Fridolfs, Nguyen & Krul Take Justice League & Superman "Beyond"

For years, superhero fans have thought of the "Batman Beyond" animated series as the future of the universe of stories that started with the classic "Batman: The Animated Series." Although, these days the story of future Batman Terry McGinnis is also stepping in as the next phase of the DC Comics line, and readers who follow comics in digital form continue to get the first look.

Beginning earlier this year, DC has serialized stories from "Batman Beyond" as its first major digital original set of adventures. Terry and the gruff, older Bruce Wayne continue their fight thanks to the creative team of Adam Beechen and Norm Breyfogle while the entire "Justice League Beyond" team battles Kobra in stories by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen. Even more recently, Superman has returned to the fray in a new ongoing story by JT Krul and Howard Porter. The series rotate new 10-page digital chapters into the DC Comics digital app, and all three are presented in the monthly print anthology "Batman Beyond Unlimited" whose fourth issue is set to hit on May 30.

In part two of our special Beyond writers roundtable, CBR News delves into the future of "Justice League Beyond" and "Superman Beyond" (see part one's focus on Batman here). Below, Fridolfs and Nguyen detail how the cult of Kobra led them deep into the DCU and the Fourth World of Jack Kirby, and Krul explains the tensions coming for Lex Luthor's daughter and more.

CBR News: Derek and Dustin, looking at your work on "Justice League Beyond," you guys had the unique challenge of playing with a group of characters who have loomed large in the world but who have never carried their own series before. With that in mind, what was your first creative goal in presenting a true standout tale of this Justice League?

Dustin Nguyen: I think that was pretty much the main goal -- to give the characters a history somewhat, and try to find a way to make them fit into the universe we have at hand. [We're] trying to give them each a different voice, and with the stand alone "origins" stories we'll have, explain why they're where they are now.

Derek Fridolfs: It all comes down to having a large threat and getting everyone involved. There's a lot of characters in play in our story, and especially with a League where outside of the few episodes they were seen on the show, there hasn't been a whole lot developed. So it definitely provides for a great opportunity to have each of the characters on the team get their moments to shine.

Terry and Bruce are our starting point, since "JLB" came out of the "Batman Beyond" show. So I wanted a threat that would be familiar to that show, and I always felt that Kobra was something introduced towards the end run on the show that showed a lot of promise. A terrorist group just big enough that would provide the right kind of threat not just to the Justice League, but the world.

You have a lot of personality on this team, but also a lot of room for character development. With stories ranging from Superman's change after returning to earth to Aquagirl's relationship with Batman to Warhawk's general raging out, which members of the cast are you most excited to develop and why?

Fridolfs: I'm definitely excited to continue to develop all of them. And we planned for it this way from the beginning. We have special "Beyond Origins" standalone stories for each of the characters, that will be interspersed within the main story arc in "JLB," with the idea of getting new and old fans up to speed on each of the members of the future Justice League. It's a chance to develop some backstory for each of them, as well as address specific points that fans have been interested in finding out. We'll find out more about Warhawk's famous parents that have always been hinted at in the "Justice League Unlimited" show timeline. We'll see the parental relationship between Aquagirl and her father. We'll get to see the backstory to Barda's mother on Apokolips as well as how the Genesis War came about. There's a lot of interesting ties between Micron and Bruce and Terry. And we'll find out what Kai-Ro's life was like before becoming a Green Lantern, and how he got the ring. And each of these stories has a way of relating to what is going on in the "Konstriction" story arc as well.

Nguyen: At first, I was mostly (and obviously) excited about Terry and Bruce, but as we got more and more into developing them, and the back and forth between Derek and I everyday (yup -- we get on the phone or at least instant messenger just about everyday 'til we were sick of talking about it) I got excited about all the characters, and I think that made the "Origins" stories really a lot easier to write.

Like Adam Beechen's done in his strip, the Justice League story is using some elements from the DC Comics world inside the framework of the Animated Universe -- Checkmate, the Challengers of the Unknown -- that have never been animated. Do you have any particular parts of the DCU that you're hoping to get into play in this world?

Fridolfs: I think Dustin and I have always felt that the shows (and I say that plural, as it started with" Batman: TAS" and continues out from there with "Superman," "Justice League" and "Batman Beyond") have always been our bible -- our best reference for the continuity timeline that they established there. We want to take what they've done and continue on. It's why we've put in a lot of references to things that have happened on those shows and how that relates to our stories moving forward. While there's some things that never showed up in the shows, we will introduce those from time to time into our stories when it feels right.

