it’s been around since the early ’60s. That’s quite a lot of story and history to amass. How are you guys planning on embracing that maxim going forward with the book?
GJ: Well, we always have. I mean, our “Amazo Virus” is a story about the Justice League, but we’re not–we don’t want to chain ourselves to everything else that’s happening in the DC universe, you know? We have to kind of tell our stories without–both kind of reacting to what’s going on in a book like Wonder Woman or Superman or Batman, but at the same time, this is about them as a team. And so our story is always going to come first.
That’s not to be said that we’re not going to have some continuity and it fits to the bigger universe, and that we’re going to play with characters that have been around a long time, because I think part of the fun for us as fans is to see a character like Mr. Miracle, who has maybe been in the background for quite a long time, come up in the foreground and be center stage for this big event.
N: “The Amazo Virus” has been one of my favorite storylines in recent memory.
N: I was talking to you guys about this previously, how it came at a very interesting time, because it was coming out right when everyone was losing their minds over Ebola, flu was everywhere–it just felt very of the moment. Now I know that it wasn’t intended to drop during a pandemic scare, but is that what you’re looking for with some of these stories? Rooting them in some real world events, or fears, or sentiments–stuff like that?
Jason Fabok: Hopefully, Darkseid is the anti-virus.
GJ: Yeah, exactly.
JF: He’s tearing up the world.
GJ: I think there’s always–I believe in a very humanistic approach to these things and stories. We as people can always relate to emotional storytelling, so I’m always trying to make this an emotional storytelling through Justice League, but sometimes it’s macro, like the “Amazo Virus” story, and sometimes, like with “Darkseid War,” it’s actually a lot about finding your place in the world. It’s a lot about children and parents. It’s a lot about the dangers of two forces that are beyond us. There some about Man and God, what that relationship is. There’s a lot of theological themes at play here, but it all comes down to the personal, emotional individual stories and collective stories of the Justice League members. And that’s really what Darkseid War will touch upon.
There’s also some meta-commentary on comics today and continuity. You read Justice League #40, and it is as meta as we can probably get, because it sets up a lot of what we’re doing and telling in “Darkseid War.”
N: Nice. Well, Jason, it seems like you’ve really been hitting the ground running with Justice League so far. With “Amazo Virus” those shots of money falling down over the city made for such a good opening shot, as well as the massive slug-fests with recently super-powered Leaguers and super-powered citizens. Now you’re going to “Darkseid War,” which is obviously–once you bring in cosmic characters like Darkseid and Anti-Monitor, it’s like a whole other ballpark. So does that excite you creatively? What can we look forward to?
JF: Well, yeah–these are things I’ve wanted to draw for a long time, but I don’t think I was really ready to attack a big team book like this until maybe recently. I worked on a lot of single-character books, and I got to do some of the cool stuff with Batman, and the Batman universe, but I always wanted to do Justice League. To me, that was just the natural progression. I wanted to do a Justice League story. I wanted to work with Geoff.
I wanted to do–I always bring up “Blackest Night”, because that was a book that when I first read that, it just blew my mind. I’d never really read a big group super-epic story like that before, and seeing Ivan Reis draw that book just opened my eyes to so many different possibilities. And now I’m going to get that opportunity to draw something like that. With our schedule that we’ve worked out, I really feel like I’m going to be able to produce the best art that I’ve ever done in my career, and I hope that this is something that when it’s done, we can look back on in years to come and go, “Yeah–that was just a phenomenal story, and we were firing on all cylinders.”
I think that the “Amazo Virus” was a nice lead-up into that. Geoff kind of slowly breaks me in. Issue #39 that comes out next week or the week after is really just saying, “OK, let’s see how crazy we can make this, and let’s see if you can handle it.” It was tough, but I think the book turned out phenomenal.
GJ: Yeah, it’s definitely my favorite issue of the arc. But the arc too is like it is–Jay starting it, and we knew “Darkseid War” was coming, and the “Amazo Virus” was the next story line, it was going to be a very, I guess more eerie, creepy…
JF: A little bit more smaller story.
GJ: Yeah, a smaller story, even though the scope is crazy.
N: Yeah. Well, it’s very atmospheric.
