As DC Entertainment kicks off a new era in its popular, digital-first Beyond comics, it's re-titling its futuristic team book Justice League Beyond 2.0, taking the series a year into the future as a new creative team takes over.
Last week's first chapter of Batman Beyond 2.0 is getting a lot of attention for the changes made by new writer Kyle Higgins. The first Batman Beyond 2.0 chapter took place a year after the issue before, and there were some shocking changes that got fans buzzing.
Beginning this week, Justice League Beyond 2.0 will also have a new creative team: Marvel veteran Christos Gage and artist Iban Coello. And just like Batman Beyond's new approach, the first installment of Gage's Justice League Beyond will also take the team further into the future as they spin toward something the writer calls a "smack-you-upside-the-head moment."
The Beyond comics, which follow the continuity of the late '90s animated series Batman Beyond, are released in short chapters each week for 99 cents on DC's digital apps. The Beyond comics, which include Batman Beyond, Justice League Beyond, and Superman Beyond, are then collected into a print comic that's released each month under the title Batman Beyond Unlimited.
The chapters have proven themselves to be top-sellers for DC digital, and the publisher just announced a new Batgirl Beyond mini-series would be added to the rotation.
Newsarama talked to Gage to find out more about how the year-forward jump has affected the Justice League Beyond characters, and what he's focusing on as he starts his new run.
Newsarama: Christos, we recently talked to Kyle Higgins about Batman Beyond 2.0, and he explained why he's taking the series a year into the future. Is Justice League Beyond 2.0 doing anything similar for your first issue? How do you kick off the new story?
Christos Gage: We’re staying pretty much contemporary with Kyle’s timeline, but we’re not doing the thing where big changes happened in the year gap. That would have felt repetitive. Basically, the Justice League Beyond is one year more experienced as a team. Their new members — Flash, Mr. Miracle and Captain Marvel — are pretty well integrated into the group. They also have a newly constructed headquarters on the moon, the new Watchtower.
But whereas Kyle’s first chapter of Batman Beyond is designed to make you go, “Whoa, what?,” we’re doing the opposite. The last chapter of our first arc is the smack-you-upside-the-head moment.
Nrama: You mentioned some of the characters that you're using in the series. What are your plans for the roster? Who's going to be on the team, and what character is the focus as you start your run?
Gage: It will rotate. We have a great ensemble. But I’d say Superman is the focus of our opening storyline. Plot-wise, something is going on with his powers —they’re fluctuating out of control — and there’s a sinister reason for it. In terms of character, he has reached a big step in his life: He’s going to start dating again, for the first time, since his wife Lois passed away.
Nrama: For people who might be checking out Justice League Beyond for the first time, how is this Justice League distinct from the other Justice Leagues that people are more familiar with?
Gage: Well, the obvious way is that it’s part of the continuity of the animated universe, rather than the comics, though hopefully we’re getting readers for whom that is the familiar version. But in a larger sense, what’s cool to me is that this team consists of a fairly equal number of original Justice League members — Superman, Captain Marvel, Barda, Mr. Miracle — and legacy characters like Flash, Green Lantern, Warhawk, Batman and Aquagirl. That’s a dynamic we’ve only really seen before on the JSA, if I’m not mistaken, and it’s one I think provides for a lot of rich character interaction.
Nrama: Yeah, it's like the old guys can say, "I knew the first Flash," and the young ones are like, "tell me about the first Flash!" It's a neat mix. But was it difficult to figure out the voices of these characters after knowing the "old" versions so well?
Gage: Not really. These characters, from the ones introduced in the animated series to the ones created for the comics by my predecessors Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen, all have very strong voices and personalities. As with any well-defined characters, you get to a point where you just sort of know what they’d say in a given situation. That’s what makes them fun.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite relationships between the characters in the Justice League Beyond team? Can you describe any of them that you particularly enjoy exploring?
Gage: Well, they’re all such great characters…I enjoy juxtaposing the younger members with the older ones. I do a bit where Superman is asking the other Leaguers what to do on a date, and Micron, Flash and Batman take him to a dance club. Then I flip it by having him go to Captain Marvel, who in the Beyond Universe shares time in our world with the rest of the Marvel Family (only one can exist in our world at a time)…but right now it’s the wizard Shazam, and he talks about how dating is a barbaric practice, and in his day marriage was a mutually beneficial contract between two families of similar social standing, and asks how big the lady’s dowry is. I always try to keep in mind the varied cultural backgrounds our guys hail from. I’m having fun with Barda and Mr. Miracle as a long-married couple who love each other a lot but, coming from an aggressive society like Apojolips, do have a tendency to bicker. And of course there is the undercurrent of romance between Aquagirl and Warhawk, complicated by their very different personalities.
Nrama: That sounds like a lot of fun. But obviously, there's got to be a threat in the comic, so who's the main villain in Justice League Beyond as you kick off your run?
Gage: I can’t say, as it’s a reveal in one of our later chapters, but I will say that it’s a classic Superman villain in the animated universe.
Nrama: Then let's talk about the artist. How has it been working with Iban Coello? What does he bring to the title?
Gage: It’s been terrific. I think his style is close enough to the animated universe template established by Bruce Timm that it’s not a shock for readers, but also distinct enough that it feels like he’s doing his own thing. Iban has a very dynamic sense of action, and I’m trying to give him a lot of moments to really cut loose with that.
Nrama: Then let's back up and talk about your introduction to the "Beyond" universe. What's your history with these characters? Were you a fan of the cartoon when it started, or did you discover them later?
Gage: It was later for me. I didn’t follow the Batman Beyond animated series when it first aired, for a variety of reasons — it was right when I was getting married and there was a lot going on in my life — but obviously now that I’ve gotten into it, I love it. It’s great stuff. It’s kind of like the Buffyverse for me — I got to discover the show in the course of preparing for writing the comic, which has been a real pleasure, and it’s really fresh in my mind.
Nrama: Since you've been announced as the writer on Justice League Beyond, have you heard from long-time fans of the Batman Beyond show and universe? What kind of things stick out that you've seen or heard from fans?
Gage: Not as much as Kyle. I think, because the Justice League Beyond didn’t appear in more than a few episodes of the show, people come to it with less of an investment in terms of, “Please do this!” or “Whatever you do, don’t do that!”
I do get a fair amount of questions about where this or that character is in the Beyond universe, and we will get to some of them, but we’ve already got a pretty big cast, so I wanted to give them room to breathe before adding bodies.
Nrama: How much have you been working with Kyle and J.T. Krul (Superman Beyond)? Are you guys hoping to tie the comics into each other?
Gage: Kyle and I actually live very close to each other, so we do indeed get together from time to time and talk about stuff — and sometimes I even finagle him into helping me move furniture! However, the overall idea is that each of our series can stand on its own, so anyone who just has a specific favorite they follow can enjoy it without feeling forced to buy the others. But we also are conscious that we’re sharing characters in the same universe, so you want to keep current on what everyone has planned and reflect that. At some point, we may do an outright crossover, but it’ll be a little while, and we’ll try to make it as reader-friendly as possible.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell fans about Justice League Beyond as you kick off your run?
Gage: Just that we are building to some very big things — I can’t say any more right now. But if you read the first chapter or two and they don’t feel appropriately epic enough, just wait!