DC debuts a daily digital series this week with Justice League: Gods and Monsters, featuring alternate versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman created by legendary animator Bruce Timm.
The comic, which is the first DC digital series to debut a new chapter every day from July 1 to July 18, will feature installments that focus on different characters and origin stories. J.M. DeMatteis writes this digital series, with artist Thony Silas did the origin of the Justice League; Rick Leonardi provided art for the Wonder Woman chapters; Matthew Dow Smith drew the Batman story; and Moritat is featured on Superman chapters.
The series serves as a prequel and origin story for the Justice League: Gods and Monsters direct-to-DVD movie releasing July 28. The film has already generated a lot of buzz online with three short, teaser webisodes — so well received that Timm is creating a second season of webisodes based in the Gods and Monsters world for release in 2016.
Newsarama talked to DeMatteis about the new prequel comic book series, why it's so compelling for fans of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, and why the art on each chapter is so unique.
Newsarama: Marc, let's just start with a general description of the Gods and Monsters world. We know these are very twisted versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. How would you describe the differences?
J.M. DeMatteis: Superman is not the son of Jor-El. He's the son of Zod.
And his rocket was not found by the Kents. It was found by Mexican immigrant workers in the United States.
So he has very, very different blood running through his body, and he had a very different childhood growing up as the son of migrant workers. And that brings a whole different angle and aspect to Superman that makes him really, really interesting.
Batman is not Bruce Wayne. It's Kirk Langstrom.
In order to survive, he came up with a cure for his own cancer. That worked, but unfortunately what it did was turn him into a vampire.
So he traded one disease for one that's far more terrible and he's trying to work out his own fate and destiny, and figure out how to live with this and not be a total monster.
Wonder Woman is not from Paradise Island. She actually is Bekka from New Genesis.
And there is a traumatic event that happens in the movie that I don't want to give away that ultimately leads her to Earth.
So she has a whole other journey going on. She's running from something, she's running to something, and is about as fascinating a version of Wonder Woman that I've ever come across.
Nrama: We've already seen some webisodes that tie into the Justice League: Gods and Monsters DVD. And there's going to be a second season of webisodes in 2016. How does your comic book story fit into this? How does the prequel add to what's in the movie?
DeMatteis: There's so much that we don't know, even after seeing the movie, about these characters. When we meet them in the movie, they're already the Justice League; they're already established. And we get little bits of that story — a little bit of backstory about Superman, a little bit about where Wonder Woman came from, a little bit about what happened to turn Batman into this version of Batman.
But there are tons of unanswered questions. And that's what this series is. We get a three-issue origin of the Justice League, where we see what brought them together — the threat that brought them together, why they decided to stay together. And then each of them gets a solo issue.
I really had a chance to dig into their backstory, dig into their psychology and dig into their emotional journeys, and really see who these people are and what their struggles have been. We'll see what has brought them to the moments we see in the film.
Nrama: Was this something DC approached you about doing in particular?
DeMatteis: Yeah, I think part of it is because I've done a lot of work within the animated DC universe over the past 10 or 12 years. So they had this new animated movie, where Bruce Timm has created this whole universe, and it's coming out on DVD in July. And they wanted to do a prequel series. And I think it was to their benefit to have someone who was both conversant in the animated DCU and the comic book world. So they came to me.
Nrama: So you got to watch the movie? This was based around the concepts in the film that Bruce did?
DeMatteis: They sent me an early version of the movie, which I got to watch, to get a sense of the characters. And then I got on the phone with my editor and with Bruce Timm and with Mike Carlin, who is the lord overseer who kind of bridges the gap between the comics and the animated world. And we all just started batting around ideas about, what can we do? How can we create a nice prequel series that will expand this universe, explore these characters, give us more backstory and enrich the mythology?
Nrama: And this comic series is coming out daily on digital?
DeMatteis: That's what they tell me! I was writing all four stories simultaneously, and really working hard and jumping back and forth between all four stories. And I knew that there was some element of simultaneity to it. I did not realize it was coming out daily. Now, I understand why I was working as hard as I was.
Nrama: I'm trying to remember. How much have you written for digital before?
DeMatteis: I've only written one Superman story. A short Superman story. So this is really my first big plunge into digital.