GJ: Yeah, ‘atmospheric’ is probably the best word for it, you’re right–because although there’s heavy action stuff, it’s a little bit more atmospheric than it is kind of like you know the world’s blowing up and stuff. The stakes are high, but high in a very kind of subdued way. And that was perfect for us to kind of get our working relationship together, see what we could do, and then #39 ratchets it up, because I’m like, “OK, he can do this now–I’m going to just go to the next level.” And then once he did that, it’s like, OK, now we’re ready for “Darkseid War.” because we need to be in total synch creatively. We talk three or four times per week, because we need to collaborate and be in total synch about why we’re doing this story, what we’re doing it for, which characters we’re using and why.
It’s always got to be why are we telling a story–why do we have to tell this story? The “Amazo Virus” story was a cool story to challenge the League with something they’ve never faced before, and also expose Luthor to a universal truth that you can’t escape your past, just because you think you’re turning over a new leaf now, or saying so, doesn’t mean you can sweep everything under the rug. And that, in issue #39, which you’ll see, we really end that with an exclamation point. Because he makes a pretty big enemy by the end of the story arc.
JF: And I’ve learned a lot about collaboration through this. I’ve never worked with a writer so closely in my career, and it just opened my eyes to all these different possibilities. You know, this week that we spend together has really strengthened us as friends…
JF: …and also as creators, and we’re going to be on the same page, and when you’re doing that, I think that the project is just going to–it’s going to be all the better for the final product.
GJ: When we sit down and talk about–this isn’t really a spoiler, but Kanto, who is just a character who we’re both, like, Kanto? And we talk about it for like half an hour, and then suddenly we’re in synch, and we realize the potential for this character through our vision of what we want to try to do with the justice league when we use him–as long as Jay and I are super enthusiastic, we’re both in agreement on it, we’re both excited about it, we’re adding ideas to it.
Even his body language–he’s talking about his body language, and who this character is, and we start to crack into this character really, really deeply, so by the time I get to script and he gets to art, we’re already 75% of the way there, and that’s most of the battle. If we know everything–like Jay knows the last seen if “Darkseid War”. He knows the exact last scene.
JF: I know what it’s leading to.
GJ: Literally the last seen of “Darkseid War,” he knows that exact scene, and that’s the most important scene in the entire story line. And because he knows it and knows what we’re building to and knows the big goal posts that we’re hitting, and knows what characters are going to be focused on there, it just helps us with everything, because we’re both rowing the same way.
And it’s hard to find that. Honestly, it’s not that easy. I work with–I’ve said this before–I’ve worked with the same artists because I love working with Gary Frank and Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke. I’ve worked with the same artists over and over and over, because we have a great collaboration, and I’ve worked with a lot of artists. It’s rare to find that common ground where you both are in synch, and with Jay, we found it pretty quickly.
I’m really grateful for it, because for me, he influences me, and gives me enthusiasm on the book, because I see his pages come in, and I go, “Oh my god, his Wonder Woman is an unbelievable rendition of the character! Look at this strength, look at the emotional reality of her,” and then she suddenly becomes more of a focal point of the story. And that’s happened–that’s totally happened with the characters that he’s illustrating, so it’s a lot of fun.
N: I like the give and take, where you find that sort of creative lock-step.
GJ: It has to be. Remember when you’d stay up all night on Friday with your friend, just talking about stories?
N: Of course.
GJ: What you loved–that’s what we’re doing. It’s like, “What are we going to do with Shazam and Cyborg? What are we going to do with Batman and Green Lantern?” There’s a really cool I think we’re talking about with Batman that I haven’t even scripted the issue yet, but we know exactly what’s happened to Batman in the whole story line, and what role he’s going to play, and what he goes through, and ultimately where it ends up, and it’s–when you know what the journey is, I just think we can get there together in a really strong way.
And like Jay said, this has to be–we’re putting everything we have into this story line. We’re thinking it through, we’re really trying to make this about the characters, and building the DC universe up, not tearing it down. Adding to it, new stuff–revitalizing characters that people don’t even–like, it’s fun to take a character that people aren’t even asking for and just have them show up!
That’s what we did with Mera in “Blackest Night.” Mera just was there–people were like, “Who is that?” And some people knew her, and by the end of it, people were like, “Mera is amazing!” They really gravitate towards her, and I think that’s what we want to do with this on an even bigger level. We do want to introduce some characters that exist now in the DC universe, and then brand new characters. One of our goals is villains. We have a lot of new villains that are going to be rising up out of this storyline, but it’s fun.
I feel very fortunate that Jay and I get to play in this sandbox that is the DC universe.
Justice League #40 is available on April 29.