WILLLINGHAM on JSA Exit: The 'Dark Things' Made Him Do It


As we found when we talked to Bill Willingham yesterday, the writer is bringing superheroes to Fables -- or at least Pinocchio wants them to be superheroes.

But the writer recently left the superhero world of the DC Universe behind, as he departed from his job as the writer of Justice Society of America last year.

In the second installment of our talk with the writer, we follow up on some of the other things he's doing, but also find out more about why he decided to leave JSA.

Newsarama: Bill, we've talked about what's coming up in Fables, but you also have Peter & Max coming out as a e-book, which is Vertigo's first prose e-book. We've seen Peter and Bo show up in the background of a few scenes in the Fables comic, but will any of the Peter & Max characters be showing up in larger roles soon?


Bill Willingham: Without spoiling anything for readers that haven’t read it yet, any character who is still alive at the end of the Peter & Max novel potentially can indeed be future characters in the main Fables series, and Peter and Bo have already shown up here and there, just as background characters so far. Just to kind of keep readers reminded that they exist before they get their chance to step into the spotlight yet again.

Nrama: You’re also co-writing A Flight of Angels. Is that a collection of stories by different writers?

Willingham: It is. I’m one of the writers in that collection, and it’s about angels.

Nrama: Can you tell us anything about the angel-themed story you’re writing for it?

Willingham: Without giving away the story itself, my story involves the bureaucracy of what the heaven and host of angels must be like. I mean there are a lot of them, they’ve got all these various duties, and it must take a huge infrastructure to keep something like that running smoothly.

Nrama: Is this something Vertigo kind of approached you about, or did you know any of the other writers? How did it come about?

Willingham: Karen [Berger], who is the editor of the book approached me and suggested to the illustrator/creator of this project that I might be a good choice. They agreed, and they asked me. I said yes. It’s kind of a boring origin story for the story, but that’s basically it.

Nrama: Your graphic novel, Werewolves of the Heartland, was expected late last year, with art by Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton. What's the status of it now?

Willingham: The status of Werewolves of the Heartland is it’s still in production. I think it’s scheduled for October or November release. Basically, as with most of our big special projects, just in time for Christmas. It has come along fine, and the pages are just gorgeous. I get to see them come in from time to time. It should be, one hopes, an interesting story. Very Bigby-centric.

I've been wanting to do a story where Bigby Wolf is off on his own with no one else to rely on, so he gets to strut his stuff, and be the absolute center of attention. And in this, he does. And it ties in with some past Fables lore.

Nrama: It’s something that takes place in the past?

Willingham: No, it begins right now. Werewolves of the Heartland takes place while Bigby is off on this secret "find-us-a-new-Fabletown" mission, which is actually taking place in the comic right now.

But there are flashbacks. I mean to explain how certain characters and situations got to be where they are. There are some flashbacks, but yeah for the most part it takes place right now.

Nrama: We talked last time about the super team that's showing up in Fables, yet you just left a super team last year when you surprisingly stopped writing Justice Society of America. I was under the impression you were planning a long run on that title. Why did you leave?


Willingham: I loved doing it. But as people might begin to guess, it takes me a while to get a series into shape, so all the pieces are in place for me to do what I really wanted to do. And what I need to learn is that with things like Fables, I can do a lot of long-range planning and know that I will have to the time to do it because there’s not going to be seven other writers writing seven other Fables books that are going to come up with other storylines that conflict with what my plans are. And there’s not going to be this DC hierarchy that comes along and says, no, no, no, no, we’re doing this with this group, so you can’t do what you were planning to do.

So I need to learn that when I do things in the DCU that one should not plan too far in advance because you’re going to get your heart broken because plans change on the fly, a lot.

But I told you all that to tell you this: With JSA, by the end of the first 12 issues, which turns out to be the number of ones I had done, I finally got all the characters into the right position to really start doing what my long-range plans were. But one of those plans was that this was not going to be a grim and gritty group of anti-heroes. I’m tired of the "fill-in-the-blank turns evil and everyone’s got to fight the evil version of this character." It even fit within some of the issues I did., that "we’re not that type of person anymore."


And then comes along this crossover in which the whole plot revolves around just about every member of the JSA turning evil for a couple of issues.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that because, you know, one time something takes control of you and you accidentally turn evil but it’s not your fault? That can be understood. Maybe the second time something takes possession of you and you turn evil, maybe that can be forgiven as well. But by about the third or fourth time that something takes over this person and he becomes evil, you have to ask yourself, like, well, maybe there’s just something wrong with this fellow from the beginning. Maybe he is just evil. Maybe that’s what evil is, is people that are just accessible to being taken over by whatever cosmic hobo happens to be passing through today.

And I’m just tired to death of those storylines, and I never wanted to do another one of them. Dark Phoenix, dark this, Dark Green Lantern who destroys an entire town on a tantrum one day, and now he’s a good guy again, and Dark Obsidian, which I guess is a redundancy. It's just too many dark, dark versions and evil versions of these characters.


So I talked it over with the "Great Carlini," [editor] Mike Carlin, and he said, "you know, I can understand that. Twelve issues is a good run, so if this is the time to wrap it up, wrap it up." And so I did. We mutually decided that it was an appropriate moment to leave and that’s the way it felt.

Nrama: The to finish up, Bill, are you ready yet to tell us what this "big project" is that you had mentioned last time we talked?

Willingham: No, not quite yet. But I think it's going to be pretty self-explanatory why I'm looking forward to it, once you do hear about it.

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