DC Dark Nights Metal to the Nth Degree with Joshua Williamson and Jeff Lemire

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Sep 29, 2017

The entire story of Dark Nights: Metal is much bigger than what Scott Snyder could fit into the main six issues, rolled out in a reasonable handful of one-shots, crossovers, and tie-ins, which expand out the story of Metal to every major (and minor) corner of the DC Universe. All of it is optional reading from the main story, but there is a lot of value and layers added to the bigger picture of Metal.

We already spoke with Snyder about being the showrunner of the entire event, but now we have our second exclusive Metal mania interview. As you can read below, we speak at length with Joshua Williamson, who oversees the two crossover stories, “Gotham Resistance” and “Bats Out of Hell,” and wrote the Dark Nights one-shot Red Death. We also speak with Jeff Lemire, who makes his return to DC Comics after multiple contributions during the New 52 era. He's penning the return of Hawkman, who is a major character in the Metal saga in the one-shot Hawkman: Found.

Joshua, you’re overseeing the two big crossovers on Dark Nights Metal. Could you provide some backstory on how this gigantic event came together?

Joshua Williamson: Scott and I have been talking with other writers about doing Dark Nights Metal for I feel like a long time. Man, I remember having a meeting, right before Flash #1 came out, we were already talking about Metal, what it was going to be and all of his ideas on it.

We started talking to other writers, artists, and even the editors so that everyone was on the same page about it, brainstorming with Scott. He really wanted this to be a tour of the DC Universe. I know a lot about the DCU, James [Tynion IV] knows a lot, and of course, Scott. Other writers knew the history of the DCU, too, so we all just started talking to each other about "What are you excited about the DC Universe? What do you feel is missing? What are some fun things we can include in this?" It was a lot of phone calls, text messages, and chats over the last year and a half with this.

It reminds me a lot in the 1980s, when Crisis the Infinite Earths books started coming out, everyone wanted to get involved. One of the things we wanted to do is that we didn’t want to go crazy with the amount of tie-ins or number of issues. We wanted to make sure it was able to touch on other books, but not interrupt them, and not get in the way. That required a lot of coordination by everyone. At one point we knew who the Dark Nights were, then we asked, "How do they impact the characters? What are the books?" In the spring of 2017, Scott and all of us got together again and he wrote out all of the event for us, and by that time, I knew it like the back of my hand at that point, but if were were going to do two crossovers, how were we going to do it?

The two stories that came out of that session were “Gotham Resistance” and “Bats Out of Hell.” I was really excited about “Bats Out of Hell” first, because it had Justice League and Flash. We started talking about “Gotham Resistance,” because it sounded fun and this twisted maze story, and I love mazes. Scott wanted it to tie all together, he wanted to touch on everything, but his priorities were to make the main series good. We’ve been talking about the one-shots as well. Because I knew the story, and worked with Scott early on, and knew how we would tie it all together, it made sense for me to work with all of these people, while James [Tynion IV] oversaw all of the one-shots.

Art from Batman: The Drowned one-shot

Because of how much this was going to affect the DCU, did Metal precede Rebirth at all? Before mapping out that first year or two of Rebirth, you had to know that Metal was going to affect everything else, no?

JW: Rebirth definitely started out first. It was tight, everyone was laying out what they’re going to be doing for years, Rebirth was definitely gestating prior, while Metal was this … baby. [Laughs] I started talking about Metal in November of 2015, and it was just a baby. I knew about it, we started hearing about it, but it was just a little baby story. We were having meetings the same time as Rebirth was starting.

I will say this: While I was outlining Flash, I would be working out where Metal comes in, and where it comes out, and that’s always been on my calendar. [Laughs] For the last year and a half, it’s been a part of the plan, then it became talking to other creators to find little tidbits that we thought would be fun for us, that will come through the pages, and would ultimately be fun for the reader.

So how does your role(s) break down creatively?

JW: I wrote the first one-shot, Red Death, and I’m writing the first and last parts of “Bats Out of Hell,” and Robert Vendiitti is writing the middle parts. Rob came up with terrific ideas and gave “Bats Out of Hell” a lot of heart. The same thing with “Gotham Resistance” with Ben Percy, who was writing the first and last parts of that crossover, (with Rob Williams and Tim Seeley writing the middle parts), because it was about the relationship between Green Arrow and Damien. It’s an unexpected friendship, but there’s also a rift between them. When collaborating with Venditti, it was a lot discussion in person and email. With Ben, it was a lot of texting.

