SPOILER ALERT: The following interview discusses specific events and plot points for the yet-to-be released Vertigo series, “Frostbite.”
While Joshua Williamson has yet to unleash Leonard Snart on Barry Allen in the pages of “The Flash,” the newly named DC Comics-exclusive writer promises CBR that Captain Cold is coming soon. But if readers can’t wait to get their collective chill on, Williamson and artist Jason Shawn Alexander are launching a new Vertigo series on Sept. 28 that delivers a level of cold that even Barry Allen’s prime Rogue would find alarming.
In “Frostbite,” a transporter named Keaton is charged with her most precious cargo ever since the dawn of the New Ice Age — delivering a hot shot young scientist to a laboratory where she can complete her cure for a terrible new disease known as ‘frostbite,’ a condition which literally freezes people from the inside out. Time is ticking not only for Keaton and Dr. Victoria Hawthorne but for all of humanity, because if a cure can’t be found, the known world will collapse.
In an in-depth interview, Williamson shares his thoughts and offers insight into the series’ two leading characters, and also teased details about the main antagonist in “Frostbite,” crime lord Boss Burns.
CBR: In the opening pages, we’re told that the story is set ’57 years into the New Ice Age.’ When did the New Ice Age begin?
Joshua Williamson: Ah, man. Spoiler. [Laughs] I tried to leave it a little ambiguous. I didn’t want to nail it down to a very specific year. To me, it didn’t really matter the year. It’s in the future, and this happened.
For me, the scariest thing about “Frostbite” is that it is very much grounded in real-world scenarios like climate change and the establishment of a tiered, wildly disproportionate socio-economic society. Did you reach out to any actual researchers to discuss the science of “Frostbite” and the Cold Fusion Six?
No, I really didn’t want to get too deep into the science. That was on my mind at first when I was starting to develop it, and normally, I would do that. When I was doing “Nailbiter,” that was the sort of thing that I did. But with this, I wanted to keep it fast and loose. I wanted to make it this sort of science fiction penny dreadful. That’s probably the best way to put it.
“Frostbite” isn’t too grounded; it is grounded in some ways, but I really wanted to lean into the fantasy of the story. I wanted to keep it about the characters and not get too lost in it. For me, sometimes when I do that, I get lost in it as a writer. I don’t want it to read like a textbook. I am sure some people are going to read and be like, “That’s impossible,” but I wanted to move forward. In the first issue and especially in later issues, I just wanted to hang a lampshade on it and say, “This is how it is. These are the rules of this world.”
Throughout the book, we will touch back to the Cold Fusion Six and see what happened, but at the same time, acknowledge that what they did changed how the world works. They changed the way science and works, and they changed the way cold works, in general. By doing that, it allowed me to get away from the exact science of it.
Beyond the cold and the science, we also have a disease. What is frostbite?
Without getting too much into spoilers, one of the things that the Cold Fusion Six did is cause the onset of frostbite, which is a condition that changes your body. It slowly freezes you from the inside out. You essentially become frozen, You become ice. It changes your body, It changes your moisture. It’s extremely painful, but because it works from the inside out, you can actually hide it for a long time before people start seeing it. You can keep it at bay, and that’s one of the things that we will explore throughout this book.
One person who knows a lot about it is one of your leads, Dr. Victoria Hawthorne. She’s important, of course, because she believes she’s developed a cure.
Vic brings the reader perspective of this world. She hasn’t experienced the world like most of the other characters have. Keaton, who is the other lead in the series, grew up on the ice. She is very familiar with the realities of this world. Vic is not. Vic has not experienced how harsh things are out there in the real world. She has optimism, and a lot of the other characters don’t. I like writing characters that are a little bleaker and a little bit more down and a little pessimistic about things. I don’t want to use the word ‘naïve’ because I don’t think that she is a naïve character at all. I think she knows that things are hard out there but it’s one thing to know it and another thing to really know it. She’s aware of it but she doesn’t understand it because she hasn’t experienced it yet.
Throughout the series, she’s going to experience that world and see what it’s really like. She’s never left the lab. She’s always been a doctor and she’s never really left the lab because she’s committed to this mission of curing frostbite. All of this is new to her but that doesn’t mean that she’s weak. She’s aggressive and she asks a lot of questions because she’s a doctor.
Keaton, your other lead, is tasked — with great financial reward — with bringing Vic to some other scientists so that she can finish her mission and find a cure. But unlike Vic, she’s more in it for herself than saving the world.
Yeah. Again, I like writing characters that have a little bit more bite to them — even a little pessimistic and maybe a little bit mean. She’s had this harsh life because she’s grown up on the ice, and she’s very aware of how bad things are out there. For lack of a better term, she can be very cold-blooded. But she still has a lot of heart. She still wants to help people but she is aware of the world and knows that helping people is always an option for her. It’s not a mission.
It’s funny, but the story starts and stops with Keaton in my head. I always start a project like that when I hear a character’s voice. If I don’t hear a voice, I have a hard time writing that book. Once I get the rhythm of their talking down, all of the other characters bounce around them. That’s the key to Keaton for me. She was definitely that character.
This adventure across the ice that Vic and Keaton set out on in the first issue is not without peril. We know the ice and the cold and the frostbite is out there, but who is Boss Burns?
Ah, man — Boss Burns. Vic and Keaton are hunted by a lot of different people in this series, and Boss Burns doesn’t really appear for the first few issues as our main antagonist — not just for this book, but for the world of “Frostbite.” If this series continues past this first miniseries, we will probably deal more about his control of things.
I will give you a spoiler about Boss Burns: He has frostbite, and he sits in a room that is filled with nothing but heat lamps. He basically lives in a constant sauna. He’s trying to keep warm and trying to keep back the frostbite. Because of who he is and the money that he has and how much control he has of that world, he’s the only one that has to deal with the heat. Living under this heated environment obviously gives him a very sour disposition and for pun’s sake, a hot temper.
What does Jason Shawn Alexander bring to the project?
It’s been awesome working with Jason. When Vertigo and I first started talking about “Frostbite,” we knew that we needed an artist who had great handle on the darkness we wanted to bring to the table but also could play with the negative space aspect of the series.
Jason and I met really early on and talked about the world and the characters. So much of the world building has been Jason. Obviously, the look of the world has been all Jason. I dropped him some references and ideas that I had, but I wanted him to have freedom to develop it. He’s added to the characters with his art and with his character acting in the pages. A lot of the drama has come from his style. I wanted this book to have a high concept but to be a lot about the characters and how they interact and Jason has done that with the emotions that he shows the characters having. It’s a beautiful thing when I can cut lines of dialogue because Jason sold the scene with his art.
Do you like the cold?
When I was a kid, I remember we would go and hang out in the snow and go sledding and skiing and I always felt comfortable in the cold. I have no problem with being really cold. I’ll be around people and be in shorts and a t-shirt and everyone else around me will be in hoodies and all bundled up. I’ve always been very comfortable in the cold, and honestly, that’s been a motivation for me. I wanted to tell a science fiction story, but I wanted it set in the snow.
When are we going to get a Captain Cold story in “The Flash”?
[Laughs] I’m glad you asked a question about “The Flash.” Soon. Very soon.
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