Sterling Gates On "Vibe's" Suicide Squad Run

[SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for this week's "Justice League of America's Vibe" #4 lie below.]

Since its launch, the DC Comics title known as "Justice League of America's Vibe" has occupied a rare spot in the DC Universe.

Thanks to a reimagining by writers Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg, the Latino teen hero of Detroit is no longer a punchline but a powerful player in the cosmology of the DCU since Vibe's vibrational powers allow him to pierce the veil between worlds of the multiverse. But before Cisco Ramon can make his mark, he'll have to contend with a number of roadblocks including the machinations of his untrustworthy boss at A.R.G.U.S., Amanda Waller, the mysterious attentions of a dimensional jumper called Breacher and the runaway known only as Gypsy.

In this week's issue #4, ongoing "Vibe" writer Sterling Gates complicated things infinitely when Vibe decided to go AWOL from A.R.G.U.S., opting to protect Gypsy rather than turn her over to his bosses. That prompted Waller to call in her big guns -- the psychotic team of killers known as the Suicide Squad. CBR News spoke to Gates about this development and the series as a whole, and below, the writer explains what his attraction was to the untapped potential of Vibe, whether or not readers can trust cast members including Vibe's handler Agent Gunn, what the Suicide Squad's appearance will mean for Vibe and Gypsy and how this book will continue to interact with "Justice League of America" and the entire DCU.

CBR News: Sterling, I've got to say, we're four issues into "Vibe," and you guys have resisted the urge to drop in a breakdancing scene. Kudos to you.

Sterling Gates: I do sneak one breakdancing reference into issue #6. [Laughter] But he doesn't breakdance. This isn't 1984 anymore. But I'm glad you've noticed that we've not done any breakdancing.

From the looks of it, Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg wrote a kind of "pilot episode" for the Vibe series in their first few issues. What can you tell readers about how and where you came in? Is there a certain trajectory they've put you on for the series long term?

I thought Geoff and Andrew wrote one a perfect "pilot" comic book with Vibe #1, introducing Cisco Ramon's world, his family, a great setting in A.R.G.U.S. Detroit, and starting Cisco on the path to becoming a hero. They also gave that first issue a tremendous pair of hooks to bring readers back for issue two, not only giving Vibe a job as an interdimensional border cop, but also revealing that Waller has imprisoned Darkseid's Daughter.

Geoff sent me the script for issue one early on just to see what I thought about it, and I loved it. As Geoff and Andrew began work on the second issue, however, it became clear to them that their schedules were way, way too busy to write this book. I don't know if you know this, but those guys are in extremely high demand out here in Hollywood, and they're working on some huge -- like, HUGE -- projects right now. I was thrilled and humbled that DC asked me to come onboard and continue Cisco's story starting with issue three.

From a reading background, what's your experience with Vibe as a character and the general Justice League-ness that plays into this book? I know that the character has a reputation as an also-ran, but I also think that he's a blank slate to many readers. What do you bring in in terms of perception about what this kind of book should be?

One of the great things about DC's New 52 initiative is that it wiped the slate completely clean for all characters. Tabula rasa to the max, so to speak! Vibe was written very, very differently in the early 1980s. We've tried to revitalize him by reimagining not only his power set -- and connecting it to the many dimensions of the DC Universe -- but also by redefining his personality and family life. This Vibe is not one you've ever seen before, and hopefully if you're reading Justice League of America, you're seeing how he operates within that context.

In case anyone out there hasn't picked up the first few issues: Vibe is a newly-minted hero who is trying to do what he thinks is right. He grew up with the shadow of loss over him, as the same accident that gave him his powers also took his eldest brother away. And yet Cisco persevered when he could've shut down like the rest of his family. Five years later, Vibe is approached by a mysterious government organization called A.R.G.U.S. to use his powers and act as a border cop between our dimensions. A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller even puts him on the Justice League of America because she believes his powers can disable the Flash's connection to the Speed Force.

Very, very quickly, though, Vibe starts to figure out that not all is as it seems, and that's where we're going with the book now: Vibe's investigation of A.R.G.U.S. and Amanda Waller's plans for Vibe.

One general theme of the series as a whole is one of untapped potential. How has that idea been working its way through your brain as you write, not just in terms of Vibe's place in comics but more importantly in terms of Cisco's journey as a character?

Fans who read my work on "Supergirl" a few years ago know that I really like to focus in on heroes learning not only how to use their powers, but on how those powers should be used responsibly. There's a pretty big event in issue six where Vibe uses his powers in a way no one is expecting. I had a long, long conference call about it, and we decided that if this kid is pushed to an intense emotional limit, he would use his powers in order to do what he thinks is the right move. We're being very conscious of Vibe and his journey, and what the events of his story are likely to do to him. DC's been wonderful to work with as we determine what happens to Vibe, and our editor, Brian Cunningham, is extremely supportive of the character.

On the other side of things, this series has a lot of seeds of mistrust sewn throughout it. Vibe can't trust Waller at all. It's unclear if he can rally trust Gunn. Is there anyone we can trust in this series besides Cisco?

I trust his brother Dante. And I trust Gunn to a point. But I don't trust Amanda Waller at all. She's proven time and again to be... well, morally grey seems like a nice way to put it. [Laughs] She has an agenda that she's willing to pursue without fault, and sometimes that agenda will come into conflict with what we the readers know to be the right thing for Vibe to do. As I said, part of Vibe's journey involves discovering some truths about the people he's working for -- not everything in A.R.G.U.S. is on the up and up.

