Joshua Williamson is one of the premier shepherds of the DC universe. Through his work on The Flash, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, and most recently, Batman/Superman, he has reintroduced us to Barry Allen, gave us a can’t miss-tussle between two premier teams in the DCU, and is heralding an oh-so-horrific future with his current take on The World’s Finest. He kindly sat down with us at NYCC this weekend and gave us his takes on where the DCU is going, how he slowed down Barry Allen, and told us how his prior work on Nailbiter is helping him weave a nightmare in Batman/Superman.
AiPT!: I read the first two issues and they were wonderful. Wonderful. And you said in prior interviews that the heart and soul of the book is going to be the relationship between the two and that’s been done over the years, but I’m wondering, what’s your take on their relationship?
Joshua Williamson: Well, let me ask you a question. What’s your take?
AiPT!: Oh, you know light versus dark, skepticism versus hope, they make each other better and keep each other in check….
JW: Exactly, they keep each other in check. That’s a big part of it. For me, I feel like they keep each other in check but they like to antagonize each other, poke each other a little bit. For me, when I’m writing them, I have to be able to take a step back and hear them talking to each other and then I can write. If they are not talking to each other then I have a problem, you know what I mean?
Once I hear the two of them talk and can hear that there’s kind of — there’s trust, right? Trust and respect. They understand that yes they’re different but they are so, so similar. The backgrounds they have and how much they sort of balance each other out, you know? If I can get all that in there, that’s what it is all about. If I hear them talking, then it’s easy. Getting them to that place, like getting them to a place where they are talking to each other — that takes a minute but once I do, I’m ready to go.
The thing with this book though, is that having the Batman Who Laughs in it allows me to show a different point view of that relationship — a little more mean, a little more nasty because [The Batman Who Laughs] killed his Superman, you know? So by having killed Superman, I’m able to show this meaner version of that relationship.
AiPT!: To springboard off of that, you know, the kind of driving force in the book is The Infected and how the heroes become the worst version of themselves via the infection from The Dark Multiverse and it got me thinking. I couldn’t help but have fond memories of Buckaroo, Oregon and your prior work on Nailbiter where we saw many of the characters transformed by the environment around them. So did writing Nailbiter help prepare you to write this or are there influences between the two?
JW: Yeah, definitely. I love writing horror. I love writing horror and I haven’t been able to write horror much. The Flash, we use some horror-y stuff. We have Eobard Thawne and I created a villain called Bloodwork but really that book isn’t built for that. There a little bit of the DNA of it there at times and a little bit of what I learned as a writer on Nailbiter, but it’s not a horror book.
Whereas Batman/Superman — that’s a horror book. It’s these two men who trust each other and they realize that they’re the only ones they can trust and they need to figure out what to do. And I was able to play up all my horror moves as a horror writer in this book. You see that in issue one, that whole scene with Billy Batson and all that — that came from Nailbiter.
It’s kind of like, with The Flash you have to write a lot of captions and I use captions a lot [there]. But Nailbiter? There are no captions, right? And so with Batman/Superman, you may have a little bit of captions for comfort food, but I don’t lean heavily into them and I want to get away from them. So you start seeing as the book progresses that there are fewer and fewer captions. There were some in issue #2, but I cut them all out. If you look back at the way that Nailbiter was paced and the horror of that, I put a lot of that in Batman/Superman. I’m glad people are responding to that.
AiPT!: Yeah. I mean it saw it in spades.
JW: Were you a Nailbiter fan?
AiPT!: Oh, I’ve read all of it my friend.
JW: Oh, thanks, man. That book is like my baby. It’s always good to hear people liked it.
AiPT!: I loved it. I loved it. And because you mentioned The Flash, I have to commend you on your historic run and you’re easily one of the definitive writers for Barry Allen.
JW: I don’t know, man. I think that, that is not for me to say, you know, I mean like it’s hard for me to it’s hard for me to gauge, hard for me to judge. I just really like that character a lot. I feel, I feel connected to it obviously like more so than I do any other character ever.
