Over his seven years as a comic book writer, James Tynion IV has gone from cowriting Batman backups with Scott Snyder, to launching some genuinely terrifying creator-owned horror books, to helming Justice League Dark, and partnering again with Snyder on the core Justice League title. And while he’s collaborated on event comics before, he’s never had one of his own. That ends in the winter, as he joins new DC arrival Steve Epting (Captain America) to bring us Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen. The book matches Apex Lex Luthor, a powered up and hyperpredatory version of the classic Superman villain, against the Batman Who Laughs, a Jokerized version of Bruce Wayne from the Dark Multiverse.
Only the Batman Who Laughs has brought some friends. As seen in the pages of Batman/Superman, the Batman Who Laughs has been infecting heroes with his Joker serum and unleashing them on the good guys. The first was Shazam, but they’ll soon be followed by Supergirl, Hawkman, Blue Beetle, Donna Troy, and Commissioner Gordon. We had a chance to talk with Tynion about Hell Arisen and he told us about what to expect from the showdown between these two predators.
Den of Geek: Got some stuff coming up, it looks like.
James Tynion: It is wild. It’s one of those exciting things when you finally reach the point where you can start talking about stuff that you’ve known existed for like six plus months. Now I can show people what we’ve been thinking about, what we’ve been building to. When I’ve been having little conversations and it’s just like, “You’ll wait and see” when this specific story comes to a head.
So how far back does this originate? It sounds like the foundation for Hell Arisen is the story that you and Scott [Snyder] have been telling since Dark Nights.
This is something where going all the way back to the original Dark Nights: Metal event. It set two different tracks in motion, and one of those tracks that we’ve been following very, very intensely in the Justice League title has been the path of Lex Luthor and his awakening and him becoming this disciple of doom, setting out into the world to create this new Legion of Doom to awaken this ancient cosmic goddess Perpetua and transforming himself into this apex predator. Lex Luthor has had a busy year.
But simultaneously there’s been this undercurrent that’s been running through first in Metal itself, but then in The Batman Who Laughs mini series by Scott Snyder and Jock and more recently in the new Batman/Superman series. That has been the path of what the Batman Who Laughs has been up to. And now we’re going to see those two threads come to a head, because what Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen is more than anything is the clash between Lex Luthor and the Batman Who Laughs.
Lex cut his deal with The Batman Who Laughs early on in Justice League right?
There was a pretty ominous, “You’re going to end up eating this” from Joker to Lex when that happened right?
Yes, exactly. The two stories that I can point to more than any others would be, Justice League #8.That was when Lex Luthor freed The Batman Who Laughs, and The Batman Who Laughs is actually the person who told Luthor the name Perpetua, the name of the cosmic goddess he was trying to awaken for the first time and they had this whole back and forth that really culminated with The Batman Who Laughs saying, “You are going to free me. In order to get what you want from me, and then you just have to accept that I’m going to be out there, under my own machinations and my own plans, and you just have to trust that your plan is better than mine.”
So we’ve seen what The Batman Who Laughs plan is then, and how it’s been developing. We saw in The Batman Who Laughs mini series he’s developed it in this infection that he was going to try and infect all of Gotham. Now in Batman/Superman we are seeing him infect heroes with this infection, so the Batman Who Laughs infection storyline is going to escalate here. But then we’ve also seen Luthor’s plan of literally his whole year of the villain plan and all the offers he made for the different villains in the DC Universe.
It’s very exciting that we’ve had these two parallel threads. I remember the first time we were writing down on a big white board all of the different story threads and we literally drew an arrow between two of the threads together and we just wrote “Ha.” That’s what Hell Arisen comes from is just the word “Ha.”. That was the birth of this story and this is really the story that kicks this whole saga we’ve been telling into the next sphere.
So it looks like Luthor is going up against The Batman Who Laughs who created his own Justice League and the Dark Multiverse is fighting against their own potential destruction?
It’s very difficult to talk about the specifics because it involves both the ending of this arc of Batman/Superman and this arc of Justice League, “The Justice-Doom War.” Literally both of those stories end on the same day that Hell Arisen #1 comes out and both of them tie directly into that issue.
