With anything related to multiverses as hot as a mint issue of Flash #123 right now, bringing back the “anti-Justice league” for their very own mini-series was perfect timing.
Writer Andy Schmidt and artists Kieran McKeown and Dexter Vines’ Crime Syndicate series wraps up this week, and it was our pleasure to speak to Schmidt about his approach to the new series and the “evil” members of one of DC Comics’ original alternate reality concepts.
The Crime Syndicate has a long history in the DC Comics Universe. How is this version different from previous incarnations?
Andy Schmidt: We had an opportunity with the ending of Death Metal to do a new take. The biggest question I’ve always had with the Crime Syndicate was how they met, and what was the glue that kept them together. No one had ever told an origin story for the Syndicate, so we were able to add to the tapestry and do something new.
As for the take on the characters, the opening from Death Metal allowed for us to make updates and modifications where we thought it would be good and fun. So our take is an updated one and has a dark sense of humor to it.
In writing Crime Syndicate, you get to essentially warp classic DC heroes. Is there one character that you enjoy playing against type the most?
Schmidt: When I started, I thought I’d enjoy Owlman the most and I definitely love writing him. But I have grown to love them all. And in surprising ways. Writing a jerk with the powers of Superman is really fun. Superwoman is scheming and I think really interesting with her updated backstory. There’s a lot more to be done with her should DC decide to mine it. Emerald Knight and Atomica have grown on me the most. Surprisingly so, but I really enjoy both of them in ways I didn’t anticipate. So, really, I like writing them all. Pin me down, and I’ll probably go with Emerald Knight.
You get to work with a variety of artists on the mini-series including Kiernan McKeown and Dexter Vines on the main story. What does each one bring to the narrative?
Schmidt: Kieran has grown immensely in the time I’ve known him. He’s a completely self-taught comics artist which is super-impressive. But since he’s started working professionally, his storytelling has been growing by leaps and bounds. The thing I love the most about his work is his ability to capture emotions in expressions. I love his faces and he’s also managed to kill it on the big, epic stuff, too.
Dexter’s been a favorite inker of mine going way back to my editorial days. A crisp and smooth line that also adds fullness to his shapes and characters. He’s one of the best.
You also get to tell a short origin story for each member as a back-up feature. Is it difficult to tell an origin in five pages? Does it help when Bryan Hitch is illustrating them?
Schmidt: Yes, it’s difficult. The key to all of them isn’t focusing on the origin (though that’s fine) but focusing on what makes this character become who he or she is. We see Ultraman’s origin and we can see where he took a different path from his heroic counter-part. But Owlman is already Owlman at the start of his story. The sequence we focus on is the point where he realizes all of his beliefs amount to nothing. They were all a lie. And that realization, so we meet him at that moment rather than the first time he dons a cape and cowl.
The trick to all of these is focusing on what I’ve called “the flip.” But it’s that point of departure from their counter-parts. Or just how they became the evil jerks they are. Ha ha.
As for working with Bryan, yes, absolutely. Writing dense material like that and handing it someone as capable as Bryan means that I don’t sweat it once it’s in his hands. He can elevate just about any material he gets, and he’s gone bonkers on these. Then when Alex Sinclair colors them, again, next level work.
Some of the Crime Syndicate members look markedly different from previous series, particularly this version of Johnny Quick. What went into remaking the evil Flash?
Schmidt: One of the tenants we went into this with was to try to get readers to stop thinking of them as “the evil version of a hero” and instead start to think of them just as who they are on their own terms. That led to some out of the box thinking. In the case of Johnny, we felt that the changes we were making to his personality and his upbringing lent itself to a low tech type of costume choice—and not a costume at all, per se. The tattoos we thought worked really well and Kieran took it and ran with the idea. We he turned that design in, we had to sit on it for a day or two the let our preconceived notions of what he should look like roll off of us. Then he looked kind of perfect for who Johnny Quick is.
And we went through that kind of thinking for all of them. Ultraman’s costume makes sense for him, so does Owlman’s. Superwoman’s costume isn’t a costume. It’s how she dresses as an ambassador in Arnold DC. She dresses to intimidate everyone. She’s dressed up, but for power.
That’s the kind of thinking we put into it. And Kieran took those discussions and notions and turned in what I think are some really head-turning designs. I love them.
While your story is about a villainous version of the Justice League, do you consider all of them villains?
Schmidt: I absolutely see them as villains. And that’s part of the fun of this book. I’m not interested in turning these villains into heroes. I am interested in creating more complicated characters than you expect at first glance. So they may do things that appear heroic or have a heroic effect, but in those moments, they’re doing it for their own self-interested reasons. Which I think makes them that much more fun to write.
Speaking of villains, why is Starro a suitable threat to this group?
Schmidt: There are three reasons, the first is that he’s not a schemer. I didn’t want to spend the first three issues focused on their adversary—I knew going in we only had six issues, and two story arcs, so I wanted to spend as much time with our main cast as possible, so using a villain whose presence and threat and motivation are fairly obvious, meant we didn’t have to spend page after page on Starro. We get to spend our pages on the Crime Syndicate.
Secondly, I needed a global level threat that would expose the metahuman population on the planet. And an alien invasion across the planet seemed a great way to do that. That was needed to expedite bringing our cast together so they could start interacting with each other as quickly as possible—because that’s where the real fun of the series is—in the character interactions.
The last reason, which is just fun for long-time fans, is that Starro was the original foe that brought the Justice League together. But had Starro not also allowed for us to spend all that space on our cast and be the worldwide threat we needed, I wouldn’t have advocated for him as the first villain. I’m a character-first kind of writer.
If you had the opportunity to write a solo series starring one member of the Crime Syndicate, who would it be and why?
Schmidt: Either Owlman or Emerald Knight. In both cases, because I think we’ve set up a fair amount of backstory I’d love to explore. I’d be interested in doing a “Return of the Jester” storyline with Owlman and for Emerald Knight, I’d like to see more of the Emerald Knights as a galactic group and deal with the looming threat of the Overlords of Oa. Those would be my first instincts, but I think Kieran and the editorial team and I have developed strong enough characters that there’s a lot to mine for all of them. I’d love to take Donna Troy back to Demon Island to try to conquer it—I would enjoy figuring out what that looks like and how to put a great twist on it. They all have a lot to explore, and I hope the readers are picking up on that—and other creators do to.
Schmidt: I’m not able to commit to any other projects at the moment for DC Comics, which is too bad, but it’s because I recently launched a small comics publisher called Comics Experience Publishing that focuses on creator-owned work of all kinds of awesome creators and across multiple genres. I love super-heroes, but there’s more to comics than just them. Ha ha! As for what I’m writing, I’m currently wrapping up a few creator-owned projects of my own that haven’t been announced yet. I hope fans of Crime Syndicate will follow me on Twitter and follow CEX and support what we’ve got coming down the pipe! And of course, should DC Comics decided to do more Crime Syndicate, I hope they’ll join me in buying those books as well!
Crime Syndicate #6 is in stores today.