The "big bad" in your story has been Kobra, and funny enough, I just happened to see the Kobra episode of "Batman Beyond" on cable this week! Why did they seem like the right villains to bring back for the team book, and overall what kinds of villains do you think work best for this team?

Nguyen: I think Derek can answer this best since Kobra as the main villain was his plan. But overall, we wanted make the first breakout adventure for the team to be a big event, visiting different worlds outside of just Gotham or Metropolis.

Fridolfs: I always felt that Kobra had great potential as it got introduced to the show at the end of its run. They're a group not seen very often in the comics or the shows and I think they provide a very different kind of threat, in that they're this messianic cult that is more interested in destroying the world as a means to an end. Most other villains, are in it for the money and the power. But Kobra will go to great lengths in their beliefs to destroy the world to get what they want. So I always find a group like that is such a dangerous threat to go up against, because it's such a narrow focused view that they'll do anything to achieve.

And I think one of the great challenges in writing villains for the Justice League, and it's one that all writers on the comics as well as the shows have expressed, is finding large enough threats that would require the League being needed to stop them. And I think it's why stories have a chance to cover a range of ideas, from very large apocalyptic threats, to much smaller more personal ones that can affect everyone on the team.

The big tease at the end of the last installment was that the Justice League was headed to Barda's home on New Genesis. What is it like adapting Jack Kirby's Fourth world characters to these unique, futuristic environs?

Fridolfs: I'm an unabashed Kirby fan, in the comics and how they've been represented in the animated shows. And this "JLB" story arc is really a giant love letter to all things Kirby at DC. Before the end of the arc, we'll have covered most if not all of the characters he created and worked on at DC, so being able to tie those into this "Justice League Beyond" story was a real treat. There is one specific crazy visual coming up towards the end of our story arc that sort of got the idea started, and once it happened... I knew I wanted to work in as many Kirby ideas with Dustin into this story.

Nguyen: Ah yes! Again, I'm glad Derek's the Kirby dictionary here.

Finally, JT, you're the newest member of this crew in taking on "Superman Beyond." First of all, what was your first reaction to joining the ranks of Team Beyond, and what were you instantly drawn to from the Animated Universe?

JT Krul: First and foremost, just getting the chance to write Superman is a total thrill. I had never written him before, aside from a one-panel appearance in an issue of "Green Arrow" that I wrote, but he didn't even have a line. As for playing in the Beyond Universe, it's a great sandbox. It's still the iconic character we all know and love, but this world is a bit different so you can have fun with it -- think outside the box and tell different kinds of stories. Look at the starting point for him in our book -- everyone he knows and cared about is dead and gone, he's removed from the world, isolated in his Fortress of Solitude, and wondering about where he fits in on Earth anymore. It's a different vibe than what we are used to seeing. Superman is unsure. He has doubts. He struggles.

The Superman we see here is much changed from the Man of Steel readers best know. What do you find most interesting about the kind of existential crisis he's dealing with now that he's back on earth, and how does that contrast with the hero he still is?

Krul: What's most interesting to me is that it's relatable. I've met people who have had trouble getting into Superman because he's too good or too powerful. People see him as being perfect, without flaws or doubts or fears -- so unlike us mere mortals. But at this time in his life, he's in the same boat we all are. You could almost liken it to growing up and moving away from your hometown. Not to say that Superman was a child before, but as a character he seemed to go from a loving and supportive environment in Smallville to a very positive experience in Metropolis, befriending the likes of Lois, Jimmy, and Perry. Here, we see him struggling to identify himself without those people around him. He's alone and must chart a new path in a new world. Isn't that what we all have to do at some point? Branch out into the world and figure out who we are going to be?

We've got some new competition for Superman in Metropolis thanks to some high powered police. Where do they fit into the story moving forward? Is there a way they'll work for or against Superman's future?

Krul: One of the key things Superman is struggling with is this feeling of isolation. With everyone he knows gone, he's having trouble staying connected to the world, and Metropolis specifically. Before, it's always been about the city needing Superman, but with these supercops, they seem to have things under control. However, powers aren't everything and that's what I wanted to explore. Sure, Superman has amazing abilities, but those powers are not what makes him "super." It's what's on the inside -- his honor, his moral fiber, his courage -- that's how he inspires people. That's the benchmark he sets for the rest of us. He's a do-gooder and I mean that in the best way possible. Maybe, that's why he's still needed -- to be that example... that beacon.

