DC's Year of The Villain is the name of the line-wide promotion that will take the DC Comics superhero line through the summer, but it's also a single comic arriving at stores this week for the prie of a quarter.
As with previous years, the publisher has released an all-original, introductory-priced tie-in to their mega events the Wednesday before Free Comic Book Day. The 25-cent 2019 offering features work from Scott Snyder, Brian Michael Bendis, James Tynion IV, Alex Maleev, Jim Cheung and Francis Manapul, with each tale about Lex Luthor, Leviathan, Bane and more setting up key stories to come. For Snyder's part, the longtime Batman steward turned chairman of the Justice League is writing not only the next phase of his stories from last year's Metal, the writer's Lex Luthor story will also kick-off a line-wide branding for DC's hero books.
From July through November, fans will witness Superman's greatest foe offer new and elevated skills to villains across DC's titles, and the fallout from his offer will help connect disparate bad guy-focused events in various Justice League comics, the Superman line and the next major Batman saga. CBR spoke to Snyder about how his "Apex" version of Lex Luthor is the critical villain for the publisher's year-long effort while keeping the story of DC organic and adaptable.
CBR: With this year's 25-cent issue, you guys are doing a new kind of DC event, it seems. This is not a mega tentpole but a bunch of interconnected series like your Justice League run, Brian Bendis' Leviathan story and even Tom King's "City of Bane." How much do these all connect, or is it more a thematic next phase?
Scott Snyder: My goal was never to do an event that takes a book you love – especially if you're a reader who's just enjoying a single book – and just wrench into your story and say, "Whatever was happening doesn't matter anymore. This matters now." When we did Court of Owls and Death of the Family, and then with Metal, we gave all the writers the kind of room they needed so they could tie-in or not. If they did tie in, they'd do it on their own terms.
So we knew pretty much since Metal that there was going to be a point in our Justice League story where Lex Luthor discovers that the original god of the DC Universe, the mother of everything, made humans to be what he always expected they were. They're something much more powerful than we see. They were immortal and predatory and beautiful. He believes this is the missing piece of humanity – that we all know we're greater than we are. To get through nature is to embrace this idea, so let's embrace being villains.
The Year of the Villain is all about him making a dramatic sacrifice in this 25-cent issue in order to say, "For the first time in my life, I believe in something. I'll be the first person to sacrifice myself for this, but I want to make everyone else an offer." And so he makes an offer to all the villains in the DCU to level up against the heroes in ways that changes the stakes across the whole line. But the reason we made this plan so long ago so that the writers could say, "My villain is going to be this guy because that affects what's happening in my story in May, June and July." In July is when you'll see what individual offers Lex makes to the villains in each book. He says, "Do you want this or not?" and that story will reveal the decision of who ends up in the Year of the Villain, which will run until November.
The results of the final round in November is going to create what is possibly the biggest thing we've been building towards since Metal. That's the plan, and we wanted to give people room to tie in in a way that felt organic to their book...or not! I never want to be a guy who says, "This is what you're doing." I love to see what happens when people take this prompt and run with it in a way that I could never do.
One of the phrases that stood out when I read about the series was this idea that we're meeting "Apex Lex." Isn't this the first time in a long while that we've seen purely evil Lex Luthor? Is it different writing him when he doesn't even have a public identity as a good guy?
Yeah. For me, I think the beauty of Lex Luthor is that he's a really relatable villain. The key to Lex is that he's ego-driven, and we're all ego-driven! [Laughs] At least in some ways. He can't just let Superman be the biggest hero even though he himself is seen as a hero up until that point. He just can't let someone else be bigger than him. His contributions to humanity could be enough to make him a great hero, but he can't do it if he's not the biggest. He can't be eclipsed by an alien.
The idea here is that he finally sees he was right. So it's the absolute embrace of his villainy, his ego, his arrogance. He feels our cosmic origin speaks to his deepest flaw. He can't get over himself in order to commit to an idea larger than himself – any kind of legacy or great contribution. He has to be acknowledged. It has to be about him. And Perpetua says, "Of course. That's what's in your DNA. That's who all of your are, my humans."
Now, Lex is is the most villainous he's ever been because he thinks villainy is our natural state. If we embrace it, we'll evolve into something that we've always been designed for. Our literal destiny is to become evil. It's so much fun to write him in this state not only because he's returning to villainy, but it's him believing in something larger than himself. He's a zealot for evil. It's a complete leveling up for Lex.
You, James Tynion, Jim Cheung, Jorge Jimenez and the rest of the team have been building the side narrative with the Legion of Doom since the start of Justice League. As you bring that piece into this bigger story, are you looking to play with which villains become true believers versus which might even have a shred of good in them?
That's the whole fun of the story. This is not uniform at all. Some take his offer. Some ask for something different. Some reject it. Some side with the heroes. Some heroes side with Lex. It really is meant to challenge each hero and villain in a way that's singular to that character's story.
I love this kind of stuff, and for me the great joy is the degree to which it's collaborative. The more collaborative, the better. For me this allows us to celebrate what's going on in every book because Lex's plan doesn't necessarily usurp the plan of the book. Instead, they give them tools to elevate the stakes of the storyline. It's fun because I talk to each writer and say "Do you want to play with this tool in your book?" and each one has come up with a singular story in their own right.
It also allows DC to come together as a company and tell one big tapestry of a story. That's what I said when I did Metal. I said if I was going to stay on and if Metal didn't flop – which I thought it would – is that my goal going forward was to tell a story that went from Metal all the way to 2020. I wanted to do that Hickman-esque thing where we had a story that stretched from Justice League to Odyssey to Justice League Dark. And even Batman Who Laughs and Batman/Superman and all the stuff we're doing on the side – all those books wind up being part of the story while still being great individual reads. It's not just saying to readers "It's cool if you're just reading one book" – even though that's true – but if you are reading all the books, you're rewarded in this cumulative way as it gets to a crescendo. We want you to feel that everything you've read and bought pays back in a way that's bigger than what you paid for it.
I love that we're all working to piece this together as one giant uber-narrative – me, James, Josh Williamson, Tom King, Brian Bendis, Kelly-Sue DeConnick and Joelle Jones are all in it. It feels good to be doing it all as one Justice League of writers. Or maybe Legion of Doom of writers. [Laughs]
DC's Year of the Villains one-shot is available now.