Chatting with Scott Snyder James Tynion IV about "Justice League" and "The Justice/Doom War," transcribed
Last week, we got the amazing opportunity to chat with Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, the current writers of Justice League. While we recorded and released the interview as a podcast episode, we know that podcasts aren’t always practical for everyone.
So, I transcribed it for you.
Read on to see what Snyder and Tynion have to say about the meta-narrative of their Justice League run, how they glean inspiration from their personal hopes and fears, and just how great Jarro actually is.
Because he’s super great, guys.
We’ve also included some absolutely gorgeous preview pages from Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez, just in case you missed those too, so check it all out below and enjoy.
James Tynion IV: Hey guys.
Brian Warshaw: Hello.
JY: Hey, this is Jay.
JT: Hey, how are you doing today?
BW: So Jay, I’ll let you lead off.
JY: Okay. So with the upcoming Justice/Doom War, we want to talk about a couple of different aspects of the run so far, and since we are a very respectable site and podcast, we want to talk about the most high quality characters. So let’s talk some Jarro, guys. What’s so amazing about Jarro?
Scott Snyder: [laughs]
JT: What isn’t amazing? Everything about Jarro is amazing.
SS: I know.
BW: That’s the right counter-question, right there.
SS: He’s such a fun character to write, because he not only adds levity, but he adds a lot of heart to the book. It was such a surprise, when I pitched the idea to our editor back then, Tay, I remember just being “listen, we’re going to bring back Starro, but there’s going to be a little piece of him first, so what if Batman’s using him and he has a personality and he’s in a jar” and she was like “so you mean ‘Jarro’?” And I was like “oh wait.” And as soon as we had the name, I was like, oh no, now his personality is just sort of emerging. And I started talking to James, and we want to play him… instead of being some kind of villainous, conniving, scheming, cosmic starfish, I want him to be reborn as this guy who wants badly to be the best Robin and the best hero. He thinks of Batman as a mentor and a dad. It just sort of ran away from us in the best way. So he’s been like a breakout star, a breakout character… people gave me-- somebody has a tattoo of him already, I saw.
SS: I get tons of toys that people make of him, on their own. I saw a pillow, all kinds of stuff. So the fact that he’s become a bit of a sort of a Justice League celebrity really means a lot. Because we love writing him, and his story is a big part of the finale as well. You’ll see. In the final issues of “Doom War,” the original Starro and him come in to play in a big way. So he’s got some big moments.
BW: Redemption seems to be a big part of your run. You’ve got the World Forger, who had these awful plans to wipe everything out, and yet Superman offered him the hand of friendship and a better path. And then we’ve had since those great two issues with Martian Manhunter and Luthor on Mars, we’ve got sort of… you guys are teasing us and making us wonder “is J’onn J’onzz going to be able to redeem his childhood friend or not?” So, what do you think is lying beneath this theme that you guys have about redemption and how do you see that as different from maybe what we’ve witnessed in a book like Justice League in the past?
SS: Do you want to take it, or do you want me to take it too?
JT: I can dig in. I think this really cuts right to the heart of what we’ve always seen this run as being about. It’s kind of the battle for the soul of humanity, and there’s no human more human than Lex Luthor. So Lex Luthor being kind of at the heart of that struggle, and Martian Manhunter being the one who is guiding him along that path and pulling him back to the light side, because we all know that this… that there is possibility for such great good in Lex Luthor. You know, it’s something that Superman has always seen, and it’s something that, now that we’ve seen more of his history revealed, that we know he saved Martian Manhunter’s life when he was just a boy. And all of the comes together into the present, because we’re seeing this world where everything is tipping towards doom. People… Luthor is making this case to the world that you need to embrace your worst… the worst parts of yourself, your most selfish parts, because it’s unnatural not to embrace them, and it’s taking hold. People are believing it. We can see it in the world around us, that people do embrace selfish instinct a lot of the time, but we still know, deep down, that there is a possibility that they’ll embrace the harder path. And the harder path is justice. So even as Luthor’s doing horrible, horrible things, and reaching this fever pitch in the final war between justice and doom that culminates the entire series, up to this point, we know that this is… that is the core conflict, the core battle. And we know that there is a chance that Martian Manhunter could still-- or the rest of the League, at this point, given what Luthor has done to Martian Manhunter-- might be able to turn the tide and show him something good. But we’re also seeing such tremendous loss that we know that Luthor might not turn. And we wanted to center the whole thing on the longform arc of Lex Luthor. You know, he’s the driving force of “Year of the Villain,” he’s the driving force of Justice League, and he’s the one who set all of this in motion.
