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Joshua Williamson didn't want to tell readers everywhere that he was killing off the Justice League. At least, not at first.
"It plays against my norm," Williamson told a group of journalists, including SYFY WIRE, at a roundtable conversation earlier this week. "My norm is I would rather keep everything secret. I actually don't like revealing things on the covers to stories. I wish we were able to have more secrets in comics. I wish we could have surprises. So normally, my fight is always 'How do I surprise people? How do I keep this secret?'"
But back in January, DC Comics proudly revealed that their mightiest superteam would be killed off (with the exception of a single, still-unnamed hero) in the pages of April's Justice League #75, as part of the build-up to the Williamson-scripted crossover event Dark Crisis. By then, the writer behind successful runs on books like The Flash and Justice League Incarnate had come around to the idea, in part because of his own experiences as a reader of stories like "The Death of Superman," and in part because he recognized the larger experience he could potentially create by teasing the deaths out a bit longer.
"I always feel like comics are supposed to be an experience, right? It goes beyond just the thing in your hand," Williamson said. "I think one of the things that's really changed about comics in the last 10 years is that part of the reader's experience is the anticipation for that book. It's the solicits, it's the covers, it's the press. All of that goes into, I think, the experience of that book. So I wanted to try something different with this one and basically get out there ahead and be like, 'This is what it is' and just sell it immediately with no surprises, to go against what I normally would do."
So next month, Williamson and artist Rafa Sandoval will seek to complete the experience with a story in which the Justice League does not survive its encounter with the growing army of beings taken over by the force known as the Great Darkness. It's not a trick, or a misleading title, or a story in which the Justice League is swapped out for doppelgangers and revealed as living later. It's "The Death of Justice League," for real, and Williamson is hoping the moment will have wide-reaching impact on the DC Universe for quite some time to come.
But of course, the story doesn't exist in a vacuum before the events of Dark Crisis either. It's all part of a larger story that Williamson's been guiding since the Infinite Frontier miniseries arrived last year. An exploration of the DC Multiverse that brought various previously sidelined characters to the fore and recentered other heroes with new missions and concerns, Infinite Frontier led into the epic Justice League Incarnate series, where Williamson and co-writer Dennis Culver built up a multiverse-defending team of heroes who came to understand the growing threat of the Great Darkness. Now, "Death of the Justice League" marks a stepping stone to what's next, and while Williamson notes he wrote the issue with newcomers in mind, he also noted that reading the wider narrative will create a fuller experience.
"If you've read Infinite Frontier, if you've read Justice League Incarnate, and once you get to Dark Crisis, if you've read [upcoming Batman/Deathstroke crossover] Shadow War, you'll get more out of the experience," Williamson said. "But we really try to spend some time and make sure that somebody could just jump into this and have what they need. You know, Barry Allen is trapped someplace, and Darkseid is gone, he's been possessed by the Great Darkness. Those are the things you really need to know."
Another thing you might need to know: The villain Pariah -- who played a major role in the godfather of all DC crossovers, Crisis on Infinite Earths -- is back in a big way, and he's partnered with the Great Darkness for what he hopes is a resolution to years of suffering after his own downfall. After years of other crossovers, Williamson began to wonder how Pariah felt about the current state of the multiverse, and channeled the character's pain and anger into both "Death of the Justice League" and Dark Crisis.
"I think with Pariah, there's a lot more going on there," Williamson said. I" think there's a little bit of a nihilistic attitude to Pariah, which is sort of where the Great Darkness comes into play. Like, 'The only way this is ever gonna get fixed is if we just burn it all down.' So that's a lot of what I think Pariah is going through, and then we're actually going to explore more of Pariah. Phillip Kennedy Johnson is doing a Pariah short story in the Road to Dark Crisis where we sort of delve into his backstory."
But before we're officially on the road to Dark Crisis, we have to reckon with the loss of several of DC's greatest heroes, a loss which will be felt throughout the universe as various legacy characters deal with their grief, and the universe adjusts to dealing with threats while major players aren't there to join the fight. For Williamson, that sense of loss, and the potential for change it creates, is not just an important part of this story and of Dark Crisis; it's a crucial building block of DC Comics, something he hopes readers will see expressed in this issue and in the Dark Crisis maxi-series later this year.
"If DC had never changed, then Jay Garrick would still be The Flash," Williamson said. "We wouldn't have Barry, you know? It would be Alan [Scott as Green Lantern], it wouldn't be Hal [Jordan]. We all love Tim Drake, but we have Tim Drake because Jason [Todd] died, right? So much of DC is about the generational history and the sidekicks and the legacy. And I feel like those things are very important to DC. And I think at times we lose sight of that. And I wanted to say something about that, and I wanted to say something about how DC is supposed to be this growing thing that moves forward and changes, but also is incredibly respectful of the past. My favorite eras of DC are when everything kind of worked together: The past, the present, and the future. It felt like it was changing, but it was all this universe. That's what DC is to me, and so I wanted to tell a story about that, and that's a big piece of what Dark Crisis is."
Justice League #75 arrives April 19. Dark Crisis begins with the Road to Dark Crisis special on May 31.