Writer Sterling Gates recently returned to DC Comics to steward “Justice League of America’s Vibe,” and the writer expands his place in the DC Universe during Villains Month as he takes on “Justice League of America” #7.2 featuring Killer Frost with artist Derlis Santacruz as well as two issues co-written by Geoff Johns: “Justice League of America” #7.4 featuring Black Adam and drawn by Edgar Salazar and “Justice League” #23.4 featuring the Secret Society and art by Szymon Kudranski.
To get a better idea of what to expect from his Villains Month work, CBR News spoke with Gates about each of his upcoming books, including what sets Killer Frost apart from the rest of the DCU’s ice-based villains, where Villains Month finds Black Adam, the mysterious secrets of the Secret Society and more.
CBR News: Sterling, you’ve eased back into the DCU a bit with “Justice League of America’s Vibe,” but it seems like you’re getting thrown back into the deep end of the New 52 with three Villains Month issues on sale this month. What’s the experience been like coming back in to the DCU?
CBR News: It’s been great! I’ve been working closely with Brian Cunningham and Kate Stewart — two wonderful editors who have been extremely helpful with all of my New 52 questions — and Geoff Johns, whose Justice League books are at the forefront of this new version of the DCU. They’ve all made the whole experience extremely positive, and I’m having a blast.
Your first issue, “Justice League of America” #7.2, focuses on Killer Frost, a character that hasn’t seen a lot of exposure since the New 52 launched. How do you establish what her role is in the DCU?
I’ve always thought that Killer Frost was one of the most iconic and interesting villains in the DCU, ever since her Crisis on Infinite Earths days. She’s an interesting character with powers that make for some great visuals, and is the perfect counterpoint for someone like Firestorm.
With this one-shot, we set out to tell Killer Frost’s secret origin and dig into who she was before she became this terrible cryokinetic villainess. Caitlin Snow was a young, brilliant S.T.A.R. Labs scientist, but through a terrible set of events, she’s now Killer Frost. What were those events? And why is she so obsessed with Firestorm, of all people? I wanted to make sure readers knew all of that by the end of the twenty pages, and I wanted to send Frost off into the next phase of her story in “Forever Evil.”
I love that she’s getting a Villains Month one-shot, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover she’s one of the playable characters in NetherRealm & WB’s “Injustice” video game. Clearly people out there see just how awesome she is!
The solicits indicate that Killer Frost is — appropriately — one of Firestorm’s villains. How did you approach building their relationship?
A lot of the one-shot is spent looking at who Frost was before she was Killer Frost. As a result, there’s only a handful of pages that deal with their relationship, but I tried to make those as impactful and exciting as possible. Derlis Santacruz drew some wonderful fights between them, by the way, just really putting a lot into those pages. I think DC posted some of his work already, so you can see how fantastic this book is going to look.
By the end of the story, readers should completely understand why Killer Frost goes after Firestorm and why she’s singled him out in the DCU.
Any chance of some longtime DCU fans seeing sparks fly between the two of them a la “Crisis on Infinite Earths?”
[Laughs] I’m afraid not. It’ll take a while before Firestorm warms up to Killer Frost. She keeps trying to kill him!
There are a number of jokes about the ice or freeze-based villains in the DC Universe. How do Killer Frost’s powers differ from her icy contemporaries like Captain Cold and Mr. Freeze?
Killer Frost’s cryokinesis is a little different than Captain Cold’s cold gun or Mr. Freeze’s. It’s organic in nature — there’s a little bit of Killer Frost’s genetic material in every blast — making her all the greater threat to Firestorm. His powers can’t affect organics. Firestorm can heat up the air around her ice and melt it, but his nuclear blasts can’t directly affect her ice.
Moving on to your other “Justice League of America” issue in September, #7.4, you’re taking on Black Adam with your friend and co-writer Geoff Johns. With Adam as a face that’s been seen often in “Justice League” backup stories, how did you approach introducing him for readers that might not have seen him before?
The first few pages of the one-shot are very open, very new-reader-friendly. Geoff and I wanted to be sure that anyone who picks up Black Adam or Killer Frost gets to know these characters in an organic way. We want you to be able to put these issues down and know who these villains are, why they do what they do, and how they accomplish their goals.
