Crime Syndicate #1 Cover by Jim Cheung

In March, as part of the forthcoming Infinite Frontier initiative, DC Comics is launching Crime Syndicate. The new six-issue miniseries comes from the creative team of writer Andy Schmidt, penciller Kieran McKeown, inker Dexter Vines, colorist Steve Oliff, letterer Rob Leigh, and cover artists Jim Cheung & Romulo Fajardo Jr. The series reveals for the first time the origin of the team, comprised of Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, Emerald Knight (previously called Power Ring), Johnny Quick, and Atomika. It also gives readers a first look at the all-new version of Earth-3, which follows the apparent recreation of the multiverse during the events of Dark Nights: Death Metal. Back-up stories over the course of the series will also reveal the origins for each of the Crime Syndicate’s members, with the first, an Ultraman story, illustrated by Bryan Hitch.

The series is the first solo DC Comics writing credit for Schmidt, who also co-wrote this week’s Generations: Shattered one-shot with Dan Jurgens and Robert Venditti, and as a part of the initial launch for Infinite Frontier it’s positioned to be a big debut. The Beat had the opportunity to chat with Schmidt about the Crime Syndicate miniseries, how the newest iteration of Earth-3 differs from its predecessors, and where the villainous version of the Justice League fits into DC’s Infinite Frontier plans. Check out the interview, along with some exclusive art and character designs for the series, below.

Joe Grunenwald: Following the events of Death Metal, there’s a new version of Earth-3 that you’re working with. In a general sense, how does this new iteration of that world differ from previous versions?

Andy Schmidt: It differs mainly because they don’t know each other. In the start of our story, our cast hasn’t met each other yet. This is an origin story so we get to establish who they are on their own and show you how and why they met in the first place. All previous appearances have shown them already as a group working together.

Crime Syndicate preview page
From Crime Syndicate #1. Art by Kieron McKeown, Dexter Vines, & Steve Oliff.

There are a lot of little ways it’s different and I think we had good reasons for the deviations we’ve made. Long-time readers might notice that we have Emerald Knight instead of Power Ring, but they might not notice that the sun rises in the West and sets in the East here. Readers who pay attention to details will get rewarded by learning more about the world and characters that we may not draw your attention to specifically. I’m a firm believer that if we present you with a solid world and world-view, that you as a reader will respond to that on some level.

Grunenwald: Josh Williamson said in an interview about Infinite Frontier that, going forward in the DCU, every previous story happened and matters. Given that this is an entirely new version of Earth-3, how much of a blank slate are you starting with for the Crime Syndicate? Do they remember, say, the events of the Forever Evil or Syndicate Rule storylines?

Schmidt: Because this is an origin story, those events haven’t happened for our characters yet. It’s complicated since this is also a new Earth-3. Previous events did happen. And they happened the way that you read about them. We don’t connect those dots specifically in this series, simply because I tend not to like stories that are about other stories. That said, should the publishing schedule allow us to do more Crime Syndicate in the future, that might be something we want to tackle—especially if we can do a take on it that’s not re-treading a story or gives it an interesting twist.

Grunenwald: The Crime Syndicate has never had an origin story before. It’s always been kind of baffling that these characters would ever agree to work with each other. What can you tell us about the threat that brings them together, and why they ultimately decide to form a team?

Schmidt: That was one of the most fun parts to figure out. Why the heck would these characters work together—ever. Getting them together for ONE adventure is one thing, that’s fairly simple. But why would they stay together? Why would they trust each other?

Crime Syndicate #1 Preview Page
From Crime Syndicate #1. Art by Kieron McKeown, Dexter Vines, & Steve Oliff.

Our six issues are broken into two plots with an overall arc. The first three issues has one plot while the back half has a second plot. Put broadly, the first three tell the story of how they meet and the second three tell the story of why they stay together. As for what brings them together, there’s a giant Starro on the cover of the first issue, so I might suggest that provides an answer… 

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Starro is not, historically speaking, anyone’s favorite villain, but we’ve created what we believe is an interesting mythology to them for the Earth-3 universe. Remember that the Earth-3 “flip” works both ways and sometimes in interesting and unexpected ways. So, in this universe, are Starros evil? Is there more to their story than we first assume?

