Welcome to Hall of Justice, our new column that focuses on DC’s Justice League titles. Each month, we’ll be interviewing creators behind the books, looking behind the scenes and helping us look ahead to what’s coming next. First up is friend of the site Scott Snyder, who joined us to talk about the ‘Drowned Earth’ crossover, which continues in this week’s “Justice League” #11.
One of the things that I’m really interested in is, what I’ve loved about your run so far is that there’s been these obviously universe-shattering catastrophes that we’ve become aware of, we’ve become used to, with Justice League books. It has to be something bigger than just Batman or Superman or else just Batman or Superman would take it.
Scott Snyder: They can handle it.
Exactly. You’re building these gigantic events and these real consequences that are putting real people in danger. My question for you, to start, is how do you prevent that from feeling trite and normal? When I’m reading this, I’m thinking, “Oh, shit, there’s some serious stuff happening here.” But I’ve read a thousand stories that also put the world in danger. How do you manage putting Earth in danger constantly, but still making it feel fresh and dangerous and real?
SS: Well, I think there’s two things. I think on the one hand, just the simplest is trying to come up with something that you haven’t seen before in terms of the method by which the villains are threatening the Earth. Here for people picking up the story, the idea is basically that these ancient sea gods who once came to Earth to steal the life force of Poseidon’s trident, which gives life to oceans, cultivates it so that they could take it oceanic planets around the galaxy and begin life that they could rule, these gods are fended off and struck down back in ancient times by Poseidon himself and Atlantis’ first hero, Arian, and they get sent to this graveyard of gods, where there are all dead deities. Once the Legion of Doom breaks them out, they come back to earth and essentially flood it with an alien ocean through their space kraken, which, again, turns anyone that touches it into an aquatic monster that they can control.
For me, this first step is trying to do something that visually, narratively, we haven’t seen. But the thing you’re hitting on that I think is really important is none of it matters if it isn’t emotional. That’s the thing that makes it original, even more so than any kind of plot element or originality to the freshness to the premise itself. The premise won’t matter and won’t feel original if it isn’t something that feels uniquely emotional to the characters. It’s really about that. It’s about making sure that this thing that’s attacking the earth or that’s doing something to the earth in some way has a very real and palpable emotional echo or emotional parallel in the kind of deepest conflicts that one of the characters or a couple of the characters are going through in their lives.
Here it really is sort of focused on this notion that Aquaman, at this particular moment, is a little bit lost. Mera is queen of Atlantis, she’s doing a great job. He has always wanted to explore farther horizons and then suddenly the source wall breaks and the multiverse seems to be contracting, and there seem to be fewer oceans and horizons to explore. This event happens right at that moment and realizes some of his deepest fears about those topics. I hope that makes sense. Those are the two aspects of how you try and keep it fresh. One is just the fun originality of the premise and the second and more important one is the emotional gravitas of it.
Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that’s been really interesting over the last, let’s call it, seven or eight years has been this refocusing of Aquaman, of trying to take the character from, as you and many others have joked in your comics, a guy who talks to fish to being that cornerstone member of the Justice League, that really important piece of the overall DC puzzle. From your perspective, what is it about writing an Aquaman-centric story that is appealing to you?Continued below
SS: Well, for me, I just think there’s so much that’s unexplored about his mythology. I’m a big fan going back to a lot of the Peter David stuff, and then what Geoff [Johns] was able to do between pre-New 52 and post-New 52 is fantastic in terms of re-positioning him and reexamining and re-exploring a lot of his background and history, but I still think there’s so much outside of the politics and the conflict within Atlantis or between Atlantis and the shore, land-bound people like us, that hasn’t been touched on in the book. I’ve always wanted to do something with him that explored the notion of him as a mariner, as somebody who didn’t just connect with fish or talk to fish, but that power is emblematic of a larger ability that he can’t literally do, but that speaks to this notion of connectivity, that we cross oceans to find each other, to find new places, to share what we’ve learned with each other.
