If you’re reading superhero books from DC Comics these days, you know who Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are. They have been collaboratively building the DC Universe one brick at a time for almost a decade. Yes, DC has editors and co-publishers and a bunch of smart, creative people who make decisions about the direction and tone of the shared universe (sorry, multiverse) but their jobs must be a lot easier with Scott & James around. Since the beginning of the New 52, these guys have been in the trenches making the characters and stories sing, pulling the world bit by bit into a cohesive whole that makes sense and gets fans like us excited about the future. If you’re reading DC Comics these days, you know about the Dark Nights: Metal event, in which Scott & James set the tone for our heroes and their world for many years to come. I sat down with these two to talk about their process, the legacy they are building, and the current state of their flagship book, Justice League, as it gets its first annual.
Justice League is such an important, beloved book. It’s difficult to name a more iconic title. What does working on Justice League mean to you?
Scott: For me, the importance of Justice League is simply that from the moment I began wanting to write and to write comics it was sort of the golden ring in terms of a book that represented the heart and soul of not just the DC Universe but of comics. You know, Super Friends…the idea of this cooperative superhero universe was first introduced to me through that. Through the idea of these very early cartoons in the sense of superheroes working together for a greater good has always sort of been associated for me with Justice League. So when I got to DC — Batman is my favorite character and always will be, so it’s a huge thrill to get to write Batman — but Justice League was always the book that I knew, if I ever had a chance to write it, would represent a bigger sort of exploration emotionally and mythologically of comic books than I’d ever do anywhere else. So writing Justice League for me is sort of a way of doing the biggest soap opera, the biggest opus, that I could do in comics. I’m trying to write it with James as though I’m never going to write another superhero comic and that means it has to mean something deeply personal but also has to be the most ambitious, and incorporate a lot of the things that are the founding myths of the DC Universe and then go beyond those and add things that we can hopefully look back and say pushed the universe further than it has gone before.
James: That’s a great answer. I mean, I remember a really key first moment in the months that led up to the launch of the series. Occasionally DC will pull us in to the offices to basically pitch parts of the story to the other departments who might not have heard what’s happening over in editorial, to sort of get everyone excited and to keep everyone in the loop. And I remember making the big case for the Hall of Justice and that we wanted to create the the Hall of Justice out of the end of Dark Nights: Metal and fully formed at the start of Justice League as this kind of central hub of the DC Universe. And the idea that it’s not just the ‘core’ team members walking through the halls; you see all the heroes of the DC Universe walking through the halls. You see that Ted Kord is working in the laboratory with Mr. Terrific, you have the Odyssey team going out in the Brainiac ship that used to be in the hub inside the Hall of Justice. You have all of these turning pieces coming out of this big glorious center of all things superhero in the DC Universe. And I mean it’s this inspiring thing to me. Scott and I spent so much time in Gotham City and we’re tremendously proud of the work that we did there on all of the series that we worked on. But the most exciting thing now is we have access to the full toy box of the DC Universe. There’s nothing off limits. And there are so many moments where it’s just like — Oh, here we are up on Hawkworld and I know that there is a way that we can reference an old piece of cosmic lore with like Krona or something at the start of issue 16. Or on the first page of the Justice League Annual we can bring in images from the first appearance of the Promethean galaxy from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. We can do all of that and really create the central unified DC Universe that operates out of the hub of the Justice League in the Hall of Justice. And the Hall of Doom, frankly. So it’s really exciting and it’s been unlike anything I’ve worked on before. And every day working on it is unbelievably special.
Your work on Metal has become such a centerpiece of the DCU…Are your editors getting sick of adding a footnote in every comic that says “See Dark Nights: Metal and No Justice”?
Scott: I’m sure! [Laughs] I’m sure, although it’s fun because they get to add the little metal horns sometimes. So they enjoy it.
How long do you think those books are going to inform the DCU’s direction? Will Metal eventually be resolved and shift to something else, or you guys basically just running the DCU from now on?
