A crisis is coming to DC Comics and it all starts with Justice League #75 in the story “The Death of the Justice League.” With the promise of major deaths on the 30th anniversary of “The Death of Superman” no less, there’s an easy buy-in to check out the series. All that, plus the events in the issue directly lead into the Dark Crisis summer event by Josh Williamson and Daniel Sampere, it’s likely hugely important to find out how it all starts.
To help explain DC Comics’ approach to the “Death of the Justice League” and Dark Crisis, Williamson sat down with comics press in a roundtable earlier this week. Justice League #75 is out on April 10—with a final order cutoff this weekend–the issue not only draws from ongoing stories in the last year but sets the stage for a new status quo for heroes and villains alike.
That isn’t to say you had have read Justice League vs. the Legion of Superheroes which features the Great Darkness, or Justice League Incarnate which heavily builds the multiversal threat, though.
“I try to make sure that if you haven’t read anything before, you can still read this by itself,” Williamson said. “You need to also make sure that if all that stuff that came before or if someone did invest and they did read all that stuff, that they are getting something more from that experience.”
That means Justice League #75 walks the line of being new-reader friendly but also rewards those who read Infinite Frontier. With so many heroes hinted at dying in cover reveals so far that also meant Williamson needed to juggle a lot of characters in the extra-sized issue.
Williamson said that’s why this issue uses a few specific characters for emotional beats while Rafa Sandoval handled drawing incredible fights with many characters on the page all at once. “I knew the goals I had and I also knew what Rafa’s strengths were. And I knew that Rafa does fight scenes really, really well and does really big fight scenes really well. If you go back and look at the work that Rafa did on Hal Jordan, they excel at stuff like this, which is why they were my first and only pick for this issue.”
With huge stakes and big splash pages in hand, Williamson admitted Infinite Crisis heavily influenced the book, for good reason. “I was working at a comic book store and when that was coming out, it was actually the last year I worked at a store. I remember selling that book, hand selling it, and being really invested in that one,” he said. “I’ve probably read Crisis on Infinite Earths more than any other event at this point. And then the second one is probably Infinite Crisis. And so I looked at Pariah and when you go back and you read Crisis on Infinite Earths so much in his origin essentially is that this whole thing started because of him.”
Since then, Pariah has fascinated Williamson and it stuck with him how his story wasn’t over, especially after reading a scene in War of the Gods where it’s written, which Williamson read out loud: “Poor Pariah who gave up his one chance in his tortures so that more futures can live and die. It isn’t fair.”
“Every time we’ve done an event at DC the last six years, I was always like, where’s Pariah at? This person who has this great power and was responsible for the Great Crisis, where are they at in all of this? And so when I started writing the story and started coming up with it, it was an opportunity to use Pariah as that role,” he said. “I kept seeing Pariah in a very similar role as what Superboy-Prime and Alexander Luthor were kind of going through.”
And while Superboy-Prime and Luthor were either trying to find a specific planet or object to grow their power, Williamson said Pariah’s search is more nihilistic, which is where the Great Darkness comes into play. “The only way this is ever gonna get fixed is if we just burn it all down.” While the character is a featured character in Justice League #75, further exploration of Pariah is coming from Phillip Kennedy Johnson in a Road to Dark Crisis comic in May, focusing specifically on his backstory.
Given the villain and his powerset, it’s pretty clear the heroes have little chance of coming out alive in Justice League #75. That said, fans expecting horrific deaths and a hyper-focus on how each character will die might want to curb expectations. They certainly do die, but how isn’t the focus. “I didn’t want it to be like a snuff film,” Williamson said, “I didn’t want it to be something brutal and gross.”
Due to timing and how far in advance comics writers need to complete scripts to give artists time to draw, Williamson revealed he actually wrote Dark Crisis #1 before writing Justice League #75. That gave him a better perspective on everything right down to the reaction to the event announcement from fans.
“A big piece of Dark Crisis is showing how characters in the DCU react to the idea of death. Now, considering that they’ve all come back from the dead at some point, right? When doing research for this and some other stuff we’ve been talking about for the last two years, I saw that there was a block of time in DC’s history where almost every character had died twice,” he said. “I found that fascinating. And so I wanted to explore all those ideas about what death means on a weird metal level because I wrote Dark Crisis first. And we started exploring that. Announcing Death of the Justice League, and the way we did, and seeing the reaction to it was kind of fascinating because it was mirroring how the characters were reacting in the book.”
If you think Williamson is taking joy in killing off the Justice League, think again. In fact, he made it clear it was difficult killing them because he loves these characters so much. “It was emotional at times, there were moments this week in particular because now it’s going to press we’re wrapping it up to send it out the door. There were a couple that were definitely emotional.”
One feature character Williamson adored writing was Green Arrow, a character he’s been pitching to DC to write for years. “I finally get to write Green Arrow and then I kill him. I think that’s part of why he gets the most screen time. He gets the most dialogue in this,” Williamson said, but even still, “There was no character that I took joy in killing.”
As Williamson said, every DC Comics character has died at least twice and that goes for Marvel Comics characters too. That begs the question, is Williamson afraid that things don’t feel permanent since heroes always come back?
“Grant [Morrison] talked about this where Grant was always saying, when you’re working on a character, you have to give them a death and a birth. You look at what Jason Aaron was doing on Thor, which is my favorite Thor run. And there were a lot of things in there that the nature of the character and the nature of the story changes. By the ending Thor is Thor with the hammer, he said. “You’re always kind of dealing with that idea of it’s not gonna be necessarily permanent. Somebody’s gonna come in and could possibly take it either back or they could take it in a different direction. The most you can do is just focus on the story in front of you and just try and tell the best version of the story you want to tell. You can’t worry about other stuff, otherwise, you’d be frozen.”
And that’s the nature of comics, but it’s easy to see that permanence only gives us new ideas, new directions for characters, and hell, even new costumes. “It’s like, that’s in the DNA of comic books, you know, could you imagine we wouldn’t get blue-suit Superman.”
Aside from character deaths, Williamson also promised he’d do something different with Darkseid as well as explore the fallout of a world where the biggest heroes have disappeared. It’s an exciting time for DC Comics fans because Death of the Justice League and Dark Crisis not only change what the world looks like within the story but also what DC Comics will look like in the future.
Justice League #75 is out in comic shops on April 19th.
For more from Williamson, read our interview about next week’s Rogues here.
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