Chris Sebela, who graduated from DC Writer’s Workshop under the tutelage of Scott Snyder, is writing “Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ground Zero,” a new series that stars Harley Quinn and bridges the gap between the first “Injustice” comic book and the upcoming “Injustice 2” prequel comic. But before successfully graduating from the Workshop, Sebela lived an entire month in the infamous Clown Motel in Tonapah, Nevada – about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno – as inspiration for the graphic novel, “I Lived in a Clown Motel.”
That hair-raising (and perhaps harebrained) experience gave him enough ammo to crawl inside the head of Harley Quinn, the featured player in his first assignment for DC Comics – the Digital First series, “Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ground Zero.”
The story is told through the eyes of Harley Quinn, a most unreliable narrator. Sebela tells CBR that the Joker’s former sidekick and love interest is dealing with the supervillain’s death while trying to find her own place in a world where Superman is unhinged, Batman is his archenemy and heavyweights like Green Arrow, Nightwing and Lex Luthor are also dead.
Sebela is joined by a rotating cast of artists including Pop Mhan, Daniel Sempere and many more, with cover art by Ben Oliver. The series launched digitally today (October 4) and will debut new chapters every week. “Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ground Zero” will be offered as a twice-monthly print series beginning in December.
CBR News: Congratulations on your first assignment with DC Entertainment. It’s great to see an alumnus of the DC Writer’s Workshop program landing such a great gig right out of the gates.
Chris Sebela: Thanks. It was a lot of fun just to take part in it and learning from Scott Snyder about how to do comic books for the ‘Big Two.’ He wanted us to tell the same stories that we were already telling but needed to rethink them for the Big Two. That was cool on its own, but now that I get to put those lessons into practice is super weird. [Laughs]
“Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ground Zero” tell the game’s events heading into the release of “Injustice 2” through the eyes of Harley Quinn. The Joker, as retold in the first chapter, also plays a major role in the Injustice Universe, so I was wondering how “I Lived in a Clown Motel” prepared you for writing the Clown Prince and Princess of the DCU?
[Laughs] That’s a good question. I definitely feel like I am up to my quota for weirdness. Getting into the head of Harley Quinn feels a lot easier. She lives in this sort of altered existence and is out of touch with reality, which was basically what my whole month at the Clown Motel was. I understand Harley a lot better because of that experience.
No character’s profile was raised higher during The New 52 than Harley Quinn’s, and following the success of the “Suicide Squad” movie, she is arguably one the most popular characters in the DCU. Why do you think she works?
In [the DC Writer’s Workshop program], we wrote first-issue scripts for imaginary books that we wanted to do. One of the ones that I did was “Suicide Squad” #1 with Harley in it. I’ve always liked her because she’s always happy-go-lucky no matter how screwed up everything is or how many people are dying. But it wasn’t until I wrote her that I realized that there is something really freeing about having the perspective of somebody who is a part of a thing but is completely operating on their own level. It’s fun to write her and it’s fun to get inside her head and dig a little deeper and see what makes her tick. There is a lot of happy, fun stuff but there is also, especially in “Injustice,” some dark stuff like getting over the death of The Joker. It’s been fun to explore Harley in a world where The Joker isn’t in jail or outer space. He’s ‘completely gone’ gone and she has to figure out what she’s going to do next.
There’s a great line about The Joker in your first chapter: “It’s like killing a tornado.” It’s perfect.
Thanks. The thing that really hooked me when they asked me onto the project was that idea of what Harley would do next. She’s largely been Joker’s sidekick, his second banana, and she’s been caught up in everything since she met The Joker and now he’s gone. It’s like, “Oh crap. What do I do? He’s been the focal point of my existence and now he’s gone.” It felt like a really great place to start with Harley. We can have her being the Harley that everyone knows and loves, but also dig a little deeper now and then.
Again, this story is told through Harley’s eyes. Has there ever been a greater example in comics of an unreliable narrator? [Laughs]
[Laughs] For sure. In the first issue, there is a lot of recapping everything that went on in Tom [Taylor] and Brian [Buccellato]’s book. But it’s all retold as Harley’s sees it and her take on it. It’s definitely a license for me to take those events and twist them from Harley’s point of view. Whether she’s misinterpreted it or she’s turned a loss into a victory. I really like stories that have unreliable narrators and like you said, she’s about as unreliable as you get. It gives me and the artists a lot of license to get really goofy sometimes and almost cartoonish, which is important especially in a book that’s got so much death and grimness in it. Being able to have fun with that is tricky but Harley is the way to do it.
You mentioned the death and grimness in “Injustice” and one of the biggest perpetrators of these offenses is Superman. His portrayal in Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” was also quite dark and yet Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Dan Jurgens are writing quite a family-friendly version of him in “Superman” and “Action Comics,” respectively. When you get to feature him as a perceived – rightly or wrongly – as a supervillain, what does allow for you as a storyteller?
First of all, you have the most powerful man in the universe throwing his weight around so that right there is pretty big stakes to start with. And a lot of it is that Superman thinks what he is doing right. In this world, when Lois died and his child died and Metropolis was nuked, and it was all because of him, this is the universe, unlike any other universe where Superman would have found a way to work through it, it broke something inside of him. Instead of dealing with it, he pushes it all outward. He says, “I wasn’t able to save the people I loved the most but now I am going to make sure that nobody dies unless they have to.” And he has the resources to make that possible. It’s like having God come down and start handing out orders. It’s s really interesting shift for someone who has been largely responsible for addressing realty big threats. He’s not there to run people’s lives but everything that he is doing, he thinks is the right thing.
This story also leads into the upcoming game “Injustice 2.” What can you share about the events that will unfold in “Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ground Zero”?
It’s a pretty sprawling story. A lot of it is about Harley giving herself a new job, because through Tom and Brian’s book, she was very much about getting over The Joker dying and bouncing around from one thing to another with no real set purpose. Now, she is basically determined to get things together. First, she takes over the Joker clan and starts running them as her own gang. And a lot of the story spins out from there. All of the stuff with The Joker does come racing back. For all of the big stuff going on, the Harley stuff is a bit smaller and I like that. It’s more street-level. While everybody is focusing on Green Lantern pounding the crap out of Yellow Lantern, Harley is in the background protecting a mob of protesters, or getting her army in shape, or raiding factories. It’s very much a guerrilla tactics story going on in the shadow of this much bigger “Injustice” story. It’s a nice bridge between Tom and Brian’s book and “Injustice 2” and I am excited to be connecting everything.
Are you a gamer?
I am, but I am not very good at fighting games. I played “Injustice,” but I get my butt handed to me pretty easily. I played enough to realize it was going to be a frustrating experience if I kept on going. I went through and watched the game, which is more fun for me because I don’t have any frustration there. I am more used to games where I can run around and do whatever I feel like at any given moment. If I have to memorize that you have to punch twice in a certain direction and then you can do your special move, I just don’t have a brain for that. [Laughs]
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