It’s one of those things where we are seeing the infected Justice League ascended, we are seeing Batman Who Laughs has this whole big crazy plan and Lex Luthor needs to stop it. It is basically a battle of the minds of these two exceptionally dangerous, exceptionally smart beings. Batman Who Laughs is the Batman of his world, he is as smart as Batman has ever been without having any morals holding him back and then Lex Luthor is Lex Luthor, he’s the smartest human being that has ever lived and he has just enhanced his powers and his abilities tenfold. So, it is these two incredibly smart beings in a very destructive chess match and the winner gets the world.
Lex has been a Superman stand in at least, fairly recently and in a lot of ways he’s the same kind of dark reflection of Superman that the Batman Who Laughs is of Batman, is that Superman/Batman dichotomy something that you’re playing with in the story also?
Absolutely, they are meant to be two sides of the same coin in the same way that Batman and Superman are, but they are two sides of a very messed up coin.
Do the Tales from the Dark Multiverse stories fit in with this or are those just fun side examinations of the Dark Multiverse too?
Those stand a bit more on their own, but I think it is telling that we are ramping up our explorations of the Dark Multiverse around this time as all of these big stories are coming to a head. What that is telling us I can’t reveal yet, but you’re all going to have to wait and see.
Is it fair to say that this is the biggest thing you’ve taken on in your time at DC?
It is the biggest thing I have taken on aside from things I cannot talk about yet. This is a very big story. It is a story that is still a part of this larger narrative that we have been telling going back to Justice League, this is something that we had sketched out this big story machine, and that story machine is about to come to a head. This is the moment that all of the threads converge and then what this story could lead to I think, is going to be something incredible.
Right now, this is where the two separate threads that we’ve been playing with for the last almost two years, will clash together in the biggest way possible, with beautiful art by Steve Epting.
How did you guys land Epting, and is there anything specific that you’re doing in the book to tailor it to his strengths?
I am definitely tailoring it to his strengths. In terms of landing him it was something where they had been talking to Steve about a couple of projects and this one came up and it was one of those things where once we had him nailed down on this title, it definitely started affecting how I saw this played out.
What I think Steve Epting does best is he can build this tension. That’s why he does spy thrillers really really well and this is a different sort of thriller. This is a very dangerous horror thriller. We are seeing a horrifying infection starting to spread in the DC Universe, we are seeing all of these different monstrous figures going to war with each other and that war is still happening in the shadows. Everyone else on earth are still not fully aware what they’re up to against each other and it is that kind of, coming at it from a secretive angle. I have a few scenes in mind bit later in the arc that I am very excited for Steve to draw.
What about Hell Arisen is the most exciting to you? And what is the most intimidating?
Honestly the answer to both is a single thing, which is the fact that these are the two smartest characters in DC Universe Earth, when the two of them are standing there they are two of the smartest characters that exist. To have them try and outfox each other is a very very difficult thing as a writer. It’s the same reason that I know people talk about having trouble writing Riddler stories, because you have to out-think Batman and then you have to have Batman out think someone who just out thunk Batman.
We are seeing this battle between these two evil geniuses who do not care about the damage that they leave in the world behind them, but it means that we get to go a little bit mad scientist with it and they are both going to make some horrific moves as they move forward. This is the culmination of these stories, so I am really excited.
You’ve got a really strong pedigree in horror comics, especially in your creator-owned works. How has your creator-owned horror stuff influence the work you’re doing on Hell Arisen?
Honestly it has kind of helped set my priorities back in horror. I’ve been writing Justice League Dark for the last year which definitely plays with horror and I hope is genuinely scary in some places. It also is a different type of horror, Justice League Dark is more homage to the type of horror comic that DC was doing in the ’70s and ’80s and me playing with some of those tropes, and trying to push some of them to be more modern and scary, but it’s still of that type of thing. My main priority is to tell a genuinely horrifying story in the present and so I am trying to take those priorities in.
Hell Arisen arrives in December.