I pretty much look at everything, I look at art, the scripts, I email the creators, email editorial and coordinate with Scott to make sure it runs smooth and stays in tone with the main event and feels like a big bonkers DC Event that everyone can have fun with, which is very heavy metal. I have a newfound appreciation for editorial departments. Normally, you occasionally read a friend’s script, you occasionally look at art for people, but I’ve been talking to everybody, and editorial does this every day, this is their lives. I’m just trying to help out on a couple books, coordinate, and make sure people are having fun, but I don’t have to be the bad guy. [Laughs] Right now we’re in the stages of talking about what comes next, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about that yet.

From a narrative perspective, what was it you and the different creative teams were trying to accomplish with “Gotham Resistance,” with “Bats Out of Hell,” and the Dark Nights One Shots?

JW: With the Dark Nights, and really for all of Metal, we had living documents online that we would just add to. We wanted to use them, we wanted them to be tragic looks into Bruce Wayne and his worst nightmares, and give you an opportunity to understand just how messed up the Dark Multiverse was. At the same time, we wanted to use them as ways to introduce parts of the Dark Multiverse. With each issue, you get a little more information about it, a little more understanding of what the Dark Multiverse is. You wanted to understand who this Bruce was, and what happened to him or other characters; you wanted to get a glimpse into how they were doing presently, and affecting the book, and we wanted to give you glimpses of multiverse.

I imagine Batman working in the Justice League makes mental notes about each member. How they use their powers correctly and incorrectly, and quietly judging them on their effectiveness -- being that he’s powerless himself. But the Dark Nights shows in a way, what would happen if Batman had these powers. That’s one of the things I get from reading the one-shots.

JW: We definitely talked about that side of Bruce that is always thinking and always calculating. I believe Bruce Wayne will enter any room and know how to escape that room and defeat anyone in that room within moments. He’s very observant with that, he’s a creative person, but he holds back. He would never do those types of things, and it’s touched on with the Mark Waid's Justice League of America story, “Tower of Babel.” With Metal, and the one-shots, we wanted to go deeper with that, and think about what his darkest nightmares are, what are those dark thoughts that he pushes back in his mind? He doesn’t put it in his computer, he doesn’t write it down, and has that moment of darkness and shoves it down.

That’s the thing of the Dark Multiverse, that whole entire world is made up of those thoughts. it’s made up of people who have those thoughts they push away and bury. It’s partly why those worlds are falling and breaking apart, because of that. He just had a moment. It’s not even like he took enough time to sit down and dwell on that dark thought. The moment he had thoughts in that world, is the moment those worlds started to break, and fall deeper into darkness. Each one is going to have different thing going on with it, but you do feel like a lot of it will come from that motivation.

And then with the crossovers?

JW: “Gotham Resistance” was about showing what happened to Gotham and Bruce’s family. It fits in between Metal #2 and #3. Typically there are two sides to Bruce -- Batman and Bruce Wayne -- and you could argue which one is the real side. But there are two other sides, and that’s Bruce in the Batman family side and then the Justice League family side. In the “Gotham Resistance” side, we wanted to look at what’s going on with Damien, Nightwing, and Green Arrow, and what had happened to his home, as well as what happened to Batman’s villains. A big part of "Gotham Resistance" is it’s a Damien story, and we wanted to show the impact of all of this on his son. But we also wanted to have fun with a villain and a big maze.

With “Bats Out of Hell,” we wanted to show the side of Bruce that’s a member of the Justice League, and how this is impacting that relationship. In Metal #2, he doesn’t want their help, but we also wanted to show a giant brawl between the Justice League and Dark Nights. How do we make this epic? Scott wanted to call it "Steel Batcave Match." He wanted it to feel raw, and like the reader is in a fight. I won’t reveal when these things take place in reference to present-day continuity, because it’s a slightly different timeline than the rest of the DCU, but you’ll find out once “Bats Out of Hell” starts with Flash #33 when it comes out in a month and takes place right after Metal #3.

As you’re going back into the history of the DCU, you’re not just serving fan moments reheated in the microwave. You're approaching these moments with new angles, and there's lots happening around the hunt for Nth metal. Fans are having to stop and rethink these moments, and how they fit and affect other moments, aren’t they?

