Peter Milligan’s name has been synonymous with Vertigo Comics for nearly two decades. A comic book writer and medium pioneer, DC Comics brought Milligan on in the early ’90s to revamp “Shade The Changing Man,” a character originally created by Steve Ditko. Milligan transformed the character from an off-kilter DC Universe superhero to a poet with dark and dangerous powers — and soon after, “Shade” became one of the first titles released to bear the then-new Vertigo banner. Along with fellow “British Invasion” creators such as Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, Milligan became one of the edgy imprint’s preeminent scribes, writing “Shade,” taking a turn on the Morrison-reinvented “Animal Man” (also originally a DC character) and most recently becoming the permanent writer on “Hellblazer” in 2008.
With his history of bringing characters from the DCU to Vertigo, it should come as no surprise that this September, DC has charged Milligan with reintroducing a number of those characters back into the DCU proper.
As part of DC’s 52 title relaunch, Milligan is writing “Justice League Dark,” an entirely new title featuring art by Mikel Janin and an unusual team of characters with roots in both the DCU and Vertigo: Madam Xanadu, Deadman, Constantine, Shade, Zatanna and a brand new character named Mindwarp. And while fans have expressed concern that bringing Constantine (the only character of the group currently headlining an ongoing Vertigo book) into DC continuity will erase his series, Milligan assured CBR News that putting Constantine back in the DCU will not affect “Hellblazer” at all. Reaching out all the way from London, Milligan spoke with CBR about the new series, the draw of Deadman, the benefits of bringing Vertigo characters to the DCU and his goals for “Justice League Dark.”
CBR News: With a name like “Justice League Dark,” it sounds like a given that these supernatural heroes are going to be tackling a darker, much more dangerous side of the DCU. What is the basic premise of “Justice League Dark?”
Peter Milligan: First, the name. It was one of those titles that for a while, I think we were all seeing it as a kind of working title. But the longer we used it, the harder it was to call the book anything else. And none of the other names we came up with described the book as well.
Now to your question. Yes, “Dark” does refer to the supernatural. A lot of the characters’ lives in this book are touched by the occult. Indeed, in the first storyline it’s clear that these poor bastards will invariably end up doing the dirty, dark occult work that the more top-end superheroes don’t want to touch, the occult being something that even powerful super beings tend to have a problem with.
But “Dark” also refers to the darker side of the personality and the darker side of life. The basic premise is that the main protagonists in this book are damaged and probably represent as great a danger to themselves and society as any of the “villains” or problems they face.
What should fans expect from “JLD?” Will maintain the dark, adult tone the Vertigo Comics series these characters come from?
I see this book as being placed somewhere between a regular DCU book and a Vertigo title. It has superpowers and villains and a lot of cool stuff like that, but at the same time takes an adult look at the emotional fall-out from living this kind of life.
We’ve got John Constantine, Deadman, Shade The Changing Man and Madam Xanadu heading up the title — besides their magic skills, what do each of these characters bring to the team?
Well, some of them bring professional problems, drug habits and lonely or broken hearts. There’s another character — Mindwarp — who debuted in “Flashpoint: Secret Seven.” He is going to show up. He doesn’t have a broken heart, but he probably breaks a few. Most of these guys aren’t what you’d generally call “heroes.” In fact, most of them probably don’t see themselves as members of a team at all.
From a writer’s viewpoint, what drew you to this band of strange and unearthly characters?
So many of them seem to have the potential to really fuck up, and that always has a lot of dramatic potential!
And what do you find are the benefits of bringing these Vertigo characters into the DC Universe?
It can be a shortcut to different kinds of dramatic situations and stories. I find in writing this book that what’s fascinating is when Vertigo and DCU characters mix and share the same world, the same oxygen.
Deadman is one of the few team members to have recently spent any amount of time in the DCU, most notably taking on the role of a major player in “Brightest Day.” Do you think his role in that event has helped elevate the character in people’s minds?
Without a doubt. I’ve always thought he was an intriguing character. Most of us have probably wondered what it’d be like to be dead but still walk around. What’s interesting about Deadman is that in his needs and his issues he is very much alive. In some ways, he’s the most alive character in this team.
Shade was originally a DC character who, under your pen, underwent drastic changes and helped launch the Vertigo imprint. Now that he’s back in the DCU, will he reclaim any of his original powers or character traits?
The Shade we see in DCU is a continuation of the one I wrote in my series. His obsession with Kathy is intact!
in moving these characters back into the DCU, do you feel you have to adapt them or modify them to fit into this overtly superhero world?
I’m really not conscious of much modifying going on. The central core of these characters remains the same.
Finally, is it fair to assume that we’ll see the exploration of DC and Vertigo’s magic-themed characters over the course of your run on the title, like Zatanna, Black Alice, Traci 13, Xombi, etc.?
One hundred percent. Zatanna plays a big role in the first storyline. I like this character; she seems sparky, yet troubled. Her apparently simple — almost childish — magical tricks hide a complex character, I think. And she has history with a certain John Constantine!
“Justice League Dark” #1 hits stores September 28