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Ram V talks bringing the weird to ‘Justice League Dark’

The writer takes the reins of the beloved horror series starting with issue #20.

Justice League Dark has seen a massive revival in recent years, spinning out of “The New Justice”-era under the stewardship of James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez Bueno. The title’s been running strong and steady, tapping into the many horrific undercurrents of the DC Universe.

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Now, the baton has been passed on, as critically acclaimed writer Ram V comes on board with the upcoming Justice League Dark #20 in February. Coming off the massive success of his Vault Comics horror series These Savage Shores, depicting an ancient world of Eastern and Western myths clashing, he’s one of the premier new voices in the industry (and also part of the British creators studio White Noise).

Ram V recently sat down with AIPT to talk about how he’s approaching the book, how he intends to push the title forward while building on what’s come before, and all that lays ahead for the League.

Justice League Dark #20 hits stores on February 26.

AIPT: You’re stepping onto a big horror title, but simultaneously, it’s also your big, first proper foray into key superhero projects. The book bears the iconic “Justice League” in the title and has Diana at the forefront. And much like Bishan in These Savage Shores and Swamp Thing in the annual, Diana’s very much this ancient mythic being who’s been around a good bit and will likely be around for long after.

But unlike the two of them, she isn’t burdened by the weight or perceptions of being a ‘monster’. How has it been to write another immortal, if you will, who sort of differs in this sense, while doing a book that is evidently about monsters and horror. What’s that contrast been like for you, coming onto the book?

Ram V: Justice League Dark is such an enthralling roster. I think all the characters on it are fascinating. The next arc picks up from where James left off in his run and so a lot of the character interpretations are already there for me and I’m carrying forward that line of thought into the next arc. 

But you’ll see me infusing the characters with more of myself as the series goes on and I think we’ll see more of my take on Wonder Woman in the issues to come. I am currently fascinated by the character of someone who is aware of her value to the world. Aware of her place as a hero and champion. The responsibility it places on her but equally the restrictions that puts on her. Pragmatic choices are very different things for immortals. So, I’ll be looking explore that kind of a choice going forward and I’m quite excited about that. 

AIPT: One of the things that really struck me rather immediately about your Justice League Dark Annual was how Vertigo it felt. It immediately sort of just walks into that wheelhouse and makes itself known. But beyond that, it also carries a hallmark of what I identify with your work: a fascination with structure.

Both with These Savage Shores and its tight use of the 9-panel grid and strong grasp of form and even Catwoman #9, which is built on such a specific rhythm.  Is that something you’re always drawn to?

RV: Yes, the annual certainly has elements that I’m doffing my cap to, but really it’s just a structured story, focusing on human questions, narrated in a slightly inventive structure. That’s all it really is and I’d say if there is anything to take from the Vertigo books it is that they were endlessly inventive about how they looked at the medium and the stories we could tell in them. Beyond that they did what all good stories do – focus on the underlying humanity within their narratives. 

Yes, I think structure is an extremely important part of how you tell a story. I think stories are akin to sculptures. You start with vague lump of clay or stone and the first thing you do is give it shape. Before you can chisel the features and the anatomy and the muscles – you have to have some vague idea of what it looks like in silhouette, how it sits in 3 dimensions. I think of structure as something similar. It defines how a story is read and so it has a telling effect on the reader’s experience. It’s something storytellers across mediums spend a lot of time thinking about. Comics comes with a lot of its own structural elements so you get to play within pre-existing parameters, but there is always something interesting you can do with it. So yeah, I find it fascinating. 

AIPT: What do you really find yourself coming back to, as a writer, having done a number of projects now? I ask that as I think about how prevalent the themes of loss, memory and inheritance are within your work, so I’m rather interested in what you identify to be your constants.

RV: I don’t know that I even aim to identify my own subjects of focus that much, to be honest. There are of course areas that I do explore repeatedly in stories. You’ve pointed out a few. But I’m also interested in exploring ephemeral friendships. Or the relationships between people and the places they occupy. So, there’s a lot more there – but identifying them or writing in a way that is aware of them is currently not a thing that I’m looking at. It may become one if I find myself writing the same kind of story over and over. But it hasn’t been an issue so far.

