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. Today, we are joined by James Tynion IV, writer of “Justice League” #12, as well as all the issues that focus on the Legion of Doom. “Justice League” #12 is part of the ‘Drowned Earth’ crossover, and so our chat was focused very much on that storyline.
Come back to Multiversity later today for an exclusive preview of “Justice League” #12.
One of the things that has been really fascinating is sort of watching your comics career develop has been, I find, at least in your work, there’s all these layers of history. We saw it in ‘Drowned Earth’ already in the prelude issue, and then we saw it in ‘The Witching Hour,’ and we see it really strongly in this issue of “Justice League.” You’re really adept at creating these vast mythologies for characters that, in some cases, the reader just met that issue or a couple of issues before.
So, when you are writing the story, how much of it, for you, is about what we’re seeing on the page now versus everything that has led up to what you’re seeing on the page now?
James Tynion IV: That’s a great question. I mean, I think one of the big things is I do love the fictional history of the DC Universe. I love playing with the mythology, particularly in this issue, we’re playing with the mythology of Arion, but who is a classic DC character, who was on one of the first few pages of “Crisis on Infinite Earth,” and was one of the sword and sorcery characters of the DC 1970s. I’ve always found that there’s a lot of power going back into the classic corners of DC’s own mythology and then bringing that mythology to the forefront.
In this issue, in ‘Drowned Earth,’ I remember when we started talking about all of the pieces of mythology that we wanted to play with. And we knew we wanted Arion. We knew we wanted Poseidon and the Greek gods and we wanted to created the graveyard of gods and all of these big mythology pieces, fun toys to play with. And it was one of those things where it’s funny because it’s Scott [Synder] knew right off the bat where it’s just like, if James was writing issue 12, then that’s the issue where we’re gonna explain the history or everything because he knows I eat that stuff up.
I was very happy to be able to sort of layer in those story pieces because it is something that I think that setting that groundwork in mythology, setting the deep past and how it informs the present in a fictional universe, especially as complicated a fictional universe as the DC Universe really grounds the story in the present. And there are always ways to draw forward the themes and, themes and moments that directly suits the story of today while also being true to what the character always was in the past.
This issue is pretty heavy on Black Manta and his father, and this issue comes up the same week that as “Aquaman” 42. When you are writing Black Manta, are you trying to play on the parallels between his origin and Arthur’s or is that just more, have a happy coincidence that allows you to make the story a little bit richer?
JT: It’s definitely on purpose. It’s definitely, we wanted to, one piece that we used sort of as a drumbeat over the last few issues, like the first issue, the prelude issue of ‘Drowned Earth’ in “Justice League” had a beat with Arthur and his father on the fishing boat when Arthur was just a little boy. And then in “Justice League” #11, it started with Mera and King Nereus seeing Atlantis from a distance. And here we see young Black Manta who, I think still to this day, I’m pretty sure in continuity, we only know the name David, we still don’t know what his last name is or anything.Continued below
But his past taps into that same thing. It’s how does the history, how does your lineage and all of those things build you into who you are? And how do these human stories become mythology? That’s sort of part of what we wanted to play with here because obviously we’re playing with some very larger than life pieces in this storyline, you know? We’ve got sea gods and death Krakens and all sorts of fun stuff, because at the end of the day it is about, ultimately, it is very much about Arthur, Mara, and Manta and their roles in the greater mythology of Atlantis and how it’s been in the past and how it’s going to be moving forward.
So that was very deliberate. In this issue we also get to see how that interplays with the story of Arion and all of that. You get the kind of apex myth, but then you do get to see, even in this issue we see there is a kind of myth to the water itself. It’s the fact that, it’s in Black Manta’s eyes he, it’s the idea of everything that’s down there, everything, they’re being so much that the ocean has taken and the fact that you can’t, that he’s being kept from taking it back. And then you can sort of extrapolate from there that there, all the people, Arthur has this incredible, had this incredible power to connect to all of the fish and all of that. That was a power in and of itself that ocean bestowed onto him and Manta needed to take for himself.
We’re playing with a lot of those big symbols and images in the mythology.
That’s like catnip for me. I love DC mythology. Right now I’m finishing up a collection to bind the entire run of “Who’s Who” run into a hardcover for my desk. So I am the target audience for this stuff. But sometimes I wonder if there’s a kid out there who’s picking up his first Justice League comic and it’s this comic that is buried in mythology that that could be tough. Now, I don’t think you guys are doing that. I think you guys are giving a clear pathway for a new reader, but I want to know, from a writing perspective, how do you make sure that there is that pathway? I’ve been reading comics for over 30 years, how do you make sure that that they guy like me my six year old daughter that’s just starting to read comics, how do you make a story like this accessible for both of those audiences?
JT: That’s the question right there, that is the, that’s always the challenge. I think it’s one of those things where it’s working so closely with Scott Snyder really helps because I think Scott’s impulses drive more towards making everything very, Scott always challenges me when I get into too much of a, “I’m gonna reference in this one panel a Silver Age story that five people reading this book are going to really appreciate.” It’s one of those things where I think having those deep cut nods and all of that, it’s making sure that they’re all enticing and welcoming. It’s making sure that you are showing little pieces of the bigger universe that make the reader want to go out and explore that bigger universe.
