Teased practically since the beginning of their New 52 relaunch two years ago, DC Comics summer "Trinity War" crossover has a lot of hype to answer for and is already delivering some unexpected twists.
For one, the story is a true crossover taking place within the pages of "Justice League," "Justice League of America" and "Justice League Dark." While issues of other series including "Constantine," "Trinity of Sin: Pandora" and "Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger" will be tying in, the whole story will be contained by DC's regular publishing calendar (unlike many broad event series such as DC's just announced "Forever Evil"). While DC CCO and "Justice League" mastermind Geoff Johns will team with co-writer Jeff Lemire (as well as their regular JL artists Ivan Reis, Doug Mahnke and Mikel Janin) to lead the charge, CBR News is starting our coverage of "Trinity War" with the man behind the scenes: editor Brian Cunningham.
Already having worked with Johns on the recent "Throne of Atlantis" crossover, Cunningham is tasked with keeping the story across all "Trinity War" titles and tie-ins running smoothly. Below, the editor explains why this was a story two years in the making, teases which shocking death lights the story's fuse in July's "Justice League" #20, shares what lynchpin pieces of the DCU will emerge in the tie-in issues and promises the story won't fall flat after a long wait. Plus, Cunningham shares an exclusive first look at a Shazam/Superman throwdown from "Justice League" #22.
CBR News: One of the first things that jumped out at people about "Trinity War" was that it was an old school crossover within the pages of the Justice League books and not a standalone event series. I know Geoff was quite keen on that model for "Throne of Atlantis." Was one of the defining aspects of this story keeping it "all in the family?" Has it at all grown in the telling past your initial plans?
Brian Cunningham: "All in the family" is a great way of putting it. We've been talking about a Justice League crossover between the series for a good long while now, even when "Justice League International" was around. But, quite honestly, we didn't really have a story that merited a crossover. It had to evolve organically out of the various plotlines within all of the series. It had to feel right.
Now we have all the dominos set up just waiting to be knocked down.
"Trinity War" sits in a strange position because we saw the briefest of teases of this event way back and since then a bunch of pieces have had to fall into place in the DCU -- the introduction of Simon Baz, the expansion of the Justice League, the birth of the JLA, the full debut of Shazam. What would you say is the final piece that fell into place for this crossover? And what will fans have to know going in?
Fans will need to know exactly zero going in. Just c'mon in and enjoy the story as we consciously re-introduce all three casts of each series. That's something that writer Geoff Johns was very conscious of when writing Part 1, "Justice League" #22 -- make it a super-clean jumping-on point. The last piece in place was launching "Justice League of America." The existence of a JLA opened up a completely new possibility -- a team designed to neutralize the big-gun Justice League if it ever had to. Well, needless to say, a situation pops up where it has to.
We know the action of the story itself kicks off with the death of a hero. Whoever that may be, what significance does this act hold outside "lighting the fuse" of the fight between Leagues? In other words, how did you guys zero in on a sacrificial lamb?
All I can say is the "sacrificial lamb" is someone no one will expect. And how he or she dies will be quite shocking. I say that with no hyperbole, either! Readers will go "WHAT THE--??" Or, at least I hope they do! [Laughs]
From the start of the New 52, the core theme of "Justice League" has been about the appearance of superheroes in the world and the world's collective reaction to them. How does that carry into the conflict between three different Justice Leagues?
It carries into it quite a bit. In fact, the world's collective reaction factors into why a fuse is even lit in the first place.
The world once adored the Justice League. And as a result of the "Villains Journey" arc in "Justice League" #9-12, the world started to look differently at them, that they weren't perfect citizens, that they could be dangerous. "Trinity War" furthers explores those perceptions, and expands upon them. And those perceptions go from bad to worse, as will become painfully evident in "Justice League" #22. Emphasis on the "painful" part.
Let's look at each of the players in this conflict on their own terms. The original Justice League has come together over their series as people and friends first more so than as an organization. What's the attraction to breaking the bonds of the big seven?
Truthfully, those bonds were never particularly close friendships. Just because the world at large called the League "super friends," doesn't mean that is the reality of their relationships. Flash might be the only member that consciously wants everyone to get along. The rest of them understand that the mechanics of the team work best when they work together as allies.
Certainly, Superman/Wonder Woman's romantic relationship stirs the pot, which makes for wonderful conflict, and we'll see some of that play out in "Trinity War." It's already been shown that Batman knows Clark and Diana are an item -- and he's not thrilled about it. Or about what it could mean for the League, which at present does not know they are dating. What happens when they all find out? Does that make things worse?
On the other side of the equation, the Justice League of America has always been a little uneasy with each other seeing as they're professionals on a job. Are they as committed to their cause of stopping the Justice League as Waller would like them to be?
Part of the appeal of that series is that the JLA does not know their true purpose! They have no clue exactly why each of them were recruited. Vibe, in particular, is completely baffled why he'd be wanted there -- he is completely out of his league, so to speak. He has no idea he was brought in to specifically take out Flash with his vibrational powers. At least he doesn't know yet...
