Since DC Comics added indie comics creator Jeff Lemire to its stable of writers, the Toronto-based cartoonist has grown to become one of the most popular writers in the industry, telling best-selling stories while earning multiple Eisner nominations over the past few years.
Hoping Shazam’s lightning strikes twice, the publisher has now unleashed Lemire’s long-time friend Ray Fawkes on the New 52 as the comics creator joins his pal as the co-writer on “Justice League Dark” beginning next month with the start of the new arc titled “The Death of Magic.”
A long-time fan of DC Comics and its Vertigo imprint, Fawkes — who still owns single issues from Alan Moore’s run on “Swamp Thing” — is an Eisner, Harvey and three-time Shuster Award nominee. His latest solo project, “One Soul,” earned a 2012 Eisner award nomination for Best Graphic Album – New.
With “The Death of Magic” set to launch in January’s “Justice League Dark” #15, featuring art by series’ regular Mikel Janin, CBR News connected with Lemire and Fawkes to discuss their partnership on the project ,and the two Torontonians happily teased what they have in store for Constantine, Madame Xanadu, Deadman and Frankenstein. “Justice League Dark” will play a major part in the forthcoming “Trinity War,” a character named Flesh Thing will make its debut in the final issue of “The Death of Magic” arc and Black Orchid’s story will continue next year, albeit in the pages of Lemire’s other Dark series, “Animal Man.”
CBR News: With this new arc, you begin your run as co-writers of “Justice League Dark.” I know you both live and work in Toronto, but how did you become friends and, more specifically, how did you come to working on this series together?
Ray Fawkes: Jeff and I both came up as indie cartoonists in Toronto and we used to see each other at cons all the time, hawking our self-published books and later, mine from Oni Press and his from Top Shelf. Our mutual respect for one another’s work led us to talking. We found out that we’re on a remarkably similar wavelength and we ended up becoming friends.
We often bounce ideas off of each other, or just talk about what we’re working on. A few months back, Jeff was talking to me about some of his ideas for “Justice League Dark,” and I was enthusiastically riffing on them with him. Shortly after that, he hit a patch of a couple of months where he needed a hand, schedule-wise, and I guess it occurred to him that I’d be a natural to help him out with the “Justice League Dark” scripts, so he put in the request, and DC went for it.
Now, I’m totally indispensable. Right, Jeff? Right?
Jeff Lemire: You are indeed indispensable, Ray.
Joking aside, when I got “Green Arrow,” I had a bit of a panic. I didn’t want to leave “Dark,” but my schedule was pretty hectic for a couple of months so I reached out to DC to see if I could bring Ray on board to help with the book. Ray has been my sounding board on “Justice League Dark” since I started writing the book, so I knew he would be able to jump right in and help out. I also knew that he loves these characters as much as I do.
Most importantly, he helped bring a fresh set of ideas to the book. I think Xanadu in particular will benefit from Ray. He really has a great sense of her voice and her character.
Readers are also about to get a chance to see Ray fly solo soon on some other DC characters (“Batgirl”), which I am excited about. I still won’t let him write any Frankenstein scenes, though.
Ray, Jeff said you love these characters as much as he does — and we know he loves them! What’s your familiarity with the roster and do you have a favorite?
Fawkes: I’m in the same boat as Jeff. I grew up on a steady diet of DC Comics in the 80s and Vertigo titles in the 90s. I’ve got a long and storied love for these characters — most especially the ones from the darker corners of the DC Universe, since that’s where my tastes tend to lean. Some of my prize possessions in the studio are the original Alan Moore “Swamp Thing” floppies that I remember buying off of newsstands, which is going to date me, I’m sure.
My favorite of the core roster is actually Madame Xanadu. She surprised me, to be perfectly honest. I think lots of readers see her as more of a background character, removed from the action, but there’s a lot of depth to her. I love thinking about how someone with her unbelievable range of experience would perceive much of what’s going on and why she would prefer one foretold future over another. It all gets very philosophical. She’s a lot of fun, and we’ve got all these great little moments with her coming up.
As “The Death of Magic” arc begins, it appears the current roster is Constantine, Deadman, Madame Xanadu, Black Orchid and Frank. Am I missing anybody? Because while I’m sad to see Amy and Andrew Bennett leave the team, I’m glad Frank is sticking around — at least for now.
Fawkes: That’s the roster for that story, yes, but Zatanna and Tim Hunter play strong roles in the story as well.
