EXCLUSIVE: Willingham Explains "Salvation Run" Departure

Bill Willingham, the critically acclaimed writer behind cult favorites like "Fables" and "Elementals," jumped head first into the DC Universe in late 2007 as the writer of "Salvation Run," a seven-part miniseries featuring DC's greatest supervillains battling it out against each other on a remote prison planet as the Universe heads towards "Final Crisis."

When "Salvation Run" #3 hit stores on January 9, an unsolicited, unannounced and unexplained Matthew Sturges was onboard as the title's new writer. Sturges co-writes the "Fables" spin-off "Jack of Fables" with Willingham, and also followed the veteran writer's lead as the scribe on "Shadowpact."

CBR News will have more from Sturges tomorrow, but spoke first and exclusively with Bill Willingham himself on why he surrendered Lex Luthor, Joker and the Rogues to what he describes as the "younger, healthier and more capable" hands of Matthew Sturges.

"The short version is that I got sick, and on doctor's orders I needed to dial back my workload – specifically the most stress-inducing part of my workload – and picked the most likely candidate to give up," Bill Willingham told CBR News. "There's a longer version with more nuance, many more details, some interesting subplots, a few surprise dramatic twists and even a musical interlude or two, but in the interest of discretion and decorum we'll stick with the short version.

"Neither of the 'Fables' books I write was even up for consideration," said Willingham of the decision of which projects to drop. "I own them, they're a joy to write and turning them entirely over to another writer would cause more stress than could be relieved by dropping that much of my workload. More to the point, every story in 'Fables' is cooked up in the cauldron of my own mind without having to get permission from a battery of editors and without having to coordinate events and character-use with a dozen other books.

"In the case of 'Jack of Fables,' since I am co-writing it with Matt Sturges, there is some coordination that has to go into the planning and plotting of each issue. But once again this is a joy to do, since mostly it involves getting on the phone with Matt and the both of us bouncing ideas back and forth, trying to get a good laugh from the other, or – even better – trying to provoke the response of 'Do we dare do that?' from the other.

"However, with 'Salvation Run,' another in the DCU's seemingly endless stream of big event stories, most of the required story points were decided editorially before being handed down to the writer. Lots of coordination had to occur with multiple other DCU titles. And more to the point, story events, plot points and the list of usable characters would be modified often. Then they would change more often. Then they would change daily, mostly in response to whatever was showing up in the scripts of other titles from other writers. In short, 'Salvation Run,' like every other big event comic, in the history of big event comics, turned into a large and highly stressful mess.

"Now, in the interest of fairness, let me add that big event books are fun, and many aspects of writing them can be enjoyable, even including the need to coordinate what you do in one book with what others are doing in many other books. I had to do just that sort of thing with previous DCU books as far back as my run on 'Robin,' where many major developments in the story were handed down editorially, based on events occurring in the other thirty or forty Bat Books, and in titles far removed from the Batman family of books.

"But I've always been a bit spoiled in my comic writing career. From my very first work in the early 1980s, the 'Elementals' series, I got used to being the only one who determined what would happen in my stories. I never quite made an adjustment to the big company method of comic writing, where everyone had to learn to play nice together and share his toys. I'm certain this played a big part in my decision.

"But sothenanyway that in a nutshell is why I left 'Salvation Run.'"

Compounding Willingham's decision to run away from "Salvation" was the fact the story was similar to a project in the writer's past – a fact pointed out to him by a helpful reviewer. "I didn't quite realize it at the time when I was actively working on 'Salvation Run'… I'd already written a story very similar (at least in broad strokes) to 'Salvation Run' before. It was the 13-issue miniseries called 'Pantheon,' which was published many years ago from Lone Star Press (and which unfortunately sold in the high dozens). So, long before 'Salvation Run' and 'World War Hulk,' the idea had already been explored in detail – by me – in 'Pantheon.' For those who might like to read the 'Pantheon' miniseries, the entire 13 issue run is available right now online at Wowio. Even better, it's free. All you need to do is sign up at the Wowio site and start downloading the stories. Not a bad deal, huh?"

CBR News will have more from Matthew Sturges tomorrow. "Salvation Run" #4 is scheduled to go on sale February 13. 

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