Billed as the first event of "Rebirth," Justice League vs. Suicide Squad puts two of DC's most popular properties on a collision course by The Flash writer Joshua Williamson, and will spin into next year's new Justice League of America title. Originally conceived early in the planning stages of "Rebirth," Justice League vs. Suicide Squad was orchestrated under the direction of "Rebirth" architect Geoff Johns, who's now the Chief Creative Officer and a president at DC Entertainment.
Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 is being drawn by artist Jason Fabok, with twice-monthly issues featuring a slate of other artists through the six-issue series.
DC recently revealed that the main villain behind the story is Maxwell Lord, a complicated character who's been both an ally and enemy of the Justice League in the past. He puts together a team of villains that includes Emerald Empress, Johnny Sorrow, Doctor Polaris, Rustam, and Lobo.
With Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 debuting this week, Newsarama talked to Williamson and Fabok to find out more about the story, how it affects the rest of the DCU, and which version of Maxwell Lord inspired Williamson's depiction of the character.
Newsarama: Josh, we've been talking for a long time about your work, and I have a sense of what you might be feeling, being the writer on DC's biggest event so far in "Rebirth." What was your first reaction when you were first told about the team-up between Justice League and Suicide Squad?
Joshua Williamson: I was really curious about it at the beginning. We started talking about it a long time ago. We started having these conversations around it. We didn't know who was going to be doing it. They didn't even know what it was yet. It was just conversations.
I probably annoyingly asked. I probably was like, "What is that? What's going on with that? What is this thing you're doing?" The moment I heard about it, I thought, "I want to know what that is!" I wanted to know what the plan was, because I started thinking about it and starting having ideas about how it would work. I started thinking about the characters of it and the concepts involved.
Since I write The Flash, I was very interested in Flash and Captain Boomerang. I hadn't had a chance to write Captain Boomerang yet, so that's part of why I was asking about it a bunch. I just really wanted to do that.
And then we were having a meeting, and Geoff just asked me, "Do you want to write it?"
It was funny; later on my editor told me, as the conversation was growing, they - in their heads - were like, "Josh should write this." But they weren't sure if that was going to happen. So I guess Geoff, they just decided, and they were like, "Hey, do you want to do this?" And I'm like, "Yes! Of course!" I jumped on it immediately.
And then we started talking about what it was going to be and how it was going to work. And we had a lot of meetings about it.
It was really great getting to sit there and talk with Geoff and my editors about this big story we were building. It was really exciting. Everything about it.
Like you said, you and I have been talking for a long time. So for me, it's kind of surreal to be able to do this. But at the same time, it's really, really exciting.
Nrama: Part of the idea of the Suicide Squad is that nobody really knows about them. There's a plausible deniability. Is it a risk to put them more into the mainstream of the superhero world? Or will this be something that the "Rebirth" era is going to handle over time?
Williamson: They are coming into the spotlight, but they're fighting the Justice League. And super villains fight the Justice League all the time. So it's not like that's going to stand out in the DC Universe.
The Justice League finding out about the Suicide Squad doesn't mean the group will be completely public knowledge. You'll see as the story progresses what happens and how things change, and the crazy stuff that happens throughout the story. I don't think it'll necessarily become public knowledge what this thing is.
I don't want to say too much more. I'm worried that I'm going to accidentally say a spoiler.
Nrama: One of the things that was already spoiled is the main villain behind this: Maxwell Lord. What version of this character are you bringing into the "Rebirth" universe? We've already seen that he has mind-control abilities, and we know he was formerly involved with Checkmate, so it feels very pre-"New 52." Is he a full-fledged supervillain?
Williamson: I think Max Lord sees himself as being a hero. He really sees himself as being someone who is willing to go the distance to do what's right. He really thinks he's going to save the world.
If you go back and look at the way he was in Countdown to Infinite Crisis and O.M.A.C. Project, he had that same opinion of himself, where he was the only person who could be trusted. He was the only person who saw the cracks, and he was the only person who could possibly save the world.
But that meant people were going to have to die. And it meant that people were going to have to be used to get there. He really believed that in the end, it would all be worth it.
He's working on the big picture. He's working on this giant scale, and anyone who gets into his way not only gets in his way, they are in the way of saving the world.
So he thinks putting together a team like this is just what has to be done. He feels like this is how far he's been pushed.
He's very much like the way he was in Countdown to Infinite Crisis. I remember reading that and being surprised. I remember being shocked that it was him. But I really liked that version of him. I thought that was a great twist they did and I wanted to continue with that. I wanted to continue with that version of the character.
Nrama: Looking at the pages in Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1, Jason, you seem to be taking a very cinematic approach. With this many characters and players involved on both sides, did you want to capitalize on that "big story" feel?
Jason Fabok: Yeah, I feel like it's how these events should be drawn - big, epic, wide-screen panels so you can showcase a lot of different characters gathered around or talking to each other.
I've always been drawn more toward a cinematic feel toward comic book layouts anyway. If I could just draw four panels wide-screen every single page for a comic book, I would. I've always loved that approach. Steve McNiven uses that a lot, Ivan Reis does that as well, Frank Quitely loves those wide-screen panels. I've always just been really attracted to that kind of storytelling visually.