To me, Aquaman as that mariner figure, that character that wants to find new oceans and find new people and bring them in, that hasn’t really been touched on as much, I think, in his series. With that in mind, for me as the compass for this story, it allowed me to then be like, “Well, what about ancient sea gods that can populate planets around the galaxy? Well, what if they have an armada that has space pirate ships? Now can we get space krakens?” Now I have a whole cast of things that I couldn’t otherwise. In that regard, it begins with ‘what is the most important thing about Aquaman that hasn’t been explored?’ Or what do I find most attractive about Aquaman’s character and mythos? To me, it’s all this like the ocean itself, it’s all strange, completely unexplored territory. I mean, I love the characters and the mythology that already exists, but I just think there’s just so much that has such rich potential that hasn’t been mined yet.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that Dan Abnett’s “Aquaman” has been a really fun, really interesting book that I’m excited to see what’s coming, but it’s been really great to watch Dan build this whole Atlantean mythology up into something really rich and interesting. You’re playing with a bunch of those characters in Drowned Earth.
Which of those characters has been the most enjoyable for you to bring into the story? What has Dan’s impact made on this story for you?
SS: Well, Dan’s a good friend a lot of the stuff that he’s been doing we discussed back when we were doing “Metal,” the rising of Atlantis, all that stuff that came from our discussions about the consequences of “Metal” back in 2017. What I loved is when he made Aquaman an outlaw in Atlantis and almost a Batman-like figure to Atlantis.
He created such great and rich geography to Atlantis itself and all the sort of different people, everything like that. He’s made it such a living, breathing place. I love it. But our job, I think, when we come on to do something with it in “Justice League” is to acknowledge all of that, make sure it stands, use Mera as queen of Atlantis, follow everything that he set up so well, and then take it in a direction that you haven’t seen.
All of this is planned with Dan completely. He’s writing issues of “Aquaman” that tie in and he’s writing some of the stuff that happens here that sets up Kelly Sue [DeConnick’s upcoming run], as well, helps him close down some of his run, as well. He’s a terrific collaborator and I can’t say enough good things about him and his run on the book.
Let’s talk Legion of Doom for a second here. One of the things I think is fascinating about issue 11 is it’s the first time we’ve seen the Legion of Doom do something that seems … I don’t wanna say evil, because a lot of what they’ve done in the past has not been great, but in your run there’s been this real logic to what they’ve done. This is the first time that it seems like maybe they’re a little bit going beyond what logically makes sense into something that is purely for their own benefit. How did that shift happen for you?Continued below
SS: Oh, yeah. Well, Luthor is totally zealous in his purpose. He’s become somebody who believes there’s really no cost too great to get where he needs to be. He genuinely believes that humanity had a different place assigned to it in the multiverse back when the multiverse was originally started and humanity had more agency, more power, it was physically different, all of it, and that there’s a secret way through this being in the totality to unlock that possibility once again. There’s nothing he won’t sacrifice for it because what he sees at the end of this black rainbow is the potential to reset things the way they’re supposed to be for humanity and that he will be the greatest hero in human history for restoring it to what it’s supposed to be based on its natural inclinations.
His belief is that we were separated, we were reset into these weak things that tell each other we’re supposed to be good and go against our nature and have been de-fanged and declawed and all of this, and that ultimately we’re meant to be the most powerful things in the universe. The wall is there not to protect us from what’s on the other side, but to protect them from us. Here, I mean, Luthor, it’s one of those things where he has such purpose and I really find it complex, at least, writing him because he is evil but he’s evil in that way that is complete belief. He has an almost religious fervor for this kind of belief that he has that this is the way it’s supposed to be, the way he’s trying to achieve, and that everyone will be grateful to him on the other side of it.
If the sea gods have to come and drown the earth so that he can get into the Hall of Justice and get the Totality, well, he’ll un-drown it and kill them all if he needs to at the end once he has the power of the totality unlocked. Everything, to him, is in service of him bigger plot. He does not care who dies, who lives, who he betrays. In that way, I think, he becomes an incredibly fun character to write and also really interesting. I love writing Lex. He’s incredibly fun.
It seems to me with a mindset like that, obviously it’s easy for him to do these things to benefit him, but if he’s always gonna benefit himself, then his teammates will eventually fall to that, as well. Is that a dynamic you’re looking to explore, when Luthor puts himself above the Legion?
SS: Oh, yeah, that happens. You’ll see in ‘Drowned Earth,’ I won’t say who, but somebody steps out of line and winds up going down and not being in the Legion, or maybe anywhere anymore, at the end of the story. Those tensions begin to rise as it becomes clearer and clearer that Luthor’s purpose isn’t to share everything with them, but to exploit them to get where he wants to be. But he still believes that he’s doing them a favor. He still thinks at the end of the day, if he can achieve what he wants to achieve and get the equivalent of the Infinity Gauntlet here in its own way, he can reshape the universe into what it’s supposed to be. In doing so, everyone will be rewarded.
