J.M. DeMatteis has his hands on the Justice Leagues of the present and future this fall, as he helps launch Justice League 3000 in December, while also working on the DC crossover Forever Evil: Blight .
The crossover will be running for the next few months through Justice League Dark, Constantine, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger and Trinity of Sin: Pandora. DeMatteis takes over Justice League Dark for the crossover while also writing Phantom Stranger, working in conduction with Ray Fawkes, who writes the other two books involved.
The crossover kicks off with Justice League Dark #24 later this month, when readers find out that the House of Mystery somehow protected John Constantine from suffering the same fate as his teammates. But Constantine doesn't believe his teammates are dead — particularly Zatanna.
But when John casts a spell to locate his teammates, he's blocked by an entity called Blight, a new character described by DC as a "manifestation" of the evil brought to Earth by the Crime Syndicate of America during Forever Evil.
The crossover will run through 18 issues over the next few months: Issues #24-29 of Justice League Dark, issues #14-17 of Phantom Stranger, issues #9-12 of Constantine, and issues #6-9 of Pandora. The title characters of the solo series will all be involved, and they'll also enlist the help of other DC supernatural characters, including Swamp Thing and Nightmare Nurse.
Newsarama talked to DeMatteis to find out more about Forever Evil: Blight and what it's been like to write a supernatural version of the Justice League in Dark.
Newsarama: It's great to see you writing a Justice League book again. Between this and Justice League 3000 , you're working on the present and future of the Justice League. How's it feel to be so involved?
J.M. DeMatteis: It’s funny, because I don’t really see the two series as being related (aside from the obvious title similarities). Justice League Dark is so deeply rooted in the supernatural corners of the DC Universe and Justice League 3000 is another thing entirely: part superhero/part science fiction/part Giffen-DeMatteis goofiness.
But when I take half a step back — especially when I check in with the 10-year-old in my soul — it’s very exciting. I loved the Justice League when I was a kid, so continuing to be a part of this great tradition — after working on JLI and the Justice League Unlimited TV series over the years — isn’t just fun, it’s an honor.
Nrama: So let's talk about what brought you onto Justice League Dark. It seems like, since you were brought on board late last year to co-write Phantom Stranger, you've been doing more and more DC projects. Now you're writing Phantom Stranger alone, co-writing both Larfleeze and Justice League 3000, and now writing Justice League Dark. How did you end up working on the Dark series? Was it something you pitched, or was it offered? And what did you think of the opportunity when you first heard about it?
DeMatteis: It came out of the blue. Editor Brian Cunningham called and offered me the book and I jumped at it. My first issue of Phantom Stranger guest-starred the Justice League Dark, and so my editor, Wil Moss, sent me a stack of Jeff Lemire’s issues for reference. My attitude going in was, “A team of supernatural characters? Sounds dumb.” (Totally forgetting that, back in the day, during my original Defenders run at Marvel, I turned that title into a supernatural team book not unlike this one.)
And then I read through the stack and fell in love with the book. Jeff did a brilliant job bringing all the elements together in perfect balance — I have such respect for his achievement — and you can’t find a better artist than Mikel Janin. I instantly became a massive fan of the book.
Add to that the fact that I’m crazy about the DC supernatural characters and there’s no way I could turn the offer down.
Nrama: We just found out about Forever Evil: Blight, the DC crossover that's starting this month in Justice League Dark, Constantine and Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger. What can you tell us about it? Since you're writing two of those three books, have you been working closely with Ray Fawkes (writer on Pandora)?
DeMatteis: I’ve been working very closely with Ray Fawkes — a terrific guy and a wonderful collaborator — and our equally-terrific editors, Wil and Brian, crafting a very big story for Forever Evil: Blight — and the seeds of it are planted in Justice League Dark #24.
Nrama: We've been told that Constantine is separated from the usual band of Justice League Dark members, and he puts together a new team to combat Blight. But does this tie into Forever Evil?
DeMatteis: Our story will be directly related to Forever Evil, but it will be a decidedly supernatural take on the events, as befits these characters. The Blight story will stand alone — yet refer to, and impact, the larger story taking place in the superhero corners of the DCU.
Nrama: Does it mainly concentrate on John Constantine? Or do we get to see what happened to the rest of the team at all?
DeMatteis: Finding out what happened to Zatanna, Deadman and the others is engine that drives the story. And we will find out...but not for some months.
Nrama: So is John Constantine at all aware of where the previous Justice League Dark has gone? Do you mean that what's motivating him?
DeMatteis: What’s motivating him more than anything isn’t saving the world or even finding the other members of the team (not that those goals aren’t important to him). His primary motivation is his love for Zatanna. Is she alive? If she is, where is she and how can he get her back? That’s what he cares about more than anything; and one of the things we’ll explore in Forever Evil: Blight is just how far John will go, how much he’ll sacrifice, to bring her home.
Nrama: Does John understand who the Crime Syndicate of America is and what kind of threat they represent?
DeMatteis: Constantine was there when the Crime Syndicate came through the gate from their universe at the end of Trinity War. He witnessed the CSA’s incredible power, and its devastating impact, first hand.
Nrama: What's his mindset after seeing that? We've been told that the House of Mystery protected him and separated him from the others. Where is John as Trinity War finishes and Forever Evil begins?
