Geoff Johns has been planning an epic conflict since he started writing DC Comics flagship “Justice League” series. And this week, he and artist Jason Fabok deliver the biggest fight in the history of the title with the start of “Darkseid War.”
Teased since the League defeated the stoney New God in the first arc of their series, Darkseid’s return to the DC Multiverse’s core Earth is not a moment that happens in a vacuum. The Omega beam-shooting overlord arrives just in time to come into conflict with the Anti-Monitor — the other-worldly force that destroyed the homeworld of the Crime Syndicate (AKA Earth-3). Both titanic villains arrive in the series with this week’s “Justice League” #40 for a prelude story that will launch in full after Free Comic Book Day.
CBR News spoke with Johns and Fabok about their plans for the League, as the pair sound off on how they’ve quickly become a collaboratively dynamic duo, why Wonder Woman will be the star of this story, how both Darkseid and Anti-Monitor are more than you expect and their goal to make this story deliver an event-worthy story in every issue.
CBR News: Gentlemen, this week sees the arrival of “Justice League” #40, which is a prelude to your “Darkseid War” storyline. How has being together before this on the “Amazo Virus” arc helped the team get ready for such a long-awaited story?
Jason Fabok: I jumped right in the deep end, but in a good way. When I came on the book, it was very quick, and I didn’t have much lead time going into “Amazo Virus.” But it was a good thing because it pushed me. I felt like I was able to jump right in and draw a bunch of insane stuff, and that gave me a boost of confidence coming onto this book. And now with “Darkseid War,” we’ve made our schedule so I have a lot more time per issue. So I’m not going to be living in my office 24/7.
And working with Geoff is unbelievable. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened in my career. I feel like we’ve become really good friends, and there’s a mentorship there where he’s teaching me a lot of new things. He’s got the experience, and I’m the new guy, and he’s guiding me through the process of doing this big event kind of book. I feel our communication is excellent, and we’re on the same page with everything. It’s made working on the book a ton of fun. Yes, it’s a lot of hard work and long hours. But in the end, I’m so proud of the work we’re putting out right now that it just gives me more confidence in the next issue and the next issue after that. I feel like “Darkseid War” is going to be our statement. However long we’re on “Justice League” together, this is going to be the story that people remember…or at least until the next one. [Laughter]
Geoff Johns: Yeah, I want to throw it back at Jay. I’ve worked with a lot of the same guys for a very, very long time, and it’s funny. I don’t think a lot of people realize that it’s very hard to find a collaborator in this medium that you really connect with on a creative level. It’s someone you’re truly on the same page with but also who challenges you and you challenge them. You grow together. For me, I’ve done that with guys like Gary Frank who I’ve worked with a long time and Ivan Reis of course and Doug Manke. And now with Jay, when [editor] Brian Cunningham and I were looking for someone to come on “Justice League,” I said, “It’s got to be someone I feel I can do a great book with, otherwise it’s not worth doing.” Then Jay came up, and I’d been watching him grow and getting so great. Then I got so excited about the idea of working with someone who was so new and new to DC. And then the first night we talked, I knew right away that this was going to be great.
And it’s been awesome. He’s helped inspired me as much as he says I’ve inspired him. Working with Jay’s pages has opened up all sorts of new ideas for me. Wonder Woman is the perfect example. I saw the way he drew her and just wanted more of her because she looked so brilliant — so strong and powerful. She looked like a leader and a badass, but still compassionate. So I just gravitated towards that character and researched more and more of her, and now “Darkseid War” is a story where she’s the main player. Even though this story focuses on all the main Justice League players, she’s become the main character in it, and I couldn’t be more excited about that because it’s someone I’ve never explored in a deep way in a solo book or even in a team book. Digging into that character has been rewarding, and I credit Jay with inspiring me to do that.
And coming into “Darkseid War,” I’m so glad that we had a few months to work on it because we’ve been able to explain things to each other and talk to each other and say what we each wanted out of the book. I knew what what I wanted to accomplish, and as soon as I told him about “Darkseid War,” he said, “This is crazy. This is insane” which is exactly the kind of response you want.
Having read the book from issue #1, it feels like almost every arc or every tie-in has had some kind of seed planted that leads to this story. Whether it be the tease of Darkseid’s daughter or the secret that the Crime Syndicate characters are hiding, you’ve been planning this forever. Why is now the time that this story finally had to be told of Darkseid’s return?
Johns: This has always roughly been the plan. I’m all about long-form storytelling, and when I’m on a monthly book, I like to plot big arcs and long, sweeping stories that will sometimes culminate together with certain beats that build to literal events. But the most important thing to me is when these things organically happen. Obviously I wanted to set up the formation of the Justice League, Cyborg’s creation, when they started to become a team, facing off against a big threat like Atlantis, dealing with the Crime Syndicate in “Forever Evil” and then having Lex Luthor ingratiate himself onto the team because he knows of this impending war that’s coming. Ultimately, all that was going to build to this clash between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor. I always knew it was going to come to that.
