For the first “big” event of DC Comics’ “Rebirth” publishing era — emphasizing legacy and back-to-basics superheroics told in a contemporary fashion — the company went just about as big as it can get, at least in terms of cast. The six-issue “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad,” starts weekly in December, will pit the two teams against each other, collectively representing not only some of the highest-profile heroes and villains in the DC Universe, but also the two major components of Warner Bros.’ live-action DC film franchise.
Joshua Williamson — known for his current run on “The Flash” at DC, along with creator-owned hits such as “Nailbiter” — is the writer of “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad,” alongside a team of six different artists, each one taking on an issue (with each issue coming in at 30 pages of story). Things start with Jason Fabok, recently of “Justice League,” and continue in order with and Tony S. Daniel, Jesus Merino, Fernando Pasarin, Robson Rocha and Howard Porter. But while the creative team is in place for “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad,” not much else is known beyond the title — and the vague hint that another group of characters will get involved, causing the two sides to (reluctantly, surely) team up.
CBR spoke with both Williamson and Fabok about the “blockbuster” event as a whole, working together again years later after their first collaboration, keeping things consistent with six different artists, ensuring personal stakes for the characters involved and the tease that “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad” will have “ties to the hidden truths of Rebirth” — namely the rather surprising revelation from earlier this year in “DC Universe: Rebirth,” that Dr. Manhattan from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic “Watchmen” series has been manipulating the DC Universe, apparently causing the continuity shift back in 2011 that spawned the New 52. Plus, CBR has the exclusive first look at interiors by Fabok from issue #1, colored by Alex Sinclair (who will color all six issues of the story).
CBR: Joshua, Jason, this has been clearly positioned as the first major event of DC’s Rebirth era. But there haven’t been many big events at DC in general since the New 52 started in 2011. What does being in this position mean to both of you? What did you want in terms of the tone for this story, and how you approached it?
Joshua Williamson: For me, I really wanted to make something that felt like a big-budget summer blockbuster movie. I knew I wanted to make it feel like these movies that I love, big-budget set pieces with a lot of characters. I stuck with that tone as I was writing it, and as I was talking to the editors, and I was thinking about what Jason was going to be doing. I started building towards that — I want to tell a big-budget disaster movie in the DC Universe.
Jason Fabok: From a visual side, just like Josh is saying, I just want to make it like a blockbuster film. You want to see all of these awesome characters come together and battle each other, and set a tone for what’s going to come in the next couple issues. These are the kinds of books I really enjoy doing. After drawing “Justice League,” I got used to team books with lots of characters, and figuring out how to make everything work together. I had a lot of fun on this issue.
For the readers, I think they’re going to be impressed with the story and the big spectacle of it all.
Williamson: I don’t want to use the word “intimidated” when I started working on it, but definitely when Jason came on board, it made me feel a lot better about certain things. [Laughs] Jason and I have actually worked with each other [before] — it wasn’t my first DC job, but it was your first DC job, right.
Fabok: That’s correct.
Williamson: I think it was my second. It was really great getting to come back together after all these years for a big DC event.
Back in the spring, when I was working on “The Flash,” I started hearing about this event. It was going to be “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad,” we didn’t know for sure what it was going to be, we had certain ideas. I kept asking about it, because I was really curious. I thought that would be cool, and I wanted to know what it was. One day they were like, “Do you want to write it?” “Yes, of course I want to write it!” Then we started building this story and building this big idea.
It was interesting — there was this moment of pressure. You’re going to be doing this really big thing, it’s one of the biggest things we’ve done in a while, it’s the first big event of Rebirth. There was a lot of responsibility there. For me, I’m such a big fan of the DC Universe, and this is the kind of stuff I want to do. I was definitely accepting of the pressure and the challenge of it. Working with Jason definitely took some of the load off — it made me more excited.
Once we started talking about the tone, we knew we wanted to something fun. Once that started circling around in my head, it became a lot of fun to write. There are a lot of characters, a lot of things happen, and it’s really big and really does encompass a lot of the DC Universe, and I think there will be some surprises in there. It was a lot of work to do, but it still ended up being a lot of fun.
Jason, you’re uniquely equipped for a story like this, after your run on “Justice League” with Geoff Johns, which also encompassed a lot of characters and was sort of an event series in itself each month. Does this feel fairly natural for you?
Fabok: Yeah, it does. The funny thing is, after I finished “Justice League,” I said to myself and to my editors, “The next book I do, I want it to be a lot smaller.” [Laughs] Maybe just a one-character thing that I can take a lot of time on, and work slowly at it. In one way, they gave me that — I got to do a back-up story for “Suicide Squad” #1, so I drew eight-pages of a Deadshot story. Then they gave me this, but I couldn’t turn this down. It was too cool of an idea and too cool of a story.
I took a little bit of time off, and getting back into drawing a crazy team book again was tough. When I was working on “Justice League” I was on such a roll — I was used to it, I was pumping out stuff really quick, and then I had to re-learn how to tackle that again with this book. But when you have a great script and it’s all laid out there for you, it comes easy after a while. You know how to deal with a team book, you know how to deal with little shortcuts to help you get pages out quicker. Everything just came together, and I was very happy with how the book turned out. It was a lot of fun.
You’ve both mentioned how you want this to be fun — how much of the fun of this story is seeing dynamics we don’t usually get to see a lot, finding new ways of mashing up these characters and pairing them off, putting them in different situations?
