DC Villains month - Justice League group
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Now that readers know the Crime Syndicate of America from Earth 3 is behind this fall's Forever Evil event, the revelations expected from Justice League #23.4: Secret Society this month take on a whole new meaning.

As readers found out at the end of last week's Justice League #23, the man behind the Secret Society, known as "The Outsider," is actually from Earth 3 himself. We'll avoid any spoilers about his true identity, just in case readers haven't heard. But at the end of the issue, The Outsider opened a portal to let in the evil Crime Syndicate, who are now poised to take over the world in Forever Evil.

Co-written by Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates, Justice League #23.4: Secret Society will tell the story of what happened during the five years between The Outsider's arrival from Earth 3 and the events that kick off Forever Evil.

Gates, who's also the writer on the ongoing comic Justice League of America's Vibe, will also be co-writing with Johns on Justice League of America #7.4: Black Adam. In another Villains Month issue, Gates is writing solo on Justice League of America #7.2: Killer Frost.

Newsarama talked to Gates to find out more about the revelations we'll see in Justice League #23.4: Secret Society.

Newsarama: Sterling, now that we know the Crime Syndicate of America characters are the main villains behind Forever Evil, do they also show up in the Secret Society one-shot you're writing with Geoff?

Sterling Gates: They do! Well, some of them do, at least. Readers of Geoff’s Justice League and “Trinity War” know that the Outsider has a master, so naturally, he’s going to pop up in this issue…

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: So will this issue explain more about the Outsider, the Secret Society and the Crime Syndicate?

Gates: It definitely covers some of that. Geoff was a terrific co-writer on this issue and the Black Adam story, and he revealed a lot of the plans for Forever Evil to me just so we could be sure everything was set up properly.

Nrama: Last time we talked, you said that we'd learn more in your issue about the leader of the Secret Society of Super Villains, "The Outsider." We've learned that he's actually a character from Earth 3, and we know who his "master" is. How much of a role does the Outsider play in the Secret Society one-shot?

Gates: This one-shot is the Outsider’s secret origin and how and why he assembled the Secret Society. I think you’ll be very surprised with the plot of this one-shot; it’s all from the Outsider’s point-of-view and really digs into his relationship with his master.

Nrama: Is that name, "The Outsider," still the one he goes by in your comic?

Gates: It’s the name he uses to refer to himself, yes. I believe Geoff revealed a little bit of why in Justice League #23.

Nrama: Many of the clues about the Outsider point toward him already being acquainted with the New 52 heroes. Does that mean he knew them from the other world, or at least "evil" versions of them, and since your issue tells his "origin" on the main DCU Earth, will we learn more about what he perceives?

Gates: Obviously, with the revelation that an alternate Earth is in the mix, you’re going to see alternate universe versions of some of our characters. The Outsider has an idea about just what Superman can do, because he’s from a very dark world where Ultraman rules over chunks of the population.

Things are a little different from the Outsider’s Earth – east is west and west is east – but the Outsider has spent a lot of time studying our world and the heroes within it. He’s been here a few years. He knows what’s up in the DCU better than most people.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: What about the "mole" we've just learned about. Should I say the name? Has it been long enough.

Gates: I’m not going to spoil it for people who haven’t read it yet. But seriously, why wouldn’t you read Justice League #23? It was awesome! Ivan Reis and Joe Prado artwork! C’mon!

Nrama: OK, then without saying the mole's name… it happened within the last five years. What time period does your issue cover?

Gates: It skips around quite a bit, but we cover the last five years.

Nrama: And the Outsider was scheming all those years.

Gates: Suffice to say, the Outsider is a long-term planner.

Nrama: Have you seen the art for the issue? What's it like?

Gates: Our artist is the incredible Szymon Kudranski. It’s a gorgeous book. I’m convinced that Szymon just bleeds India ink, because his pages are slathered in it. Geoff and I wanted the tone of the issue to be very dark, and that type of story just screams for someone like Szymon. Every time a page came in, I’d email Geoff and just gush about how great Szymon’s art was. I’d never worked with him before, but I’m very, very glad he drew this issue.

Nrama: What kind of style is your issue? How would you describe it? Gritty dark? Dark humor? Sinister? Mystery?

Gates: Very, very dark. With Szymon drawing it, you know it’s going to be dark. Very gritty, too, though we let your imagination fill in some of the less…um, less appetizing pieces of the story.

Actually, Secret Society is hands-down the darkest of the three Villains Month one shots I worked on. The Black Adam one-shot is a little lighter than the Secret Society issue, and the Killer Frost story is probably the lightest of the three tonally…though that story goes to some terrible places, too.

I mean, it’s called “Villains Month.” It’s not all giggles and puppies. The Secret Society one-shot is by far the darkest story of the three. Geoff and I talked about publishing that issue in black-and-white at one point to fit how dark a story it was.

Nrama: Besides The Outsider, what other characters will we see in the Secret Society one-shot?

Gates: Owl-Man. Copperhead. Amazo. Scarecrow. The Joker. Professor Ivo. Signal Man. The Shaggy Man, who’s one of my all-time favorite villains.

There’s a great splash page toward the end of the issue that references the cover to West Coast Avengers vol. 1 #1, one of my all-time favorite covers. You know, “Who will answer the Secret Society’s call to join the new team?!” Doing that allowed us to get in appearances by all of the Secret Society’s members in one very quick image, giving readers a feel for the scope of the Outsider’s recruiting efforts without reading scene after scene of villains being offered the Society coins.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: What's it been like, getting to write about so many villains in the DCU?

Gates: I’ve been having a blast. Honestly, I really, really enjoyed developing Killer Frost. Hopefully people will check that issue out, I think she’s a great character and we tried to update her story in an exciting way, yet keeping it new-reader-friendly.

One of the goals for Villains Month was to make sure that anyone can pick up these books and be introduced to these characters are and get a feel for what they do — or want to do — in the DCU. Very open stories, very easy to read. My editors – Brian Cunningham and Kate Stewart – have been fantastic to work with, too, because they really pushed me to make these stories as accessible and as exciting as possible. I can’t thank them enough.

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about the Secret Society one-shot?

Gates: Just get ready for a wild, wild ride through a strange and terrible world that’s very different from our own!

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