Now that Justice League Dark is past the events of Forever Evil (even if the latter comic isn't quite concluded), J.M. DeMatteis is ready to put his mark on the book — focusing on building characters while also bringing back a few DC fan-favorite heroes.
DeMatteis, who took over the book at the launch of Forever Evil, tied into the event mini-series with "Blight," a crossover with Trinity of Sin: Pandora, Constantine and Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger. But now he's getting the chance to concentrate on the characters at the center of the Dark team, starting with a Nightmare Nurse-focused story next month.
Zatanna is also taking over leadership of the team — because everyone's pretty ticked off at John Constantine right now — which is giving DeMatteis the chance to unfold her new mythology.
Then in the fall, the book will jump "Five Years Later" as part of September's line-wide event, then readers will get a Justice League Dark Annual. DeMatteis also teased an addition to the team of a certain DC vampire — presumably of the "I" kind — later this year.
Newsarama talked to DeMatteis to find out more about what he's hoping to bring to Justice League Dark now that the comic is finished with the Forever Evil tie-ins.
Newsarama: How did the experience of Forever Evil and "Blight" change the mission of the Justice League Dark team — and the focus of the title?
J.M. DeMatteis: The Justice League Dark, in many ways, has been a very loose confederation of characters and John Constantine, I think, has had mixed feelings about it. During the "Blight" arc, John needed the others, desperately, in a way he never had before and the team came together around him. Of course, John being John, once his goal — finding Zatanna — was met, he turned his back on them. But that’s Constantine for you: a complex, and surprising, guy.
Nrama: Besides John, what did it mean for the other members of the team? How did the tragedy of Forever Evil influence them?
DeMatteis: I think the biggest influence was on the character we saw the least of: Zatanna. She was, of course, locked up at Project Thaumaton for most of the story — and yet she was always being talked about; in many ways, she was the central focus of the story.
When she stepped back into the story at the end of "Blight," it was — for me as a writer, anyway — a breath of fresh air. She immediately took control, took command, in a way she never had before — and brought a new tone and texture to the book. It’s very different having a trustworthy, honest person leading the team after years of a manipulator like John, whose pockets are filled with secret agendas.
Nrama: After last week's Justice League Dark, Constantine was, for lack of a better term, kicked off the team. Is he really off the team?
DeMatteis: Well, Constantine keeps getting kicked off, but like Al Pacino in Godfather III, he keeps getting pulled back in again.
The truth is, he still needs the Dark. It’s the closest thing to a family he’s got — not that he’d ever admit that, even to himself. But even when he’s back with them, he’s dealing with a changed dynamic: Zatanna is solidly in charge, the others trust him even less than they did before, new alliances are forming. It’s a very uncomfortable situation. (Now that I think about it, he’s kind of like Don Draper returning to Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price on last Sunday’s Mad Men.)
Nrama: Nice reference. But in Justice League Dark #30, Deadman said John uses everyone in the end. Is he right?
DeMatteis: He does and he doesn’t. Yes, he’s a manipulator and he can be a selfish bastard; but, as noted, I think there’s another part of him that wants connection, that wants to do the right thing. He, more than anyone, denies that aspect of himself — and it’s that internal tension that makes John such a fascinating character.
Nrama: Are Frankenstein and Black Orchid out of the title? Or will you be checking back with them? Because it seems like you opened the door for more stories featuring them.
DeMatteis: They’re gone for now, but they’ll be back for the Justice League Dark Annual in the fall.
After that, we’ll be seeing more of them…as well as another former member: a certain vampire I created very early in my career.
Nrama: Ah! I think I know who that is, and I'm sure fans will be happy to hear that. OK, before that happens, we've got a bit of a mystery happening right now. At the end of #30, we saw this surprising cliffhanger about Nightmare Nurse and Alice. Can you describe what that was?
DeMatteis: All we know at the end of #30 is that Asa is suddenly claiming that she’s not Nightmare Nurse but someone named Alice Winter. Is she delirious? Delusional? Lying? A split personality? That’s what we’ll be exploring the next couple of issues.
Nrama: How does Alice Winter’s appearance lead to issue #31 — which is the origin of Nightmare Nurse, right?
DeMatteis: It’s always important to have new characters around in team books — characters whose back stories are blank, whose mythologies can be explored as we move along. I’ve cooked up what I hope is a very complex and fascinating past for Asa and Justice League Dark #31 and #32 will allow us to explore it. But it’s not her entire origin — it’s just part of it. I want to leave lots more mystery for the future.
The Alice Winter story will allow us to peel back the first layer of that mystery. All I can say is that the Nurse isn’t who we think she is. She’s something very different.
Nrama: In future solicitations, we've been told that the Justice League Dark will interact with "the living dimension called The Between," and the "Void of Non-Being." Anything you can tell us about those, and what part they play in the next few months of to comic?
DeMatteis: The Between is a dimension that… Well, if I told you that, I’d have to tell you how Constantine and Nightmare Nurse end up there, and if I did that then I’d give away the story and blow the mystery we were just talking about. So I’ll shut my big mouth.
Nrama: Fair enough. But the cover of #33 features a huge hand — can you describe whose hand that is, or tease what it means?
DeMatteis: All I’ll say is that it’s a hand from Deadman’s past and it leads to a summer-long exploration of Boston Brand — and his mysterious connection to Nanda Parbat.
Deadman is one of my favorite characters in the supernatural corner of the DCU. Despite being a ghost, he’s the most down-to-Earth and human character in the book. Great sense of humor, very open and relatable. He’s the big, beating heart of the team.
Nrama: In September, Justice League Dark is one of the titles that's going five years into the future. How will that issue tie into what’s happening in the book?
DeMatteis: In many ways, it doesn’t. We’re going to jump five years and find ourselves with a status quo that’s very, very different from the current one. The characters have been through a terrible ordeal, they’re all changed. Some old members are still there, some new members are on board. The fun is creating this future storyline and then building bridges to it once we return to current continuity.
Nrama: It's surprising to see that Zatanna is still leader five years later. Does that mean you believe Zatanna is the most dedicated member of the team — and that she's here for the long haul?
DeMatteis: As long as I’m writing the book, she is. As soon as I started writing her, something clicked for me. She’s a rich, complex character with so much room for development. That said, we don’t know that she’ll be running the team for the entire five years leading up to the future story. She could be gone for part of that time. Again, that’s the fun of it. Lots of mystery between now and then.
Nrama: Anything else you can tell us about the September issue?
DeMatteis: Yes. It’s got the Demon in it. I love the Demon!
Nrama: The Demon, the vampire — you've got a lot of fan-favorites coming. To finish up, how would you describe what’s coming in the comic over the next year or so?
DeMatteis: Three words: character, character, character. With the crossover done, we have a chance to really focus on the individual team members, explore their psyches, give them time to breathe and evolve.
At the same time, we’ve got an arc planned for the fall — spinning out of the Justice League Dark Annual (which shines a new light on the House of Mystery) — that will be one of the biggest stories we’ve seen in the book so far.
It’s that balance of deep character work and a big juicy plot that I’m aiming for every month. But my writing philosophy is simple: always err on the side of characters. If the readers don’t have people to relate to in the story, all the wonderful plot in the world is worthless. And we’ve got a great bunch of characters in this book.