In a relatively short amount of time, Joshua Williamson has established himself as one of the biggest stars in DC Comics' already-deep writing stable. Thanks to monster hits like Justice League vs. Suicide Squad and The Flash, he's developed a reputation for nuanced storytelling that doesn't sacrifice characterization for action.
He will soon be part of an all-star team of writers steering DC's next "big event" book, the weekly mini-series Justice League: No Justice in between the multiverse-spanning superhero adventures, Williamson also has a new mini-series for the Vertigo imprint called Deathbed debuting this Wednesday. It's a book he talked with us about last year when it was announced at New York Comic Con. Co-created with artist Riley Rossmo, it's the story of a legendary thrill seeker named Antonio Luna and the ghostwriter he hires to tell his life's story.
This being a Vertigo book, it's nowhere near that cut and dried, with multiple twists and eye-popping violence. Luna could be the world's most accomplished adventurer, a certifiable lunatic and an epic orator of tall tales ... or he could be all of the above. We don't quite know, and the first issue sets up a fascinating journey to get to the truth. Ultimately, it's a story about a person's legacy, and how one decides to tell their story.
SYFY WIRE is happy to give you an exclusive first look at Deathbed. We have the first eight pages of the first issue for you to check out in the gallery below. We were also able to talk with the creative team about what inspired the story of Antonio Luna, the importance of legacy, and what it means to both men to do this book under the Vertigo banner.
Where did the inspiration for this book come from? It's like a hallucinogenic send-up of the "Most Interesting Man in the World" ad campaign. Luna is a real piece of work.
RILEY: Luna is a psychedelic version of the most interesting man, but he's also the synthesis of the pulp hero. Luna's the Shadow, Doc Savage, Bruce Wayne, and Zorro all rolled into one.
JOSH: I had been thinking for a long time about doing a story about someone who had lived this huge life and then looked back and was like, “I was awesome, no regrets!“, and then he would be confronted with something that made him look at it again. Then something or someone would want revenge and it would be a mystery what bad thing this main character did that made them come after him. I started thinking about all these historical figures who have had these big and over-the-top lives. Once I started to talk to Riley about the story, it became a whole new thing.
For Luna, we looked at a lot of pulp characters and celebrities who have lived these big lives. When I write Luna, his voice in my head sounds like Raul Julia when he played Gomez Addams in the Addams Family movies. Then I just wrote the biggest jerk I could think of. He really says some horrible shit in the series. It's funny, at first he WAS just going to be this frail old man. An old Vincent Price guy with eyes that you could consider and know he had lived a crazy life. Then one day we started to talk about him being this pulp hero and how he wouldn't let himself go, and that's when he became what we have now.
Is Luna a hero, a villain, raconteur, or all of the above?
RILEY: Yes! All those things and even more so from his own perspective.
JOSH: That's a great question. What do you think? Every villain thinks they are the hero of their own story, right? And even if he was a hero, does that make him a good PERSON? I'd like to believe that we've made Luna into a complicated character that goes beyond those labels.
How did you come up with the art style for this book? The book really has a pulpy feel to it because of the art and the colors.
RILEY: I try to push some design aspect of everything I work on. For Deathbed, I wanted to push all the characters to be larger than life. Being a self-contained story in a self-contained universe, we have the luxury to create a world that no matter how weird it is, if it stays consistent, anything goes. Ivan Placenscia handles the colors. Ivan and I have worked together for three years, and I'm so grateful for it. We decided early on that yellow, red, and black would be important colors to the entire series.
The Chapter One splash page is brilliant. You have all these different images from various points in his life, over a long period of time. Why did you want to have this page full of signposts from his life right at the start of the story?
RILEY: We thought using all those big graphic chunks of yellow, black, and red make the reader take a minute to pause and take a minute to investigate all the little inset panels, which in combination with the dates was an efficient way to show readers how vast and far-ranging Luna's life has been.
JOSH: We wanted to open with something that was at first a bit in the reader's face. The first three pages are quieter and foreboding, and then BAM, the opening chapter splash! Then afterward you can dig into the little hints of Luna's life.
Val is Luna's ghostwriter. How much of Deathbed is going to be about her finding her own story?
JOSH: LOTS! You hit it on the head right there. In the past, she's had a tough time writing, and part of that was putting herself in her work. But here she is literally in the story, so it helps her find her way to what her story is.
Legacy is obviously a key theme in this book. Why was this an important story for you guys to bring to life?
RILEY: What I leave my daughter is really what Deathbed is about, and more to the point about how curated what I leave behind will be. How Val perceives Luna's story and how Luna perceives Luna's story are two separate things. Just as how I portray my life and values to my daughter are different than what actually happened. Deathbed is an exploration and reminder for me to examine my behavior from a more objective place to see how it affects people I care about.
JOSH: Riley said it better than I ever could. We both had our kids around the same time, and it's a conversation we've had. About how life can be long, and what are we leaving behind. So, for us, this was the right time to do this story.
This is really an ideal title for the Vertigo Imprint, given its high concept, absurd violence, and unique characters. Assuming you two are both fans of Vertigo, can you tell us a few titles that left a big impact on you?
RILEY: I love Vertigo — there's a ton of stuff they've put out I love. There's a bunch titles I re-read regularly: 100% by Paul Pope, 00 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Edwardo Risso, Sentences by MF Grimm and Ron Wimberly, and Hellblazer.
JOSH: That's such a hard question, there are so many. Preacher is the top of Vertigo for me personally. But then comes The Invisibles, Scalped, 100 Bullets, Kill Your Boyfriend, Y the Last Man, and Hellblazer. All those books felt risky and a little dangerous and surreal. And that's what we wanted Deathbed to be.
Deathbed #1 from Vertigo arrives in comics shops on February 21.