JY: Was the Apex Luthor, the idea of this apex predator, was that there from the beginning, or did that evolve with the story over time to where we see it now, going into “Year of the Villain” and now into “The Justice/Doom War”?
SS: No, it was definitely there from the very beginning. You’ll see things coming up in “Doom War” that were seeded visually in Martian Manhunters vision for the future in issue 1 of Justice League. So that includes sort of the culmination of the Apex Lex story. So for us, it was always about… I mean, Luthor, to me, is the heart of the whole series. Him and Martian Manhunter. And the fact that Martian Manhunter has been absorbed into him now, he really has taken center stage, and his arc is one that, to me, is really sympathetic, as strange as it sounds. He deeply believes that he’s a great hero of humanity by teaching us… not to be bad, but to embrace our actual nature and stop pretending to be something we’re not. And, you know, ultimately I think where that leads him and what he opens the door to in terms of the transformation the Multiverse will go through in all this, he’ll have to make a very hard choice about whether or not he’s sided with the right people. But, that said, it’s just like you said. We want every character of the book to feel like they’re going through something that tempts them toward their worst selves, their worst impulses, and honestly has to make a choice about whether or not it’s worth it to be heroic in the face of, really, almost hopeless odds.
So this arc, I mean, it brings everything in. We didn’t want it to just be a battle where we finally pit the full Legion of Doom against the Justice League. We wanted the stage for that and the armies that they gather to span both the physical DCU and the landscape of the DCU and setpieces of the DCU and teams, but also the entire timescape of the DCU. So for us, this battle is a question of both, like you’re saying, redemption when we err, but also, I think, this sort of war, like James said, over whether or not we’re essentially good or bad and what we have faith in about ourselves. We wanted that to play in the most epic way possible. So everything coming, from the Justice Society to Kamandi, characters that I think you don’t expect to come in from earlier in Justice League, and characters you haven’t seen in the book so far. All of that, we want to sort of bring to bear in this arc so you really feel like it’s a worthy, opus-level crescendo to what we’ve been building on the book. And it’s all emotional and brings all the threads together.
BW: Awesome. You know, one of the things that I’ve loved about the book is that you have been building towards this grand, epic thing. Very emotionally rich, very poignant, and yet at the same time, this is always juxtaposed with the very bizarre-- some would say the ridiculous--
BW: Basically, Scott, just in looking at the evolution of your writing since you started at DC, you’ve been pushing more and more towards achieving this kind of blend. Where, for me, you’re capturing a fuller picture of life, where life is poignant and ridiculous, you know. You find out some bad news, and then your kid comes in and tells you they took everything out of their diaper and put it on the wall. Life is like that.
BW: And I’ve seen your work pushing towards that, so, how conscious of an effort has it been in that evolution, or has it just life having its effect on you as you’re living and your family is growing along with you?
SS: Boy, that’s a great question. It’s honestly, it’s been both. I think the conscious aspect is, I’ve always-- and James knows this, being my friend as long as you have, and creative partner-- I’m deathly afraid of repeating myself. I have this real, tremendous fear of falling into a rut or playing it safe. You know, overstaying a welcome on a book where I feel like it’s become too familiar to me, and there are so many stories I still wish I could do with Batman. I had an idea, honestly, just the other day for an arc that was literally no supervillains, all Batman CSI, and just murder cases. I was like, I wish I could do that, but I know how to do that, and I’ve done so many mysteries and stories with Batman in different capacities that I feel like it would be too easy, you know, if I tried at this point--
JY: A sort of “detective comic,” if you will.
SS: [chuckles] Right. Well, it’s something that really… even Detective Comics, you know, you bring in supervillains, and you bring in his classic villains. I’m talking about something that would be absolutely real world, hard, cold cases. And the point I’m trying to make is, for me, it was always about “how do I stay the most exciting to myself?” and try things that are riskier, or that you can fail at, but push the limits of your writing and your imagination. And part of it was just organic, like falling in love all again with a lot of the cosmic stuff I had loved as a kid, really gravitated towards as a kid, from Infinity Gauntlet to Fourth World stuff. All the things I had kind of not read in a long time because I’d been doing so much Batman, and then embracing that in deciding I wanted to try to see if I could tell an emotional, personal story with that cosmic palette. You know, and then doing Metal.
But the more personal aspect of it, honestly, is… I think as I’ve gotten older… my earlier stories were very much about things changing that are familiar to you. Like, the city you grew up in suddenly being mysterious. That’s “Court of Owls.” The terror of becoming a parent, that’s “Death of the Family.” Now, as I’m older, honestly, as I have kids that are growing up, I think some of the larger mysteries are more pressing for me, about human nature and watching the world… thinking about the world we’re building for our children, as opposed to the more immediate fears. And the cosmic stage is really appropriate, I think, for a lot of those kinds of questions.