There are some big things that happen in “Darkseid War” that I don’t want to reveal and are ultimately what the story is all about, but the timing is all very organic. Everything was building towards this, and it all fell into place, and that’s why this storyline is now instead of four months ago or four months from now. It’s just the time.
Tell me about that “Darkseid Vs. Anti-Monitor” fight. These are two characters that are known for universe-destroying levels of chaos, so the obvious hook is there. But I also get the sense that since the very beginning of “Justice League” was the defeat of Darkseid that this can also play as a revenge story of sorts for the New God.
Johns: On the story side, you’ll see what it’s all about: why Anti-Monitor is coming to Earth, why Darkseid wants to engage him and what he wants back on Earth. Part of it obviously is revenge against the Justice League since they’re the only team that ever really beat him, but that’s just part of it. There’s much more to this story. And when you look at Darkseid coming into this, Jay’s done an amazing job of presenting him in issue #41. It’s beautiful — the weight of the character. Thinking of that villain, he’s not like Sinestro or Black Adam or Lex Luthor. He’s on a higher plain, and his desires and existence are on a level that is godly. When you tap into that character as a writer and spend time with that character, you have to go to a very dark, strange, alien place, and we’ve had a lot of fun doing that, as creepy as it is.
Darkseid is almost an idea. We want to elevate him in that way. He’s not a guy to me who runs around and smashes walls and gets in giant fights. He’s very strategic and very restrained. If he lifts a finger, a city is destroyed. He’s just ultra-powerful, both physically and psychologically. So the way we’re playing Darkseid is that he’s very methodical and very confident. He’s sure of himself in what he believes is the right state of existence for everything and every being. It’s all about him and his will. We’ll play with that a lot.
And then with Anti-Monitor, you’ll see in the prologue in issue #40 that we’ll start to peel back some layers on who he is. It’s a very different take, and he’s different than what you see on the surface. He looks like a universe-eater — this big force of anti-matter that’s very bombastic. But there’s actually a lot more to the character than that. We’re playing into that idea, and there will be this clash of ideals between Anti-Monitor and Darkseid that will take this much deeper than a simple revenge story or a simple “Let’s destroy the universe” story. They both have very personal goals and very personal stakes in this war, and they’ll do anything to achieve them.
Jason, how do you approach drawing these guys seeing as they were designed by Jack Kirby and George Perez respectively. With talent of that caliber there at the creation, how do you come in and make your mark on them?
Fabok: You know, whenever it comes to characters like this there’s always a bit of a fear in the back of your head. You know you’re following after the artists — guys who created these characters and who everyone thinks of when they think of them. So part of me wants to play to that legacy and make them recognizable to the reader when they come to the page. But the other part of me wants to play around with things and take them in a different direction. Not to say we’re really changing all kinds of stuff, but we’re updating part of the look and the way they move on the page — things like that.
Like Geoff said, we’re really trying to think differently about who Darkseid is. We don’t want him to be this brute who just snaps and goes rogue. There’s actually a scene in issue #41 that really captures the creepiness of this character and what’s going on in his mind and how much power this guy really has. It’s the same with Anti-Monitor. Geoff mentioned the prologue in issue #40 where Jim Lee draws the heck out of that character in one of the best pages I’ve ever seen. So building on that, we’re coming in with a new design on the Anti-Monitor that’s an updated version of his original look from “Crisis.” I’ve tried to modernize it while still sticking to a classic look. And it’s always fun to try that out on these characters, and I’m feeling pretty confident about it. I think we’re getting better and better with every page.
You guys have mentioned Wonder Woman as a major character in this, and there are so many other wild card players in the League now from Power Ring to Lex Luthor. Is part of this story about whether or not the League can survive an event like this?
Johns: Yeah. We get right into the Justice League in the first part in terms of why they exist, what they get out of it themselves as individuals and collectively. And the very simple version of it is that the idea of the Justice League and the diverse viewpoint of it is that when the world is threatened, it takes everybody with powers and talent to step up and defend it. That might include someone like Lex Luthor. That might even include somebody like Mister Miracle who’s not even from here but who believes in protecting things and defending things because he’s seen the worst there is in existence. Even Luthor, for all you can say about his villainy — and he certainly is a villain, make no mistake about that — he doesn’t want the world to be destroyed because then what does he have? He has nothing.
We’ve got a major change coming for Lex Luthor in this storyline, too. It’s just like there’s a change for Wonder Woman and a new status quo for the team itself. The Dakrseid War will explore all of that. What Jay and I are trying to do ultimately is deliver an event every month. We want this to be the most epic but also emotionally resonant and character-driven comic out there. So every month it’s an event just to see this book. “Justice League” will affect this world in powerful ways, and you’ll see new characters and the best artwork that a comic book can offer. Jay has proven himself already in just four issues. It’s amazing how quickly he’s grown, and his new pages will blow everyone away. Our goal is to tell the very best story we can every month, and to do that, we’re putting everything we can into it. It’s a lot more work and a lot more research going in that I’d do for a solo book, but if that gets people excited and fresh and new, that’s what we want. Especially since it’s self-contained. You don’t have to buy a million different tie-ins to a story to make this feel like an event.
“Justice League” #40 is on sale today from DC Comics.
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