JUSTICE LEAGUE BEYOND Courts New Readers with "Origins"

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Justice League Beyond

As the comic book industry tries to figure out the right way to reach a new digital reading audience, DC Comics is adding "Beyond Origins" stories to its chapter-based digital series, Justice League Beyond.

Beginning with this week's digital issue, co-writers/artists Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen are trying to bring new readers "up-to-speed" with a series of "Beyond Origins" stories in the weekly Justice League Beyond series, which portrays characters from the Batman Beyond universe.

"Beyond Origins" will spotlight members of the futuristic Justice League team, giving new fans the chance to learn more about the characters. The stand-alone stories will be interspersed with the main story arc in Justice League Beyond, titled "Konstriction." The series will also feature an "Origins" story every time a new character is introduced.

It's all part of the effort to reach new readers through the digital-first "Beyond" comics, which include Justice League Beyond, Superman Beyond and Batman Beyond. The three series rotate new 10-page digital chapters each week on the various DC digital channels, and then are released each month in the Batman Beyond Unlimited collection for print.

Fridolfs, who is among the growing list of DC writers who were once more familiar for inking and penciling, has become a real fixture in the DC digital world, writing the ongoing DC digital series Arkham Unhinged. Newsarama talked with Fridolfs to find out more about the digital approach at DC, including the new "Beyond Origins" series, and what else is coming up in Justice League Beyond.

Newsarama: What are the biggest differences between writing/drawing for this digital format vs. doing a comic only for print?

Derek Fridolfs: Two things: format and length. For the format, the art is created specifically for digital devices. So it's a matter of how it's presented on the page when drawn. And also the length is something you get accustomed to. You're basically writing 10 page chapters, with a hook at the end that leads to the next one. And ideally when you're done, there is a nice flow if you read them one right after the other.

For Arkham Unhinged, it's almost like a three-act structure, as most of those stories are three chapters (30 pages) in length. For Justice League Beyond, it's 10-page chapters of a long first story arc. Future arcs will adjust in size, but Dustin and I wanted to tell a huge story to launch the title.

Nrama: How would you describe the overall tone of the comics, and is that influenced at all by targeting the digital audience?

Fridolfs: There's something to be said for trying to pack as much as you can into a 10-page chunk. The digital chapters are low priced and weekly to cater to the audience that wants to follow something on a regular basis that might not want to wait until print. As for the tone, I try to balance as much action and descriptive storytelling as possible.

Nrama: What's the most fun part about getting to work within the Batman Beyond universe?

Fridolfs: I just love the characters and the shows. Live, breathe, and eat this stuff in a very hardcore fan kind of way, going all the way back to Batman: The Animated Series that kicked it all off. The shows had a great way of having their own continuity spread out over different series, but they all tied in together. And Batman Beyond Unlimited is a chance to shed some light on some of those past ties as well as take it into the future from where the series left off.

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Justice League Beyond

Plus I just get a kick that I have the chance to add to the mythos. Back in the late '90s, I was finishing college and trying to break into comics and animation. I fondly remember dropping off my art portfolio at Warner Bros. back when they were located near the Galleria in Sherman Oaks, and doing storyboard tests for their shows (including Batman Beyond). As luck would have it, comics bit first, and now I'm getting the chance to write stories based on those characters.

Nrama: What have been the challenges of introducing this team and developing the world in which they live, and how would you describe how you've tried to meet those challenges in the story so far?

Fridolfs: I've always said that the shows (Batman Beyond and the DCAU) are our starting point. They provide the perfect reference to draw from for how the characters have been portrayed.

At the same time, the future Justice League has barely been seen, only in a few episodes. So it's really given us an open canvas to get to know these characters more than just their names and a visual of them. To develop a back history to each of them and how they relate to each other and to the team. There are a few that even a casual fan should be able to know if they haven't seen them before (Superman, Batman), but there's a majority of them that most people might not know.

And that's our challenge, to get readers up-to-speed. And of course, getting the chance to explore the Beyond world. It's more than just Neo Gotham and Metropolis. And as things move forward, we'll get a chance to do some traveling to other areas in the Beyond universe. 

