J.M. DeMatteis Explores the Origins of "Justice League: Gods and Monsters"

In the world of "Justice League: Gods and Monsters," Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman aren't the shining pillars of morality and justice fans are used to seeing -- nor are they the heroes we're familiar with. Batman is a vampiric Kirk Langstrom, Wonder Woman isn't from Themyscira and Superman is the son of General Zod. It's a whole new, very different world--and fans are getting a chance to explore that world through a few different means.

There's the animated feature film, the web series "Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles" on Machinima -- and companion stories from DC Comics written by J.M. DeMatteis and Bruce Timm that go back in time to explore the origins of both individual heroes and the Justice League.

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The writers and artists working on the comic series -- Matthew Dow Smith ("Batman"), Thony Silas ("Justice League"), Dan Green and Rick Leonardi ("Wonder Woman") and Moritat ("Superman") -- have obviously put a lot of effort into developing histories for each character. We spoke with DeMatteis about developing these histories, finding familiar threads even when the characters are radically different and working with such a variety of artistic talent.

CBR News: What was your initial reaction to this version of the Justice League? It's not quite like anything we've seen before.

J.M. DeMatteis: I'm used to working on a different version because [Keith] Giffen and I are doing "Justice League 3001," which is also the Justice League but not the Justice League. This is sort of another Justice League that's not the Justice League. What's so wonderful about these characters, these great iconic characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, is that there's something essential about all three of them. You can bend them, you can twist them, you can do all kinds of things to them -- come up with different histories, come up with parallel universes -- but there's some inherent appeal about them that no matter what clothes you put on them, no matter where you take them, the heart and soul remains the same.

The fun is you get to play with these different versions, so in a way it's a completely blank slate you can just jump off and play in and have great time. It's still Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. No matter how different they are there's some inherent quality about them that remains in all these different interpretations.

How do you find the cornerstones of these characters that we all connect to and recognize when, in this case, they walk a different line of morality? Batman, for example, is a vampire. It brings in other elements.

For me, I'm not a conscious writer. I have my conscious editor, but when I'm writing, I tend to write intuitively. It's not like I'm sitting down thinking, "Hmm, well, how can I find the iconic Batman and the heart and soul of this." I just write and I find the character, and I let the character lead me and lead the way. Referring to this version of Batman, it's almost like a personification of the whole entire dark aspect of Batman, maybe taken to an extreme.

Even the Batman that we know is open to so many different interpretations. But I think that this particular Batman really sort of digs its claws, if I may, into the darkest aspects of the character, but even there there's an inherent decency that if you dig deep enough you find in his character. He's not doing this because he's getting a thrill doing this. He's doing this because he has no choice -- he has to survive. Given that he's been presented with this situation where the only way he can survive is on human blood, well the question becomes, "What do you do with that?" His answer, in his own mind, is to become a hero. Now, it may not fit my definition of what a hero is or yours, but at least he is trying. All three of these characters are trying to fit some definition in their own mind of what a hero is.

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One of the questions we deal with in the stories is, "Maybe they're deluding themselves. Maybe they're really not heroes at all. Maybe people like this are anything but heroes." In these origin stories, the story is narrated by Lois Lane. In this universe, she's no great fan of Superman or any of them. We have the action going on, but constantly through it is Lois Lane's voice questioning them, questioning every choice they make. It's like this counter rhythm going on through the whole story and it brings another interesting texture to the origin story. We're not just taking their word for who they are and what they're doing.

As you said, these are origin stories and they're part of a bigger multimedia picture with the film and web series. When you started this project, how much was already set up? What kind of creative freedom did you have?

There was a lot of room and a lot of freedom. They sent me an early version of the movie and I got to see that, so I got to get a sense of the characters and their world. But in the movie, they're pretty much established as who they are. We know something and we have little bits of backstory, but there's huge gaps of the journeys from where they started to how they ended up being the characters that they are in the movie.

Bruce [Timm], with all our initial story conferences, he looked over all the scripts and the final work, but I was given a lot of room, which made it fun. [I had] a lot of room to play and build and create supporting characters and get into the psychology and see what it was that took them on this journey. Now in the end, Bruce was the deciding factor. If something came up and Bruce said, "Eh, I don't like that, let's do this instead," it's his universe, it's his characters. So I salute him and will do what he wants to do. But I was given lots of room to play and lots of room to move, so I feel like I got a chance to really make this serious contribution to this mythos.

As you developed these characters, did you find yourself surprised by any of them or getting attached to them?

As you write these characters, no matter what you're writing, your investment as a writer is that you have to kind of fall in love with them or you can't write a good story. I had to kind of fall in love with all of them and I did, but I have to say I found a special place in my heart for Wonder Woman, and I think a lot of that is because it's a character I've never really connected with that deeply. I've written a few Wonder Woman stories in the comics and I've done a Wonder Woman animation, but something about this particular incarnation of Wonder Woman -- it may just be that there's a connection to New Genesis or the New Gods. It just clicked for me, and she's a great character. The way we've established her, she's been on Earth for quite a while and so her solo story doesn't take place in the present day, it takes place in the '60s, which gives it a great, great backdrop for the character and to really see who she is.

I think out of the three of them, she is -- although she can go dark when she needs to -- she's really the biggest idealist and least dark and maybe that's why I kind of love her the best because she's still, in her heart, seeking some great dream of some paradise she can create on Earth.

You worked with quite a large group of artists on "Gods and Monsters." What were the logistics of working with that many people all at once and what did they bring to the stories?

It really was -- it was at once. That was kind of the challenge and the fun and the stress of this project. It was all happening at the same time, and I'm working on the origin story, then I'm working on the Superman story, then I'm jumping in the Batman story and the Wonder Woman story. Jumping from day to day, it's like, "Well, we need ten pages of this by Monday and ten pages of that by Tuesday."

I understand as a freelancer that part of the freelance life is having your back against the wall, getting in a tight situation, and having to fight your way out or type your way out as the case may be. There was a lot of that in this project but also some fantastic, really fantastic work. Each artist was so different that it made it easier to jump from story to story because you can't confuse them. They each brought a very different tone and feel and style to their stories. When I would look at the Superman art or the Batman art or the Wonder Woman art, each artist so fit the story they were working on. That part was the most fun to me. To know that I'm working with so many wonderful artists simultaneously on this thing, that part was great.

"Justice League: Gods and Monsters--Batman," "Justice League: Gods and Monsters--Superman" and "Justice League: Gods and Monsters--Wonder Woman are available now. The three-issue "Justice League: Gods and Monsters" begins August 12.

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