Ultimately, as big a story as you build, there’s always something mysterious and beyond the kind of capacity of the set-pieces and the characters and all of that… there’s always something bigger and more mysterious behind all of that. And in that way, being able to tell a story like this across a stage like this-- the entire DCU-- makes it feel pressing and urgent and huge, but also lends it a sense of wonder and terror that’s just built in or baked into the DNA of comics, in that way. I love the idea that we’re getting to do stuff that’s way outside the wheelhouse of the stuff that I started with, but I can tell you that it’s deeply personal stories.
And honestly… I mean, Justice League, to me, is always about looking around and seeing people tempted towards their worst selves, me included. You know, everybody, I think… suddenly the world is much darker in the way that a lot of voices out there telling you “win. Win at any cost. Get what’s yours. Forget about those problems that are giant and systemic and seem unapproachable. You worry about your life and forget everybody else. People you care about, worry about them and nobody else.” And that’s it. That’s what I see my kids hearing and seeing and affected by, and heroes are there to tell us the opposite. You know, it’s not about what you can get for yourself, but what small good you can do in the world. Even if you never see the actual effect of that. And so, ultimately, Justice League is about a world getting darker and darker and the villains winning, and the villains appealing to people literally. And you see that in Last Knight, as well. You see it in Batman Who Laughs. These are themes that I’m working through from different angles in everything I’m doing. It’s what matters to me.
So, yeah, I think ultimately, the evolution of the stuff that I’ve done has had a practical aspect, which is, you know, trying to challenge myself on a formal level and take characters that I haven’t done and all that stuff, and do more expansive, space stuff when I haven’t tried it. But on a personal level, I’ve really found a home with the kind of larger scope of the DCU as a way of approaching bigger questions that I think, for me right now as a dad and as somebody who’s been at this for ten years, are more pressing to me.
JY: You brought up Luthor, and the way he’s trying to get people to appeal to their baser nature. Jarro, who was originally a tyrant starfish, but decides to become a hero. And then you look at the beginning of your run, when John Stewart was presented with the temptation to take on the Ultraviolet Lantern, the Ultraviolet Spectrum. Would you say a lot of it is looking at people who are making what they think are the right choices, but making them in the wrong way?
SS: What do you think, James? I don’t want to hog the whole thing?
JT: No no, that’s a great question, and I think there is a heart of that. Because humans are messy. Like, we don’t always go about this the right way. And even Martian Manhunter, who’s been such the heart of everything we’ve just seen in the “Apex Predator” storyline, ultimately he makes a possibly fatal flaw… a fatal mistake, in approaching Luthor in this way, in this moment. And I think we’re going to continue seeing the weaknesses of our characters as we move forward, as the battle approaches its final stages. There are echoes of that in each arc. But the character we’re going to be following in that regard, in terms of the pull in her towards her darker instincts, even while fighting on the side of justice, is Kendra. Hawkgirl, who was there and witnessed Luthor conforming Martian Manhunter into himself and effectively killing him, and now she’s out for vengeance. And this is the moment where the team needs her to be doing this for these lofty reasons for the greater good, and there’s a part of her that wants this selfish release of killing Luthor by her own hands. And that struggle is right at the heart of this arc.
BW: James, I wanted to ask you here, near the end. I’ve been reviewing this run of Justice League since the beginning, so I’ve been reading it very closely, and I’ve noticed here in the past few issues that you’ve written, you seem to have really clicked and found your groove. Are you feeling that too?
JT: Oh, I mean, I’m happy you feel that way, but this is… part of the plan from the beginning, Scott was taking the forward “Run A” Justice League story while I would do these standalone one-shots that sort of shined a light on parts of… you know, on the villains and their motivation, but were a little bit separate from the larger, forward-moving plot. And now, as we move towards the end, those threads have really converged, so Scott and I are working on this final battle together, and the build-up to it. And being able to, sort of, be part… on the ground and writing these big, big moves… these are the sort of stories I’ve always wanted to tell. I’ve always been a huge fan of the big cosmic, epic, earth-shattering levels of DC Comics storytelling, and just being able to write the Monitor, the World Forger, the Anti-Monitor, and Perpetua. These characters really matter to me. And I want to give them their due weight, and it’s a tremendous honor to get to do that.
BW: Well fantastic. It shows that you’re enjoying yourself, I think.
JY: Yes, agreed.
BW: Thank you guys.
JY: Yeah, thanks so much for the opportunity to chat today.
SS: No, thank you guys so much.
JT: Thank you.
Justice League #30 will hit comic shops and digital retailers tomorrow, August 28.