Williamson: For me, that was a big part of it. Some of these characters have met each other, so I get to play with that dynamic, but there are some characters I don’t think have really spent a lot of time together, and they have these small moments. There’s a moment in issue #1 between two characters I think have never really interacted very much — one from the Suicide Squad and from the Justice League — it’s cool getting to show that.
In later issues, it continues to build. In #2, there’s a lot of fighting, and I really spent a lot of time trying to make sure the characters that were fighting each other complemented each other, so it wasn’t just a bunch of punching and kicking. It’s like a punch, kick, conversation sort of thing — how do I dig into the emotional parts, and see how these characters interact with each other?
Killer Frost is a big part of this book. At first we had ideas of, “Killer Frost is going to interact with these characters in this way.” As I was writing it, it actually changed. We thought she had one direction when we first sat down to talk about it, and then as the story started going, just naturally, she started going a different path. And that was really surprising — that’s part of the fun part of writing these big events. That was one of the things that was really rewarding about this book, is having Killer Frost lead her own way in the story, and surprise us.
Though it’s titled “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad,” it already appears that it’s not just six issues of them beating each other up, as fun as that could be. It looks like there’s also an element of them teaming up — is that accurate?
Williamson: Yes and no. [Laughs] There’s definitely another group of characters in the book that are crucial to the story, but just because they get along and the team up for a second doesn’t mean they’re going to be teaming up the whole book. Another catalyst is introduced to the series, and that catalyst puts a spin on things — puts a spin on the idea that they will get along. Will this other catalyst make them team up, or make them fight again? Maybe I’ve said too much. [Laughs] That’s the question: Does the other group make them team up, or make them fight more?
For a story like this to be satisfying for both the creators doing it and the readers reading it, it obviously needs more personal stakes to it, too, along with the action. What’s it been like to strike that balance of delivering a story that is “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad,” but also keeps a personal stake for all of these characters?
Williamson: Because we have this many characters, there’s no way everyone is going to have an arc in the story — it’s impossible, even with 180 pages. But we can do something small with them. We can have little moments between them. That was my goal, to make sure I had little moments where characters turned or realized something about their relationship. I was able to build around that. There are four characters we’re able to tell a story emotionally with, and make sure they have an arc over these six issues. Once I started going there, I was able to key in on those characters.
It obviously makes the event better for it, but it allows us to make it important, so it isn’t just a standalone story that doesn’t have any impact going forward.
Which four characters might that be?
Williamson: I don’t want to say all of them. We’ve already said Killer Frost. The rest, I think, are spoilers. Obviously, Batman’s a big part of the event. Amanda Waller’s a big part of the event. There are other characters that aren’t known yet that are in the event that are definitely important.
Joshua, while the first issue is illustrated by Jason, but there’s a different artist on each subsequent issue — some big names that you haven’t worked with before. How does that affect your approach as a writer, when each chapter has its own distinct visual look?
Williamson: Thankfully, I was already familiar with all the artists. I hadn’t worked with any of them before, but I was already familiar with their work, and I had known their work for a while, so it was in my head. When we started talking about what each issue was, and how big each issue was, we knew which issues were a little more action-packed, and which ones were going to be a little calmer, and which ones were going to be the bigger, epic ones.
With Howard Porter doing the last issue — I’ve been a really big fan of Howard Porter since he was the artist on “The Ray.” Next year will be the 20th anniversary of “JLA” — for me, that was a big deal. That definitely impacted how I was writing the last issue; I wanted to give him something he could play with.
Having communication with the artists definitely helps on a project this big, with this many moving pieces. It isn’t a matter of me handing over a script, we keep having these conversations and talking about what’s working, what isn’t. Writing is done when the artist is done drawing it.
It was interesting having this many artists on this, but every issue looks amazing. I’m looking at these issues — this event is going to be beautiful at the end.
Fabok: As the artist on the first issue, I had the easiest job. I kind of got to set the precedent; I didn’t have to worry if my pages interconnected with Tony’s pages, that kind of thing. I got to draw the entrances of all these characters and the setting, and they had the harder job of trying to figure out, “What kind of background did Jay draw here? How do I put this in my artwork, to have a consistency?”
We had Dropbox folders so we could send our art in — I could see what guys were doing in issue #3, what Tony was doing in issue #2 — sometimes he was working on a page that might have been something that happens later in my issue, so I was taking cues from him, and what he put in his backgrounds, and tried to morph my art towards that. I learned from Geoff Johns that communication is key, and communicating with your writer will make your book stronger. I can’t say enough about working with Josh, and his willingness to let me explore different things, change some stuff to make the story flow a little bit better. Fans are going to be blown away by the artwork.
The very first press release that announced “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad” said the story would have “ties to the hidden truths of Rebirth.” Given what we saw in that one-shot, and has continued to a certain degree in your “Flash” run, Josh — characters like Dr. Manhattan pulling strings with the fabric of the DC Universe — does this story shed any more light on the ongoing mystery of “Watchmen” characters interacting with the DCU?
Willimason: Yes. [Laughs] It ties in definitely as a whole. When people read the whole event — it’s hard to talk about this because of spoilers — they’re going to see it all adds up, and it definitely gives you a big piece of what we’re doing next year, moving forward with Rebirth.
I think the most I can say is, so far we know The Flash, Wally and some characters are aware that something is coming, and something happened. There are other people in the DC Universe that are also aware. That’s probably the most I can tell you without being fired. [Laughs]
“Justice League vs. Suicide Squad” #1 is scheduled for release on Dec. 21.
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