Justice League, Crisis, and the Future of the DC Universe

Justice League is dealing with the Year of the Villain, building to a new Crisis, and setting up the future of the DC Universe.

Justice League #31 Cover Features Justice Society of America

If you’re not currently reading Justice League by James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder, and an assortment of DC’s best artists, you’re missing out on some of the wildest, most cosmic storytelling in mainstream superhero comics right now. Over the last year or so, Justice League has played with the very laws of reality which govern the DC Universe, unleashing big idea after big idea, all while hinting at even bigger things to come, including (perhaps especially) the latest in a long line of Crisis on Infinite Earths sequels.

For much of the book’s run, Tynion’s focus has been on the Legion of Doom, Lex Luthor’s villainous counterparts to the Justice League. Every few issues, Justice League takes a break from the story of its heroes to deal not just with the villains, but the very nature of evil in the DC Universe. In other words, there are no small ideas in this book, and to hear James Tynion IV tell it, even bigger things are on the horizon. Here’s what he told us…

Den of Geek: What’s it like writing the spine of the DC Universe right now with Justice League?

James Tynion IV: It’s pretty scary. Scott Snyder and I have been planning this big story and now it’s really coming to fruition and everyone is seeing exactly what we sort of kicked into. The boulder we started rolling down the hill at the end of Dark Nights: Metal and everything we’ve been doing across the line is all coming to a head with Year of the Villain and all the lead up to “Justice Doom War” in Justice League and it’s really exciting.

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But the elephant in the room here is all of the elements of various DC Crisises that have been seeded in this book over the last year and change. So how do you deal with something that big and still manage to tell all of these other stories that you have to tell?

It’s honestly very intimidating because what we wanted to do more than than anything is something respectful to the entire history of Crises within the DC Universe. There are nods towards the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. There’s nods towards Infinite Crisis and also Final Crisis. There may be nods to even more things that had “Crisis” in the label as we move forward. It’s all about showing the connections in and around the DC Universe…we want this to feel so epic in scale and so interconnected to all of those pieces but feeling naturally a part of them.

As we were building this big new villain, Perpetua, who I think is going to be one of the scariest villains in the history of the DC Universe, as she rises, we see her connections to the Monitors, both the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor, and with the new character that was hinted at back in Metal, the World Forger, and then Scott [Snyder] and [Jorge] Jiménez really introduced in the Sixth Dimension arc that just wrapped up in Justice League.

read more: What’s Next for The Flash?

We’re playing with all the craziest pieces, but I hope it feels like it’s all part of one tapestry. I think sometimes people get afraid that some of the crazier elements and the more cosmic elements of the DC Universe, that they somehow are out of sync with some of the more grounded elements. But we wanted a story that touched on both and was driven by real deep human emotion and that’s how we got where we are right now.

The thing that always strikes me whenever somebody brings up the word “crisis” is the perception with fans is that these are always intended to fix things that are broken in the DC Universe or within DC continuity. That doesn’t really seem to be the case this time. So is there a mandate that you guys have set out for yourselves as far as the way you’re building this story?

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It definitely isn’t about fixing things. It feels more to us about celebrating things. And it’s celebrating things by using all of these Crisis elements to build to a Crisis-level situation that our heroes need to try to overcome.

read more: The Batman Who Laughs and the Culmination of 10 Years of DC Stories

I’m trying to figure out how to answer this question without spoiling some of the huge things that I can’t even begin to hint about because all of these stories are all part of one big map and one big plan. The biggest thing I want to hammer in right now is that everything you’re seeing our little corner of the DC Universe do in all three Justice League titles, in The Batman Who Laughs mini-series that is just wrapping up and then the Batman/Superman series that’s about to launch with Josh Williamson and David Marquez, we have this big machine moving and it is going to drive a lot of story and all of these pieces are connected and they all matter and they are going to culminate in one of the biggest stories you guys have seen. There’s a reason we’re playing with all of these elements that I can’t hint at and I may have already said too much.

You seem to be able to play with whatever you want in the DC Universe. So how do you and Scott decide which of these elements you’re going to pull from as you start to craft everything? Because it seems like nothing’s off limits, no idea is too big or too weird or too cosmic. Is there anything that you’ve had to leave on the table? I can’t imagine how any villain would be bigger or crazier than Perpetua, but has there ever been a time when you felt that you might have to scale things back a little bit in order to move the story forward?

I think there are moments where we’re just like, okay, how can we make sure that we’re making sure all of the character beats are hitting, making sure it doesn’t get too dialed up, too crazy, too fast. But honestly, part of the joy of this is the open toy box. It is the fact that for so long both Scott Snyder and I were operating in Gotham City. Between all of the Batman books and Batman: Eternal and Detective Comics that we were working on for years, we had one of the biggest, best toy boxes in comics. And then after Metal and the launch of Justice League, we were given the DC Universe. And we have dumped the DC Universe out on the table and taken on all of our favorite pieces and kind of showed the DC Universe as we see it and try to capture the pure energy and joy that we see at the heart of it.

read more: The Secrets of DC’s New Batman/Superman Team

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When the Justice League is so powerful and so capable of doing so many things, you have to up the scale of the threat. That was the birth of Year of the Villain. That was us talking about Lex Luthor’s plan and the expansion of the Legion of Doom and his sacrifice at the start of Year of the Villain and what that builds to. And honestly, that’s how we got to where we’re going. It all built very naturally. And as we’re building, we sort of see connections between [how] we can bring in these sorts of characters because we’re playing with all of the fundamental forces of the DC Universe. 