DeMatteis: When we find him, at the start of Justice League Dark #24, he’s back in the House of Mystery, and how he escaped the Syndicate is another interesting wrinkle. He's not sure if Zatanna and the others are dead or alive, and he’s a broken, confused, and, ultimately, desperate man — who’s ready to turn his back on playing the hero (a role he was never very-well suited for).
Nrama: How has it been writing Swamp Thing? How does he get involved in Constantine's mission, and why is he so important in the fight against Blight during this Forever Evil crossover?
DeMatteis: I’ve been a major Swamp Thing fan since the original [Len] Wein-[Bernie] Wrightson run (still some of my favorite comics of all time).
In fact, back in the '80s, I was offered the chance to write the book twice. The first opportunity was when Marty Pasko was leaving the series and Len Wein asked me to take over; but I decided to stay at Marvel, where I was under contract at the time — thus paving the way for Alan Moore’s groundbreaking run. The second time was after Rick Veitch’s run. Karen Berger offered me the job, but I had a specific storyline in mind that Karen was opposed to, so I passed. (Karen and I ended up working together on Doctor Fate shortly after that, one of my favorite gigs, so it all worked out in the end.)
Now, after all these years, I have a chance to play with the character on a monthly basis — albeit in the context of the team — and it’s a delight.
How does he get involved? With the other Justice League Dark members missing, Constantine needs to put a new team together for a rescue mission and Nightmare Nurse — a new character Dan DiDio and I introduced a few months back in Phantom Stranger — is the one who pulls Swamp Thing into the story (in a very interesting, and somewhat horrific, way).
Nrama: The crossover also ties into Phantom Stranger, which you're writing. Although he's currently out of commission because of being "erased from existence" in issue #11…. what can you tell us about his role in Forever Evil and the Blight crossover with Justice League Dark?
DeMatteis: Phantom Stranger will be tied in very directly — and I’ll be using this story to (among other things) explore Phantom Stranger's relationship with Pandora and reveal some things about his past that we (and he!) never knew.
We’ll also be introducing an old Phantom Stranger cast member — Cassandra Craft — who’ll make her first New 52 appearance in Justice League Dark #25.
One of the things we’ve all talked about is making sure that our characters are well-served by this story, that they don’t get lost in the massiveness of the crossover. It’s important that we have intimacy — psychological and emotional — to go with the epic quality of the story. We want fans of Phantom Stranger to see that character evolve in his book, fans of Pandora to see the same in her book, so that each chapter really means something for that individual character. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth the effort.
Nrama: Can you describe the other characters we'll see join John Constantine during Forever Evil: Blight?
DeMatteis: As mentioned, Nightmare Nurse will be along for the ride and since she’s a new character, free of baggage and not appearing anywhere else, we can really develop her in Justice League Dark.
Zauriel will be showing up in the course of the story (and sticking around, I hope) and so will the Spectre — although, given his history with the Phantom Stranger, he won’t necessarily be on their side.
As noted, Pandora will be intimately involved, both in Justice League Dark and in her own book, and we’ll see some major evolution of the character along the way.
Two members of Phantom Stranger’s supporting cast — Doctor Thirteen and Chris Esperanza (the teenager PS brought back from the Afterlife in Phantom Stranger #10) — will be important to the story, as well.
There’s also our new villain, Blight — and the return of the Six Sins from Pandora. We’ll also be seeing the debut of a major new character along the way.
And, without giving anything away, by the end of the Blight arc, we’ll be up to our necks in mystical heroes (including one of my all-time favorites, the Demon).
Nrama: We've also seen an upcoming cover for Justice League Dark that featured the Sea King, even though we thought he was dead at the end of Trinity War. How does he get involved?
DeMatteis: I couldn’t tell you without revealing a very cool plot-twist.
Nrama: Fair enough. But can you at least describe how it's been writing him?
DeMatteis: Even answering that question would give it away.
Nrama: OK, then what else can you tease about what we'll see over the course of Forever Evil: Blight?
DeMatteis: What we’re aiming for with Forever Evil: Blight is a story that’s important to the overall Forever Evil arc, yet stands very much on its own two feet. We want all of our individual characters to change and grow in significant ways in the course of the story so that it really matters. It’s asking a lot of people to follow a single story through four different monthly titles, and we want the readers of all those books to feel satisfied.
Nrama: How has it been finding John Constantine's voice? (It seems like it would be a unique dialogue to write…)
DeMatteis: So far, so good. It feels natural to me. What’s nice is that, despite his magical affiliations, Constantine is, at his core, a normal human being. He’s not a god, a superhero, an alien or an other-dimensional entity. He’s not that far removed from you or me. And his humanity — however twisted it sometimes gets (and don’t we all get twisted sometimes?) — makes him the most relatable character in the book. He’s our anchor.
Nrama: You mentioned the work of Mikel Janín. How has it been working with him on Dark?
DeMatteis: Incredible. He’s one of the most talented artists I’ve ever collaborated with. Mikel’s a great designer, an impeccable storyteller, he’s able to hit all the big action beats and yet deliver on all the subtle human moments.
And he can really draw. I was a fan of Mikel’s before I started working on the book but my admiration for him has doubled now that I’ve had the pleasure of watching him up close.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Forever Evil: Blight and the chance you're getting to work on Justice League Dark?
DeMatteis: Just that I’m having a wonderful time with this book — working with characters I love, collaborating with creators I respect — and I hope that my enthusiasm translates into great stories.