AiPT!: I mean what I loved about it is you took his mythic status, because you know, I grew up in the ’90s and by then he was gone and everyone’s like oh Barry Allen was this, Barry Allen was that, and you really brought him down to basics. In your own words, for your readers, who do you think Barry Allen is to you?
JW: A man. A man who makes mistakes. I think that it’s hard to live up to a legend. Imagine if you died and there’s a legend about you and that you represent hope and you represent optimism and this legend is built around you, and you come back. How do you live up to the legend?
He’s just a man with superpowers. He’s a great man. He’s a hero. But it’s hard and he desperately wants to live up to that legend. I think for a long time, Mark Waid was always telling the legend which was great but, we were always seeing Barry through Wally’s eyes. And Wally always saw him as a legend but I wanted to tell the story of the man.
That’s why Eobard, like Eobard wishes he was the legend. That’s why he hates him. He should be the legend, [but] he’s just a man. So I really wanted to emphasize this, that he’s not this legend — he is a man.
AiPT!: Well, I mean it comes off really well and as an outside observer. I’m able to cling on to Barry Allen that much more because it.
JW: Yeah, thanks. I’m glad to hear that you say that I think that it made him more relatable. I mean the book goes up and down with the emotional stuff but it’s still there and that what I was trying to do.
AiPT!: Absolutely. And since you’ve been back with DC you’ve gotten to write a lot of characters — Batman/Superman, The Flash, through the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad series — you’ve touched a lot of them. But is there another character out there that you know, really wish you would get your you know, teeth into?
JW: That I haven’t been able to write yet? Well, I really want to write Green Arrow. I want to get back to The Suicide Squad at some point. I want to tell a couple of stories with Batman that I wanted to do for awhile. Lobo is a character — if you want to go bucket list, Lobo is a character I’ve always loved. Wonder Woman, I have some stuff. Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Hawkwoman — a lot of stuff with that. Some street-level character and some younger characters at some point.
But because of all the crossover and stuff, I’ve been able to write most of them except for Green Arrow. Like Lobo, I got to write in Justice League vs. Suicide Squad but Green Arrow for whatever reason never works out. Someday I’ll get to write him.
AiPT!: I’m sure, hopefully. You also mentioned that Batman/Superman is going to kind of set the table for the DC Universe to come — I won’t ask for any spoilers. But can you give us any hints?
JW: I mean, there are five [issues] of Batman/Superman and in Batman/Superman we are carrying the story of The Batman Who Laughs. So in Batman/Superman #5, you’re going to see where that leads; it’s going to collide with Justice League because Justice League is telling the story of Lex Luthor and Perpetua. Those two storylines are building. I mean it’s interesting, right? Lex is building an army. The Legion of Doom plus building up all the Villains. Meanwhile, The Batman Who Laughs is building an army with the Infected. Those two storylines are going to collide and when they collide it’s a book we are doing in December, it’s called Year of Villain: Hell Arisen written by James Tynion and drawn by Steve Epting. That’s going to collide and you’re going to have a story about Lex Luthor vs. The Batman Who Laughs and that story and that war will lead to something bigger down the line.
AiPT!: Oh my god wow, that’s awesome.
JW: Yeah, it’s going to be fun. We’ve been building this story for a long time so it’s crazy to be able to come around and see it come to fruition.
AiPT!: It’s gotta be heartening to see some of your creations as recent as three years ago such as God Speed and Bloodwork come to life on The Flash.
JW: Bloodwork is crazy. I mean, Bloodwork I created as a little kid that I wanted to be a Flash villain and to be able to get him on the book, that was fun to do. But I can’t believe he’s on the show. It’s wild. And I thought it was going to be a regular villain of the week kind of thing, but then I found out he’s the villain for the first half of the season.
And he’s the narrator of the trailer so it blew my mind. Like I knew about it and I kept hearing about it ahead of time. Like they were telling me and contacting me to tell me what’s going on but im not allowed to talk about it publically but then they ran the trailer and I was like, “oh sh*t! like he’s actually narrating the trailer for the season!?” That’s great.