Brian Azzarello, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens and Jeff Lemire have had very different careers as prominent creators in the comic book industry, and — based on a conversation with all four of them — each have very different personalities. It’s that mix of experience and outlook that they’re bringing as the writing team of upcoming DC Comics series “The New 52: Futures End”, running for 52 weekly issues plus a #0 kicking things off this Free Comic Book Day, on May 3, 2014.
Like 2006-2007’s weekly “52” before it, “Futures End” is designed to focus on a number of different characters — so far, Frankenstein, Firestorm and Batman Beyond have been mentioned as three main players — and is promised to have major consequences on the DC Universe as a whole. The action of “Futures End” is set “Five Years Later” from current DC storylines, and though the writers are hesitant to divulge many details at this point, based on Ryan Sook‘s OMAC-heavy cover to #0 and his character sketches, the future doesn’t exactly look bright.
CBR News gathered Azzarello, Giffen, Jurgens and Lemire for the exclusive first roundtable interview with all four “Futures End” writers, to discuss the thoroughly collaborative nature of the series, the introduction of former animated series star Terry McGinnis into New 52 continuity, the “huge, unifying event” binding the still-under-wraps plot together and the artists illustrating the story, which include cover artist and character designer Sook, #0’s Ethan Van Sciver, Jesus Merino, Aaron Lopresti and both Jurgens and Giffen; the latter providing layouts through the course of the year-long series.
CBR News: Let’s start at the beginning — with a story like this, given its length and its pace, presumably a tremendous amount goes into the planning. How long have you all been working on this one?
Brian Azzarelo: Forever.
Dan Jurgens: I don’t know, June? Is June right?
Jeff Lemire: I think so.
Keith Giffen: That was the first time we all pulled together.
What has the experience been like so far, given that it’s clearly a very different one than writing a monthly, solo book?
Jurgens: I’ve actually worked on a couple of weeklies before, in different capacities. To a certain extent, doing Superman with other writers, and putting together one overall story that might last a couple of months, was somewhat like working on a weekly. I think the fun part is that in this format, you can get a number of people together to tell a large scope story that you can’t necessarily fit into just a monthly book. The idea is to use the format to actually add to the story, and expand possibilities.
Lemire: Well said.
What’s the division of labor like? How are you splitting up writing duties between the four of you — taking turns on issues, coming up with plot all together, passing things back and forth?
Giffen: The individual writers doing entire issues is one of the things that pretty much did not work on “Countdown.” What we do is we have conference calls wherein we explain what we’re hoping to do in the next issue, and then we parse out the pages — “I’ll trade you one for two” — and figure out who’s doing what, and what order they’re in. But everyone has a voice in every issue. It’s really cooperative, as a matter of fact. If I need an extra page, either Jeff or Dan or Brian will cede a page from what they’re doing. It’s not like everyone has five pages and has to fill them, it’s really fluid to each as they need from the others.
Jurgens: We also have divvied up some of the cast somewhat. Brian will have a couple of characters he’s focusing on, as will Jeff, as will Keith, as will I. If we have a cast of, say, 20, we each end up with four or five characters that we rotate through. They’ll encounter each from time to time, and then we start to work that wider scope thing, and then pull back and let them have their own adventures for a bit. It’s all coming into sync quite well.
Speaking of characters, we know three main characters that have been revealed so far — Frankenstein, Firestorm and Batman Beyond. What led to the choice of those three characters — obviously not three of the biggest characters in the DCU — and giving them a spotlight in this series? And can you talk a bit about what roles they have to play in the story?
Lemire: I’ll talk a bit about Frankenstein — I think it’s kind of twofold. When we originally got together, we were looking to explore — not so much now, but when we first started cracking the story — the past of the DC Universe a bit, and the future of it. Frankenstein seemed like a natural choice, since he’s been around for so long. That was what originally got me thinking about using about him.
Mostly, I really felt like I hadn’t finished that story. I really enjoyed writing his monthly book [“Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.”] when The New 52 launched. I left that book to do “Justice League Dark,” and I wouldn’t say I regret the decision, but I certainly felt like there was more story left to tell with that character. This gave me an opportunity to go back to him and keep building on what I had established previously.
That’s Frankenstein, but they all had their own different ways of working their way into the story.