Lemire: Ray’s right. Zatanna and Tim do play big roles in the next arc, “The Death of Magic,” which runs from #15 to #18, then they both will move off stage for a while and our core group will be Constantine, Xanadu, Deadman and Frankenstein, with a rotating cast of guest stars or specialists for each mission.
I love Dr. Peril’s exposition in “Justice League Dark” #14, explaining that while mystics like Constantine, Zee and Necro have been hunting for the Books of Magic for centuries, we now know that they are “machines” built of pure science. This basically flips Neil Gaiman’s creation on its proverbial head. Why the decision to bring science to the forefront of this magic-based corner of the DCU?
Lemire: Weird science has always played a key role in the DCU. The birth of the Silver Age with the Barry Allen Flash and Hal Jordan Green Lantern, etc. in the 50s was all about recreating the characters with a heavy emphasis on science fiction. In bringing these classic Vertigo concepts from the Modern Age into the DCU, it seemed inevitable to have science and magic clash in this way.
According to the solicitations, Team Dark is trapped on a world where magic has been outlawed and Tim Hunter is king. That doesn’t sound like a very happy place for Constantine and the others. Is it Dr. Mist and Dr. Peril that lead them to this magic-less world?
Fawkes: Yes, Dr. Mist and Dr. Peril make it possible for the others to get there. Beyond that, I think readers will have to wait and see. I don’t know if we want to spoil anything about the world that waits on the other side of the portal.
Lemire: Agreed. Beyond what you’ve already surmised and what Ray said, that’s all the spoilers you need for now. Oh, okay, one more: “Justice League Dark” #18 will feature the first appearance of Flesh Thing.
What’s Zatanna’s role in this arc? She’s had a tough go these last few issues, and then, after fending off attacks from Faust, Dr. Mist and Necro, she ends up blasted into this world where, I assume, she’s powerless. Does is it get any better for Zee?
Fawkes: Oh yes. Oh my, yes. Don’t assume anything where Zatanna is concerned.
Lemire: Yeah, Zee kind of got the raw end of the deal last arc, but she’ll come back swinging now.
Constantine has been taking a leadership role since Team Dark was formed. Have his conversations with Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger at the end of “Justice League Dark” #14 forced him to start taking some initiative in terms of leading the team?
Fawkes: Well, somebody’s got to tell these guys what to do, and Constantine’s never been one to let a resource slip through his fingers. Yeah, he’s taking some initiative with respect to them now, and I think we can say that a vision for what he intends to do with them is forming in his mind. Jeff, you want to add anything to that, or should we leave it a mystery for now?
Lemire: I don’t think we should say any more about that other than after the next arc, the team will be very much split in terms of where they go next. Decisions will have to be made, with Constantine on one side and A.R.G.U.S. on the other.
I know we can’t trust Constantine, and agencies like A.R.G.U.S. and S.H.A.D.E. are shadowy organizations at best, but Steve Trevor has to be a good guy, right? Because I can’t imagine him leaving Team Dark in the dark even if it does mean he can save Earth —
Fawkes: He has to be a good guy? Well, if you think so. He certainly wouldn’t manipulate or sacrifice a bunch of misfits with weird and occasionally uncontrollable powers just to further some kind of government agenda, would he? No. He’s a good guy. [Laughs]
Look, one of the great things about this book, I think, is that when you’re dealing with magic in the DCU, it becomes very, very hard to figure out who you can — or should — trust. Everything gets murky. Sometimes your best friend is getting ready to sell you out so that they can move the cosmos at their whim. Sometimes your dire enemy throws in with you to achieve a common goal. Sometimes everything goes to Hell and all bets are off.
Lemire: Like Constantine, Steve wants what he thinks is best for the greater good. And, like Constantine, he may be willing to cross certain lines and make certain sacrifices to get what he wants.
What is Project Ascension and will you be exploring Black Orchid more deeply in the months ahead?
Lemire: Yes, but, not in “Justice League Dark.” Orchid’s story will actually be continued in the pages of “Animal Man” next year.
Finally, based on what Phantom Stranger said, and what we saw in Constantine’s secret war room in the House of Mystery, will this arc be leading straight into a crossover with “Justice League” and the forthcoming “Trinity War”?
Lemire: Like The Phantom Stranger, I know much about the coming war. And like the Stranger, I am unable to say any more at this time. Other than, “Trinity War” will be huge, and “Justice League Dark” will be right in the thick of it.
“Justice League Dark” #15, written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes and featuring art by Mikel Janin, goes on sale January 2, 2013.