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Exclusive: Joshua Williamson and Ram V tease DC's Future State: Justice League & Justice League Dark
Earlier this month, the DC Comics Multiverse got a major shake-up as the epic conclusion of Dark Nights: Death Metal created a scenario full of new creative possiblities. Because of the aftermath of that event, numerous potential futures are now playing out in the pages of DC Comics in a two-month initiative known as Future State, allowing some of DC's top talent to explore dozens of stories that cover everything from the later days of the current Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to the adventures of their successors.
This week, one of the biggest titles in the Future State line — Future State: Justice League — arrives to tell not one such story, but two. The two-issue miniseries will feature both a main Justice League adventure written by Joshua Williamson and drawn by Robson Rocha and a Justice League Dark backup written by Ram V and drawn by Marcio Takara. Both stories are massive, both chart different possibilities for the future of DC Comics and its heroes, and both have some pretty exciting implications for what's to come when Future State is over. SYFY WIRE was pleased to chat with both Williamson and Ram V about how their stories took shape, what they hoped to explore with these characters, and what might come next.
Both writers arrived to these Future State stories after runs on the corresponding main title, but for Williamson in particular writing Future State: Justice League meant a major shift. After taking over Justice League for a series of Death Metal tie-in issues, the recenty departed writer of The Flash found himself writing not just a new era in DC history, but an entirely new team. Williams and Rocha's Justice League follows Superman (Jon Kent), Wonder Woman (Yara Flor), Batman (Tim Fox), Flash (Jess Chambers), Green Lantern (Jo Mullein), and Aquawoman (Andy Curry) in a future where past threats have forced the team into a world of secret identities once again, and where a dangerous new threat has just emerged.
For Williamson, who's written plenty of major DC stories, the first hurdle was learning this brand-new team's particular chemistry, something that, at first, wasn't easy.
"At first I hesitated [when I was offered the story], but then thought about how much fun it could be," Williamson explained. "After that...It was really intimidating, to be honest. Team books are hard. And this team was made up of new characters with new voices. It was a real challenge to get started on the book. Lots and lots of conversations on the story and direction we wanted to take it. And in fact we originally had a totally different story we were doing. But then I just realized what we had wasn't fun. It didn't feel like a cool intro to this new cast. So I threw all that away and started over.
"Then two things happened. I started to hear the cast talk to each other. I could hear Jo talk to Jon. Andy talk to Jess. And then I heard the monologue that T.O. Morrow makes at the start [of the first issue]. Once I cracked that, the rest fell into place. I started to have fun with the new Justice League, the new villains we introduced and then the returning villains."
For Ram V, who just wrapped up a major arc in his ongoing Justice League Dark run, the transition was a little smoother because it involved characters already in his head, but that didn't mean the Future State jump was without its challenges. Ram is already gearing up for new Justice League Dark stories in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez's Justice League title in March, and the plan is for the events of Future State to act as a kind of teaser for the major arc to come in that story. That meant tying the future of the Justice League Dark — in which surviving team members fight for survival in a dangerous world where magic is being hoarded — directly to their present.
" As we were building to the climax of the Upside Down Man conflict with the JLD run, my editors and I were having a chat about what I wanted to do with it going forward. I'd always wanted to bring a little more of the weird and strange perhaps even darkly humorous characters into the team a bit," Ram explained. "So we eventually went with a bit of the old team and a bit of the new. Zatanna, John [Constantine], Bobo are still there. Etrigan and Ragman will join because of how the events play out. And rather than keep to that like some rule, we'll be rotating our focus on Dr. Fate and Man-Bat and [Madame] Xanadu, some new and perhaps even some unexpected characters going forward. That is all to say that Future State: Justice League Dark features a team and villains that I expect will have active roles to play in the JLD stories March onward. So while some of the team members are new, they're not novelties. I have big plans for them!"
In the preview pages below, you can see how each story launches, as a future version of the Legion of Doom prepares to confront the Justice League in the pages of Williamson's, and Zatanna and Bobo fight to survive (and reveal a surprise possession) in the pages of Ram's.