Then again, this book - it's big, and you want action almost bursting out of the panels. You want to have those big, two-page spreads just explode across the page, like when you go to an IMAX movie and all of the sudden the screen gets huge because a big fight scene is coming.
Those are the kinds of things I personally love to see in comic books and I really tried to incorporate into this book.
Having Alex Sinclair come in on colors and make everything bright, exploding with color on the page, I think really brought about something really visually great.
Nrama: You were originally advertised as drawing the whole series, but you are just doing the first issue, right?
Fabok: Yes, I drew the first issue. I've seen the art from issue #2. I've seen some of the art from the other artists coming in for the rest of the series. And artistically, the book is just going to look phenomenal. Alex Sinclair is going to color the whole thing, so it's going to have a style that runs through all the different issues with the colors. It's going to be a beautiful looking book. And Josh's story is great.
We're really excited to see what the fan response is going to be, and we're excited for the fans to pick it up and read it. Hopefully, it'll be a really nice holiday present for them.
Nrama: Josh, you talked about Maxwell Lord doing what he thinks is right for the world. But what is the motivation for all these other characters who are joining him on his hand-picked team. You've got a group of villains with very different backgrounds and powers. Is there a common motivation? Or are they kind of in the mood to hurt people?
Williamson: As the series goes, you'll see that they have things in common. They weren't a random assortment. We really put a lot of thought into this group and what they each represented and what they had in common.
We spent a lot of time talking about this group, and talking about which characters we wanted to put in it, which would make sense. And we didn't want to be random. That's something we talked about a lot.
With this group, we were able to find ways to have connections between them that were organic.
As the series goes, you'll see the big thing that connects them and drives them to work together. There is something in the series - it's part of the mystery of the book. It drives them and motivates them and connects them.
Nrama: Was any of the selection process just, "Oh my gosh, I love that character and I want to make them great?"
Williamson: I think they were already great! It was funny because we have a room - we're all professionals, right? Everybody's in this room. But we're all big DC fans. And so we all had characters that we love.
For me, I fell in love with Doctor Polaris when he was a Ray bad guy back in the '90s Ray series. So for me, when he came up, I was like, "Yes! Doctor Polaris! We'll do Doctor Polaris!"
The first two that were the easiest picks for us were Emerald Empress and Johnny Sorrow. We all really gravitated toward that. Those two were going to happen, because everyone in the room loved them.
And then we started building out from there, adding characters that we thought would make sense.
We were all really excited about having the original Lobo. We all got really excited about Rustam, because that was another thing - everybody in the room was Suicide Squad fans. So we were like, hey, that's a character we haven't seen in a long time. Let's elevate him.
Nrama: Jason, is there any character or scene in this issue that emerged as a favorite or a challenge?
Fabok: Yeah! One of my favorite portions to draw of this issue is the opening sequence, which was quiet and almost creepy, with this unknown character making his way into a bunker and taking out everybody and releasing these villains.
To me, that was a challenge because I had to hint at it but not give it 100% away. I had to wait until the end of the book to reveal who the villain is. We had a lot of conversations back and forth about how much I could show.
So I had a lot of fun with that sequence.
The cat's out of the bag who the character is, but I hope some fans might have held off on spoilers. I'd be interested in seeing if anyone guesses who the character is based on that sequence.
That was my favorite scene to draw. It was expertly written by Josh.
And of course, all the fight scenes and two-page spreads are always cool to draw.
I was excited to draw Aquaman in there. We didn't have him featured in Justice League's "Darkseid War," and I know fans were excited to see me draw him. So it was fun to put him in there and to draw him the one or two times he appears, to get him into some good action. He was another.
And the whole Suicide Squad was great to draw.
My only regret in only doing the first issue of this book is that I'm not going to get to draw Lobo. I really enjoyed the one who of Lobo on that two-page spread. Maybe I'll get to draw him on a cover or something in the future.
Nrama: It looks like Lobo is sticking around for a bit, so you'll probably run into him. And I'm sure he was fun to write, wasn't he Josh?
Williamson: Yeah, he really was. It took me awhile to get into his character. I liked Lobo a lot as a kid, and it took me a minute to get back into his head a little bit. I wanted to get Lobo right.
That was one of the great things about this project - we worked so far ahead that as I went through the series, I figured him out even better, and I was able to go back to earlier issues to tweak things, to make it more in line with what he should be.
Absolutely one of my favorite moments in the entire book happens because of Lobo - it was something I wasn't sure if DC was going to let me do. I had an idea, and I remember thinking, "Oh, man, please let me do it." And they let me do it! And I'm really excited to see what people think when we get to that part of the story.
Nrama: As the battle and the team-up happens in the title, is there anything you can tell us about ramifications on the rest of the DCU?
Williamson: I think the biggest thing is that Justice League of America is spinning out of it. If you wonder what would make Batman need to form another Justice League team, and put Lobo and Killer Frost on the team, then this is where you find out.
We're going to be some impact on the Suicide Squad and the Justice League.
And of course, there are things I cannot mention that will come up pretty quickly.
And it's going to change some characters' opinions on things.
But yeah, it will definitely impact certain aspects of the DCU.