Jurgens: The character I’m playing around with most right now is Firestorm. One of the things we talked about when we first started to get the overall story ideas together is, if we’re going to tell a story that takes place five years from now, what are the changes the characters might naturally go through in that amount of time? Say, if you take a 25-year-old person, hypothetically they’re 30 five years later, they don’t go through as much change. If you take high school age characters, like Firestorm — or the kids that made him up, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch — that five-year period for them is filled with change. You really move from being a kid to an adult; you are into your college years or through college already. I’m playing around with those general concepts of what happens to these people we might have first seen in their high school years — what are they five years down? How does that affect them in terms of whether or not they’re a superhero like Firestorm, or whether they make a decision not to be? That’s really the area I’m focusing on.
Lemire: In a lot of ways, it’s almost the opposite — you take young characters like that, five years in their life is such a huge chunk and it feels like a big change, whereas Frankenstein’s been around so long that it’s just a tiny blip on a very long trajectory. We get very different points of view there.
Azzarello: I just needed a character from the future, and that was the only one I knew. [Laughs] I thought we needed a hook — we needed somebody big, and somebody that hadn’t really appeared in The New 52 yet. Since we were dealing with this jump into the future, it made sense to bring in Terry McGinnis.
Jurgens: We’ve talked about telling a story that takes place in the world five years from now, but obviously if we have Batman Beyond, there’s a DC timeline that exists beyond just this five-year period. We’re going to touch on some pretty expansive things throughout here, and the way it affects the characters, and what it does to the current DCU.
Lemire: And we should say that even though we’ve only revealed those three characters, the cast is quite large, and by no means are they the only characters we’re using. The cast must be getting close to 20 characters that we’re toggling between.
On that note, can you share some of the other characters readers can look forward to seeing in the book?
Azzarello: I think you can figure it out.
Azzarello: You need us to spell it out? This is going to be really big. And it’s expansive, like Dan said. So that means there are certain characters that you just can’t avoid.
Jurgens: Well said.
Azzarello: There are a lot of 800-pound gorillas.
Lemire: Are you talking about Grodd, Brian? [Laughs]
Giffen: To give you an example of how many different characters are in the book: All the characters you have mentioned so far, I’m not touching base with any of them. So there are quite a few characters in the book. The characters I’m dealing with are completely removed at this point from the Batman Beyond, or the Firestorm, or the Frankenstein story. Eventually, I’m sure they’ll all mesh together. Like Jeff said, there’s got to be at least 20 characters that we’re juggling.
Let’s talk a bit more about Batman Beyond, since this series is his first appearance in mainline DC Universe continuity. How similar is to the character to the Batman Beyond that fans know? Are there tweaks being made for the character to fit within The New 52?
Azzarello: He’s got the same costume, I think. [Laughs] Is he different? Yes. It’s different, it’s New 52. It’s from a different sort of future. Is it going to be recognizable? Yes, he’s going to be recognizable. Is it going to have differences? Yes, of course he’s going to have differences. I’m not going to tell you what they are.
The original announcement article was pretty vague, likely intentionally so, about the plot of the series, but is there anything more you can share about the story of “Futures End?”
Lemire: It really is tough to say anything without spoiling that Free Comic Book Day special, but that really does set everything up. It’s really tough to give anything away, there.
Giffen: I know comic book fans love their spoilers, but I think this is one time that they’re just going to have to actually wait and read the book.
Jurgens: The cover to issue #0 is filled with a lot of symbology. I think everyone will recognize that as belonging to a certain OMAC-related element. That becomes something of a bonding element here. If you’re starting to deal with that kind of a thing and that kind of a presence, that can build into something that can relate, not only just across the entire globe, but throughout time as well. So that’s something that’s involved, totally.
It’s been established that “Futures End” is also introducing new characters — I understand that you may not be able to talk about them specifically, but what can you share about that process, and the general importance of using this as a vehicle to bring new characters into the DC landscape?
Giffen: I don’t understand that, really, because I always thought just doing comics and working for DC Comics, we’re supposed to be bringing new ideas and concepts, and throwing them into a communal bin. When did this become something that’s a special occasion? If we’re doing a book that’s 52-issues long, of course there’s going to be new characters in it! We’d probably go crazy if we had to keep pawing through the DC encyclopedia looking for whatever other tired concepts we can bring in. I would think new characters are going to play a huge part in it, as they should be playing a huge part in every single book being put out by DC. End of sermon.
Jurgens: Well said!
It’s been said this story explores DC’s past, present and future — we know the future timeline is set “Five Years Later,” but do we see different spots in the past?
