Before writing the New York Times best-selling novel “Robopocalypse,” Daniel H. Wilson earned his Ph.D. at the Robotics Institute (RI) at Carnegie Mellon University — considered the world leader in robotics research — in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Considering that Wilson is no stranger to engineering advanced plans and strategies, perhaps it’s not at all unusual to learn that DC Comics has tapped the relative comics newcomer to serve as showrunner of its most recently announced weekly series, “Earth 2: World’s End,” launching in October 2014, following the line-wide “Futures End” tie-in running across DC’s September slate.
Wilson was unable to provide many details about the who, what, when, why and where of “Earth 2: World’s End,” but the writer spoke candidly about the daunting task ahead of him in this exclusive first interview about the project. Beyond explaining how he went from writing a 12-page story in IDW Publishing’s “Zombies vs. Robots” 2012 Annual to headlining a 26-issue weekly series for DC Comics, he shared his thoughts on the long-standing dynamic shared by the comic book industry’s most iconic superheroes, Superman and Batman, and which titles and storylines he’s been reading in preparation of “Earth 2: World’s End.”
Beyond his work in the world of the DCU, Wilson also teased what’s to come in “Robogenesis,” the sequel to “Robopocalypse,” (scheduled for release on June 10) and explained why he is anxiously awaiting the latest Steven Spielberg “Robopocalypse” news, just like the rest of us.
CBR News: While this makes perfect sense once I thought about it, I have to admit that this project caught me completely off-guard. How did you land at DC Comics to work on “Earth 2: World’s End”?
Daniel H. Wilson: Writing comics is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My first toe that I dipped into this world was working on the “Zombies vs. Robots” annual with Chris Ryall for IDW in 2012. I made a little 12-page foray into comics, and that was an interesting experience. It wasn’t really what I was expecting, but last year, I got a call from [DC Comics editor] Mike Cotton wondering if I would be interested at all in writing for DC Comics. He’s a fan of “Robopocalypse” and “Amped,” and I think why he wanted to bring me in was my world-building and all of the time that I spend imaging these worlds and being consistent about making decisions about what the characters would do and what kind of technology that they would have access to. It’s funny, because in the comic book world, that’s a really hard problem.
And this is especially true when you start talking about multiple universes [Laughs] and there is a cast of hundreds and hundreds and they all have different versions of themselves and the history goes way back. It’s really tough, but it really matters. If it’s not consistent, it could ruin a whole story. I felt like that is why I was brought in, and that’s what they liked about me but I don’t really know. [Laughs] I was just happy to get the phone call.
The series was just announced, but I’ve been working on this for a while. I haven’t been able to really tell anyone. That’s been killing me, too. I’m thinking about the stuff I write all of the time — it never stops — and lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about “Earth 2” and I couldn’t really talk to many people about it. It was torture.
Right after “Earth 2: World’s End” was announced, you tweeted that you were finally going to fit in at Comic-Con. Do you read comic books?
I read everything. There are a few comic books that I read, and I read graphic novels. I read mostly non-fiction stuff to do research for my novels, and I also edit science fiction anthologies. I just had one come out last week called “Robot Uprisings,” which I co-edited with John Joseph Adams. That means I am reading a lot of science fiction short stories. I also read a lot of science fiction novels. There are so many piles of stuff for me to read.
Of course, lately, I have been reading a lot of “Earth 2” and “World’s Finest” and “Brightest Day” and “Wonder Woman.” And “Mister Terrific.” Even though it was only eight issues, I really enjoyed it.
Did you have a favorite title or superhero as a kid?
I read “MAD Magazine.” That was the thing that I was completely into. All of my science fiction was taken care of with short stories. I was really into reading sci-fi, like Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein and the usual suspects
Having done your research, how familiar are you now with DC Comics’ Earth 2/Multiverse concept?