Nrama: We're being introduced to different Justice League members in the Justice League Origins issues. Are these continuing stories? Will each "origin" have a different villain or challenge for that hero?

Fridolfs: The Beyond Origins are a chance to spotlight each of the members of the Justice League (outside of Batman and Superman). Most of them are specific to the Beyond universe or this team in general, so it's a chance to flesh each one out. To show their past and where they've been and how it relates to them joining the team.

A lot of the stories even tie in with the current "Konstriction" story arc. And it's fun to see what characters crossed each other’s paths, both heroes and villains. The Origins are continuing in the sense that they'll be sprinkled in-between chapters of the ongoing arc, and also anytime we end up introducing a new member. And it's a chance to see different artists draw them.

Nrama: What characters can fans look forward to meeting as the "Origins" continue? And can you give a brief description of each of the characters who are going to be explored in "Origins, and whether they compare to "current day" DCU earth heroes?

Fridolfs: The Origins have a very parental theme to them, showing where our heroes came from and leading up to how they joined the League.
 We're currently telling the 2-part story on Warhawk, which relates to his famous parents (John Stewart and Shayera Hol), his birth, and how he was raised to become the character he is.

We also have Origins coming up for Aquagirl (featuring Aquaman), Barda (with the back-story of her mother, Big Breeda, on Apokolips), Micron (and how his back-story ties in with the Wayne legacy), and Kai-Ro (what his life was like before he became a Green Lantern and whose ring he got).
And you'll see a lot of familiar DC characters in each of those stories.

Nrama: Have any of the characters emerged as a favorite as you've written him/her?

Fridolfs: It all starts with Old Bruce and Terry as Batman. It's their show that the characters of Justice League Beyond spun out of. So I always enjoy finding a way to make each of them important to the story, and they're just too much fun to write.

But really, each of the members of the League has a chance to shine and have been fun to explore. Kai-Ro I always describe as a tourist with a child's enthusiasm. He's getting a chance to see the world for the first time outside of where he was raised, so he's very wide eyed but with a Buddhist outlook. We've got the stubbornness and brashness covered in Barda and Warhawk, but there's a lot of heart underneath their strong and shelled exterior. Aquagirl is the nurturing and caring conscience of the team. We'll see Micron's lighthearted side start to come through. And of course, Superman provides the perspective that comes through age and wisdom.

So yeah, it's hard to pick a favorite…usually whichever one I'm writing at the moment.

Nrama: How has it been working with this creative team, particularly co-writing with Dustin? How do you guys all work together?

Fridolfs: Smooth sailing. I've worked most of my career with Dustin, as we broke in at the same time. We've put in a lot of mileage at DC on Superman/Batman, Detective Comics, Batman, Streets Of Gotham, and Batgirl. We're naturally at home in Gotham (present or future) and it's a joy not just to ink him but collaborate with him on writing the stories. Many a late night where we're exchanging IMs and emails of ideas as we work on art, and we talk about this stuff over many past convention travels.

Randy Mayor's colors help bring the art to the next level, and he adds all sorts of great effects and flourishes. And having Ben Abernathy edit this has been a cakewalk. Very open to hearing ideas and developing them. I had always heard great things about him through Dustin's work at WildStorm while I was freelancing around. So now it's fun getting the chance to work with Ben as the Beyond universe continues to grow and take shape.

Nrama: Do you coordinate stories at all with the other "Beyond" writers/artists, like J.T. Krul on Superman Beyond or Adam Beechen on Batman Beyond?

Fridolfs: At this stage, each of us has been in our respective corners as we develop our characters and stories. But as the Beyond universe grows, I think we'll be seeing more opportunities to crossover or tie-in the various characters and ideas as we go forward. I know our scripts and outlines get shared with everyone, so we know what is happening throughout each other’s projects. 

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Justice League Beyond?

Fridolfs: I want to thank them for their support and their enthusiasm. I think the reason we've been successful is that this is created by fans for fans. We have a deep love for the shows and characters, and that's reflected by the readers that have been wanting to know more and see stories in this universe. We're happy to bring them to you and it's only the beginning. We're looking forward to adding more to the League.

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