Jeff King on constructing DC's Convergence, alternate worlds, and Hand of God

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Apr 21, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

Juggling multiple universes has always been a part of the design for DC, whether it was stories in the 31st century, Bizarro World, Earth 2, Earth Prime, Wildstorm, the Anti-Matter Universe or the post-Crisis of Infinite Earths stories including the Tangent Universe, Zero Hour, Flashpoint and Elseworlds stories like Kingdom Come, Superman: Red Son, Gotham by Gaslight and of course the recent New 52.  In the publisher's biggest line-wide event since the New 52 started, Convergence is pitting some of those aforementioned universes against each other until one comes out the winner.

The mastermind behind this is the ultimate Brainiac, who stole cities right before their destruction. Meanwhile, a new villain, Telos, breaks down the walls between these imprisoned worlds and forces them to fight to the death, thus altering Braniac's plan and raising the stakes for those involved. Convergence is a weekly, nine-part mini-series written by Jeff King with art supplied by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and Peter Steigerwald and is supported by 40 two-part stories written by a variety of greats including Len Wein, Bill Sienkiewicz, Larry Hama, Kelley Jones and many more. Convergence #3 hits stands this Wednesday.

King is a newcomer to comics but is no stranger to writing for hungry and devoted fanbases. Having been a writer and producer for television series Stargate SG-1, Continuum and White Collar, King taking on DC's Multiverse battle royale is no small task, and three issues in, the story is more than just a slugfest of worlds colliding. It's a massive cosmic story about family and survival, which opens the doors for endless possibilities -- like pre-New 52 Bruce Wayne meeting a version of his father, Thomas Wayne -- and that's just scratching at what King is able to do. I interviewed King about tackling the massive DC Comics event, our fascination with alternate versions of characters and worlds, and his upcoming Amazon original series, Hand of God

Explain the concept of Convergence for those on the fence or on the outside looking in.

Convergence begins with Brainiac, who has been collecting doomed cities and timelines, in particular ever since Crisis on the Infinite Earths. You'll see some of those characters like Matrix Supergirl, Hal Jordan Green Lantern/Parallax, characters you may not have seen for a very long time reappearing in the story. Brainiac had been collecting these on a planet, outside of time and space, to weigh their merits, examine their fitness to go back into the DCU. That, in a way mirrored the editorial process - which characters were going to be re-introduced, and when, and what point. More and more, what we wound up with at the end, was an event that was designed to leave creators at DC with the opportunity to have any character or any story that had ever been in continuity or canon available for them to tell. So, they might not be all told immediately in post-Convergence world, but they'll be available to creators. The New 52 Brand is going to end, post-Convergence and I think there's about 24 new titles with 25 existing titles.

What was your history with DC Comics as a reader?

Perhaps it was because where I lived in Canada or the way my parents bought me comics, but it was the Kirby books, it was the Forever People, Metal Men, the Demon...I knew who Superman and Batman were, but I didn't really know the rich history. 

You've been a writer on TV series that have had some very loyal fanbases, but this is your first time working in comics, and to be in charge of DC's biggest event in years, how daunting was that?

If I had known how daunting it would be, I probably should've never said yes [laughing], but I'm glad I did say yes. 

Did you find yourself drawing from specific problems you solved in the writers' rooms with Stargate SG-1, White Collar or Continuum that helped you solve puzzled with Convergence?

Not specifically, but coming into this, it was about taking the skills I had learned from doing shows like Stargate SG-1 or Continuum, where you take an enormous world with rich history and mythology, characters, and ambitions where you want the story to go, but you inevitably need to bring it down through the prism of a few characters who are you going to be the focus at least in the beginning of the story and to pick the right moment to start the story. And of course, the right moment to end it. Hopefully, when all is said and done, we did both.

Talk about that process of how you were brought up to speed and prepared writing Convergence.

I was in the tour of the DC offices and I was introduced to Dan DiDio and he knew about the TV I had written and we got to talking. I commiserated about big world building and when I got to his office, I saw the Continuum boards there, the characters, the sketches, and the more we talked about it, the more we realized how similar the situations were. You have all the worlds, all of the characters, and all the 75 years of history and are telling it through the lens of very specific group of characters.

All of that ground work had been laid before I came to it. Writers Brian Azzarello, Dan Jurgens, Scott Lobdell, Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns, and editor Marie Javins had all been working up to that point and a lot of the monthly books were pretty far along. In some cases, writers like Len Wein, had already been approached, and had already started to put their stories together so what I did was sit in DiDio's office for a few days and he told me the story. Azzarello would come in and we'd go back and forth and we'd pitch him notes, and out of that, the real arc of the nine or eight issues of the main story emerged. Once we really had it tacked down, Jurgens was approached at the zero issue to tie-up all of the events of the other books that had gone on and give us the chance to do this amazing thing with Ethan Van Sciver where we see all of the deaths of Superman, when you read it, you see all of the Brainiacs that have ever existed.