The next couple of personal projects I’m working in probably explore similar themes. But one of them is the study of a downward spiral. A human being breaking down. Another asks the question of whether it is possible to fall in love with someone else’s memories. So, there you go.  My pre-occupations are better left for critics and readers to discern.

AIPT: One of the most exciting things in regards to your JLD run for me is, you mentioned that your direction would be going more weird with it. I’m fascinated by that. Could you talk more about that? Obviously, the roots of some of the characters there are in the weird, given Vertigo, but even past that, what are you sort of looking at and thinking about as you put together the run?

RV: Yeah, I think James’ work so far on the issues has been “epic” in that combines his horror sensibilities really well with this grand sprawling narrative with almost an epic fantasy aesthetic. I’m hoping to bring in some of my own more granular aesthetic. Sure, there is horror in space and universes beyond our own. But there is also horror in the dirt under our fingernails, horror in the everyday things. Horror in things within our own bodies that we take for granted.

So, while I’m very aware that I am taking on a series that’s been going on for 19 issues and I want to stay true to readers that have been reading it, I’m also hoping to bring in horror and darkly supernatural narratives from more unexpected places. Weird ones that you might not really have thought about. I’m working with Kyle Hotz and Alvaro Martinez Bueno on the first arc. I’ve seen the pages coming in and it is going to be utterly glorious. They are amazing artists with their own unique takes on the aesthetic of the book. 

AIPT: You’re a huge fan of Hellblazer and Swamp Thing and you’re going to be tackling both in some capacity in Justice League Dark. But I’m aware you’re also a big fan of Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter. Any chance you may be touching on those folks sometime?

RV: Not a day goes by without someone sending suggestions at me for characters to bring into the roster! But, there’s a lot that goes into these decisions about bringing characters on and they have to be made carefully. I think it would suffice to say everyone can expect to see some new faces make appearances both good and bad. As for Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter stories independent of the JLD roster… Who knows what the future holds, eh? I’ve got a ton of stories to tell around those characters. 

AIPT: What music have you found yourself listening to as you work on Justice League Dark? Is there any type, a band or an album? What’s been on your playlist?

RV: I’ve actually shared this on twitter recently. I’ve been listening to “The Sky is Red” by Leprous a lot while writing these issues. There is an epic, intense quality to it – it sets the mood! That whole album is pretty great. I’ve also been listening to Karnivool. 

AIPT: You did a rather lovely and hilarious Black Adam story in the recent anthology and your These Savage Shores partner Sumit Kumar did a marvelous Sinestro story as well. Any chance we might see the These Savage Shores team reunited again on a DC book?

RV: I’ve made the requisite blood-sacrifices to the editor gods, so I hope it happens sometime in the near future! I love working with Sumit. But equally, he’s getting to work on some exciting things at DC, so it just as fun watching him do the things he’s doing. I’m sure we’ll get around to some devilry soon. 

AIPT: 2019 was a big year for you, with the conclusion of These Savage Shores, the Catwoman work, and finally Justice League Dark. Where do you see yourself in 2020? Anything more we can expect from you and Vault? You’ve teased creator owned work and mentioned you might dabble in prose. What can you say or tease about the future?

RV: Yeah 2019 was a whirlwind. 2020 promises to be an equally insane ride. I’ve got a tendency to be very enthusiastic about projects. I might have said yes to far too many things! But it doesn’t feel like work just yet!

So yes, I’ll be working on JLD continuing into 2020. There’s more to come at DC as well. I’ve also got a couple of creator-owned projects that should be announced shortly. Something in a magic realist space and another thing in a sci-fi drama space. Dark Horse is releasing an expanded edition of Grafity’s Wall in March 2020. I’m excited for the book to be available to readers in the US, Canada and beyond. Anand RK and I are working on a jazz, noir, horror OGN we’re very excited about. And there’s more superhero/capes work that should be announced shortly. So yes! Many things. Comics and writing have been good!

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