Future State as a whole is designed as a glimpse, a peek at "possible" futures that could play out in the DC Universe one day, depending on how the years dividing the present and the future play out. That means there's a lot of potential for seeding future stories, and that includes the arrival of new characters who have the potential to be the enduring heroes of tomorrow. Though Williamson's Justice League story is dealing with a few existing characters (Jon Kent and Jo Mullein among them), he's also working with some brand-new creations who've only just begun their DC adventures.
Among these, the highest-profile debut might be Jess Chambers, the non-binary hero known as "Kid Quick" on their original Earth, who's risen to become Earth-0's reigning Flash in Future State. For Williamson, who just finished years of epic Flash stories covering DC's most famous speedsters, the idea of working with a knew character like Chambers was too good of an opportunity to pass up in favor of a more familiar face.
"When we started to talk about the team, I knew I wanted a Flash, but not one I had written before. We talked about a few different options and then I was presented with Jess by editorial and I ran with them," Williamson said. "[Them being] from the DC Multiverse was really appealing to me. I read the short that they first appeared in [in DC's Very Merry Multiverse Special] and knew they were perfect for the Justice League. They just fit the role so well. They added a voice and crucial POV that helped guide both issues for me. They are new to Earth-0, so they filled in as a new reader coming in as well. And without getting too deep into spoilers, they come with teases for some future stories we have for the DCU. It's an opportunity to bring an important new character into the DCU in a bigger way."
Though Ram's Justice League Dark story is dealing with characters he's a bit more familiar with it, he also found himself facing another key challenge: Juggling multiple stories set in different versions of the future. Both writers in Future State: Justice League are contributing to multiple titles (in addition to this, Williamson is writing Red Hood stories in the pages of Dark Detective), and Ram's workload also includes two other very different stories in the pages of Future State: Catwoman and Future State: Swamp Thing).
"So it's been a bit of an interesting exercise not to have them bleed into each other," Ram explained. "I don't want to repeat themes or plot elements or story beats. It helps that they're all set in different scales of the future. In my head Catwoman is closer to now than Justice League Dark, and Swamp Thing is just set far into the distant future. So I've tremendously enjoyed the challenge of making them all feel distinct, in that regard."
Because of the nature of Future State, this Justice League title is designed to be rather finite, just two issues long, but that doesn't mean the stories we're reading here will simply fade away after February. Williamson's upcoming work includes serving as one of the key architects of the upcoming Infinite Frontier one-shot, the book designed to launch DC into the era of stories that lies beyond Future State. That means his days of writing major DC stories are not over, but that doesn't make bidding a quick farewell to a new team he helped build any less bittersweet. There's an intriguing chemistry to this version of the League, on that persists even as they often rely on codenames, and it'll be interesting to see if it ever gets to read.
"It took me a while to figure out their voices in my head. Hear them talk to each other. I started to think about them and how they would react to each other and chat with each other. And the bonds they form in spite of the secret identity rule. That was where the chemistry started to form," Williamson said. "On the side I started to write small notes about side adventures and team-ups they had in the past. Then in the first issue there are a few quieter moments between some of the cast. Once I wrote those the rest fell into place. I'm going to miss writing this team."
Ram's major DC stories are also far from over. In addition to new Justice League Dark stories in March, he'll also be launching a new Swamp Thing series — starring a brand-new incarnation of the title character — in the spring, keeping him focused on the dark side of the DC Universe that he's become a major player in. In discussing the future of Justice League Dark in particular, he calls Future State a "possible extrapolation" of the events to come in March, which means careful readers should be able to find connective tissue well beyond this two-issue story.
"This is absolutely a world and a scenario that I very much intend on building toward," Ram said. "But as with all things in comics and magic— there is more to that statement than meets the eye. I think when readers read the two issues of Justice League Dark they're going to take away two things apart from enjoying the story — a) there is an exciting scenario building in JLD from March something to look forward to and b) is the future we have seen set in stone, especially when magic is involved?"
Future State: Justice League #1 is in stores Tuesday.