When Batman is infected by the Amazo Virus in this week's issue #38 of DC's Justice League title, not only does the hero get superpowers, but the caped detective begins to figure out the secret behind Lex Luthor's deadly disease.
Written by DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns with art by Jason Fabok, Justice League has been exploring the effect of Lex Luthor trying to become a hero and joining the League. But after an accident in Lex's laboratory released a virus that hospitalized most of the League members, the truth behind the infection began to emerge, as it transformed its human hosts into meta-humans.
"The Amazo Virus" continues through February, setting up March's prologue issue for "The Darkseid War," the much-anticipated war between the Anti-Monitor and Darkseid (with the Justice League caught in the middle).
And as Johns revealed to Newsarama, March's Justice League #40 will feature art by not only Fabok, but also Kevin Maguire, Phil Jimenez, Dan Jurgens and others. "It has, like, a bunch of wonderful artists, and there's a reason for it," Johns said.
So how does the Amazo Virus affect Batman? And what's coming up in Justice League in 2015? (And what was up with that Tweet Johns posted about working on a Mr. Miracle story? Newsarama talked to the two creators to find out more.
Newsarama: Geoff, in the next issue of Justice League, you're showcasing Batman with some new powers, which result from his having been infected by the Amazo Virus. What did that offer you guys as creators, to have a Batman with superpowers?
Geoff Johns: Not only is it interesting to see what kind of abilities Batman might develop and how he might use it and how he might react to it, but almost as important, it's also a hint at what the true nature of the Amazo Virus is. And you'll see Batman actually speculate once he develops his power, because what happens is he develops this ability and it gives him an idea that this virus might be more intelligent and might be more by design than random than Luthor's claiming.
Jason Fabok: Artistically, trying not to give it away, it's a strange thing to try to draw Batman with superpowers. I mean, we've seen him in the past where he might have gotten, like, a Green Lantern ring. And I'm sure, at some point, within the history of DC, he's had superpowers for an issue or something. But as an artist, it's strange to draw that.
I think that when fans see the power that we've given him, through the Amazo Virus, it's going to make sense.
I think fans are going to go two ways — there will be some hardcore fans that totally hate the idea and flip out, but then there will be other ones who will be like, you know what? This is a really fun book, and this is a really cool idea.
This is one of those weird kind of comic book fanboy fantasies come true. If Batman did have powers, what would those powers be? I'm sure there have been arguments that have gone on at comic cons while you're waiting in line to get signings from Geoff, where fans have argued these things.
But as an artist, it was a lot of fun to draw that, and to play that up, and to portray the reactions of the other characters when they see Batman doing some pretty fantastic things.
Nrama: Geoff, looking at the story you've been telling the last year, leading up to and including the beginning of the Amazo Virus story, so much of the conflict and story beats concern Lex Luthor joining the team. Yet you also added his sister to the story at the same time. How has the inclusion of Lex and his sister in Justice League informed your approach to both the character and the stories you're telling in the comic?
Johns: Bringing Lex's sister in was definitely to humanize and explore Lex in a different way. It started with bringing Bizarro in, as a way to humanize and explore Lex in a different way.
In order to put Lex Luthor into the Justice League, I had to put him through something that would force him to rise up and become a hero, and Forever Evil was really designed as a story for Lex Luthor. It's a Lex Luthor story. Is there a scenario where Lex Luthor could save the world?
And through that, I wanted him to emotionally connect too. And to emotionally connect, I started with Bizarro, and it's kind of this weird, reluctant connection for Lex. It's almost like a man and his dog. I have a dog, and if anyone else has a dog, you know how strong that bond can be.
And that's really what Bizarro was. He was almost like Lex's pet. But a very loyal pet, and someone Lex grew to actually care for.
You saw him early on in Forever Evil tell this story about how, when Bizarro was afraid of the dark, very childlike, how Lex was telling him this story about when he was a child and his sister grew ill, and Lex wanted to try to help her but he was too afraid to, in case he'd fail, so he didn't try, and she ended up dying.
The truth of the story, by the end of Forever Evil, we learn, is that Lex lied; he actually did try to save her and he did try to help her, but he couldn't. And she ended up an invalid. And it's something he doesn't talk about because it's a failure on his part. He would rather tell Bizarro that he's afraid than that he failed.
After setting the groundwork for that, and then ultimately, Bizarro gets killed and you see this reaction on Lex's face when he does, of anger and rage.
Lex has opened up himself again. Because of Bizarro and his death, there's this crack open in him that allows for him to remember and recall his sister, and reach out to her and bring her back into his life. And he wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for Bizarro, and ultimately, his death.
So by bringing the sister in, we do give some humanity and context to Lex.
