Saturday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, a number of writers and artists for DC's Black Label gathered to discuss their respective approaches to pushing the limits of classic superhero stories.
The panel kicked off with executive editor Matt Doyle taking to the stage and he was soon joined by John Romita Jr., Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Kami Garcia.
"It's a chance for creators to tell stories that are different from the mainstream DCU," Doyle said of Black Label.
Regarding Last Knight on Earth, Synder said, "I'd started thinking about it when I was doing 'Zero Year.'" He then recalled the advice he received from Grant Morrison about how he needed to do a story featuring Batman's death.
"A lot of our run was about Batman saying 'everything you do matters,'" he continued. "The Joker's goal is to make you feel that nothing you do matters. So with this, the world tells Batman what Joker's been telling Batman. It takes place about 15-20 years after the current DCU. It's very much kind of an Odyssey."
"The opening salvo was a Joker head that talks in a jar," Capullo said before recapping the highlights from Last Knight on Earth #1. "This is just too good."
As for The Joker in the story, Snyder said, "I've come to the opinion that Joker doesn't want either of them to win. He's very changed and we don't know why he's this head in a jar. The second book, I really believe, is better than the first one." Doyle then displayed several pages from Last Knight on Earth #2.
"Joker is my favorite to write," he added. "He's a really tragic character. He really wants to make up for what he did."
Doyle then steered the discussion to Superman: Year One.
"[Frank] actually sounded excited," Romita said. "He knows what I'm gonna give him and anything more than that, he's excited. I could've done 260 pages in the first issue. Frank likes the idea of splitting everything apart. Everything from infancy to growing up. How do you stop a bully if you're superbeing? You can't, you'll kill 'em."
"I had to be told to keep the page count down, 'cause I could keep going," he added.
Doyle then showed off pages from Issue #2, featuring Clark traveling to Atlantis.
"I emptied out cartridges of ink and reams of paper printing out reference," Romita said. "[Frank] sends me to sentences and I do 30 pages."
Doyle then brought up Garcia's take on the Clown Prince of Crime in Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity.
"I started as a novelist," she said. "I have many conversations with my agent that always start with, 'that's not for teens.' So when DC approached me, I already had a really good idea. When I pitched it, I said, 'how do you make a monster?' What would trigger a boy to become a monster and make someone become The Joker?"
"I wanted to do a real procedural on how this character would evolve," she continued. "You do that by creating an actual profile. We profiled The Joker like he was a real person. How would he become the killer, the anarchist we all know and love? It was not teen-appropriate."
Black-and-white pages from Issue #1 were then displayed.
"[Harley] has a backstory with him," Garcia said. "When Harley was a resident, her roommate was killed by The Joker. So she's obsessed with this case, she wants to find the person who killed her roommate and pay for what he did. She's a dark chick. She's obsessed with this, definitely to a not-healthy degree. Then killings start happening in the modern-day."
"It was really challenging," she continued. "I have a consultant who's a chemical weapons expert in the marine corps and he was like, 'I need to know what you're writing this for.' He thought I was writing a manifesto or something."
"The book sounds fantastic," Snyder chimed in.
"It's a little dark," Garcia joked.
Next up, Doyle asked about Lemire's take on The Joker in Joker: Killer Smile.
"I think we approach it from a completely opposite way," he said. "It looks very grounded but the actual madness of The Joker, it's sort of a twisted child's fairytale. One element of Gotham I haven't seen a lot is the suburbs so I thought, what happens you interact with this doctor? To me, that was the most terrifying thought I could think of."
"The setup may sound familiar, but where it goes, it's not," he added.
Regarding Andrea Sorrentino's art, Lemire said, "He's the real genius. He'll elevate it into something else."
Doyle also brought up The Questions: The Deaths of Vic Sage.
"It was last year at San Diego, I had breakfast with Dan DiDio," Lemire said. "I said I wanted to do The Question. I love the whole journey he went on as a character. But what's the next step of that? What's The Question in 2019? Then we started to go, who's the perfect foe for the man with no face? A man with a thousand faces. In each life, he's facing this adversary."