When you’re measuring the biggest and most important events at DC Comics, there’s only one word to look for: “Crisis.” If something is deemed a Crisis, you know that DC is serious about changing things up and making sure that you know to pay attention. Not everyone gets to write a Crisis at DC, but our old pal Joshua Williamson (“The Flash,” “Infinite Frontier”) is getting to do just that. We sat down with Josh last month to discuss what that term means to him, the ramifications of this event, and what it is like to be working with Daniel Sampere.
I was trying to do the math before I think you came back to DC in 2016. I want to talk about when you first had the idea for what eventually will become “Dark Crisis.” I know that a lot of this is predicated on past events, and that you you can’t build the top level without building the foundation first, but when was the first moment where you where this story started to come together for you?
Joshua Williamson: It was before “Death Metal.” We were having all these different calls about what “Death Metal” was going to be, and how we were going to build to it. This is probably in early 2018. We just started having all these different ideas that we were going to do. When we’re in these rooms, talking about these plans, I just start putting things down in my notebook, different ideas. And one of the things I wrote down in my notebook was ‘death of the Justice League.’ And I remember thinking, what is that exactly? And it started to build out from there.
Back at the beginning of 2020, we had had this summit. And at one point during the summit, we were talking about the timeline of events of the DCU. And I’m looking at this stuff, and I was just like, “man, the superheroes have died so many times, and some of them have died within a very short amount of time. We never really talked about that, like, what does it do to these characters knowing that they have died and come back?” Originally, it had this idea it was for something else we were working on. But I was writing the scene for Amanda Waller, where Amanda Waller would piece together with these characters of essentially a beaten death. And what does that mean you because she’s always nervous about the superheroes getting out of control, right? So for her to realize that about superhero death, it would bother her. So I always write down ideas in my notebooks, [so I wrote] “what does death actually mean to DC with this point? And how do the characters deal with that? And how do they deal with it differently?”
I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of legacy and the DCU: different generational history, the sidekicks. I’ve always been obsessed with sidekicks. And these are all ideas I’ve kind of been floating around in my head for the last three years. And then toward the end of “Death Metal,” I started pulling them all together and thinking about what I wanted to do. And then I was able to pitch that to DC and we decided to do it.
So this has been a plan at least since ‘Infinite Frontier’ began.
JW: Yeah, we knew before going to ‘Infinite Frontier’ that this was the direction and all this stuff was heading in. There’s a couple of moving pieces here and there, you know, like when you building stories out, that will change. But yeah, I knew this is where we were going. With these some of these major pieces, they were all kind of in the works since before “Infinite Frontier” started.
I do want to talk about moving pieces for a second here. I’ve really enjoyed how it feels like for the first time in a couple of years, there’s a very distinct direction and each of these different corners. There’s sort of one overarching Superman story: Clark’s away, Jon’s on Earth; what do those two things look like? And then over in the Bat books, there is the another status quo that is relatively set. When you were putting together this multiversal event, where there’s all these other teams doing their own thing in the corner, how do you strike the balance between letting the Superman books continue with the way they are, while still having Superman die in this book? How does this all play together in your head? Does that concern you at all, or do you just or you have the mindset of kind of, “well, fuck it, this is my story. And if other stuff doesn’t connect to it, that’s not the end of the world?”
JW: I would never say fuck it. I mean, you know, you look at a couple of years ago when “Death Metal” was coming out, and so it was ‘Joker War,’ and I think none of us blinked an eye during that time period. And maybe that’s just because it’s a Bat book thing. With this particular book, it was a lot of communication with editorial, and I’ve been around for a while, you know, I’ve been a lot of rooms, and I have a really good relationship with editorial. So it’s about making sure that editorial knew what I was doing and then talking with editorial, asking ‘is this derailing anybody’s plans?’ because that was important to me that I not ever do that and reaching out to some people, especially if the books were, you know, simply ending, so it wasn’t going to necessarily be a heavy impact. But using “Action Comics” as an example, you know, I talked to Phillip Kenny Johnson fairly frequently, ad here was a very clear thing of like, “I don’t want to mess up his story particularly.”
So it really is about communication and talking with everybody, and then finding the places and the ways that you can connect later down the line. And when you look at again, look at “Death Metal,” its a very big, crazy story. And it doesn’t connect until the end. Nothing reflects it until after it was over. And that was sort of where my head was with it, because I didn’t want to make it too confusing for anyone else, and I didn’t want to mess with anybody. I don’t want to derail somebody else’s story. But that didn’t happen. Thankfully, there was no there was no moment in the ongoing books were that became an issue.
So we will see “Dark Crisis” stuff eventually touch the other monthly titles?
