Every DC Comics fan has their favorite underutilized corners of the DC Universe. From Dinosaur Island to Earth-8 and beyond, the cosmos of the DC heroes is full of strange and shiny ideas that don't always get their day in the sun.
But this December, writer Chris Roberson will be resurrecting one of DC's forgotten pieces of world-building for a story running in "Superman/Batman" #79 and 80: the 853rd Century of "DC One Million." Originally conceived by Grant Morrison during his '90s run on the publisher's "JLA" as part of a massive, line-spanning event, the DC One Million future presented a world millions of years in the future where our solar system was still called the home of heroes from Green Arrow to Wonder Woman and, of course, Superman and Batman.
After the initial "DC One Million" event, the characters of that world were seldom heard from outside the occasional appearance (mostly in works by Morrison or his peers), but as Roberson – best known for his Vertigo series "iZombie" as well as a wave of BOOM! Studios titles including the upcoming Stan Lee superhero series "Starborn" – and artist Jesüs Merino are out to show, the concepts have life in them to go to infinity and beyond. Below, the writer explains how his emersion in Morrison's work led to the story, which forgotten villain helps kick the ball rolling and why a more Silver Age feel to the proceedings is nothing to fear.
CBR News: When your "Superman/Batman" arc was announced, I think it caught people by surprise. "DC One Million" is a series that a lot of people enjoyed largely because of Grant Morrison's big ideas for it, but once it wrapped, all those concepts generally stayed on the shelf with the occasional exception where Grant would use them himself in "All Star Superman" or what have you. I feel like a lot of people want to stay away from "Grant's characters," but I've also gotten the impression that he wants them to be played with and explored more than they tend to be. How did you view those concepts coming into this, and what made you want to dust off that part of the DCU?
Chris Roberson: I've been a fan of Grant's since reading "Animal Man" and "Doom Patrol" and have devoured everything he's written ever since, and I've gotten that same sense from his interviews that you mentioned. He creates these new concepts and feeds them back into the system for other people to play with, and I've always thought it was a shame more people [haven't picked] them up and run with them. I wouldn't personally feel confident taking on something he was associated with for a long time or something that felt personal, but the stuff he was doing in "DC One Million" felt like Grant's attempt to enrich the DC Universe and to add this whole other layer of possibility to what could be done. Much in the same way that Gardner Fox, in the early '60s, came up with the idea of Earth-2 and suddenly there's this great machine for telling stories, I felt like "DC One Million" had this possibility for things for us to do. Aside from a few brief appearances here and there – there were a couple of issues of Tom Peyer's "Hourman" that dealt with these characters in 2001 or so – but besides that and "All Star Superman," no one's really used this stuff. So when Matt Idelson and Will Moss, the editors on "Superman/Batman," contacted me and asked if I wanted to pitch, the first thing I said was, "I would love to use the 'DC One Million' version of Superman and Batman." I thought for sure they'd say, "No." I was thinking they were saving them for something huge and cool, but they just said, "We love those characters. Go!" I'm just overjoyed to be playing with the toys, and if Grant should see it, I hope he thinks it's okay.
Did you re-read the issues of the Superman and Batman titles that featured these guys in order to prepare for the task, or did you come in with a solid idea of who they were and what you wanted to do with them?
It was funny, because when the editors contacted me, I was already nine months into a long re-reading project where I was going over all of Grant Morrison's superhero stuff. I started back in the spring, reading all of "Zenith," which was an early series he did with 2000A.D. Then I re-read all of "Animal Man," then "Doom Patrol," then "JLA" and all that stuff. I was actually just about to the point where I was going to start "DC One Million" when Will contacted me, so my first thought was, "'DC One Million' would be great to use." While I was waiting to hear back from them, I read all the core issues and all the tie-ins and also all the appearances elsewhere, like the Tom Peyer "Hourman" and a few "80-Page Giants" and "Secret Files & Origins." I just crammed that all into my brain so as soon as they said, "Yeah, that's great," I had a list of little things that had been mentioned here and there that would be fun to revisit or to see if I could fit different pieces together and see something new.
The end of the original "DC One Million" series sees Superman Prime being reborn out of the sun and reuniting with Lois Lane. For your story, did you wind the clock back a bit before that event happened to show the heroes in the midst of their careers, or do we pick up with that world after the original Superman has returned?
One of my touchstones for this is the Silver Age "World's Finest" book, which as a kid was one of my favorites. There, they didn't deal with the larger ongoing plots from the character's individual books. They just said, "Here's this thing happening to Superman and Batman right now." So this story in my head takes place after the "DC One Million" crossover, but I don't spend a lot of time on the page talking about what's going on in their lives outside of this story. There's this villain doing a thing, and they deal with it. But as much as possible, I tried to pick up on the great threads that Grant had running through and added a few more of my own to make it interesting.
How do you view each character? It's been a while since I've read those issues, but I remember each One Million version being like the original hero, but pushed to the extreme. With Superman and Batman, it seems you'd get a more amped up, heightened version of that darkness versus light take on their personalities that "Superman/Batman" has been known for from the start.
There's a bit of that, but also, one of the things Grant hinted at and must have been in the notes that he disseminated about that world – Mark Millar picked up on this in a story for the "DC One Million 80-Page Giant" called "System's Finest," which was the origin of that team – was this idea that, even though they're different in their approaches and methodologies and even motivations, just like the Silver Age Superman and Batman, they are friends at the core. They're very different people, but they both have in common the goal of fighting crime. The one thing I like the most about the DC One Million characters was that it was a way for Grant to make those Silver Age interpretations of those characters cool and contemporary. As much as anything, I think the DC One Million Superman, for example, is a lot like the old Mort Weisinger-era Superman. He could just do anything. He's got so many ridiculous powers that we don't even know what they all are. He's just this fascinating, nice character who's out to benefit other people and have crazy adventures. So there's a bit of the contrast, but it's less in terms of what their differences are and more in terms of their commonalities.
You're delivering a two-issue story, which makes it hard to talk too much about the plot, but since the solicitation read, "What dangerous foe threatens to destroy both the 853rd and 21st centuries?," I thought I'd ask what dangerous foe does threaten to destroy both centuries?
[Laughs] I'll tell ya! It's Epoch, the Lord of Time! He was introduced in "Justice League of America" during the first year of the original Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsy Justice League, then he appeared like four times over the next 25 years or so until Grant used him in the "JLA/Wildcats" one-shot that came out during his "JLA" run. I just thought it was a fascinating character and a great way of bridging the gap between those two eras – a villain who travels in time. His stated motivation in the old Silver Age and Bronze Age stories was to conquer what is now to us the modern day: the 21st Century. He was able to travel to the future to get cool technology and bring it back to beat the original superheroes. That's where the story starts, and what happens next is the story.
Between this and "iZombie," you've got a lot a fair chunk of your writing schedule outside the BOOM! Studios work linked to DC Comics. Are there any other DC Universe projects you're hoping to launch in 2011?
You know, I haven't really pitched anything because I'm super busy, but I love the DC Universe so much and have since I was eight. If the opportunity to do something cool there came up, I would jump at it.
"Superman/Batman" #79, the first of Roberson's two-part DC One Million tale, ships to comic shops this December. Stay tuned to CBR in the days ahead for a look at the writer's Vertigo series "iZombie."