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Amongst the New 52, the ones that resonated with me the most were Batman and Wonder Woman because they felt like they stayed on course of what they originally wanted to do for at least the first three years.

There couldn't be two more different runs in terms of the use of narrative, internal voice and dialogue–but for me the highlight reel of the New 52, the marriage of story and art, as I began to dig into it were Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's run on Wonder Woman, and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's run on Batman. After my initial tour, I read a few issues of each, I had to go out and buy the New-52 Batman and Wonder Woman trades and get caught up in a weekend. Now with me being part of Convergence in a way is being a bridge between the New 52 where the stories have been, and post-Convergence where the stories are going, so that's pretty exciting.

To that point, wIth 75 years of DC History at your lap, how much time did you spend until you felt adequately caught up?

I've devoted a great deal of time since joining the project in late summer to reading and catching up but ultimately at the end of the day, I think I was brought in to fight for the characters are the spine and heartbeat of the main story and part of my role is to be true to them and at the same time be true to the larger story. I'm standing on the shoulders of giants, so I have a lot of help weaving all of the other stories.

That focused prism you talk about viewing Convergence is New 52 Earth 2 version of Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Dick Grayson, Avatar, and Superman vs. some other definitive version. Was there a specific reason we are looking through their eyes?

Telos brings the six heroes from Earth 2 to replace the Injustice World, but they arrive without a city, which has never happened before. Then, Telos drops all the domes at once to improve on Brainiac's design.  That sets off a chain reaction and, with the domes down, it doesn't take much to imagine that sooner or later all of the heroes might come together.  Every Batman from every timeline, or every Flash or Green Lantern, or Wonder Woman or every Superman.

From a narrative stand point, what was appealing about the New 52 Earth 2 heroes to me as a storyteller is their relative unfamiliarity with the rest of the DCU. They haven't really time traveled or explored the Multiverse. They are like six people invited to a family reunion with an insanely HUGE extended family they never knew they had. That gave plenty of opportunity to make them fish out of water and fresh eyes on old conflicts.  Luckily, the choice to start with characters from Earth 2 and E2: World's End had already been made by the time I came aboard Convergence, but I happily embraced it!

Shed some more light on Telos, who first appears as the extended of Brainiac in this event but appears to be acting independently.

Think of Brainiac as the planner of the garden, and Telos as the gardener. Telos knows his part in Brainiac's grand design, but he doesn't know the whole plan. Keep an eye on Issue #5 coming up, there's a reveal about Telos' true nature, too. We know Brainiac moved the planet Telos outside of time and space, and that Telos is the Keeper of his Cities. While Brainiac may be the ultimate god machine, Telos, now out from under Brainiac's thumb for the first time, may discover he is something entirely different.

Can the readers truly expect only one universe to make it out, and how much will it reflect our own as the definitive DCU?

Readers should absolutely expect only one to survive, because that is Brainiac's design: After all are weighed and tested, only one timeline will make it back into the DCU.

What was the process like to be Telos – so to speak – and decide which world and, ultimately, its related characters, is defeated and which ones move on?

Telos was executing Brainiac's plan, except that he dropped the domes all at once, to "improve on" it. From the start, I knew I wanted to use Kandor in the main story and knew it wasn't being used in the monthly books. And I knew when Thomas Wayne and Dick Grayson go to Pre-New 52 Gotham in Issue #2 for example I had to be mindful of what conflicts were already happening in Gotham when they arrived. Because the conflicts in the monthly books were established in some cases long before I arrived on the project, it was a bit the other way around. I had to work with the decisions already made and reflect them in the main story. Fortunately, a lot of those early won loss decisions were great!


On a similar god-like note, let's quickly talk about the new show, The Hand of God, an Amazon original series you're executive producing starring Ron Perlman, Dana Delany, Garret Dillahunt and Andre Royo. The main character, Judge Pernell Harris (Perlman) is a hard-living but highly-respected man who experiences a mental breakdown when he begins receives "messages" from God through his comatose son. The pilot is available now with the rest of Season 1 available later this year. Now in 1970s exploitation and counterculture eras of film it was like Jesus-ploitation sub-genre formed–

[Laughs] No comment.

But today, we've seen more modernistic takes on religion in television, that's not afraid to ask questions, challenge the faith, the followers, and in some instances, treat it as a supernatural element. Dramas and genre shows like Vikings, The Walking Dead, Jane the Virgin, Salem and Constantine use religion in a variety of character motivations, themes and narratives. Hand of God is based in the real world, but we are led to question Pernell's experiences at times while also believe them. I am curious as to what Hand of God's commentary is.