Grunenwald: You’re working on a team that’s been around for over fifty years, in multiple different iterations, though they’ve only had a relatively small number of appearances. How does this new version of the Crime Syndicate compare to its predecessors? 

Schmidt: What we did in preparation for this series is take a look at the previous major appearances of the Syndicate and figure out what we thought worked from all of them. But we didn’t stop with just the comics. Dwayne McDuffie had a super compelling take on them in the animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and even before that, the Bruce Timm Justice League show had another good take on them as the Justice Lords. We didn’t shy away from any good ideas! 

This is a new Earth-3, after all, so we have an opportunity to refine the characters for today’s audience. I’m hoping that, as terrible as these characters are to each other and the world, that there’s also humor in the book. They can be evil but still entertaining.

Grunenwald: The team makeup is familiar in name, though some of the characters — most specifically Johnny Quick — look radically different thanks to Kieron McKeown’s incredibly striking character designs. How much did the two of you work together on developing each character’s look?

Schmidt: Kieran is amazing. He thinks through his decisions based on these characters’ personalities. We worked together along with editors Brian Cunningham, Marquis Draper, and Alex Carr extensively on who they are and therefore what they would look like. Kieran almost always gives you two designs to start with—one that’s more traditional and one that’s more bold.

Crime Syndicate character designs
Kieron McKeown’s character designs for the Crime Syndicate.

Ultraman is a good example where we decided to stay fairly traditional. Quick, obviously, we went the other way. But the whole team pitched in on the process and continues to do so. 

One thing that hasn’t been talked up about this book yet is how many characters will appear in the six issues. I haven’t done a head count, but I’ll say this, we all have a spreadsheet between us that we use to keep track of them all. There are a LOT of characters in this book and that’s really fun for me since I’m new to writing DC characters. Been reading them forever, but this and Generations: Shattered are my first gigs officially for DC. So I’m having a ton of fun making Kieran’s life a hellish nightmare by throwing all kinds of awesome characters into the mix!  

That said, as the writer, I do try to offer suggestions about design and then let the artist make the bulk of the final decisions. Kieran’s the one that has to draw them over and over, so I want him to enjoy them and have real ownership of the characters. I always think that leads to the best work from everyone.

Grunenwald: The first issue of the series also features an Ultraman origin backup story illustrated by Bryan Hitch. How do the characters’ backstories impact the present-day formation of the team, if at all?

Schmidt: The back up stories hopefully provide readers with context for how those characters are behaving and why they are the way they are (evil instead of good or vice versa). 

They’re not exactly origin stories in the sense that we don’t explain how they each get their powers. We tend to focus a bit more on what I call the “the point of departure” of the character from the Earth-0 counterpoint. For example, what is it that made Ultraman a jerk instead of a hero like Superman? That’s what we want to get at in the back-up stories.

From Crime Syndicate #1. Art by Kieron McKeown, Dexter Vines, & Steve Oliff.

It’s digging into stuff like this that made me so excited about working on Crime Syndicate. For me, this is maybe the best part—digging into the characters and world like this and figuring out what makes it all work and, I think very importantly, what makes Earth-3 work without the Earth-0 counter parts. Ideally, every reader comes away from these six issues wanting to read more about Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman, without needing to reference their counterpart heroes. We want them to stand on their own.

Grunenwald: Will any heroes appear in Crime Syndicate? The pre-Crisis Earth-3 had its armored Lex Luthor, after all.

Schmidt: Oh, yes. Oh, oh yes… they start to show up in issue #2 but really kick into high gear in issue #4.

From Crime Syndicate #1. Art by Kieron McKeown, Dexter Vines, & Steve Oliff.

Grunenwald: Can you tease what role the Crime Syndicate will play in the DCU in 2021 and beyond? As one of the initial launch titles for Infinite Frontier it seems like it’s going to be a big one.

Schmidt: Ultimately, Crime Syndicate is contained in these six issues as a complete story and hopefully cements who they are and why and convinces you to love to hate them as much as I do. 

Infinite Frontier has the potential to bring a lot of fans in who have never met the Crime Syndicate before, and we built a series that we think will appeal to fans who have never read these characters before and fans who have read them for years. DC has big plans for next year, and I think the books launching in March are just the beginning! So hop on board with us and enjoy the wild ride!

Published by DC ComicsCrime Syndicate #1 (of 6) arrives in stores in March 2021.