It was inevitable. The two powerhouse teams of the DC Universe end up facing each other. The only surprise? That the biggest menace they each had to face wasn’t going to be each other!
With the arrival of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 this week, writer Joshua Williamson and artist Jason Fabok kick off the first big event of the Rebirth line with a cadre of villains you might not have expected, including the return of classic Justice League antagonist Maxwell Lord. The creators sat down with Comicosity to share their thoughts on Maxwell Lord, Amanda Waller, and the new crew of villains the two teams will be facing.
Matt Santori: Jason is the returning champ right now, having done a long run on Justice League and now returning for this one issue. How does it feel to be jumping back in to these characters and then expanding out to introducing all these others for the event?
Jason Fabok: It was a lot of fun!
After Justice League, I was tired. [laughs] I was just exhausted. Geoff and I put our hearts and souls into the Darkseid War and I needed to take a couple of months off. I took a lot of family time. And since, I’ve been doing a couple of little things here and there, including a back-up in Suicide Squad #1 — a Deadshot story. That was when I was approached about doing Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1.
Hearing “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad” was the title, I was like, YEAH, I’ve got to do this. It just evokes a lot of questions about how these two groups are going to pit off against each other and how that was going work.
But also, I heard that Joshua was going to be writing it. The first book I ever worked on professionally was Superman/Batman #70-71, and Josh was the writer on those issues. I got to work with him on the first ever book I did and now it’s come full circle five or six years later for the first event book of DC Rebirth. I just had to do it.
It was a lot of fun and I’ve never been able to draw the Suicide Squad in my career, so it was a total win-win. I really enjoyed my time on this first issue. I think it turned out really good!
MS: Joshua, you’re writing the entire six-issue mini, but being neither the ongoing writer on Justice League nor Suicide Squad, how does that feel for you to be taking these characters and working with them in this arena?
Joshua Williamson: In taking on the project, I was really excited, because I really like both teams. They are books that I wanted to write. So, when I started hearing about the project happening, I kept asking about it. And when it was offered to me, I was surprised, but super excited and happy about it.
And then the challenge set in, right? I have not written anything this big with this many characters before. I love these characters and love both teams, but it definitely was intimidating.
One of the things I was really grateful for is that I was able to talk to Geoff Johns about the series and about these characters. Being in the room with someone like Geoff who’s written the Justice League and has this vision of the universe, I was able to start asking a lot of questions and hear about what some of the challenges are even after years of writing these characters.
And then, I got to sit down for dinner with Rob Williams and really pick his brain about the Suicide Squad and some of the characters. About his take on the characters and mine. We had this looooong conversation about Amanda Waller. I’ve always liked her, but it was great to have that chance to talk to him about it.
Then it just became fun. I think the hardest part was dealing with so many characters. I feel, though, that I was able to find places in the series to reflect the personalities of each one. It was definitely intimidating. Definitely challenging. It’s easily the hardest and most intense project I’ve ever worked on in my life. But I would totally do it again.
MS: Speaking of Amanda Waller, you have her running the Suicide Squad, but Maxwell Lord returning to run his own team of villains as well. Talk to me a bit about having two layers of antagonists or villains in the series.
JW: Well, let me ask you: would you call Max and Amanda villains? Because they definitely don’t see themselves that way.
Maxwell Lord 100% sees himself as a hero and thinks he’s the only one who truly understands and sees the facts. He’s the only person capable of saving the day. In writing JLvSS #1, I tried to get some of that perspective in there. There’s an Easter egg in that issue for Infinite Crisis, referring back to what his thoughts and motivations were back there.
He has a twisted idea of things. That is one of the differences between them, I think. Amanda Waller is less idealistic than Maxwell Lord. I think she’s a bit more realistic and more… factual. Is Max deluded? Does Max really believe in this twisted version of Rebirth. I think that’s the main difference between them.
A lot of Rebirth is about hope, right? And I think Max believes that. He believes in hope and inspiration. Whereas in the beginning of Rob Williams’ Suicide Squad, you get this scene with Waller that shows she’s really content with what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. There’s a confidence there. But with Max, it’s bravado, and that raises a level of doubt.
One of my favorite scenes in this entire series is Max and Amanda talking one-on-one about some of these ideas, and how, in Max’s mind, he feels they have a lot in common. That they should be getting along and seeing eye-to-eye. But as we explore, you’ll see there are differences.
