DC prepares the ‘Justice League Dark’ for ‘Forever Evil: Blight’

(CBR) Throughout J.M. DeMatteis’ long and diverse career as a comic book writer, two of the things he’s best known for are his fondness for the mystical and supernatural (see “Moonshadow,” ” Abadazad,” even some of his Spider-Man stories) and his beloved co-writing run with long-time collaborator Keith Giffen on “Justice League International” and its multiple spinoffs and follow-ups.

So DeMatteis taking over “Justice League Dark” — a Justice League book comprised of DC Comics‘ supernatural characters, including Constantine, Swamp Thing and Phantom Stranger — certainly feels like a natural fit, and it looks like he agrees.

“I feel a strong connection to supernatural characters. They’re often multi-layered — and deeply conflicted — characters that open themselves to stories that lean toward the mystical and philosophical.”

DeMatteis’ first issue, “Justice League Dark” #24, goes on sale October 24 and starts the “Forever Evil: Blight” 18-part crossover tying-in to the ongoing “Forever Evil” event headed up by Geoff Johns and David Finch. It’s the latest addition to DeMatteis’ DC workload, which also include “Larfleeze” and the December-debuting “Justice League 3000” — both co-written by Giffen — and “Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger,” also a part of the “Blight” storyline.

DeMatteis — enjoying an exceptionally productive year between the above books, contributing to the Cartoon Network’s madcap DC adaptation “Teen Titans Go” and outside writing projects like “The Shield” back-ups at Archie’s Red Circle imprint —  talked about what he’s got planned for Constantine and the rest of “Justice League Dark.”

CBR News: J.M., though you’re new to “Justice League Dark,” it certainly seems like a book well-matched to your sensibilities. How excited were you to join the series, and how natural have you found the fit since taking over?

J.M. DeMatteis: When I joined Dan DiDio on “Phantom Stranger,” our first issue featured the JLD. I wasn’t familiar with the book, so my editor, Wil Moss, sent me a stack of Jeff Lemire’s issues and I instantly fell in love with the series. Jeff did such an amazing job balancing all the elements, giving us big stories with intimate character moments, and Mikel Janin’s art was just extraordinary. I instantly became a huge fan and when [editor] Brian Cunningham called and offered me the book, I was both delighted and flattered.

I feel a strong connection to the DC (and Marvel) supernatural characters. They’re often multi-layered — and deeply conflicted — characters that open themselves to stories that lean toward the mystical and philosophical. Stories that allow you to peel back the layers and levels of reality and ask interesting questions about the nature of it all. I’ve enjoyed that aspect of writing “Phantom Stranger” and I look forward to doing the same with “JL Dark.”

I was doing at interview at the Baltimore Comic Con last month and the interviewer pointed out that “JLD” has a lot in common with my (long ago) run on “The Defenders” at Marvel. (Back then I turned the book from a superhero team to a team of predominantly supernatural characters.) The connection hadn’t occurred to me, but once he said it I realized that, in some odd way, this run on “Justice League Dark” picks up a thread from those stories. What goes around, comes around.

It might be a tricky question to answer at this point given that your run starts with a “Forever Evil” tie-in, but how do you characterize your general approach to the series? Are you keeping in a similar spirit to what’s come before? What are you looking to do new with the book?

My approach to this is no different than my approach to any other project I work on: I start with the characters, who they are, what they think, what they feel. I like to burrow into their minds, root around and see what new angles I can come up with. What corners of their psyches have been left unexplored. (The first issue is very much lodged inside Constantine’s head.) Along with that, of course, you need the big beats — the interesting new antagonists, the cosmic concepts. And with a book like this, when you’re teaming up all these powerful supernatural characters, you’ve really go to go big. Happily, our first storyline, which ties directly in to the “Forever Evil” arc, is very big.

Speaking of “Forever Evil” — what can you say about the role “Justice League Dark” has to play in the event, and how important will it be to the series as a whole?

It’s hugely important — but, for Constantine, at least, that importance is deeply personal. He’s less concerned with saving the world, fighting back the Crime Syndicate, than he is with finding, and saving, Zatanna. One of the things we’ll see, as the story progresses, is that John is ready to sacrifice just about anything to get her back.

The fun here is we’re building a story that ties in to “Forever Evil” but does it in a way that’s unique to the Dark books. We’re not thrusting these supernatural characters into super-heroic situations. The story is metaphysical, mystical. It’s dark fantasy, not capes-and-tights.

What can you say about the membership of your “Justice League Dark” team? It looks like Constantine will remain a major character during the “Forever Evil” tie-in — how much are you enjoying writing the character, who’s becoming a major player within the DC Universe?