Lemire: There might be some confusion — I don’t know if we actually see the past.
Giffen: So far in the book, we seem to be sticking with the timeline we’ve got, which is the characters are placed in a timeline that’s Five Years Later. Whether it hits other futures, or pasts, or if you start time-hopping, that’s something that’ll probably happen organically down the road. We’re not ruling it out, but right now it’s not a major part of the book.
Lemire: There are some characters who have been around for quite a while, so their perspectives link them to the past. But we’re not seeing past timelines.
So is there anything you can say about what the future timeline of the DCU is like, other than, based on the first cover revealed, it looks kind of weird and creepy?
Azzarello: Isn’t that enough?
Jurgens: Let’s just say there are elements involved that reach throughout the entire DC Universe, and I think will have some lasting repercussions down the road.
Azzarello: Yes, it’s going to be lasting until the next damn event comes along. [Laughs]
Lemire: There is one huge, unifying event that’s occurred in the five-year gap that we’re really playing off of. We’re not going to say what that is, but it’s something that happens between now and five years from now that really dramatically affects the Earth and the heroes, and we’re seeing the repercussions of it.
Giffen: The thing with the “Five Years Later” that we’re putting a lot of thought into is really trying to figure out, five years from now, what’s the tech you’re using? Five years ago, a lot of the stuff that we take for granted in terms of social networking and all was just coming around, or didn’t even exist. What would a TV be like five years from now? What kind of cell phones would you have five years from now? What kind of technology will people be utilizing just as a matter of course five years from now? That’s a fun aspect of it.
In terms of the characters five years down the road, again, think of yourself five years ago, and you’ll see that there’s a lot of room for having the character to show up having developed through those five years, and whatever events they went through. That makes it kind of fun.
Given the nature of being set in the future, even though we were talking about having an impact down the road, during the course of the series, is it going to be its own thing, not really tied-in with anything else?
Lemire: That’s not necessarily true.
Giffen: It’s the DC Universe five years later — actually, it kind of ties into everything just by being the kind of animal that it is.
Jurgens: Well said!
Giffen: We don’t mean to sound like we’re playing it too coy here, or dancing around certain questions, but there’s really no wasted storyline right now. Everything bleeds off of or points to a major event. There are way too many spoilers here, and we’re just trying to avoid them.
Lemire: Keith, come on, your stories are kind of wasted storylines. [Laughs]
Jurgens: Oh, it’s on, now!
Giffen: That’s why no one knows which heroes I’m using.
Lemire: That’s because we’re not actually putting it in the script, we’re just pretending that you’re a part of this.
Giffen: I’ve got to take this from a Canadian?
One more thing people are curious about: If this might be a place where we could see some DC characters we haven’t seen yet in The New 52 make their New 52 debut. Is that a possibility?
Azzarello: You mean like Batman Beyond?
Lemire: Him and others, as well.
Giffen: Let’s get this up front: No, we’re not using goddamn Wally.
That is what people will be wondering; Wally and Donna Troy.
Giffen: Get over it!
What else should people know about the series at this point? If anything?
Jurgens: They should know a couple of things, one of which, Ryan Sook is doing all the covers. He’s also doing all the character design, and it’s absolutely astounding, wonderful work. It really is terrific. One of the secrets is that while we’re all working on our own storylines in some cases, and our own characters in some cases, Ryan becomes the unifying element that gives everything this really cool, cohesive look. He’s doing incredible stuff. And Ethan Van Sciver on our issue #0, which he’s penciling and inking — he just blew us all away as soon as we started seeing his pages.
Lemire: And Keith’s doing layouts, which is another unifying factor, and a big help for us as well, to control the storytelling and keep it consistent.
Giffen: And somewhere in all this, we have an editor.
Dan, you’re drawing part of the series as well, right?
Jurgens: Yeah, I am. And as soon as I get Keith’s layouts, I’ll feel free to change them all. [Laughs]
Giffen: I’d like to point out what an idiot I feel like laying out a book for Dan Jurgens.
Jurgens: I’ll be doing some. We have a talented group who’s going to be working on this. We’re just getting rolling on the artwork.
One of the strange things about doing a weekly is you end up writing so many issues in advance before you can even get all the artists totally working on it. But it’s coming together.
Azzarello You’ll definitely want to talk to us after Free Comic Book Day. That issue #0 is going to blow things up.