Earlier this year, Joshua Williamson had the odd experience of watching his fiction become reality. Around the time DC Comics announced the Justice League would die a spectacular death justice league No. 75, the author had already completed the edition and the introductory editions Dark Crisis — the upcoming crossover about everything that happens after.
In his scripts, friends, families, and colleagues in the League grappled with the deaths of the world’s greatest heroes and chose to mourn, not believe, freak out, or just shrug and say, “Whatever , they keep coming.” And then, of course, DC Comics made its announcement, and Williams saw how each of those potential attitudes was reflected in actual fans.
“It was fascinating to see the range of reactions [to the death of the Justice League]’ he told Polygon via Zoom. “Some people are skeptical and very dismissive. But on the other hand, there are people who are really upset and really worried, and they worry because they think they are. It’s just fascinating to watch in the real world […] [while] to have our characters react in the same way.”
That seems very important to Williamson Dark Crisis. “I think the conversations we had [readers] have here [the characters] would have too. If we want the characters to be smart, they will also observe things that we observe in their lives. And once in a while they will talk about it.”
“Some of them will believe it,” he said, referring to what’s to come on the pages of Dark Crisis #1, hitting shelves on June 7th. “Some of them will not believe it, others will say: Oh, they keep coming back. OK, no need to worry. Some people will freak out.”
Dark Crisis could be another comic book crossover where heroes die and are brought back, using the word “crisis” as shorthand for “watch out, DC Comics fans!” But Williams’ ambitions are to do something else: to do a crisis book about this seemingly endless rhythm of “crisis” events, this endless cycle of death and rebirth. Not from a thousand-mile-high cosmic perspective of broken timelines and cosmic forces standing up for editorial edicts, but from the attitudes of the sea-level families, friendships, and rivalries that keep comic readers turning the pages each week.
Polygon spoke to Williamson in April about his goals for Dark Crisis: its origins, its inspirations, its own fan relationship with comic death. We present his answers below, condensed and edited for clarity.
A few years ago we were there [DC Comics writers’] Summit. We talked about the DC timeline and I looked at that era Crisis on Infinite Earths all the way to flash point and I realized how many times the heroes had died during that time. For example, Aquaman had died twice. Wonder Woman had died twice, Batman had died once but also had a broken back.
I was just starting to think about what it even means now that these characters know they can come back from death. And what does it mean not only for them, but also for the people around them? For example, Amanda Waller is always concerned about what the heroes are up to and what they can do. Is Amanda Waller concerned that some of these heroes have conquered death? But then why did some of them hit it and some of them not? I wanted to research that too.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Death of Supermanand it’s part of what led to the story we’re making. death of Superman was superman #75, and that is justice league #75. The first big [comic book] the death that really hit me was death of Superman. That was really the biggest impact. Obviously this was a cultural event. It’s something that’s ingrained in comics DNA, it’s one of the greatest death dramas in comics.
Funnily enough, he had already died before that. Before that there were other “Superman Dying” stories. But there was something to it, that timing and what was going on in comics back then. I remember waiting in the rain to buy it. Maybe it was my age, but I was there without question. I wasn’t curious about “when is he coming back?” I wasn’t that well informed. I was just a kid, a kid who just loved comics and went to the comic store every week.
I hadn’t – I don’t want to use the word “jaded” or the word “skeptical” – grown up about death and comics. When Magic died Uncanny X-Men #303, there was something very emotional and believable about it. Those are probably the two I remember most from that time. It felt like there were certain deaths like Bucky and a few others that got stuck. So it still felt like it had some weight. For me, those are the ones that really got to me, and they’ve built a lot of my opinions on how death can work in comics.
I bought everything else afterwards [The Death of Superman], funeral for a friend and The Return of Superman, Adventures of Superman #500. And then you had The rule of the supermenand I was so in love with all of that. And I remember thinking, ‘Well, one of these [four new characters] will be the real Superman” and try it [figure out which one], Oh, Eradicator really is Superman and just great to be there.
All that Lois and Justice League stuff [in The Death of Superman]I think the Justice League falls and gets hurt by Doomsday just before [his fatal battle with Superman] That was a key moment in uplifting Doomsday, but it made it so that the aftermath didn’t just focus on Superman — it hurt other people. After that with Supergirl checking the body and all that funeral for a friend Things […] When all that stuff was going on, it really had a lot of emotion.
We should actually do that. That is our task. Is to make sure we land these emotional beats with this stuff. And sometimes it can be hard. And sometimes you lean towards the blockbuster appeal. I mean we could have a whole conversation about what was going on in comics in 1992 and how all of this was happening in the industry and with retailers and the direct market. I think that’s also part of what was done The Death of Superman bust.
There’s another story we’re playing in Dark CrisisWhere [Superman’s son] Jon goes to Nightwing and he’s upset and he’s worried, like, The Justice League is dead, my father is dead. And you heard what Black Adam said.
And Dick is very like, That will be okay. Let’s talk. Let me help you put your mind at ease and be there for you. But he also has a bit like, You know, your father died before. And Batman as well as Wonder Woman. And that’s what he talks to Jon about. You’re having this conversation.
And Jon […] challenges some of Nightwing’s beliefs about death. in the Dark Crisis #1 Hal Jordan is just like, Nonsense. That didn’t happen. We’ll find out what happened. But that doesn’t mean other characters don’t believe it. In issue one we show people protesting against it [of Justice League headquarters], some believe it, some don’t. But the villains are like Well, they’re not here. So if they’re not here, this is our chance. Let’s take our recording. And we can play with those ideas and just show what happens when all those heroes are gone.
The idea that [none of this matters because] Oh no, they’ll be back in six months? My answer is So? It’s only up to us to make sure the story you read is compelling and that we have something to say about it. And with that, I have something to say about death in comics.
I think when it comes to events I wanted to do something different. Especially with the events DC has been doing over the past few years, I want to try something different with this one. And give him his own thing I want to say about the characters in the DC Universe. But that is our job. You could probably figure out what’s going on, especially if you read the books you’ll know what’s about to happen. But then it’s up to me to make sure that those emotions are there, and that even if you know the Lakers are going to win the championship, you’re still on your feet just because you made a commitment [Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty].
That’s always the job, but I think at an event, especially an event like this that’s about death, you have to be able to hit those beats. We know they’ll be back, but that doesn’t mean the characters know. I think that’s something to explore.
https://www.polygon.com/23068687/justice-league-death-dc-comics-dark-crisis In DC Comics’ Dark Crisis event, the Justice League dies to make a mark