“JL Dark” #24 kicks off with Constantine alone in the House of Mystery, the only survivor of the Crime Syndicate’s attack at the end of “Trinity War.” He doesn’t know if Zatanna and the others are alive or dead — and this kicks off a search that pulls in, at first, Nightmare Nurse (a character Dan DiDio and I introduced in “Phantom Stranger”) and one of my all-time favorites, Swamp Thing. As the story moves along, both Phantom Stranger and Pandora will become involved and we’ll be seeing many other DC supernaturals along the way.

As for writing Constantine: One nice thing about John C is that he’s not some Mystical Other, he’s not otherworldly, doesn’t speak in some elevated style. For all he’s been through in his life, for all his knowledge of magic, he’s just a normal human being and his voice is very natural and it was relatively easy to pick that up. 

On the subject of team membership — since you’re already writing “Phantom Stranger” and he’s going to be in appearing in “Justice League Dark,” will there be a degree of overlap between the two books?

There’ll be major overlap: “Justice League Dark” #24 kicks off a storyline called “Forever Evil: Blight” that will weave through “JLD,” “Phantom Stranger,” “Pandora” and “Constantine” for several months. The story involves the search for Zatanna and the other missing magical heroes… as well as the introduction of a major new villain, Blight. The story will stand on its own and yet have a significant impact on the larger “Forever Evil “arc.

It looks like Mikel Janin, who’s doing some very distinctive work on “Justice League Dark,” is sticking with the series. What has you enthused about your collaboration?

I can’t tell you how happy I am to be working with Mikel. He’s one of the most gifted artists working in the business right now. The man can draw, he’s a consummate storyteller — able to hit all the big moments we were talking about yet bring life and emotion to the smaller, intimate moments — and his design sense is impeccable (wait ’til you see our new villain, Blight). I’m very fortunate to have him along for the ride.

Not only are you writing “Justice League Dark,” but you’re also co-writing the upcoming “Justice League 3000” with Keith Giffen, and obviously the two of you had beloved runs together on the various incarnations of “Justice League International.” Those are all very different interpretations of the Justice League concept, but do you see any commonalities between what you’re doing in “Justice League Dark” and your other Justice League work?

Beyond the unique challenges of writing a team book — and the shared name — “JL 3000” and “JL Dark” are very different animals. That said, I’ve had a wonderful connection to the League over the years: working on the final issues of the Detroit League, co-writing “JLI” (and its various spinoffs) with the amazing Mr. Giffen, scripting multiple episodes of “Justice League Unlimited” and now writing two series with “JL” in the title. “Justice League” was one of my absolute favorite books when I was a kid and the 10 year-old in my soul is very happy right now.

In an industry that can be tough for veteran creators, you’re now writing or co-writing four books at DC right now, while also keeping busy with animation writing. How pleased are you with the current phase of your career, and what else are you working on that fans should be on the lookout for?

As a freelancer, you flow with the work and follow where it leads. For me that means that some years I’m getting more work in animation and less comics, or working on a book, doing more creator-owned comics, etc. There’s rarely any rhyme or reason, so you just jump on your surfboard and ride whatever wave comes along. That said, 2013 has been as busy, and creatively satisfying, as any year I’ve ever had and I’m very grateful. As for what else is in the pipeline…?

Keith Giffen, Scott Kolins and I are continuing to work on DC’s “Larfleeze” and having a great time doing it. It’s a unique book — kind of Monty Python meets Jack Kirby — and it allows me to balance my love of both cosmic tales and my need for total silliness.

Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid have a terrific “Fox” miniseries coming out from Archie’s Red Circle line and I’m writing a back-up series featuring “The Shield” (penciled by Mike Cavallaro — who did such a brilliant job illustrating my IDW series, “The Life and Times of Savior 28” — and inked by the great Terry Austin) that runs in the second through fourth issues. In the final issue of the mini, which I’m writing and Dean is drawing, both storylines come together in a Fox/Shield team-up. I’m hoping to do more work for Red Circle: they’ve got a fantastic universe of characters that goes back to the dawn of comics and yet is ripe for exploration.

Mike Ploog and I have a new, creator-owned series set up for 2014, but I can’t talk details until the publisher officially announces it. I can say how happy I am to be collaborating with Mike P again. One of the best artists, and nicest human beings, I’ve ever worked with.

On the animation front, I’m getting ready to start another episode (I’ve written two already) of “Teen Titans Go!” — which is a terrific, crazy, and very funny, show. I recently finished an animated movie that was one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever done, in any medium… but I can’t say an “official” word about it yet. It should be announced some time in 2014.

Finally — also in the “I’m very excited about it but can’t say a word” category — I’ve got a novel in the works that, with a little luck, should be out late in 2014 or early in 2015. I think comic book fans will find this one very interesting.

J.M. DeMatteis & Mikel Janin’s “Justice League Dark” #24 is scheduled for release on Oct. 23.