Scott: Well I would just say that when we pitched Metal, Perpetua and the stuff that we’re doing right now in the annual — and all of these big things that are circling back like the Omega Titans from No Justice, the secret about Kendra’s wings, the secret history of Mars, humans’ role in the original universe — all of this stuff was part of that pitch to some degree. So we knew that if Metal was successful (and we didn’t get fired after it because it was so crazy) we had a bigger blueprint for the DCU that would eventually culminate in something that brought back a lot of those pieces. From the Batman Who Laughs, who is clearly operating in a way in the DCU right now that’s going to be important, to the Legion of Doom and Brainiac and the box that Martian Manhunter gives to Green Arrow… all of that stuff we set up to be able to use again in a bigger way if possible. So now that fans have been so supportive, and we’re extremely grateful for that, we are building to something that is sort of a cumulative crescendo of a lot of the work that we’ve been trying to put into the DCU from Metal to now. I mean the story is really personal. It’s largely about what we think superheroes mean or can mean in a world today that’s so divisive and challenging. And also we want to do something that sort of reminds people how huge and fun and resonant comics can be when you go ambitious and kind of magisterial in your approach. So yeah, all the pieces are coming back and Metal is going to inform a lot of what we’re doing going forward, but there is a big endgame in mind and I can tell you that it goes into 2020. But it will culminate in something I think people will like even better, I hope, than Metal.
James, anything add to that?
James: No, I think that was the perfect answer. [Laughs]
All right then let’s talk about the annual. You’ve been taking a pretty unique approach as you’re co-writing the series, with James following one thread of the story (with Luthor and the Legion of Doom) and Scott following the other (with Martian Manhunter and the Justice League). The annual is sort of where these threads collide and you’re writing it together. What does that kind of creative process look like?
James: I mean, the simple answer to the question is we are just constantly on the phone with each other. Like, literally every single day.
Scott: Oh yeah, there isn’t really a day that goes by that we don’t talk. But there hasn’t been for years.
James: We’ve been working very closely for a very long time. Even when we’re working on our projects in a way that is more separated in terms of credits and all of that. We still send each other our stuff. We still talk through all of our stuff and our big plans and all of that. So when we were working on Metal — and Scott was obviously writing the big central Metal storyline and I was taking point a bit on the Dark Nights one-shots and the tie-ins involved — we had a lot of the big conversations of what was going to come next. And we also knew that the Justice League that was going to be coming out of that was going to be this biweekly book, but then we had this realization of: what if we fold the Legion of Doom storyline into that, and I take point on the Legion of Doom while Scott is taking point on the Justice League? And it allows us to sort of tackle this big picture story from two sides. And so we’re always on the same page in terms of what we’re doing. A lot of these issues we sort of work on plot style first. I’ll go out to Scott’s house, we’ll throw it all up on the board, we’ll break down the issue, and then from that point where we’ve built the skeleton of the story I’ll take that and I’ll turn that into a fleshed out plot and then run it back by Scott. Scott goes over it and makes his tweaks and then we send it to the artist and then when the lettering comes in we sort of trade it back and forth until it’s really a product of both of us. So an issue like this especially, this is such a key issue that we spent a lot of time going back and forth and making sure that each of these beats were singing. But honestly it’s a process that we are very familiar with, going all the way back to…must be my work on backups in Batman during the New 52 era. So it’s a lot of fun to be able to take that collaborative relationship and do something that is so impactful to the whole DC universe.
Justice League Annual #1 has a bit of an unexpected romantic relationship pop up. How have the characters surprised you as you’ve been writing them and how do you approach all of the personal interactions and team dynamics in book this size?