Your question is a loaded one and it's germane to what makes doing a show about a character who discovers faith in a classic sense, but is really put through a journey that affects him, but also people around him. Pernell wants desperately wants for his son to be alive. He will look to any source to not allow him to die and come back to life. What he finds is faith but how he expresses that, and his willingness to go to great lengths beyond what you or I, or any religion would condone him doing and how the people in his life either enable him to do that or get in his way and try and stop him from doing that, is really what the show is doing. How does faith as an expression of personal desire, govern how we live our lives? To what extent does that faith either shape the people around us or shape the events of their lives? Pernell's single-mindedness is determination to find out what happened to his son because he believes that's going to make him better, is what drives Hand of God

Whether it's Continuum or Convergence, what is it about seeing alternate versions of things we know that appeals our base desire to know our lives could be very different if the influential pieces and actions were different?

"Whew, glad that wasn't me", or "Wow, I wish I had done that" define internal narratives that run in the background of people's daily lives. Consciously or unconsciously, we have an endless fascination for measuring the choices we make. And of course, we are often trying to make them to our own advantage!  But if we are aware of our own hubris, and modern speculative fiction reinforces that, when you change one piece of a puzzle in a relationship, or a team for example, it changes all the others. Even with the best of intentions, the "Grass isn't always greener" or even more powerfully "be careful what you wish for" are great go to story paradigms. We are tapping into both of them for Convergence

I feel like the wish fulfillment aspect of seeing what happened in the lives of heroes you haven't seen for a while is part of that. Some of my favorite DC stories - like Kingdom Come, or Red Son Superman, or Killing Joke - are part of an Elseworlds tradition that used to be the realm of fan fiction. Convergence taps into that, but with 75 years of history and a rich trove of characters and domes them all together in one place. Of course, the more a character has been defined by one moment in their past, the more powerful changing or challenging it will be in the present. Convergence sets the stage for four characters defined by a past Crisis, to re-experience it, but not in the way you think. 

Do you feel that Convergence is the event to correct a lot of what may have turned them away after all of the events?

I hope that, if a reader did go away from DC, that they'll find a monthly book, especially, that they'll like and enjoy that story and that will make them curious about the other stories being told, because they'll see those characters are being treated with the love and reverence for them that's being expressed in the monthly books. The thing about Convergence is, if you read the main story, it's got a beginning, middle and an end. You can also read a monthly book that have a character that piques your interest, but you won't miss out if you don't read all the monthly books or the main story. That makes Convergence a very unique event. It's a way of saying, 'We understand what has bugged people about events in the past and this is a way to pick what works best for you.'

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DC Comics

One thing I have noticed over the last six months in select titles and with new post-Convergence creative teams is DC getting the best creators they can find and letting their unique abilities and voices come through, thus recognizing the creators and featuring them. Is that the approach of this shift in the DCU?

I'm the new kid, and I'm coming to this like a lot of the fans are. My experience was back in the past and all of a sudden very recent. The books that I'm looking at, especially what Scott Snyder, Brendan Fletcher, James T. Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan and Babs Tarr what they're all doing in the Bat Universe of books is extraordinary. The fact that they do it every week is even more extraordinary. One of my favorite books is Gotham Academy, that's a great book, such solid storytelling and great art and yet it does tie into the larger history of the characters. I think that's what Convergence is really about. It's about the history and legacy of those characters and having the access to them for a new generation of creators. 

I was lucky to be invited to the DC Talent Summit that happened a couple of months ago and when that image came up as Jim Lee and Dan were telling us all about them, and when they showed Lee Bermejo's art on We Are Robin it was like, wow, every writer and artist in the room went [makes robotic noise and looks up at an imaginary screen] like that. Powerful and interesting things like Bernard Chang and Dan Jurgens on the Batman Beyond book is amazing, David Walker's Cyborg book is going to be off-the-hook, but I also love what they're doing with the limited series like Heath Corson's Bizarro. It's a little bit My Favorite Year but with Superman and Jimmy Olsen. So it's taking those characters, something that you know and love about them and telling a different story through a new prism. At the same time, the strength always is the big epics and characters. That's what Geoff is doing with Justice League as well as Bryan Hitch writing and drawing the new JLA book. So that re-invention, that willingness to take some chances, like Mystic U with Alisa Kwitney writing, along with Ming Doyle writing Constantine: The Hellblazer and doing the art on Dark Universe with James Tynion. Just the writers and creators who are coming to DC as a result is cool.