The team-up of Batman/Superman is returning to DC Comics, but it sure isn't good news. The two Justice Leaguers are uniting to find out which heroes have been secretly infected with a cosmic darkness--before those targets turn completely evil, and bring the world down with them. Thankfully, the book's writer has now explained why the first person corrupted also happens to be DC's most innocent, childlike hero.
Screen Rant had the chance to speak with writer Joshua Williamson during San Diego Comic-Con 2019 about his epic (and ongoing) run on The Flash, as well as the coming Batman/Superman series. For one, it's a chance to tell Barry Allen's Flash: Year One origin story in both the past and future. For the other, it's setting the stage for a one of a kind team-up. In the short term, it means fighting the evil version of Shazam. But long term, Batman and Superman are fighting for the soul of the DC Universe. Needless to say, we had some questions.
So let's start with the obvious question: Why did it have to be Billy Batson, you monster?
Why Billy? I'll tell you why. One of the things that we stopped and looked at when we started building the list, and started thinking about who The Batman Who Laughs is going to infect, we didn't think like us as fans. We started thinking, what would The Batman Who Laughs do? If you want to break apart the DCU, if you want to cause real damage, one of the most powerful parts of the DCU is the families, it is the relationships. So if you want to damage those relationships, if you want to really get in there and cause some chaos, who do you go after? So we started building this list of who you would go after, why would you do it, and then what is the power base, what are the other reasons there's other reasons that are bigger that we'll explore in the book, but that was how we started.
If you go back and look at Underworld Unleashed, Neron went after Billy. That was the endgame. It was this whole thing where you thought he was going after Superman, but he wanted Billy. He wanted Billy because Billy was the most innocent. He would be the hardest to corrupt. The Batman Who Laughs has the same thought. Billy is the hardest to corrupt, he's one of the best of us... So I'm going after him first. That's why.
How long was that process, compiling the list?
We started talking about the list over a year ago, started really building it out and having a lot of conversations. Talking to people about their stories--because we don't want to mess up somebody's story... We've been talking about this story for years. This big story that we're building with Justice League, and Batman, and Superman, but this particular piece of it was probably about a year ago.
Both you and Scott Snyder have spoken about this NOT being an event that comes and goes--makes headlines with big twists, but doesn't actually last or spread across other books.
It's a really big story, that's going to blow up and really be surprising for people. I think it will be the biggest story in the DCU in years. I mean it's one of the biggest things we've ever done. It's going to be crazy. I can't get into it without giving it away because there's a lot of moving pieces. It's really going to be something huge.
From the first issue, the tone makes it extremely clear that the mystery is just beginning. The first issue of Batman/Superman has the heroes just starting to find the first clues that The Batman Who Laughs wanted them to find. That's obviouslya different kind of superhero story, so what's that change been like?
Well it's a lot of work. I mean a lot of conversations about how to make it work, and how to build that mystery out. I like mysteries and I've worked on some horror books before, I did some stuff at Image--I did a book called Ghosted, a book called Nail Biter--both of those books were very much about horror, and very much about mystery. So I tried to bring the things I learned from that, building out horror, building out a mystery, I tried to bring that into this. So I had the experience in trying to develop a mystery.
Because with mystery what you have to do is, it's not just, 'here's one question, and then one answer.' There's a big question and answer, and then there's little reveals, and little questions, and little answers. Then you start building up to where you as the reader can answer the big one, before I tell you. That's the real trick. So that's been... Dude, a lot of white boards. This happens here, then this happens over here, a lot of that. I love doing it, I love doing mysteries and stories like this that are... not necessarily a slow burn, but you can feel something bigger, and you can feel a puzzle coming together.
I know a lot of people were surprised, and will be surprised, that the Billy Batson reveal comes in the first issue. It seems relatively early in the story, where the big question--'Who are The Secret Six?'--seems almost like a true slow burn mystery, almost more like a Battlestar Galactica.