Now, that all said, when the confrontation between Leagues actually happens, have popcorn at the ready and wait for the fireworks. Also bring a body bag.
I feel like the Secret Society is serving as the X-factor for this crossover. How do you guys work to make this take on the super villain organization different from past iterations, and how do their schemes fold into the action across "Trinity War"?
The Society is part of the engine that drives this story. Exactly how is something people will need to discover for themselves. Let's just say the Society is involved in this story from the first page until the last page.
Lastly on our trinity round up is Justice League Dark. I got the impression from issue #19 that the gatefold issue was really working to serve as a jumping on point for readers, and it was also (probably not coincidentally) the book where they first come into contact with a regular Leaguer in the Flash. For folks who may not have been following that book, how does the tone of a series and team set more in the shadows merge with the very public Justice Leaguers? What role does the Dark team play in A.R.G.U.S.' attempts to control the JL as a franchise?
"Justice League Dark," to my mind, is the team of "all-stars" from DC's rich mystical realm. Part of the fun of bringing in Flash for an arc was to show the contrast between mainstream and mystical. And of course to attract potential new readers, definitely. I should also add that Swamp Thing will be sticking around for a while, which should help.
We've felt the series merits a second look. Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes and Mikel Janin have been kicking butt on the book for over a year now, and things go off the charts for "Trinity War" -- issue #22 has a bajillon characters in it and Mikel is just killing on it. Mikel may be a rookie when compared to Ivan and Doug, but he's evolved into another iconic DC artist. He is a superstar in the making.
The Dark team's role in A.R.G.U.S. is fairly non-existent. John Constantine severed those ties in dramatic fashion. Constantine has outmaneuvered A.R.G.U.S. when Steve Trevor was in charge, but Constantine's never matched wits with someone like its new director Amanda Waller. So when these two master manipulators converge at cross purposes -- and, c'mon, it is a certainty that they will -- it will be very fun to watch.
Tie-in wise, "Constantine" seems to be tying John's own experience with magic to the magic of Shazam. That's not the kind of thing we could have seen a few years ago, but how well does the more adult style of this book mesh with Shazam?
"Constantine" #5 is a real hoot simply because John is trying out-con another con-man in young Billy Batson. John feels the power of Shazam should not be trusted to a 15-year-old kid, so John manipulates the situation to try and steal that power away. The result is... excruciating for both parties.
Ray Fawkes and Renato Guedes have done a wonderful job with this issue. It's a really fun read, a wild ride in 20 pages. But readers of "Constantine" already know they get a wild ride every issue. Each issue seems to have at least one really messed-up and disturbing scene, and issue #5 is no exception.
Pandora and Phantom Stranger are a bit trickier because the broad pitch on "Trinity War" seems very focused on the clash of personalities and misunderstandings in the various Justice Leagues, but these two characters are very tied to the origins of the New 52 DCU and the multiverse. Is there a chance for some reality shaking events within the course of the story?
Pandora is a lynchpin to the larger story. She has something everyone wants, and they will fight Pandora to get it. It's not easy being Pandora, as readers of "Pandora" #1 will surely learn.
Phantom Stranger's involvement, as a member of the so-called "Trinity of Sin," is also very important. In fact, "Phantom Stranger" #11's tie-in issue is one of the most tragic stories I've seen in a long while. [J.M.] DeMatteis found a fantastic way to tie what's been going on in "Phantom Stranger" and making a tie-in issue very relevant to both the event and its own series. To the non-reader of that series, I really urge you to at the very least pick up issue #11 where the Stranger has to make a simply brutal choice.
With Doug, Ivan, Mikel and the rest of the art teams, we have a group of guys who will be familiar to Justice League readers (or to Geoff Johns readers in Doug's case), but they've also got their own unique styles. How does this all fit together visually to feel like one story? Does each artist take a certain focus or group of characters in their issues, or does the story follow moment-to-moment through the issues like "Throne of Atlantis"?
The story is very linear in its approach, so artistically, each chapter will have its own unique flavor. But c'mon, we are talking about three of the best artists in the business that anyone can and will enjoy. The art that has come in thus far is truly incredible. Each artist knows more eyeballs are watching for an event like this, so they've even found ways to up their own games, which is odd to say because they are all so talented to begin with!
Overall, with a story that people have been waiting to read since the start of the New 52, how do you feel "Trinity War" delivers on its (maybe assumed) promise as a central story for the fate of the DCU going forward?
Let me put it this way: "Trinity War" not only delivers on its own promise, but also serves up an entirely new, second promise once you read that last page. This is no hyperbole, either. The entire game changes in the New 52, and I guarantee you'll want to see it first-hand rather than as an Internet spoiler. Guar-an-tee.
Stay tuned to CBR News in the weeks ahead for more updates from the creators and editors behind "Trinity War."