Intimately. [Laughs] I have to say, on my first day, I went out to New York and met with Mike Cotton. We were sitting in his office with pictures of characters up on the wall, and we just started going. And for about the first five minutes, I was having this minor panic attack, thinking, “How am I ever going to able to keep all of this straight?” [Laughs] “Have I written a check that I can’t cash?” But I calmed down, and you know how easy it as a fan — once you’re immersed in it, it just starts rolling off your tongue. It’s like binge watching “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones.” Five minutes later, you’re having these deep conversations about who killed whom and why.
The best part for me is that I’m taking all of this knowledge I’m assimilating and then projecting forward — projecting new technologies and new characters and new plotlines. It’s amazing to be sitting in that cockpit and having someone allow you to have your hands on the controls.
You have a Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and serve as the Resident Roboticist for “Popular Mechanics” — what’s your understanding of how multiverses exist, scientifically speaking?
With my science background, at the very least, I am aware that there are several different theories, mostly in the physics realm, that exist to explain how multiple universes are playing out, and whether every decision spawns a new universe or if we have all of these parallel universes stacked on top of each other. That’s one of the first things that I said in the room. I said, “I just want to know what the scientific underpinning is of Earth 2.” Once you get that figured out, a lot of other stuff falls out of it.
If you are traveling from one universe to another, what’s your concept of distance? Is it the more similar it is, the closer it is? Is it the closer in time, the closer it is? If you start traveling between universes, are you going to take one step into a vacuum where Earth never existed? Or are you going to be in a place very similar to where you are now? Figuring out the topography of that and using scientific background to help explain it works, even though it’s a comic.
Look at my friend James Kakalios, who wrote “The Physics of Superheroes.” There’s always going to be that stuff, but you can go and find the root of it. I think that’s important because it tells you where your constraints are. It tells you where your boundaries are, and it helps establish consistency amongst all of the different writers if they understand the underpinning and they understand how it’s all working, because then everybody is on the same page.
You’re serving as a showrunner on this series, with Tom Taylor, Paul Levitz, Marguerite Bennett and Mike Johnson as writers. How will you be divvying up the writing? By character, by storyline? Possibly by issue?
That’s still to be determined. Mainly, what I’m doing is breaking the major story elements up front. For me, that means it’s Excel Spreadsheet City. [Laughs]
There are so many characters, so many plotlines, six months of weekly comics — this is a daunting task. I outline all of my books religiously. I know ever chapter and every detail up front. Well, maybe not every detail, but the rough details of what’s going to happen. Part of that is, when you write a novel, you just wake up every day and write. You do that every day, for a year-and-a-half. You don’t have any indication that you are making any progress. That’s how you keep track. For me, outlining is partly there just to keep my sanity. I look at the spreadsheet and know that I’m halfway done, I just have to get my characters through these plot points and I’ll be done. I guess that I am bringing that logical mindset with me. That doesn’t mean that all of the other writers are going to have to do that. There’s going to be lots of room for creativity. I’m just putting together the rails of this amusement park ride.
This is really my first time doing this particular type of job, so I’m just learning and deferring. [Laughs]
One of DC Comics’ other weekly series, “The New 52: Futures End,” appears to have the feel of a robot uprising, with OMAC transcending the Justice League in the “Five Years Later” dystopia. Will “Earth 2: World’s End” have a similar high-concept/theme?
â€¨I obviously can’t talk too much about this, but I will say, no, I’m not recreating any of my past work on “Earth 2.” Don’t look for anything too similar to “Robopocalypse” or “How to Survive a Robot Uprising.” That said, sure, there are certain themes about technology and things that I really like to explore that will appear.
In the Ben Oliver-illustrated promotional image DC Comics released for “Earth 2: Future’s End,” we see (presumably) Val Zod, dressed as Superman, comforting Power Girl in the background, gazing upon Batman/Thomas Wayne holding a not-so-alive-looking Huntress in his arms. We also see Doctor Fate’s helmet ominously discarded in the foreground. Are these the major players featured in “Earth 2: World’s End”?
We’re so early in the process, I have to be very careful about what I say right now. I don’t really want to talk about any possible plotlines or even the characters.
While you can’t talk about these characters, what can you say about DC Comics’ most iconic superheroes, Superman and Batman. In the promo art, we have parallel versions of the publisher’s two biggest characters. Why does the dynamic of the original World’s Finest work so well in comic book storytelling?
