What is Villain Month?
Dan DiDio: When we launched the New 52 in September of 2011, we decided to do something different and daring each September to draw attention to our line and really focus on what our goals are for the year. What we did back in 2011 was relaunch our entire line. In 2012, we went back and looked at all our heroes with Zero Month and told some early stories and origins. This September we wanted to try something a little different and really explore our villain base, and show the challenges our heroes face with every story and every issue, because of the strength of the characters taking over their books in that month.
Jim Lee: To echo what Dan said, September has always been a big month for us and we look for an opportunity every year in September to do something big that really redefines the line and invites anyone who hasn’t been following comics to step right in. We launched the New 52 with all-new continuity and new costumes, Zero Month was all about origins of our heroes, and now the villains are taking over. One of the strengths of the DC Universe has been the strength of the rogues gallery. Often times they’re as famous – if not more infamous – than our heroes.
What are the circumstances that lead to the villains taking over the books in September? Is there going to be a series that ties all the Villain Month books together?
DD: You’ll see a story taking place over the summer called Trinity War, and there are events that take place at the conclusion that will launch us into our first major cross over in the New 52, which is called Forever Evil. Forever Evil is primarily focused on all the villains of the DC Universe. We couldn’t think of any better way to showcase the villains than spotlighting them in this fashion.
JL: Forever Evil is going to be a seven issue limited series. Trinity War is a crossover that happens within the Justice League family of books.
DD: We have three different Justice League teams and Trinity War sets each one of those teams against each other. There’s Justice League, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Ivan Reis, Justice League of America, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Doug Mahnke, and then we have Justice League Dark, which is co-written by Jeff Lemire with Ray Fawkes, art by Mikel Janin.
Will Villain Month have any major repercussions? Is there a chance that some of the heroes won’t make it through September?
DD: They might make it through September, but I can’t guarantee they’ll make it through the entire series. That includes what might be one of the most talked about events for DC Comics this year. One of our major recognizable characters will be affected in a very dramatic way.
JL: If you’re going to do an event that impacts the entire universe, there have to be consequences or repercussions, and this one is going to be meaningful. It all comes out of the great story starting in September.
Is there a chance that any of the villains will go on to get their own series out of this?
DD: There is a definite chance of that, and we’re still discussing that right now, as a matter of fact. We’ll also have three series taking place simultaneously to help support Forever Evil, and you’ll see events taking place in books from Justice League to Suicide Squad that will touch on this event. When we launch this series, it won’t just take place in one title, but across a multitude of titles. Each of the books in that series will continue to build from month to month.
Are we going to see any totally new villains?
DD: You’re going to see some new villains that haven’t been introduced in the New 52 here - but you won’t be seeing anybody for the first time. There’s a new villain that’s being introduced in the Green Lantern series that’s being written by Robert Venditti, so the character of Relic will just be seen in June for the first time, and yet he’s going to be showcased in one of the Villain Month titles. You’re also going to be seeing characters like First Born. He’s a new villain that was introduced in the Wonder Woman books. There’s also H’El, who is a character that’s been appearing in a number of Superman’s titles.
JL: The great thing is that the sky’s the limit on this one. Every September, we give a creative challenge to our various writers and artists. We had a lot of fun actually coming up with the list of the fifty-two titles, because there was way more than that number in terms of awesome villains. It was pretty cool, it was almost like a parliamentary election, sort of setting up and debating the merits of one villain over the other. We had a lot of fun with it on a very top line basis.
Are there any retired villains that you guys would like to see make a comeback in the New 52?
DD: Oh, we picked them all out for this. We had two old villains that we tried to reinvigorate as part of this. You’ll see that the new version of the Ventriloquist is playing in Batgirl right now, which I feel is a wonderful interpretation that recreates that character for a new generation. We’ve seen that with some of the other villains we’re facing too. The New 52 gives the opportunity to reinterpret so many of these things for the contemporary tone, and i feel that we’re starting to see a lot of that during Villain Month.
Can you give me any clues about which villains we can expect to see on book covers?
DD: All the ones you expect to see will be there, and there might be a couple of surprises. We didn’t want to go with just the top fifty-two, but also with the villains that we felt truly resonated with the style and tone of the stories we’re telling right now. We also put the spotlight on a number of villains that are going to be very prominently showcased in the Forever Evil miniseries.
This isn’t a one for one replacement. We have fifty-two titles right now, and it’s not a villain to match every title. We went with the fifty-two villains that we felt were the strongest ones to really represent this story and the event. It was tough because there were a number of books that we would have loved to do a one for one with, but we would have missed out on so many key villains that I think people would have been very disappointed if they didn’t get to them.
Some major villains like Joker and Lex Luthor haven’t been heard from a ton yet in the New 52. Can we expect covers with major villains that we haven’t seen much of yet?