Another brand new element appears with the character I guess we can call Lucinda Luthor -- AKA Lex's illegitimate daughter. What's your inspiration for this latest LL character in Superman's history? What's the next step in her journey between normal woman and potential supervillain?

Krul: Well, aside from the dynamic between Batman and the Joker, I don't think a better rivalry exists in comics than Superman and Lex Luthor. Lex is such a great character and villain that you knew he wasn't going to let a little thing like death stand in his way when it came to his never-ending feud with Superman. Like everything in life, Lex had a plan, and Lucinda plays a key role in it. She hasn't had an easy time in life and you have to wonder if some of that wasn't by design. Lex is a master at manipulation and pulling strings and with Lucinda he might just have found the perfect disciple to preach his version of history.

JT and Adam, overall, the art talent on your stories has a lot of experience with the modern DCU versions of this character. What standout elements do Howard Porter and longtime Bat-artist Norm Breyfogle bring to the future of the Beyond world, and how are you playing to that in the?

Krul: Even in this Beyond setting, Superman maintains his classic look and feel, albeit with a bit more gray hair. Howard has been a dream artist for this book in every respect. We actually had the chance to meet up and talk about the project before I started writing it (which is more rare than you think in this day and age). It proved to be a very productive experience. As a writer, you always want to be mindful of not only your artist's strengths, but also their interests. To the extent that you can, you want to set up a scenario to let them draw what they want -- what excites them. Well, with Howard we had that right away with Superman and the futuristic setting of Metropolis in the Beyond Universe. At the same time, there's a sense of emotion with Superman that we haven't seen much before. He's working out some issues and you can really see it in his face. It's brilliant.

Adam Beechen: Like JT says, as a writer, you always want to try to play to the strengths of the artist you're working with. Certainly, both Howard and Norm have a list of strengths as long as your arm, so both JT and I are in capable hands. In Norm's case, he's drawn almost as much Batman as anyone in history, so he knows the mood, the feel of a Batman story, as well as how Bruce Wayne and many of the other supporting characters comport themselves in terms of posture and expression. Norm has a very fluid sense of staging and action that lends itself extremely well to a property that was originally animated. He has a smart eye for detail that really helps to flesh out this world of the future. And because he's worked for different companies on different properties, Norm is extraordinarily adaptable in his style. With "Batman Beyond," he's seamlessly incorporated the look of the animated series into his own unique, individual style, creating a look for our series that's comfortably familiar, but also fresh and energetic.

On the flipside for Dustin and Derek: we know Dustin's been working on the covers of the Beyond world since its return, but what have you guys found is different visually in telling the Justice League story than some of the work you've done in the standard DCU?

Nguyen: Stylistically, I'd have to say we are trying to keep it more clean and slick. Its sort of funny because I wanted to say that future Gotham is less gritty, more streamlined, like Metropolis maybe. But I honestly haven't really drawn too much Metropolis to know. And of course, future Gotham is just as gritty haha, because Gotham will always be Gotham.

Fridolfs: Since Dustin is as big a fan of the shows as I am, I always knew his style fit in well doing the "Batman Beyond" covers, and why it was really fun having him work on sequentials and draw so many characters in our "JLB" story arc. I call it a guilty pleasure, getting him to draw a range of characters, most of which he had never drawn before. And while I think he's most associated drawing a lot of heavy black in all his Batman work, I think he adapted well to the future settings drawing all the technologically advanced cityscapes of Neo-Gotham and Metropolis. And when in doubt, we could always have a scene with old Bruce in his dark batcave.

Ultimately, I think the question every fan following these stories is asking is whether or not there's a time when all these serials will come together for some kind of Beyond/Animated U/Digital event story. What kind of odds would you lay on that happening?

Nguyen: Anyone?

Fridolfs: Anything is possible. I'm sure something might eventually happen but I don't know. I've been happy working with Dustin on developing our corner of characters, as well as reading what Adam and JT are doing in their respective stories.

Beechen: I'd lay pretty good odds. If you start populating a world with super-folk, they're going to start running into each other. It's one of the laws of comics!

Krul: Sign me up!

All three titles are available digitally now, and "Batman Beyond Unlimited" #4 goes on sale May 30.

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