And if you think you’re well versed in the Shazam universe already — maybe you’ve read all of Geoff and Gary Frank’s excellent Shazam back-ups in Justice League — don’t worry. Black Adam’s issue will have some familiar faces, but there are plenty of twists and turns that you will not see coming!
One of the aspects of Black Adam in “Forever Evil” that Geoff has mentioned in panels and interviews is the fun discovery of the similarity between Black Adam and Sinestro. What kind of relationships in that same vein surprised you while writing Black Adam?
Our one-shot focuses on a pair of Kahndaqi siblings named Amon and Adrianna. They’re two opposite sides of the spectrum: one believes in peaceful tactics to effect great change, the other believes in taking more violent steps to get people to listen.
Playing the two of them off of one another gave us a great starting point, and once Black Adam gets involved in the story, he turns their relationship on its head.
Edgar Salazar comes on for art duties in the Black Adam issue — where might fans know him from and what does he bring to the table?
Comic fans might know him from his excellent work on “Deathstroke” and Dynamite Entertainment’s “Project: Superpowers.” He really gave life to Amon and Adrianna in their quiet scenes, then really let it rip in the big Black Adam action scenes.
Although this month is focused more on the villains, can readers expect to see any heroes make appearances during this one-shot?
Not a one. It’s Villains Month! [Laughs]
Although, I guess you could make the argument that Black Adam is a hero in his own way. The people of Kahndaq definitely see him as their champion, and he lives up to that standard in our issue.
You’re taking on the Secret Society this month with “Justice League” #23.4. Perhaps the most intriguing and mysterious member of the Society is The Outsider. How much more do readers learn about the character during the course of your issue?
Readers will learn a lot in that issue. It’s the secret origin of the secret villain who’s been secretly maneuvering villains across the DCU for a secret number of years. Lots of secrets that issue! [Laughs] It’s no secret that Geoff likes to play the long game with his stories, and that issue connects a lot of dots in regards to the Secret Society.
This new version of the Secret Society has a great number of villains to play with. How did you and Geoff approach giving each one enough panel time while still driving the greater mystery of the “Trinity War” fallout forward?
We focused mainly on the Outsider in the issue — he’s the star of it — and everything else just sort of fell into place as needed after that. And Szymon Kudranski rocked the hell out of that issue. It’s one of the darkest issues I’ve seen on the stands in a long time — not in terms of gore or content, but in how beautifully Szymon employs chiaroscuro techniques in his art. Lots of deep blacks. Just a beautiful, beautiful book.
One of the toughest aspects of writing comics in the modern era is figuring out the balance of answering questions and presenting enough new ones to drive the narrative into the next few months. What kind of balancing act did you have to create for this particular issue — especially given how much mystery has surrounded the Society’s actions?
A lot of that was Geoff. He’s fun to co-write with because he knows where he wants to take things in the future, but he also trusts you to write the story in the here-and-now, so to speak. We co-plotted the issue together, and then I did a draft of the script and sent it to Geoff. He revised it and added in all sort of little bits for “Forever Evil” and “Trinity War,” and then we turned it in.
Some stories are really hard to co-write, and some are very, very easy. Both Black Adam and Secret Society were very easy to script, and my thanks to Geoff for that.
As Villains Month wraps up at the end of September and you continue to be busy on “Vibe,” where else can readers expect to see you pop up in the DCU?
Look to October’s “Vibe” #8 to see some serious dimension-hopping and a guest appearance by one of my favorite DC characters, Amethyst. Issues #9 and #10 are a big dust-up with the villain Rupture, and issue #11 is the first time Vibe and Amanda Waller meet face-to-face. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go well for either of them.
I really love writing Vibe. I’m glad to see people respond to that book online, I get a ton of tweets about it every month. I love writing that character and playing with all of the various DCU dimensions and interdimensional characters. Hope people check out what we’re doing, I don’t think there’s a book like Vibe on the market right now.
“Justice League of America: Killer Frost” #7.2 goes on sale September 11, “Justice League of America: Black Adam” #23.4 “Justice League: Secret Society” #23.4 both follow on September 25.