JW: So, after having discussions about what we wanted to do, we would ask, "How does it work? How does it affect the story? What do we get out of it?" Like any story, it’s asking, "What’s the get? How does it tell the story?" If you can remove it and not notice, then that’s a problem. You can’t keep it. So it became a running conversation: "How are we adding to the mythology?" We don’t want to break anything or take away from anything. We wanted to make sure everything we were doing was adding -- adding to the DC mythology, adding to the worlds, adding to the characters, adding new angles, like you said, and perspectives. It came down to Scott, myself, James, all of the other writers and editorial, talking about it, and what we specifically love about the DCU. That’s how Will Payton Starman got into it; that’s how Challengers of the Unknown got in, how Red Tornado got in. Even with all of that, we tried to keep stuff secret in there, like how Open eyeClose eye Show Spoiler Dream appeared at the end of the first issue of Metal and have that mean something.

One of my favorite memories of Metal was while Venditti was working with me on “Bats Out of Hell,” and we were having dinner, and we had an early-early copy of Metal #1 hot off the printer, with a paperclip holding it together. We went out to sushi with Scott, and we were talking, and we gave it to Robert [Venditti] and told him, "Before we get too deep into 'Bats Out of Hell,' you should probably read this."

Out the corners of my eyes, I was watching him like a weirdo to see his reaction, because he didn’t know about Open eyeClose eye Show Spoiler Dream , and he got to the last page, and he pulled down his glasses to look at it and yelled out, “Holy s***!” And that’s the best kind of reaction we could want from that. You work on this stuff for so long that you can be in a bubble, and we never see people’s reaction for the first time, in the form it’s intended to.

I’m a big DC nerd, I don’t hide it. My office is covered in DC stuff, so for me, I didn’t have to look in a book or encyclopedia or the internet to look up characters. I just knew it. James is the same way. We would just say to each other, "What do you think is cool, what do you think is missing? What can we add and take another look at and elevate? Let's find ways to put some of these things in that haven’t been seen in a long time." But again, how does it work?

Jeff, Hawkman is a little unique in that you can tell untold tales. Were there touchstones that you felt needed to be in your story and revisit because of the historical richness of Hawkman, or did you find spaces in the DCU history to tell new stories?

Jeff Lemire: It really is a bit of both, which is exciting to me. There are things that have already been established in past Hawkman series and past incarnations that fans love, and that I love. I look back at Geoff Johns’ takes with the character, both in his J.S.A. run (2000-2006) and his solo Hawkman (2002-2003). There’s so much great material in there that I want to touch on and bring back, and ... the Tim Truman Hawkworld; there are some elements of that that I just adore. I don’t just want to go back and continually add things to older stories, I want my run to stand on its own. There’s tons of untold lives of Carter Hall out there, and each one is ripe with a story to tell that hopefully creates moments that 10 years from now fans will look back fondly like they do Tim’s and Geoff’s work.

Let’s shift attention to the return of Hawkman, and the one-shot, Hawkman: Found. Jeff, how did you get involved in Hawkman, and what spurred the return to DC Comics?

JL: My love affair with Hawkman extends back quite a while. I was actually talking with Dan DiDio back in 2012-13 about the possibility of doing Hawkman stuff back then. So it’s something I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a while. As people know, Scott Snyder and I are really close, we collaborated together on a lot of things [the creator-owned A.D. After Death and the Animal Man / Swamp Thing Rotworld New 52 crossover]. Scott was always sharing his Metal ideas, and a lot of his developmental stuff with me.

It became obvious to me that Hawkman was going to be a big part of this story that he was building. I was really thrilled to see that, as a fan of the character. The more that I talked to him about what he was doing, and how he was using Carter Hall, the more excited I got about Hawkman again, and the potential of that character. When Dan and I talked about me coming back to DC, the first thing I mentioned to him was Hawkman as a character I wanted to get my hooks into. The timing was sort of perfect for me to come in, with Scott re-presenting the character again and giving him such a great platform. Luckily Scott’s take on Carter Hall and Hawkman was really close to what I wanted to do as well, so it really gelled.

Since Batman has the spotlight on him in Metal, I think what’s being undersold at the moment is how important Hawkman and Hawkman: Found is to Metal in the overall picture.

JL: Yeah, Batman always steals the spotlight [laughs]. I always thought that Carter was a good character with so much untapped potential. He’s a character, who along with Hawkwoman, that’s lived various lives, and has been reincarnated over and over again, since the dawn of time. So his history is interlaced with the entire history of the DC Universe. I’m not treating him like he’s a B-list character. I think he’s got A-list potential. My hook on this character and uncovering the secrets to Hawkman is to uncover the history of the DC Universe. To me, that’s about as exciting as it gets.

What about the possibilities of what could come next?

JL: Hawkman: Found is just a one-shot, and there’s a limit in what I can do with one issue of a book, but I’m thinking of it as a platform for Carter and to add to what Scott is doing, to take all my ideas, present them, and prepare for post-Metal. But I don’t know how much I can say about post-Metal yet, though.

