Tom Taylor is no rookie when it comes to writing for DC Comics. With titles like Green Lantern Corps: Edge of Oblivion, Injustice, and most recently, DCeased under his belt, the worryingly charming Aussie is back in the main DC universe to introduce a one shot story surrounding Black Mask’s new, amplified endeavor into corporate crime for the Year of the Villain event from DC.

But! Before we could even get into the heavy hitter that would be Black Mask: Year of the Villain, I had plenty of questions about the thought process behind how someone could have so much fun with these books that are really meant to be so grimdark.

Chloe Maveal: Thanks for finding time to talk to me! I really want to start out by saying, holy cow, DCeased! Which has been absolutely MASSIVE.

Tom Taylor: Yes, yes it has. [Laughs]

Maveal: What do you think made that so successful? You spent so much time teasing it on social media in the lead-up to it being announced. Did you anticipate that happening?

Taylor: Yes. Myself and my editor, we knew what we wanted it to be. I knew how popular it could be and the way we teased it on social media just by ourselves…we got so much attention just putting up those little teasers.

Maveal: It was incredibly cruel, you know that right?

Taylor: Well yeah! We put one out last halloween that people didn’t even notice! I mean, we had all of this organic press, too. We had The Hollywood Reporter, IGN, even [The Beat] all talking about this book and wanting to know what it was. Of course we hadn’t told anyone yet and then we started the hashtag and people started talking about it. It was a great, organic way to generate that buzz. I told my wife three months out that we’d sell 200K — 200,000 copies — and we did. We got 250, actually. We just had a feeling. People love this stuff. We were releasing those horror variants — the IT cover and the Nightmare on Elm Street cover — people want to own that and I totally get it. They’re beautiful.

Maveal: The horror of it all really has become its own thing. Between DCeased, Metal, Justice League Dark — it’s all a big wave of a new horror element coming into the world of superheroes. Do you think that’s a subgenre within superhero comics that’s just going to keep getting bigger?

Taylor: Hm…I don’t know. I mean these things to have a shelf life; they can’t be undead forever…but right now it’s really capturing the imagination. It’s because you get to see the heroes that you know and the stories that you know — you get to a comfort level when you’re reading these comics where you expect, “Oh, well, Batman’s going to come and he’s going to save the day and he’ll have some master plan and Wonder Woman will show up and she’ll be inspiring and amazing and Superman shows up to be inspiring and—”

We’re just not doing that. Every page is a shock or a surprise that people haven’t seen before and the stakes are real. If we kill Batman in issue one, he’s staying dead.

Maveal: With working on DCeased and Injustice, you’re kind of coming back to the main universe of DC. Having worked for a good span of time now outside of that and getting to mess with the otherness that is the multiverse, how does it feel coming back to work within main continuity?

Taylor: It’s really fun! It’s fun getting to write Renee Montoya and Kate [Kane] together in the Black Mask story. Obviously I’ve written them before with Injustice but getting to write the REAL them together is lovely. Having said that, [DC]’s approaching me because they want a different idea. This is about Lex Luthor upgrading Black Mask and so they’re like, “Well, what would you do with that, Tom? How would you upgrade him?” So I come up with an idea and [DC] said, “Yes, let’s do that.”

Maveal: In regards to upgrading him…the last time we saw Black Mask was Teen Titans with Robin keeping him in an underground prison—

Taylor: That was so harsh.

Maveal: Too harsh for you?

Taylor: Nasty stuff.

Maveal: Does that mean we’ll get to if that part of Teen Titans carries over and effects [Black Mask] as a character?

Taylor: Hrmm…you’ll see how…well, it’s a very different thing for him. You’ll see him at the start as you’ve seen him before; but what he’s offered [by Luthor] changes him completely. It makes sense to who he is as a character, to his upbringing, to what he’s escaped, and what he was jealous of as a child. Sorry, this is all very cryptic.

Maveal: You have a history of doing a good job at cryptic and it pays off though!

Taylor: I hope so!

Maveal: You’ve become so recognizable for the character work in your scripts and now you’re teamed up with Cully [Hamner] who is known for his brilliant character acting through artwork. How has that collaboration been as far as you guys having similar views for creation within your mediums?

Taylor: Cully and I have been friends and known each other for years and years and years. I kind of worship the guy. I think he’s incredible. And because of DCeased and a lot of other things, I’ve had these artists just approach me saying “What can we do together?” and I’m always like, “Oh my god you wanna work with me?! Yes! Okay! We’ll make something up!” And Cully and I had been looking for something for a while so when this came up it was just perfect. How he draws Black Mask is just terrific — it’s nuts. Obviously he’s had experience drawing Renee [Montoya] and Batwoman before as well so doing this together has been great.

Maveal: The Birds of Prey movie is coming out next year as well and that’s got Black Mask as the main villain in their story. Are you feeling any pressure to be the lead up to that?

Taylor: Nope!

Maveal: No?!

Taylor: Nah. I’m just not going to worry about what the movie does. I’m just going to worry about nailing this one comic.

Maveal: Because that may be a lot of people’s first experience with seeing and being able to trace him back to the comics in recent history. He’s not exactly been any kind of prominent character in recent years.

Taylor: Oh man…maybe. It’s interesting because if you go back and read Wargames where he was a prominent character and we are really taking him in an entirely different direction from that. He may be quite different to what people will be seeing in the movie but man, it’s just so much fun to do the way we’re doing it.

Maveal: Sitting here and talking to you, you seem like a really optimistic person and that definitely reflects in your storytelling…which seems ironic, considering that so many titles like Injustice and DCeased SHOULD, at their core, be really misanthropic and brooding. It always seems like you approach [stories] with an element of humor and wit. Will be seeing the same sort of take on you working with Black Mask?

Taylor: Maybe a little bit with Batwoman…but what you’re saying is exactly right though; I am an optimist at heart and I can’t write grimdark and boring. Inspirational is hard but it’s what I love working towards. I’m a Superman guy, not a Batman guy, if that puts it in any perspective.

Maveal: …say no more. I know exactly what you’re trying to say based solely on that sentence.

Taylor: It’s exactly what it sounds like. [Laughs]

Maveal: Is that an interesting balancing act for you? So many people expect the brooding and angst from these characters and you bring in so much more than just that. It’s quippy and even fun at times.

Taylor: Well yeah. You’ve gotta poke fun at it. The characters like John Constantine and Harley Quinn and Green Arrow — these are my people; people who speak truth to power when we desperately need to. That’s why people read that and go, “Huh. I can relate to that.”

Maveal: So it’s a way of saying that making fun is something that we need right now? Even when things are dark and terrible?

Taylor: Of course! We need more people telling truth to power and making fun of the absurdity of it all.

Maveal: That’s a perfect message to bring to the world right now.

Taylor: I think so!

Tom Taylor and Cully Hamner’s Black Mask: Year of the Villain hits stories August 21, 2019. It will also be available directly through DC Comics.