There's a scene in Justice League #38, a confrontation of sorts between Lex and his sister, and I think Lex is a little bit embarrassed about what he's become and how he acts and what he's done and the Amazo Virus and everything. And he gets very defensive with his sister.
And his actions — I think, when Lex has gone about his life in such a way and done these very bad things under the guise of this being what's right and what he has to do to get where he needs to go, or where he thinks he needs to be in order to become the savior of humanity, or the great hope of humanity that he's destined to be.
When Lena comes into the picture, suddenly everything Lex is doing, he has to rethink it, if his sister's present. I think that's a bit of a weakness for him.
And the Amazon Virus — just like bringing Lex's sister in was to explore Lex in a different way, and bringing Bizarro in was to explore Lex in a different way, the Amazo Virus challenges the Justice League in a brand new way while also opening up a secret of Lex Luthor.
Nrama: So the Amazo Virus represents Lex being unable to walk away from the bad things he did in the past?
Johns: Yeah, it's one of these things he created that was locked away, and he thought he could forget it.
In the opening of "The Amazo Virus," Bruce says, as he's in side LexCorp, "Do you think you can just erase the past? You think you're the world's greatest hero. You think you can become part of the Justice League. You think that we're supposed to see you and treat you differently. But why should we? Because you did this one thing, it doesn't negate everything else you've done."
And Lex's attitude continues to evolve and change, especially with the Amazo Virus.
Nrama: And according to what he's said, there are still secrets about it that nobody else knows.
Johns: There's much more to it than people believe.
And the whole point of Batman's ability is the first clue to that.
Nrama: Jason, with you drawing Batman with superpowers, and some of the other more bombastic scenes in Justice League, it's been interesting to see how you've handled some of the quieter, more personal moments — emphasized by what Geoff is discussing here, regarding Lex Luthor talking to his sister. Is that a big challenge for you in this comic?
Fabok: These last couple months, this book has really stretched me as an artist, more than I've been stretched in the last four or five years that I've been doing this. And that's a huge thing.
Those are the things you really look for in a project, these opportunities to be stretched, to draw things that you've never drawn before, to really get deep into a story.
I think one of the great things about the working relationship that Geoff and I have is that we chat a lot on the phone. We discuss the script. We discuss the emotional undertones and scenes that we want to get through in the story.
And we don't just want to get those things through in the words — we want to see those things in the art on the pages.
I've really made an effort to delve deeper into drawing faces and expressions. I look toward artists, like Gary Frank, who I think is the best person when it comes to drawing facial expressions. But I don't want to do exactly what he does, so I've been trying to find a balance, one that works for me.
I actually find that I enjoy drawing the quieter, more personal, emotional scenes, more than the big, bombastic stuff. I think it comes from my background in animation. I took animation in college. And the one thing that teachers used to always say is, whenever you're doing a scene, get up and act it out.
Nrama: So you get in front of a mirror and act out what the characters are doing?
Fabok: I look pretty silly in my office acting out some of these scenes! But I want to get, how would this character act? How would their facial expression and their body language change as they deliver this line? And then all of the sudden they're thinking this and they're delivering a different line.
Those things are challenging to do. They're not easy. But I feel I've taken a lot of steps forward these last couple months, and I feel really confident.
I think that's because of the relationship Geoff and I have, and him empowering me with a lot of deeper insight into the breadth of emotion I'm supposed to get out through these characters.
I'm really proud of this work. When I go back and read the issues with all the text in there, I'm really feeling good and confident drawing this work. I only see getting better and better as we go along.
Nrama: I would assume that what Lex is saying isn't always what he's thinking, and as the artist, you have to understand what he's thinking behind those words.
Fabok: Yeah. There's a panel in issue #38 where Lex is kind of making a decision in his head about what he's going to do and how he's going to move forward with everything that's happening. And it's just a simple panel of him turning and looking back at another character — I'm not going to say who — but to me, that one panel really sums up everything about his emotional structure.
And when you nail a panel like that, when you get the expression, you get the body language and everything, it's just… I don't know. Those are the panels I love more than drawing the big, two-page splash with all kinds of crazy stuff going on. It's when you get those little, tiny moment right — that's what really makes you feel confident and happy with the final product.
Johns: And it's those little moments like that — Jay and I talk a lot about — I mean, Vaneta, you know how I work. I talk to my artists that I work with all the time. But Jay and I just started off this partnership and this, you know… this team. And already, within the first four issues, we were really excited because we gelled right away.
And we talk a lot about characters and emotions and what's important. And it's the small things.
Jay's amazing at drawing the action and the big spreads and the big images, but — and in particular, I think, in issue #38 — it's the emotional and intense moments that he captures so well.
And this evolution of our partnership is really solidified in "The Amazo Virus" so we're able to tackle "The Darkseid War," hitting the ground running.