You know, if he has to betray you right now to get where he needs to be, so what? It’s the bigger picture. It’s that feeling of anything to win. It doesn’t matter what you have to do, because as long as you get there, it’ll all be fine if you can get there. Everyone will thank you, even if you have to cheat and steal and kill and everything. That mentality, to me, is fascinating to explore.
Not just to see what happens if you don’t get there, but what happens if you get there and everything that you’ve done comes to haunt you in that moment. I really like writing him a ton.
I wanna pull back just for a second here. What’s been really fun to see the connectivity of the various Justice League team books, and that includes “Titans,” “Teen Titans,” and the upcoming “Batman and the Outsiders,” all that. It’s been really cool to see the connectivity there. But it seems like the Justice League books are operating not in a bubble, but in this own little corner of the DCU. There’s a bunch of stuff happening outside of that corner, stuff like “Heroes in Crisis” or “Doomsday Clock,” and just plot lines and story threads and all over that don’t really touch the JL books. When you’re plotting these Justice League books, are you guys very much thinking about it, “Okay, we’re just worried about what’s happening over here,” or is there a desire or temptation to pull from those other things and bring those into your story?Continued below
SS: What we’re building to, if I can just reiterate this ’cause if I could leave people with one message over and over for “Metal” all the way through the end of 2019, it’s that we’re building an uber story. We built it in 2017. We’re just executing it now. The idea was always to go “Metal,” “No Justice,” the three Justice League books, “The Batman Who Laughs,” a book we’re about to announce over here on the left, and then all of these books in this corner are building a story that then is gonna expand and become something really big and special, summer into fall of 2019. For us, there’s times to separate and let everybody do their own independent thing, even within the Justice League group itself, and then there are times to come together and do a big, immersive, bombastic, all-encompassing kind of story.
When I was on “Batman,” too, it was always that way. Geof would be doing ‘Forever Evil,’ and “Batman” would still be running the way it was. You know what I mean? The skies weren’t dark and there was no moon missing and the Crime Syndicate wasn’t here on earth. You try and allow each other enough reading room that each story can stand independently and become a visionary in a singular way, but then there are moment when it feels like you have to remind people, “No, it’s one tapestry.” Right now we’re all giving each other room, I think, to build what we’re building. There’s big stuff coming in “Superman,” for example, in the summer and there’s big stuff coming in “Batman,” as well. Everyone’s building their architecture, but when it comes to summer/fall next year, you’ll see a lot of coordination. I can say that.
You’ll see a lot of coordination between the books to not just absorb or be absorbed into the story that we’re telling, but you’ll see how a lot of the pieces being set up in other books are also connected to stuff that’s going on in this book and we’re gonna reflect some of that, too. We do have a big plan of where these things have big touchpoints and are going to be very confluent. We also wanna make sure that people don’t feel like they have to read everything all the time and that if Batman is off-planet in this book, it doesn’t mean in “Batman” it’ll be an empty Batcave or vice versa.
Alright, last question for you. When we spoke at New York Comic Con, you dropped the Jarro bombshell. We all had this amazing response over Jarro and Jarro’s been so great so far. You know, no spoilers, but what’s the next fun little teaser you can drop us with, whether it’s next issue or 10 issues from now, what’s a fun little Jarro-esque tidbit you can drop for our readers?
SS: Well, I’m writing an issue right now where he saves the day. It’s issue 17 and he also becomes way more- He sees Batman as this paternal figure, which is a lot of fun to write. It sounds absurd and ridiculous, but I actually really have a lot of feeling for this weird relationship and enjoy writing it.
Doesn’t he call him “dad” in number 11?
SS: Yeah, he calls him “dad” in this one. Yeah. In issue 17, which is the Jim Cheung issue, and again, obviously, three or four months down the line, but Luthor and Martian Manhunter meet on Mars secretly to see if there’s any chance of a truce given the terrible things that happened in the “Justice League Annual,” which is out in January, and Jarro is the secret. It’s almost like a western and Jarro is the thing that saves the day.
SS: It’s very fun. Luthor has him and sticks a hypodermic needle into his eye and he can’t do anything, and then he finds a way around it.
Oh man. I love it.