The way I look at the relationship between Superman and Batman is physicality versus mentality. Batman, in my mind, is a scientist. He straight up tries to figure things out with his brain while trying not to get killed. It’s crazy that he hangs with the big boys. And he’s intelligent in a very practical way; he doesn’t spawn grandiose, Lex Luthor/Terry Sloane-type of take-over-the-world-type of plans. Instead, he focuses and figures out what the problem is at hand. There’s also that detective element, where he is figuring out what really smart bad guys are going to do. I love that. He’s almost like Indiana Jones — really smart and really physical.
Superman has so much physical power that he doesn’t have to spend as much time in the laboratory figuring things out. He has the freedom to charge in and save the day. He also has more responsibility to protect people with immediacy. He often doesn’t have the opportunity to retreat and try to reason things out while someone is attacking. He’s the first line of defense. I really like watching how things play out between those two.
I think I know your answer, but with Power Girl and Huntress currently on Prime Earth and this series, one would assume, is set on Earth 2, not to mention 2015 marking the 30th anniversary of DC Comics’ landmark “Crisis on Infinite Earths” — can we expect a Multiverse crossover in “Earth 2: World’s End?”
That’s not something I can talk about. [Laughs] Sorry. But yes, there are some characters straddling different places.
Okay. I won’t get you into any more trouble. Before I let you go, there seems to be some traction on Steven Spielberg’s planned attempt at making “Robopocalypse” into a movie starring Chris Hemsworth. Any updates that you can share on that front?
I’ve been here before, and I’m really not in the loop. I’m a spectator like everyone else. I’m cautiously optimistic, and I really don’t have any expectations about anything happening because you just can’t afford to get your hopes up. I’m glad that I’m not hearing bad news. I like to hear good news, but it’s not over until I’m sitting there, watching it in the theater. We’ll see what happens, but again, I’m cautiously optimistic. I just don’t want to get my heart broken.
Regardless, the renewed buzz comes at a good time as “Robogenesis,” the sequel to “Robopocalypse,” is set to be released in June.
That’s true. And I am so excited about “Robogenesis.” It picks up right after “Robopocalypse,” literally minutes after that one ends. My favorite characters are back and, man, the world gets a lot more complex. I used this ‘robot uprising’ meme to get people into the story. Everybody knows what that is. We’ve seen it a million times. From there, we need to make it more complicated. “Robogenesis” is where it really gets more complicated and it becomes more about our survival as a species but not so clear-cut as, “I’m Skynet and I want to kill everybody.”
You mentioned your favorite characters — I assume that means Cormac Wallace?
Yes, he will be there, and Mathilda Perez and Lark Iron Cloud, who was a minor character in the first book. So many people got on my case about him getting killed, but he was only apparently killed. [Laughs] I really wanted to have some more Native characters and a Native protagonist, so after I received that feedback, he’s back. Lark is Cherokee, and I grew up in Oklahoma in the Cherokee Nation. I’m a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and this is stuff that I know about and is important to me. Lark Iron Cloud has a really heartbreaking and amazing story arc that I’m super excited about.
And was Archos also only apparently killed?
Yes. [Laughs] Archos absolutely plays a role. I think most people saw that I was telegraphing a sequel in the first one, with the seismic disturbances, but I have to tell you, everything that I write — I have a lot of friends that are roboticists and are scientists from my former life, and I make sure that all of these men and women read my books before I put them out. I got a lot of flack over the seismic transmissions. I had to convince my friends. I had to consult a seismologist. [Laughs] And I found a way to do it that made everyone happy. I set this up in the first book — I can’t be changing it now!
We knew we could find a way. We knew we could figure it out. [Laughs]
“Earth 2: World’s End,” by Daniel H. Wilson, Tom Taylor, Paul Levitz, Marguerite Bennett and Mike Johnson and featuring art by Eddy Barrows, Jorge Jimenez, Stephen Segovia, Paulo Siqueira and Tyler Kirkham, debuts October 2014.