No, we gotta get going [snaps fingers]. And I will say this to you, and I might blow your mind a little bit. Yeah, you're seeing Shazam now. But these infections happened a while ago. So there might be things that are going on in the books right now that are a little weird, and there might be a reason for that. So what's going to happen is eventually, you're going to be able to look back at issues of the comics and say, 'Oh, it was there.' You know? You're seeing this here, but we've been building this for a while. There's going to be... little clues, pieces coming together. Then it builds quickly and escalates quickly.
How has it been working with David Marquez on this one?
Oh I love David. David is a good friend, and he's an amazing artist. I was really glad that we were able to get him from Marvel and bring him over and put him on something really big. Can you imagine? You're coming to DC for the first time and you get to draw Batman and Superman right out of the gate. And not just Batman and Superman, but all these villains, all these heroes... there's so many cameos. Coming and getting to draw...
Yeah, you get to draw everything! I don't want to say 'World Tour,' but we're able to play around with every piece of the DCU, you know. And also to come in swinging, come in and really show something really big. He's great to work with, I love him. We text a lot, we both live near eachother, our kids are the same age, so we're able to hang out and talk story. I love pitching him stuff and getting his feedback. Getting his opinion on the story, it's great.
The Batman Who Laughs seemed like 'the Batman who went bad,' but that idea turned out to so much more multi-faceted than was expected. Becoming bad is more complicated than just turning evil.
Yeah, exactly. We talk about that a lot, that when The Batman Who Laughs infects somebody they don't just turn evil. One of the rules of Batman is Batman always wins. But it isn't at all costs. With this version of him it's at all costs. It's, 'I'm going to do everything I can to win, I'm going to take out everything above me,' all the dark thoughts that he's ever had.That can mean a lot of different things. You go to really dark places in really different ways. Think about the life that Bruce has led. Because this is Bruce, it's not the Joker. Think about the darkness that Bruce has had inside him, and he's fought back, and pushed down. And now we're exploring that. Scott's done an amazing job of exploring all that stuff, and I get to take some of that and run with it. Make him a presence in the book leading into some of the stuff we want to do.
On a broader level, writing Batman and Superman seems like truly exclusive company. No matter how many times, that's got to be a special kind of daunting.
It's weird, dude. I don't believe it sometimes, I guess. Issue #1 hasn't actually come out yet but we're deep into this, I've been writing it for a while. But I feel like I've wanted to write this book my whole life. I wanted to write The Flash for a long time. I actually pitched to take over the book... Here, I'll tell you a short story. Here at San Diego Comic-Con in 2009, DC does these things called inventory stories. So when you're first starting out they basically will hire you for short stories, little things like that just to see how you write. So I had done a couple short stories, they liked them.
Then here at Comic-Con one of the editors pulled me aside and he said to me, 'We want to give you a one-shot to see how you can do on something bigger.' And I was like, 'That's great!' They were like, 'You have a choice: you can either do a Batman one-shot or a Superman one-shot. But don't do Batman because everybody says Batman.' And I was like, 'You know what, how about I do a team-up of Batman and Superman? Because when you're working in the DC Universe, and I love the DC Universe, one of the best parts is those relationships, the team-ups, and the dynamic. So if I want to prove to you that I can write DC characters, let me do a team-up.' And he was like, 'No one has ever said that before, done. You can do that.'
So I did a couple of those and that was really the beginning of me starting to get work at DC, and them trusting me and liking me. So ever since then, for the last ten years I've always been like, 'Let me do that for real. Let me do that book, I want to do a Batman/Superman book. I know those characters, I can hear them in my head. I can hear the pitter-patter between them, I can hear them talking. That's always what it's about, if I can hear a character talk... with Barry I can hear Barry talk, I can hear his inner monologue, and everything beats around that. With that book I hear the two of them talking to eachother, and everything goes around that.
Did that factor into the characters chosen for this story? Were these ones chosen not only for The Batman Who Laughs plan, but characters of importance to you?