Scott: Well I think a lot of it was James and I talking about how all the seminal Justice League runs started with kind of a core cast and then wound up building on that cast in a way that swapped people out. But more importantly, developed really deep and surprising emotional relationships between characters you might not expect. So for us, even though we wanted to get people in the door with that kind of animated series lineup, that sense that we’re doing something different that offers that kind of promise of comfort food. Even with Metal I tried to do that — it’s going to be fun, it’s a big evil Batman event! And then you get in the door and we always want you to feel excited that we love the same things you do, and then once you start to read it you realize we’re gonna push past anything you expected. That’s kind of our M.O.. So here, once we we planned everything out at the beginning we knew we had certain relationships we really wanted to develop. And in the series the biggest one for us really was Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter. They are two characters that are going through really similar things but have different takes on it. Martian Manhunter and Kendra both are discovering that their history, their mythology, and their roles in this kind of giant meta-narrative about the history and the future of the multiverse are very different and much bigger and more challenging than they thought they were. And they react to it differently. Kendra’s very much about the truth no matter what. And Martian Manhunter I think is more guarded and more cautious because he has the responsibilities of the team leader. And so it brings them together very firmly. There are other relationships we’re really excited about exploring in a new way, too. I think Batman and Superman, especially as things start to ramp up now, come into conflict in a way that we haven’t seen before. There’s also John Stewart and Barry Allen, who for us start to develop a really deep friendship. So at the end of the day, the book can be as grand and as bombastic and crazy as you want it to be, but if you don’t have those kind of emotional relationships and build on them what’s the point? So yes, the heart and soul of the book really for us has been Kendra and Martian Manhunter because they’re going through the things I think that are most central to the story itself.
James: And just to add on that , you asked us what were the things that came out of the story that surprised us. And one of those elements for me was Starman. The Will Payton Starman. Originally when we brought him into the book we knew he was going to deliver some very important information to the League, but we didn’t know if he was going to deliver that information and then get sent back to his timeline. But then in writing him and bringing him to the foreground he opened up as this really dynamic interesting character that shined a new lens on the league. So we decided to keep him incorporated in a much more major way. And we’ll see him as a core member of the League moving forward. Similarly…
Scott: I know you’re going to say! I was about to say it too.
James: Yeah. It’s Jarro. The Starro fragment in the jar. Scott has fallen madly head over heels in love with Jarro.
Scott: I have.
James: And we’re definitely going to pay that off in a big way in the coming year.
Scott: I’ll give you a quick hint that in issue #20 you see Jarro’s fantasy of his role as Robin. And it’s one of my favorite scenes ever. It’s where Batman and him defeat Deathstroke and Batman finds him and he’s like, “Jarro, good work. You’ve always been my favorite Robin,” and he’s like, “Thanks Dad.” And he’s wearing a robin costume. [Laughs] I just love it. I don’t care what anybody thinks.
That is amazing. To wrap up, what sort of mark do you hope to leave on Justice League by the time you’re done writing it?
Scott: Well I really just hope that people see it as a book that’s central to the DCU and that it’s a run that they love. I mean, I’ve been doing this at DC now 10 years and Justice League was the book that I always had my eye on, that if I got to write that — and especially write it with somebody who I look up to as a writer like James and who is basically family to me — then the only way to do it would be to make something that really stood as kind of an opus. Like if you did your last superhero story what would that look like? You’d want everything in it that meant anything to you and every character, every set piece, every surprise and thought. So my biggest takeaway honestly, or the thing I hope people leave with is that I hope they enjoy it and love it and it means something to them. Because it means something to us. It’s a labor of love, this one. And it’s a love letter to comics and to the DCU and ultimately my biggest hope is that they leave saying, “That was one of my favorite books.”
James: In the same way that we are tapping into all of our favorite big DCU stories as we’re building this, I hope that this is a story that writers years from now can tap back into. To be like: This was the era of the Justice League versus the Legion of Doom in the biggest, most universe shattering way. And I hope it always stands for that.
Justice League Annual #1 is in stores this Wednesday, January 30th.
Louie is a freelance writer, editor, and desert dweller. He manages TimeIsBroken.com where he writes about comics, meditation and football. When he’s not reading Green Lantern, he is likely to be found crying over the Cleveland Browns.