But it's a testament to Jay that he's able to deliver this amazing emotional and powerful artwork, on top of the superhero-ness of it all.
Nrama: I'm so glad you brought up Darkseid War.
Johns: We're not going to talk about it!
Nrama: But there's a prologue issue in March, so I assume it kicks off in June? Does the prologue issue set up everything that happens next summer?
Johns: I really don't want to say too much about it. But I will say that issue #40 — and Jay's drawing some stuff in issue #40 too — but issue #40 has… I really don't want to spoil it, but… "Amazo Virus" leads into it, but issue #40 has Jay, Kevin Maguire, Phil Jimenez, Dan Jurgens — it has, like, a bunch of wonderful artists, and there's a reason for it.
And I don't want to spoil it for people. But I'm excited for issue #40 to come out.
Nrama: Wow. And now we have to figure out why there would be a bunch of different artists.
Johns: I'm not going to tell you! I really don't want to spoil the surprise.
Nrama: Fair enough. What we've seen so far in "The Amazo Virus" really plays with current issues. Were you influenced by the fear of contagious diseases that seems so prevalent right now?
Johns: Well, I mean, I wrote the script back in May, and the Ebola whirlwind of media came after that. But it's not like this hasn't been prevalent in the news or in human history.
But I wanted to create something that was going to challenge the Justice League in a way we've never seen them challenged before, and this felt like a brand new, fresh threat to face, and something that could come from — again, if we're exploring Lex Luthor on an emotional level — something that could come from the past of Luthor.
And I really wanted to get Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman in the front of this, because it does attack human beings. And I wanted to start to show the delineation between Superman and Wonder Woman and the team, and explore that.
But that obviously was kind of a weird coincidence for us, when all that Ebola stuff was coming, we were already well into "The Amazo Virus."
And there are some really cool, intriguing, scary facts in the beginning of all these issues that… I think issue #39, Jay, that opening you did is really, really cool.
But I did a lot of research on not only the pathology of disease and viruses in particular, compared to bacteria and other things, but also the history of it. And the way it actually shaped human history, the way it changed human history. The outcome of wars were even different because of disease. Disease is as much a factor in the shape of history, as much as humans themselves, if not moreso in some cases. It's really fascinating.
The Amazo Virus is the same kind of thing.
The weight of it should be felt for a long time.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you two want to tell fans about working on Justice League, and what fans can expect from the title in 2015?
Fabok: First, I'd like to say that working with Geoff on this has been the highlight of my career so far. I've gotten to do some pretty cool things — launch Batman Eternal, got to work with John Layman and Scott Snyder a couple times on different things.
To me, this has been the best, because it's also the hardest I've ever worked. It's very different going from a single character book to a team book.
Sometimes I finish a day of work, and I look at how much I actually drew on a page, and I think, how did I even draw this many characters in this many panels, in this one day? Every day, I get to draw Superman and Wonder Woman, and I'm finding that I love to draw characters like Lex Luthor and Captain Cold. They've been a lot of fun to draw.
This is really the first series I worked on where it's been a real collaboration between the writer and the artist. I now know why a writer like Geoff is as big as he is and is as influential as he is, and it's because he really respects the relationship between the writer and the artist involved in the book.
And when you're challenged like that, I feel like you just can't help but get better as an artist and as a professional. And I'm really looking forward to what I'm going to get to draw coming up. It's almost like Geoff is a mind reader and he knew exactly what I wanted to draw.
I feel really blessed, and I want to give back 150 percent on every single page. And I hope fans are seeing that and they're enjoying the story, because we've got some really great stuff coming up.
Johns: Yeah, and I want to echo what Jay's saying. We mesh so well, and I love talking to him about story. He loves these characters as much as I do. It's been a lot of fun.
Nrama: And what about 2015? Didn't you Tweet something about Mr. Miracle?
Johns: Jay and I love Mr. Miracle. Right?
Fabok: Oh yeah!
Johns: We love him. We love Mr. Miracle. And I've never really had an opportunity to write a character like Mr. Miracle.
There are a lot of new characters coming up in 2015. There's going to be a lot of focus on Aquaman and Wonder Woman and Flash, and Cyborg. I mean, all the characters. We've got a lot of big plans for everybody. And team dynamics, and some new things that I think will, hopefully, surprise people.
But a lot of what we're trying to do for '15 is, we want to do a lot of new stuff. We want to do a lot of things that people can't expect, you know? And even when we're bringing in new characters that already exist, we want to explore them in new ways.
But we're really excited about '15. We've got it all mapped out already. So all I can say is that I hope people enjoy it, and Jay and I are working together as hard as we possibly can to deliver the best book we possibly can. We know there are a lot of books out there, we know they're expensive. We know people have a lot of other things they can do besides read comic books, but what we want to do is create the very best comic we can that has Justice League on the title.