I think Vibe learning more about A.R.G.U.S. is an integral part of his journey slash self-actualization. Kate Stewart, our assistant editor, likened Vibe's discoveries as that moment when you're a kid and you realize that maybe adults don't have all the right answers. You saw it in issue #3, as Kid Flash dropped that first warning on Vibe: maybe A.R.G.U.S. isn't who they're cracked up to be, and maybe Vibe shouldn't be blindly working for them. We're gonna carry that thread through the next two arcs in the book in a really, really big way.

I think Vibe is really A.R.G.U.S' voice of conscience. You saw that moment in issue #4 where Gunn says, "Things were so much when Steve Trevor was in charge." And Trevor hasn't been gone that long! You're looking at an organization that was formed with the best intentions, and now that Steve has been knocked down, you're watching that organization change right in front of you.

And believe you me, when Vibe gets the Suicide Squad sent after him and sees what the Circus is all about? He's probably not gonna be the happiest hero on the block.

That fight with the Suicide Squad takes center stage next issue just as Vibe and Gypsy are getting to know each other. Honestly, I don't like their odds. What's the attraction to throwing contract killers into the mix with two teens on the run?

I like the Suicide Squad quite a bit. In early talks I had with Geoff, we talked a lot about whether we should include them in this story. And when you've got a kid who can tear the universe apart if he wants to who's just gone AWOL along with Gypsy -- who Waller seems to know a lot about and we'll learn more about soon -- I think Waller's justified in sending this special ops team. Now, are there other special ops teams that are also qualified for this? Maybe. [Laughs] But I'm sure Waller feels justified in doing this. And things don't go well for all the members of the Suicide Squad in issue #5. Vibe is incredibly powerful, and while he has some training, if you push him to the limit he could tear the universe apart. God help you if you push him too far.

Let's talk about "The Circus" and all the characters we've seen with Gypsy in the basement of A.R.G.U.S. How central a pillar will this be to your run? And what's it like to be in a position to not just be reintroducing Vibe but from the looks of it a whole raft of past DC characters?

Gypsy is key to a lot of the events in this book. Obviously, Geoff and Andrew were big Justice League Detroit fans from back in the day, and I'm deliriously happy they included her. Vibe and Gypsy's relationship will be the center of my first two arcs in this book, and it lets us tell a really interesting interdimensional love story. It's a kind of story I've always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity to do one until now!

In the course of that tale, we're going to be reintroducing a lot of old DC characters who haven't had appearances yet in the New 52 DC Universe. I'm pretty sure my editors would hunt me down if I reveal any of them, but long-time DC fans will be surprised at who's in the Circus -- as well as who shows up looking for its inhabitants.

And of course, I have to ask about... Darkseid's daughter?!?! Will we be seeing an all-new piece of New Gods mythology introduced into the DCU at some point in this book?

We deal with Darkseid's Daughter in a big way starting with issue #7. And that's all DC will allow me to say about that! [Laughs]

The other player in the game is Breacher, a really sharp looking character who has a plan for Vibe but may be the most mysterious player of the bunch. What kind of role does he play in the series overall?

"Pulling the strings slowly" is one of Geoff's favorite phrases for storytelling like this, and that's exactly what we're doing. It's a slow but steady reveal. You'll pick up pieces of information about all these characters from issue to issue. Breacher plays a big role up next in issue #8, but there will be hints throughout the next few issues to who he is, what he's doing and why he turns to Vibe. It's funny because Vibe is this kid with a lot of untapped potential, and everybody thinks they know what's best for him. Everyone from Gunn to Waller to Breacher is saying, "You need to do this because of this." They all have their own reasons, but nobody asks Vibe what he wants to do. That's a big part of his motivation with Gypsy. He starts to act on what he thinks is right, and as soon as he does that, the first thing Amanda Waller does is send the Suicide Squad after him. What does that say about the organization you work for?

Pete Woods continues on as your artist here -- a real classic-style DC artist with a very clean line. What's his half of the collaboration bring to the characters and the book as a whole?

I've said this a few times on record, but I think Pete Woods is one of the best storytellers in comic books. He's got a classic feel but a really intense eye for detail. I had the pleasure of working with him during the "Superman: New Krypton" mega-arc a few years ago, and he always brought a beautiful design sense, great artistry and a wicked sense of humor to his projects. Issue #5 is a huge fight with the Suicide Squad, and Pete makes that thing just cook, man. Really, really great.

We've also had the pleasure of working with a couple other artists on Vibe. Manuel Garcia and Fabiano Neves stepped in for issue four and did some great work. There's a great scene with Breacher at the top of the issue that Manuel nailed, and the double page spread where Batman shows up is just awesome.

Lastly, we know this series is called "Justice League of America's Vibe" and Cicso continue to appear in the ongoing JLA title. Right now with Vibe on the run, it seems like he won't be teaming up with the JLA anytime soon. Do you plan for the story here and the action in "Justice League of America" to line back up at some point?

I meet with Geoff about every two weeks to talk about "Justice League of America" and "Vibe" and how those two books relate. There will be a point soon where they're a little more aligned, but while the book is called "Justice League of America's Vibe," I think it's important to keep the story we're telling slightly one step outside of what's going on in the main Justice League of America book. We can reference missions he goes on with the Justice League, but I think examining Vibe, his life, A.R.G.U.S. and these decisions he's making is really important for us. I think, and Geoff thinks, that we have to send Vibe on a journey outside of the Justice League and examine him as a character so that when you're reading him as a character, you get a feel for what he's like. But reading him in our book shows you who he really is as a newly minted hero in the DCU. Hopefully it'll make Vibe feel more human.

"Justice League of America's Vibe" #4 is on sale now from DC Comics.

Powers of X feature Moira Xavier
Powers of X Rewrites the Origin of Two Omega-Level Mutants

More in Comics