JW: Yes, and no. It’s too early to talk about that part. I don’t want to get too much into spoilers, but the idea is that eventually these things, the events of “Dark Crisis” will be reflected at some point.
I am somebody who I am absolutely fine when you have stories that are happening in continuity that seemed to contradict each other or don’t seem to line up. I think “that’s comics, baby.” This is what happens.
JW: We can we can do this, and it’s okay. You can tell stories [that don’t always line up]. But I’m a continuity junkie, I try to find ways to make it all work. That’s always my goal: trying to find ways to make this stuff all work in a way that we can.
I also think that given that this is this is the title of ‘Crisis,’ which means something different than other crossover events mean. You’ll have this huge event that will be on a shelf one day next to some of the most important stories that DC has ever published. You want to make sure that those stories are reflected both going backwards and going forwards. You want to make sure that this feels like the time in which it comes from; it wants to reflect what this DC status quo was like.
JW: Yeah. When I was “The Flash,” I had something I wanted to say about Flash and working on “Robin,” there’s something I want to say about Damian. With this book, in particular, it was different. It was like I didn’t want to say one thing about one character.,I wanted to say something about DC, like all of DC and that includes the characters and their relationships with each other. And the ideas of like I was saying before generational history, the legacy, what death means, the importance of sidekicks, the DCU.
Let’s talk about the word ‘Crisis’ for a little bit here, though. This is the first sort of universe spanning crisis since Grant Morrison’s “Final Crisis,” and that book sort of set the tone for the DCU for a couple of years. And so when you’re putting together a book that has this title that you know, goes back, you know, over 30 years, and that signals something to the reader, does that put more pressure on you as a creator?Continued below
JW: I mean, there’s so much pressure there, but I guess I always feel like, I have way too much work to dwell on pressure. I’m very much a ‘what’s next?’ kind of person. I remember talking about this when I got the “Flash” job. I came into the [DC] office for a meeting, and a couple days later – I was back in Portland already – and I got a call from somebody and they were like, “we’re flying you back down for one day to have another meeting about it. So we can basically map out what you want to do and really get deeper into story.” And I was like, “great!” This is awesome. And so then somebody from talent relations called me to basically figure out my schedule and be like, what are you going to fly, when will you check into the hotel, the whole thing. And when they call, they’re like, “are you celebrating? Like, are you gonna, like popping the champagne and stuff?” And I was like, “No, I gotta do the dishes.” And then I’m gonna get to work. I don’t have time to even think about this.
And that’s how I feel about a ‘Crisis.’ I definitely respect the weight of it, and the responsibility of that title, but I don’t try to dwell too hard on it. I should dwell on our story, and character, and not a title necessarily, right? I shouldn’t spend all my time freaking out. I talked about this a lot with Scott [Snyder] when he was working on “Metal” and “Death Metal,” and you know, “Death Metal” had a nickname from Scott, basically calling it an anti-crisis. And talking to Scott about what the name ‘Crisis’ meant, definitely, informed a lot of my opinions on how big that word that is for DC Comics. I just made sure I try to live up to it with the story and the characters. I don’t try to let it get to me too much.
I also got lucky that I’ve been able to talk to people who have worked on ‘Crises’ in the past. Daniel [Sampere] and I reached out to Phil Jimenez partially because you know, Daniel, I wanted Daniel to talk to somebody else who had done a ‘Crisis’ before. And obviously, working on “Infinite Crisis,” Phil has a lot of opinions and a lot of thoughts about what the word of what a ‘Crisis’ is, and how it impacts that DC. And Phil had amazing insights and really, really terrific advice for both of us that we end up putting into “Dark Crisis.” Phil was like, “well, if it’s a ‘Crisis,’ you have to do these things.” And then I’ve also spoken to Grant about “Final Crisis” and some of the “Dark Crisis” pieces, which I won’t get too deep into here, but that was very, very enlightening and very, very beneficial for “Dark Crisis.” One of the best parts of working on this has been able to talk to people who have worked on ‘Crises’ in the past.
Let’s get into the substance of “Dark Crisis” a bit. In issue number one, we see the new team that Jon Kent puts together, and it features some some characters haven’t seen in a long time: octor Light, Frankenstein, Killer Frost? This team is, is really interesting to me. I am a huge proponent of getting the Justice League away from being the big seven all the time, so I really enjoy this this lineup. Was there a character in this crew that you were particularly excited to write and to bring in?