MS: That leads into a little of what I just want to focus in on, which is some of the villains that get introduced here. Let’s start with Jay’s take on Maxwell Lord.
JF: Visually, I just stuck with the classic look for the character, keeping him simple and to the point. It was pretty essential for me. Just the classic black t-shirt and gun-holster across the chest, and a pair of army-khaki explorer pants. That’s really all the character needs.
I really had fun with the intro scene in issue #1, trying to keep it so you didn’t know who this villain was and just tell everything by the actions, not the characters. It was a challenge, but visually, I wanted to keep him very classic.
I find that fans want that comfort of the classic look of a character from when they first read or was introduced to them. I feel the same way, generally. Going into the redesigns — or really just updating — of each of these characters, we focused on classic versions of the characters.
MS: So, let’s talk Emerald Empress.
JF: Yeah! She’s had a whole bunch of different looks in the past, and we wanted something that distinguished her a little bit from Enchantress. We wanted them not to look exactly the same, although they have similarities in their looks. I think that’s the one we changed the most out of all of the characters. Just trying to give her a more updated look.
JW: I remember the days of going back and forth over email with some of these designs, like with Max and the Emerald Empress. It was fun talking about it and going back and forth. And even Jim Lee even jumped in and talked to us about some of them.
Emerald Empress, I think, really turned out great with what Jay put together. I think it’s a great, modern interpretation of her look.
MS: You’re also bringing in Rustam, a character created for the original Suicide Squad run by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell, who we haven’t seen in quite some time.
JW: Every character we picked, we picked for a reason. It was us sitting down for a day-long conversation making sure that we had the right team. Rustam kept coming up in these conversations.
All of us working on this book are huge Ostrander-McDonnell Suicide Squad fans. And in having these conversations about who were going to be the villains, we all really felt like there needed to be a classic Suicide Squad villain. Someone who represented that idea. Because really, each one of these villains represents a different part of the DCU, whether you see it or not. Some are more obvious than others.
But since this was a Suicide Squad book, of course we had to have a SS villain. You’ll see throughout the series what Rustam’s motivation is, but I think it’s too big of a spoiler for the book to get into now. He has a very interesting perspective and he’s going to be a big character moving forward. We really wanted to reinvigorate him for this new universe. We all like him, and felt like he has a unique perspective.
We crafted a role for him in the series that I think people will be surprised by.
JF: Jim Lee was the one who really came up with the new Rustam design. We were batting around ideas and he said, “Let’s go with something that’s a little more Assassins’ Creed.” Once he said that, I just sort of got it.
He’s not that far from where he was at in the past. We just sort of added a cloak, and a few other bells and whistles.
Rustam’s just really cool. I hadn’t really heard of him until working on this book, and he’s got some nice visuals for his powers. I’ve always loved DC books because writers aren’t scared to use obscure characters, and I’ve learned to love so many new characters from reading Geoff Johns’ series. He was never afraid to use those B-list, C-list, D-list characters and bring them to the forefront. I love getting the opportunity to explore the DCU and use these characters.
MS: Time for one more: tell me about Johnny Sorrow, probably the most obscure choice of the bunch.
JW: When we sat down to talk about these villains, it was like a day-long conversation of who they all were and what each one represented. Johnny Sorrow was the first we picked. It was the first we all agreed on and said, “We have to have Johnny Sorrow.”
Part of that is because of Johnny Sorrow’s history and who his heroes are. Part of it was that we all wanted to have a powerful character in there that could be a little scary. For me, I always like characters that can be over-dramatic, and Johnny Sorrow was an actor. I like the idea of this character as seeing the world as his stage. He gets to go out there and be this showman.
Some of this book that really strikes me is that Johnny Sorrow is out there and these are his enemies he’s fighting, but they’re also his audience. He gets to show off and be this showman who can perform for everyone. That led to a lot of fun stuff for him.
JF: I’m just really proud of this issue. I really think it turned out great.
As for the series as a whole, I think fans are in for a visual treat with all these different artists. Tony Daniel’s work on issue #2 is amazing. It’s all really this big blockbuster you want to read. I hope fans see how much fun we had working on this. I’m as excited as all the fans to check out the rest of the series. Josh has put so much work into the series, so he deserves all the eyes on him now! [laughs]
He’s going to deliver. It’s going to be a great series, and Josh really deserves all the success!
The first issue of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad #1 hits stores this Wednesday. In the meantime, check out our chat with Suicide Squad writer Rob Williams about the lead-in to the big event, featuring Killer Frost!