And it was interesting, because it's the same… but it's not. The pages are structured very different, so then the story becomes structured very differently. And then you're thinking, because it's coming out in these 10-page chapters, that's structured very differently.
So it was an education along with everything else. It was a really interesting way to structure the story, because you're telling the story in a very different way. What's going to be one single page on a [printed] comic book page is going to be two different pages digitally. And what may be one 30-page story in the printed version is three 10-page chapters. So you have to keep all that in mind.
Nrama: You're dealing with a universe that's very different and new, but it features characters that are alternate versions of familiar heroes. What do you think is so compelling about those types of stories?
DeMatteis: I think part of it is — and this is what Keith Giffen and I have been doing with Justice League 3000 and Justice League 3001, where we have Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Flash that are those characters, and yet they're not.
And I think that's key. They are those characters. There's some inherent core to these charters that, no matter what you do to them, there's some iconic core that remains the same.
And yet we're so familiar with them in those given forms that as soon as we change that a little bit, we open up a whole other vista there. And you can explore them in a whole new way.
So for me, I'm getting to write Superman! Great! And yet it's not Superman. So I get to play with him in a whole new way and get him to do things that Superman would never do, and explore a psychology that's very different from the Superman that we know.
I was on a panel a year or two ago where we were talking about this — these iconic characters. How do you find something new to say and do? And for me, on one level, it's like a cage, so you can't move that far to the left or the right. So what I do, as a writer, is I get a shovel and I dig down. I like to dig into the psychology. I like to dig into the emotions. I like to find corners of the psyche that haven't been explored before.
And here, just as Keith and I are doing with Justice League 3001, here Bruce has created a whole new universe so that we're not as hemmed in by what's come before. And the characters, their histories are different enough that there's a whole new level of psychology and emotion there to explore. And all different facets of personality that we've never seen before.
The minute you've got a Superman has Zod in his blood and not Jor-El's, well… yes, he's Superman, but on another level, he's so not that Superman that we know. And that's what makes it fun.
Nrama: I had assumed the art on this would be influenced by the animated universe, but it looks like you're getting a very different look in these chapters. Who are the artists you're working with on this?
DeMatteis: The Justice League origin story is an artist named Thony Silas. We've got, on Wonder Woman, the great combination of Rick Leonardi inked by Dan Green. It's just, you know, gorgeous, elegant stuff.
Matthew Dow Smith on Batman is so good at doing dark and shadows and the night. You know, he's like perfect for it. And then an artist, I didn't know him before I saw his work, but apparently he's been around for awhile, named Moritat on Superman. And I just fell in love with his work, practically from the first panel. His stuff is really sleek and dynamic and emotional. And it has a kind of simplicity that is so hard to achieve in art. When I say simple, I mean it in the best and highest sense. You know, his art is very dynamic, very emotional.
And all these guys, it's been great. They deliver so well on the story. Time and again I've run into sequences, because I wrote this plot first, and I wrote very detailed, long plots. And so, you know, you're writing the plot, and I'm doing all these parentheticals about the emotion and the psychology and the themes and all this. And you get to a certain sequence where you think you're going to have to just belabor things in a caption and explain and explain and explain.
But several times, with each of these guys, I'd get to the sequence and I look at the art, and I see that everything that I wanted to communicate emotionally is there on the page. And I can just shut up and say it in a couple words, or maybe even no words at all.
So it's been a pleasure. All these guys are really total pros and they really did their job really well. They're such a delight, because each of them has a very unique and distinctive artistic style. You can't mix any of these guys up. It's not like there's some house style and they all look the same.
They're not all aping the look of the movie. They're all doing what they do.
So to jump, as I've been doing, sometime day-to-day, from Superman one day, to Batman the next day, to Wonder Woman the next, and back to the origin, I've been able to click into the mode of each story because the art is so distinctive and so unique for each story. Each artist has such a unique voice.
Nrama: Then as a last question, is there anything else you wanted to tell potential readers?
DeMatteis: Just that, to me, the most fun of it all — and I think why these characters will go on and this universe will go on — is because it's a virgin universe.
It's brand new. However much we see in the movie, and these little animated shorts, and this comic series — I think between all of us, we've just scratched the surface of this universe and where these characters can go. And who knows what other versions of what other characters are out there waiting to be discovered? I personally hope we do continue to explore it, because I would love to write more stories with these guys, because I have had a great time.