JW: Doctor Light. I always liked that character a lot. She is one I’ve always felt like could have more of a spotlight on them. And so I wanted to find a place for them in the story. And not just because of their connections to the original “Crisis on Infinite Earths, “I have just always liked that character, and so it was pretty fun to put her in there. I just wanted to build something different with this. And you know, this isn’t the only team that gets built throughout this story. There’s other teams that kind of get built throughout. But they all come out of the idea that there is no Justice League. In this issue, you see how Black Adam sort of shoots this team down, and that’ll that’ll play that’ll play a major part of the next couple of issues.Continued below
What I found really interesting about this first issue in particular, is that there were a couple of moments in this issue that seemed to harken back to various other “Crises.” For instance, the scene with a Beast Boy being found out by Slade felt a little bit like when Ted Kord was confronted by Maxwell Lord in the lead up to “Infinite Crisis,” but there were a few nods to past ‘Crises.’ If you had to say that this was sort of thematically linked to one of the other ‘Crisis’ books, is there one that feels particularly relevant to you?
JW: I think it would be the original “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” It is the one I probably read the most and that’s the one that probably has the most. And then there is a bit of “Infinite Crisis” and a little bit of “Final Crisis.” But I looked at all the big events. I looked at “Metal,” I looked at “Blackest Night,” I looked at the “Zero Hour,” I looked at “Underworld Unleashed.” I love DC events. And it was kind of interesting working on this book, and going back through and reading all those and seeing what I loved about them to see if I can carry that love forward into this book. Boy, you know, I would think that “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Infinite Crisis” are probably the two that had the bigger impact on this story.
If you’re doing a story about death and what it means in the DC universe, “Blackest Night” is obviously a huge touchstone for that. And there’s a scene that I always think about, where in the final issue all the different characters are reborn. And there’s I think it’s Barry, that’s looking for the Dibnys, and they’re not there. And you get this sense of? okay, this isn’t everybody being reborn, this just a few people being reborn.” And it really tugs at the idea of why did certain people come back when others didn’t? There’s the scene in “Dark Crisis” #1 where Naomi is saying that she should have been one to die. It’s sort of the opposite of the “Blackest Night” scene. And so when you were putting together the ‘Death of the Justice League’ component of this that will eventually lead into all of this. Why were those characters chosen to be the ones taken off the board? Like, why John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan, for instance.
JW: I actually originally intended that part of the reason that President Superman teleport the heroes he does is not just about being out of time, but this would be the team that would help him win. Like he felt like this was the the mightiest heroes, for lack of a better phrase, to help him in this war against Pariah. He felt like, “if I’m gonna get a Green Lantern, I’m gonna get the one with the most powerful one currently,” and because of what’s been happening in “Green Lantern,” Jon Stewart’s the most powerful.. That was why we chose Jon Stewart. I put myself in the shoes of like President Superman where I’m like, okay, “if I’m gonna get magic, I’m gonna get Zatanna.” And so that was reasonable. You pick that particular roster and then also I wanted to be heavy hitters and I wanted to have people that would have impact. And I it was sort of a weird situation because it was like, first I started building out who I wanted to be there. Then I started building out the book and started going backwards, “well, who would have the most impact if they were up and gone?” And what how characters react to certain characters being gone, how they would react differently.
You and I have talked a lot in the past, and you used the phrase last time that really stuck with me, which is you’re talking about your DC Comics endgame: Your big DC story. And maybe this being the end of a chapter and maybe not your your entire time at DC, but the end of a certain chapter of that is “Dark Crisis” that for you.Continued below
JW: Yeah, it definitely is. It’s definitely the end of a certain chapter of my time at DC and the stories that I’ve been telling. My goals as a creator are changing, and the kind of stories I want to tell a DC are changing a bit. And I think people will see that by the time we get to the end [of “Dark Crisis”] when I’m able to start talking about the stuff I’m working on the other side.
I want to talk about Daniel Sampere’s art , because it is so good. He’s been around DC for a long time, and sometimes, if someone has been around for a bit, you don’t even notice how good they’re getting because it’s incremental. And when you look at his work now, I mean, he has leveled up so considerably over the last four or five years. He is doing the best work of his career here.
JW: It’s so tight. I talk to Daniel multiple times throughout the wee, and a lot of times I pitched him a whole issue to get his thoughts on it before I write it and before he starts drawing it, just bouncing ideas with him. He just really brings a lot of energy to it and a lot of gravitas to it. He’s a very thoughtful artist. When he goes to the scripts and we talk things out, it’s a great team up. Daniel is just knocking it out of the park and extremely thoughtful and just going for it. He’s going for those big challenges. And I think as we get deeper into the story, and you start seeing how big it gets, and I think some of these really cool pieces that are coming, it gets pretty nuts. It’s awesome working with Daniel,
Is there a character that you feel is really coming alive under his pencil?
JW: Cyborg Superman looks amazing. There’s some stuff with Doctor Light that comes around and Black Adam, too. Daniel loves Green Lantern, and so him getting to be able to draw how and some Green Lantern stuff, because there’s a lot of Green Lantern in this book. Daniel has just been having a lot of fun with that.