I know that’s how I was when I was a kid. When I was first diving into DC, it was, when I was reading these big storylines I remember one of them was the ‘Young Justice: Sins of Youth’ crossover event. And I didn’t know who any of these characters were. When I was reading that I think I just picked up the trade because I liked Robin. And it’s like, I didn’t know who Klarion the Witch Boy was. I didn’t know this, I didn’t know that. But it was one of those things where just feeling how, just piecing out, okay, these are the relationships between the characters, these are references to bigger stories in the past and all of that, and you start writing a universe in your head.Continued below
It’s something that you can’t go overboard with, but I do like referencing the larger universe, the larger history in a way that, and I always try to make it sound an exciting story that makes the reader wanna read more and learn more. Yeah, that’s always my goal.
You mentioned writing with Scott, and I love talking with Scott because Scott just is so enthusiastic about everything. So I can imagine that writing with him is fun, too, because he’s just gonna burst in the room with, “I got it! Jarro!” He brings this great enthusiasm to what he does.
I’ve been in bands my whole life, and so when you’re writing with somebody else, sometimes the other guy brings an idea in that you would never have thought of and that makes the project so much cooler. There are also those times when your idea doesn’t fit into the grand scheme and that can be a bit frustrating. So, when you are part of this crossover and you’re writing an issue here and an issue there, how do you balance being the team player versus the ‘dammit-this-idea-is-really-good’ guy?
JT: I will say that that used to be, I used to have a bigger problem with that, but Scott and I have now been working together for like, I think six or seven years now. From when we, and then longer than that outside of published work, but in terms of published work, my first books at DC were co-written with Scott. It was something that early on in an issue of “Talon,” if I had something I was really precious about and Scott was like, “Oh, I think this is a better idea,” I would get all huffy about it, but right now in Justice League it’s all about what is serving the greater purpose of the book?
And this is the series that is, that’s building towards something huge. And that’s something that I know, Scott’s been beating that drum in the interviews he’s been doing lately and I think people are really going to start seeing it in December and January as we move into the next phase of the Justice League titles.
There is a big, big master plan in effect right now so really when I have a cool idea or Scott has a cool idea, it’s all, for one, it’s always about what’s the integrity of the issue? How to make the issues freaking awesome as it can be. And then second to that it’s just like, is this building towards that big, epic story that we’ve been dying to tell now for years? That keeps us, I think, pretty grounded in a good way. Not in terms of story stuff. We’re going crazy, cosmic, balls to the wall with the story, but it keeps us focused and zeroed in on what this comic should be.
That sounds like a lot of fun, actually, it’s a lot of fun to build towards something that’s a surprise. So there’s gonna be a lot of joy in planting all these seeds and knowing that one day this garden will bloom and it’s gonna blow everybody’s mind. So that’s gonna be a fun process for you guys.
JT: Oh, yes.
You’ve been writing all the Legion of Doom-centric issues for “Justice League” so far. And I think that it’s really cool how there’s been this sort of shift back and forth between the Justice League stuff and the Legion of Doom stuff. When writing these characters, it’s easy to paint them all as mustache twirling villains. I think you and I are about the same age, and so we’ve grown up reading generations of stories where the villains aren’t really villains, they’re just misunderstood. Everybody’s misunderstood, everybody’s trying to do “the right thing,” but some people go about it the wrong way, right? We have all read those stories, too.
So, when you are putting together these issues, how do you find that balance between making them sympathetic and therefore interesting to read, but also making them evil? I mean, their name is the Legion of Doom, how do you balance putting those two things together?Continued below
JT: It’s a really interesting question because it is something when you pull them all together, in the same way that, I think, when you pull the Justice League together, I think some of their doubts fall away. I think that the Justice League sort of levels up, they become this, they become what people see in them. And I think the same is true with the Legion of Doom. I think seeing them in action together, they do embody, they’re the forces of evil and they’re sort of reveling in it.
But I think it’s really interesting that you ask that because I think the issue that is really going to cut into some of the answers to that question is the next issue of the main “Justice League” book, which is issue 13,and is a Joker-centric issue which is going to sort of deal with the fallout of the last few months and him learning that the Batman Who Laughs was involved in this, it’s really sort of, it’s launching Joker forward in the larger meta-story that we’re telling and towards the “Batman Who Laughs” miniseries, but it’s, in terms of a one shot issue, it really does get a bit more into who these characters are and why, their disagreements among themselves.
And I think that the other figure connected to those kind of the disagreements along the path on which to walk, we’re going to see, in the big ‘Drowned Earth’ finale, we’re gonna see some real tension between Black Manta and the Legion of Doom in a big, exciting way. And I think we’re starting to see that Luthor’s plot, the one area where it fails is that all these characters are human and they all have their own wants and needs and aligning themselves with this cosmic ideal of doom is a very difficult thing. And it’s very difficult to sustain and some of them are better at sustaining it than others, but that’s sort of the heart of it. We’re gonna be seeing that echoing forward for a good, long time.