I mean I read a lot of the DCU characters, so there are a few in there that I was really passionate about writing and I felt like I couldn't have something to say about them in this different dynamic. Because they're going through this horrible thing. There were a couple characters that came down to that. That was a big part of it... it took me a minute. There were a couple that I hd to do research and then all of a sudden started hearing their voice. If I don't hear that voice then I'm going to struggle.
It really seems like everywhere I look at Comic-Con, there is new horror people are really excited about. This book definitely seems to be heading into that territory as well...
There's a little horror, yeah. It's on purpose. I love horror, so... I've done a bunch of horror books that I really enjoyed working on. Nail Biter is the horror book I did at Image that most people know. That was one I was really passionate about and learned a lot of cool stuff from that. At DC with Barry you're not really writing horror. There's a couple things in the early issues you can see some of the horror tricks. That's my favorite kind of movie, too. I love horror movies. My favorite directors are all horror directors. I definitely gravitate toward that.
With Barry, when it comes to the villains, the best villain stories... My favorite things I've written for The Flash were always the ones where I felt like I had the most connection to the villain. Like I can hear the villain's voice as well. o with this book when I cam to it I started really thinking, 'I want to make this have some of those horror elements.' So I definitely found a way to get horror in there. It's a big part of the book.
Well then flipping to The Flash, you got the chance to introduce future Barry, adult Barry--
Yeah. Old Man Barry.
That has to be a treat to write for any Flash fan. But again, the question, 'Who is Barry Allen when he gets older?' is a different kind of question than some other characters.
So what happened was, I was thinking a lot about his origin and there were a couple things that happened. I was looking at Batman: Year One, and then I was looking at Dark Knight Returns. Which I think are the two best Batman works, Frank Miller's best works. And I thought, 'What if I do them both at the same time?' So I don't just do Year One, I do Year One and Dark Knight.
But here's the difference: Batman and Barry are not the same. So Barry, I felt like he could be in the worst future possible, but he would be the most optimistic person you would meet. So when we meet him he's laughing, and just like, 'Man this is so bad, but we're great. This is fine. it'll be okay.' I wanted that flip because I wanted Barry to be at one of his darkest moments, and be pessimistic in the past with the Year One stuff. Then meet this version of himself who says, 'Listen kid, everything is going to be okay. Tomorrow is going to be okay.' Then you see behind him that tomorrow is on fire! But he's still like, 'It's going to be okay.' So I started writing that, and it became a lot of fun writing him. We teased Old Man Barry in The Flash #26 knowing we were going to do this story arc. it's been really cool.
Their little back and forth must have been a blast, with Old Barry quizzing his younger self.
Well it's about where in the timeline he is. There is a certain dynamic there, and the math of it actually works. If he knows who Iris is, and knows who Wally is, and if he knows who Wallace is--Wallace was a character introduced in New 52--so that places him in New 52. But he asked about August, August was introduced in Rebirth, so that means he's in Rebirth. That's when he's like, 'I know who you are.' It was very specific names to be like, this combination can only exist once, and it's this right here. For him to know these people and not know these people.
Well you teased the death of the Speed Force, so you obviously want to talk about that. I guess I'll let you.
Yeah, this next arc is going to be about Barry finding out that, because of the Forces that were unleashed last year, they're causing an influence where they're killing the Speed Force. So Barry is put in a position: Do I save these lives over here? Or do I save the Speed Force? He's Barry so of course he's going to go save their lives, but there's a lot of conflicts in the way of that. Then it's, 'How do you save those lives... as you're losing your powers?' And here's the thing: if he lets those people die, he gets to keep his powers. So what do you do?
Right. Well, great. So the heartbreak for The Flashes is coming to an end finally.
[Laughs]. But he's still optimistic! He's on his way back, but... it's going to be a hard time.
Batman/ Superman #1 will arrive at your local comic book shop on September 25th, with The Flash #76 starting "The Death of The Speed Force" on August 14th.