DD: You’ll see Joker, you’ll see Lex Luthor, you’ll see Darkseid. You’ll see a lot of the key Batman villains as well as the key Superman villains, like Parasite and Metallo. You’ll basically see a real cross section of all the villains that we felt represent the strength of the DC line.
Are there any favorite villains of yours, Jim and Dan, that did not make the cut?
DD: It’s funny you say that - on my window right now I have a list of all the villains out there right now, so I’m just going over all the villains that are not on there that I thought would have been kind of fun.
DD: You know, it’s hard to say. I’ll say the one that i thought should have been there that we didn’t use was Hush.
JL: You took my answer!
DD: But we have such big plans for Hush later, down the line, that we didn’t want to premiere it with this story. It was a little too early.
What else is there to know about Villain Month?
JL: This is actually our first press announcement on this: we’re also commemorating this event by doing something really unheard of, I think, as far as a major publisher - we’re actually adding a special cover on every single villain’s book. It’s called a 3D motion cover and it’s essentially artwork that’s been separated onto different layers, so when you hold the cover, which is a premium stock cover, and you slightly rotate the comic book left or right or up and down, the images move a bit.
DD: It’s an incredible 3D effect that shows depth of field on the covers. It’s the full cover stock, so it’s not anything that’s been glued on. More importantly, it’s actually pliable and soft to the touch - it’s a brand new technology and we’re going to be the first ones debuting in this fashion.
JL: They’re amazing covers. It’s an effect that you haven’t seen before, and like Dan said, it’s an entire cover. Any time in the past that they’ve done specialty covers, you would only get like a small trading card size image on the cover that was a hologram or lenticular bit of technology. This is the whole cover and it is amazing. The colors and the depth of field allows you to actually see the logo of the new book. Let’s say the Joker is taking over, it’ll be the Batman title in the background, and you’ll see the Joker title splattered on top of the Batman logo itself. It really sells the concept in a very visual way.
Is it challenging to completely shift perspective and start writing from the villain’s perspective?
DD: Personally, I don’t think so. [Laughs.] Then again my head goes there normally.
JL: On the top line it’s easy to say, “Yeah, we can do this,” but there’s a variety to the types story that we’re telling. It’s not the kind of thing where every villain’s story has got to feel and look the same - they’re exploring different facets of the characters and their origins and their motivations.
DD: Exactly. Jim touched on a really important point. The real reason we like to do a villain story like this is because we like to show why each one of the villains is unique. It’s not just about characters who have special powers and go out and commit what is deemed to be evil. We want to understand why they’re acting in that fashion. What are their particular goals? Is it about power? Is it just crazy psychosis? Is it about revenge? There are so many different motivations that drive our villains. We want to show why they’ve gone this particular route, why they haven’t used their powers in a different way and, more importantly, what makes these characters so unique to the heroes that they fight. I think that’s important, because the better you define the villain, the better you define the hero.
Who are your guys’ favorite villains of all time?
JL: All time?
DD: My favorite villain from DC is probably Two-Face, strangely enough. I love the dichotomy of his role. He was once Bruce Wayne’s best friend and now he’s Batman’s greatest enemy. Batman’s trying to reconcile that and save him more than stop him. I find that character extraordinarily interesting. I also have a great fascination with Eclipso – so much so that i’m going to write that particular issue.
JL: Gosh. Um, you know… hmmm. Joker? You know, to me it’s not about characters, it’s how they’re used. There are probably just as many not-so-great Joker stories as there are great stories. There’s one in particular, if we’re talking about top villain moments. For me, what really sold me on the Joker was during Batman: Dark Knight Returns. It’s that epic last fight between Batman and the Joker, and Batman’s caught him and defeated him and the Joker basically laughs and says, “You will never defeat me,” and twists his own neck and kills himself. To me, that was just an amazing bit of storytelling and craziness that really defined the Joker as a character in my mind that one can not fully understand because he is just pure chaos. That would be my moment.
Are these books going to humanize the villains? Are we going to learn to sympathize with why they make the decisions that they make?
JL: You might not necessarily sympathize with them, but you might get some insight or a better understanding of their motivations. To me, as an example – and this is not just during Villain Month – Lex Luthor has gone from a guy that was just an evil greedy villain to a person that was a tyrannical businessman to a person that really represents the everyman and he sees Superman as a threat to their way of life. Villains are always more interesting if you can find a core that resonates with the readers, to give them some insight to their motivation. You don’t want them to just become stock, one-line descriptions. The richer the villains, the more impressive the heroes are, and it’s always been the case. If you look at the great superheroes in any universe, you will always find that they have the very best super villains opposing them. It’s because they are foils, they are people that the heroes play off of. They are either reflections of or reverse images of or the exact opposite of what the hero represents, and there’s a lot of great thematic story lines that you can explore when you have that tension between your heroes and villains.
DD: I think the classic line I remember, somebody told me way back when was: “The heroes have to win every time. The villain only has to win once.”
And in September, the villains will get their one win?
DD: It’ll be something to that effect, yes. Absolutely.