This September, DC Comics is adding a whole new wrinkle to the New 52, trotting out the baddest characters in the DCU for four weeks of evil-centric one-shots for the event collectively known as Villains Month.
With established foes and the reintroduction of of established bad guys to the DC Universe on the fall docket, ex-DC President and writer Paul Levitz is finding the darkness in the Earth 2 corner of the New 52 by incorporating elements of both the Fourth World and his ongoing "Worlds' Finest" series into a villainous one-shot with artist Yildiray Cinar, simply titled "Earth 2: Desaad."
Originating in Jack Kirby's epic "Fourth World" comic book mythology, Desaad is one of Darkseid's (mostly) loyal minions and master torturer on Apokolips. Corrupted by Darkseid as a youth, the New 52 version of Desaad is firmly part of the Earth 2 universe and has already appeared in Levitz' "Worlds' Finest."
"I've been a big fan of the Fourth World since Jack [Kirby] did it and I was in your seat, basically, at the time when the Fourth World came out," Levitz told CBR News, speaking about his fan love for the Kirby written, drawn and edited corner of the DC Universe when it was released in the '70s. However, not everyone shared Levitz's admiration at the time, and the series was cancelled before Kirby could reach his desired ending.
"I was doing [fanzine] 'The Comic Reader' and [the 'Fourth World'] was certainly the coolest thing that was happening in comics at that moment although it wasn't immediately obvious," Levitz continued. "It really was groundbreaking for so many things that so many people have chosen to do structurally in the years that followed. So my fandom sort of got reaffirmed over the years seeing how history and evolution have treated it."
Running from 1971 to 1973, Kirby's "Fourth World" story spanned four books, the mythology-specific "Mister Miracle," "New Gods" and "The Forever People," as well as "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen," where Kirby first introduced the concept for his epic.
"A lot of what Jack did there, to my mind, never came to its full potential because he had such a rich treasure trove of ideas he didn't have enough time to explore all of them fully," Levitz said. "Desaad certainly, in his vision, came under that list. We saw moments with the fearful side of him but it was never clear what was going on in any of that or where it all fit together."
Thus, "When the editorial team asked me to incorporate him into 'Worlds' Finest' I thought he'd be fun to play with. The New 52 visual was certainly creepier than the original!" Levitz laughed. "When I got the assignment to do the Villains Month version it really became a question of how do I show what this character is about and how is he important and different from the other villains in the DC Universe?"
Tackling that question became central to how Levitz approached Desaad, not just in "Worlds' Finest," his Power Girl and Huntress series, but in the September one-shot as well.
"The challenge, I think, for all of us for Villains Month is to make these villains as non-generic as possible. This is not a bunch of guys who want to do the same terrible things for the same reason. What makes them different from all the other villains?" Levitz said. "Desaad was a perfect character to fit that challenge."
One of the first writers to really help incorporate the "Fourth World" characters into the DC Universe in the '80s with his "Legion Of Super-Heroes" story "Great Darkness Saga," Levitz is no stranger to Darkseid, Apokolips and the quest for the anti-life equation. The New Gods characters are also central to the New 52's "Earth 2" which saw Apokolips warring against the heroes of the alternate world, tossing Supergirl and Robin across realities during their climactic battle over to the main New 52 Universe in Levitz' "Worlds' Finest." However, for September the focus is firmly on Desaad and Desaad alone.
"It's really Desaad's story," the writer explained. "It connects really specifically to things that have happened in 'Worlds' Finest,' so if you're reading it carefully and you're sort of interpolating between the lines of what's gone on in the book from the beginning, it fills in a couple of the mysteries or the connections in interesting ways. You begin to understand more of why certain things have happened and why some things will happen as the whole story continues to build.
"As I commented before, it's fun to do a story that starts with the line of dialogue, 'So this is how Lucifer must have felt!'" Levitz laughed. "It's told from a character who very much sees himself in that mold and we tell the story from there."
Though Desaad serves as the hero of his own story in the September one-shot, Levitz wasn't so quick to label him a sympathetic villain.
"I don't think you sympathize for a god. This is the living incarnation of the joy of fear and pain; I don't think he's a very sympathetic creature. You may understand him a little better, or you'll certainly understand why he's here and what he's trying to do. I don't think you'd want him living next door anymore than you did before," the writer explained.
While Villains month aims to get to the heart of the DC Universe's bad guys, Levitz believed that though Desaad is a more complicated and three-dimensional character than first meets the eye, at his core the torturer from Apokolips really embodies Levitz's conception of evil.
"I definitely see him as more evil than a human villain would likely be," the writer said. "Most human villains can at least write a story in their own head where there's a reason for what they're doing that has some level of nobility to it. Desaad is an extra-human being. He's not susceptible to our morality so he takes a literal, physical joy and need from fear and pain."
"That's as close to a human definition of evil as I think you can get -- someone who subsists on other people's pain," Levitz concluded.
"Earth 2: Desaad" goes on sale September 4.