As you see in some of the covers coming up for “Justice Doom War,” one of the big things we’re tapping into in that arc is Hypertime. And that’s how you see Kamandi on one cover and the Justice Society of America on another cover. And that might be a hint of where we’re going with this big final battle. So yeah, we’ve got a lot of big stuff coming.

I just recently went back and re-read almost from the very beginning of this run, and the seeds of what recently happened with Lex Luthor was there almost from the first page. How far ahead did you guys plan when you first sat down to start breaking this book? 

Oh, the map started when we were planning Metal and all of the tie-ins. The tie-ins for Metal were almost where some of the bigger seeds were planted. It was the Justice League tie-in to Metal that started to set up the plot for Cyborg that led into Justice League: Odyssey. And it was No Justice that created the plot that set up Justice League: Dark. We had all of these pieces, everything that we’re sort of building out of it.

I can’t say that we knew what issue specific things were happening. In some moments we decided to dial up, in some moments we decided to dial back. I remember I was still living in Los Angeles at the time and Scott came out for a big meeting and we were going over the whiteboard in my house and we laid out sort of the core arcs of the story and it was all about these hidden forces. That’s when we started talking about the Still Force, the Ultraviolet Spectrum, the Graveyard of Gods, the Tear of Extinction, and then down to the fact that we knew that we were going to bring in Mister Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite in the “Sixth Dimension” storyline and that we were going to bring the World Forger in and the Monitors in and that all of these things were going to be connected and build towards this big final moment.

It was in conversation with DC that we decided, okay, we can level all of this up by really making Year the Villain hit across the line, not just in Justice League. Honestly, I think that’s really helped fuel what we’re building and it’s really exciting.

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Now that Year of the Villain is in full swing, it feels like that also kind of sprung from those Legion of Doom focused stories that were always your babies. But now that we’re into this, now that Lex is what he is right now, it feels like you’ve taken the driver’s seat a little bit more now. Do you feel that Year of the Villain was seeded specifically by those issues of yours early on?

It’s all been part of one big plan and that was sort of the idea from the beginning. Scott’s core focus was the Justice League and my core focus was the Legion of Doom and particularly building Lex up for this big moment where he is now.

Now as we build into “Justice Doom War,” that was co-written by Scott and myself and our hands are in every single issue. We’ve been really working closely together on the whole thing. It’s sort of like if the Justice League has been building on one track and the Legion of Doom has been building on another track, this is the big, epic arc where we collide. But Scott and I worked so closely together that it’s gonna read like a perfect continuation of everything we’ve done. I’m very excited. We’ve already written over half of the whole arc and it’s the biggest, craziest arc of Justice League yet, but also I think the most emotionally touching and harrowing of all of the arcs that we’ve built so far.

You brought back a fairly obscure version of Starman, which is a character that is synonymous with legacy in the DC Universe, and you’ve really made his very origin story tied to the foundations of the story that you’re telling in the DC Universe as a whole. Have you given any more thought to how any of the other Starmen throughout DC history might figure into the future of this as well?

Absolutely, yes. And like I said, “Justice Doom War” deals with Hypertime and there is already a second Starman on one of the covers, I think. So yes, there will be more than one Starman and all of it matters.

Let’s talk about the ending of Justice League #28. Of all the crazy stuff that Lex has done, he kind of powers up at the end of the issue and does something particularly heartbreaking given the context of the character and the history he has with Martian Manhunter. Can you explain what happens on those last couple pages?

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So something that we’ve been hinting at going all the way back to the first arc of Justice League is the idea that the people on earth who had been studying the totality and the whole mystery of Perpetua in the universe were aware that there was this species that existed in the previous version of the universe, in Perpetua’s dark version. I shouldn’t say “dark multiverse” because that’s a different thing, but Perpetua’s multiverse, the original intent. And there was this kind of perfect apex predator being that was built out of the DNA of both Martian-kind and humanity. And there were scientists sort of running through human history working under Vandal Savage and Lionel Luthor and now ultimately Lex Luthor trying to discern how they could build this Apex Predator today. To build this kind of a mortal vessel for all of the powers of Perpetua.

What we see at the end of #28 is Lex Luthor becomes the Apex Predator. He becomes this perfect killing machine and he essentially kills the Martian Manhunter and brings his essence into himself and transforms finally into this ascended being and now he is ready for the final battle. We’ve been calling him Apex Lex in all of our documents, and I think it even made it into some of the solicits because it just sounds good. But Apex Lex is born and now the Justice League is in real trouble. And so is the whole universe.

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Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.