Fair enough, let’s talk about the format of the one-shot; you’ve done stuff like this in the past, where you’ve had a smaller-scale story that grows into something bigger -- like Atom, or Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. -- as a writer working in the construct of a one-shot and creating something that isn’t just glanced over on Wednesdays at the comic shop.

JL: Exactly. It’s really tempting for readers to dismiss one-shots or tie-ins, but this one really is tied to the bigger Metal story in a huge way. We saw in Metal #1 and #2 how important Carter’s journal is to the story that Scott’s telling, and clearly how key Hawkman: Found is to the whole story. My challenge has been to think everything that’s cool about Hawkman and distill that down into 20-22 pages. I’ve been thinking of it as a pilot for a TV show in a way; you want to hook the reader with what’s interesting and compelling about this character, and entice them for future stories. It’s not a lack of coming up with ideas as it is trying to figure out how many of my ideas I can fit into it [laughs] and still be a cohesive story.

It’s exciting to see creators have passion for characters that have been shelved or underused, and clearly Hawkman is something you’ve been burning to write for a while. What so great about Hawkman?

JL: I think you touched on one of the things, and that’s the potential. My favorite thing is to get characters like Green Arrow and Animal Man, who have untapped potential still where I can go in and really make it my own, expand their mythology, their supporting cast ... their entire world, and make it part of the DC Universe. I know I have a lot more fun doing characters like this than Batman or Superman. I have always been compelled to these undervalued characters. Hawkman to me was just sitting there, and his history runs through that of the entire DCU; it's limitless. Another thing is taking Hawkman and making him important in the DCU, and it’s not just him. In the first two issues of Metal, Kendra Saunders is important, and she’ll be important to the Hawkman mythology as well. You’re not just getting one, but two great characters.

As a fan, one of my favorite artists has always been Joe Kubert; so everything he did with Gardner Fox and the Silver Age Hawkman. Then as a kid of the '80s, Tim Truman’s Hawkworld was a seminal book for me as well, which came out when I was a very impressionable age. I remember sitting at my classroom at school, copying Tim’s drawings of Hawkman from that book. I’ve always had a personal affection with Hawkman.

What’s it like working with Bryan Hitch and [inker] Kevin Nowlan?

JL: I’ve never had a chance to work with Bryan before. I was reading his work in The Ultimates and The Authority when I was just starting to make my own comics in the late 1990s to early 2000s [Lost Dogs and Essex County], and Bryan’s work on those books was just revolutionary, with his widescreen approach to action storytelling. It was so awesome and inspiring; he and I are a great match. My storytelling sensibilities follow a cinematic vibe, and Bryan’s certainly does. Some of the artwork he’s turned in so far is some of the nicest work I’ve seen him do. I can tell he’s super passionate about the character, and it really shows.

We’ve also got the living legend Kevin Nowlan inking, and they’ve never worked together before. I’ve seen Bryan’s pencils, but I haven’t seen Kevin’s inks yet, but man, I can’t wait to see what they look like together, because I’m such a huge fan of Kevin’s. I’m in my studio right now, and one of Kevin’s covers of Hawkman and Atom he did a few years ago is hanging up, so it’s funny that he’s working on a Hawkman story with me; it’s very cool to be working with two guys that I admire so much.

So much of Hawkman takes place in the air and in flight. What unique things does Hawkman present for a writer?

JL: That’s really interesting. If I look back on the other characters that I’ve done for DC that were my favorites, they were Animal Man and Green Arrow. I guess Animal Man could fly, but it was a very grounded take on the character. Green Arrow is sort of a powerless superhero. Hawkman is very different in that giant wingspan he has, visually, is something both Bryan and I have to play with. I have to remind myself to always keep him moving and flying instead of having him static, just in a way of thinking about action storytelling. Even the moments that aren’t action, being Hawkman is such an integral part, so when he’s not in action, you can still use his flight and mobility as an interesting visual aid. It’s definitely something we’re having fun with.

Metal is a celebration of comics and the DC Universe. I know that’s what Scott wanted it to be. It’s really turning out to be that, where you have this main story that’s touching on every aspect and corner of the DCU, with incredible one-shots, crossovers, and miniseries that are spiraling out of it. It’s an exciting time to be at DC, that’s for sure. Coming back with Metal, for me, as a longtime fan and someone who’s been away for a few years, the excitement around all this is contagious.
 
Stay tuned next week, we will have our third interview covering DC Dark Nights Metal as we speak with the creative team of Batman and the Signal.