Inside DC's plan to kill the Justice League
30 years ago, DC Comics killed Superman. From this far-off vantage point, we know that the Man of Steel got better eventually. But after being beaten to death by the monster Doomsday in the pages of Superman #75, Clark Kent was gone from DC comics for almost a full calendar year. His absence felt real.
DC loves to homage anniversaries like this (such as when they published the 2005 crossover event Infinite Crisis timed to the 20th anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths) and they're saluting 30 years of "The Death of Superman" in style. Over on The CW, Superman & Lois is hinting at the imminent arrival of Doomsday. And in the pages of DC Comics, an even bigger threat is bearing down on the Justice League.
This time, more than one hero will die. The current Justice League comic will come to an end with issue #75 (recognize that number?), a story that will see DC's greatest superheroes killed in battle against an unstoppable enemy. Yes, really — the Justice League is going to die.
"It's very serious," writer Joshua Williamson tells EW. "It's an interesting opportunity to do this on the 30th anniversary of 'The Death of Superman,' which happened in Superman #75. We get to take Justice League #75 and do 'Death of the Justice League.' We want people to understand, this is serious and this is gonna have a major impact in the DCU moving forward."
Williamson continues, "I remember the experience of reading the build-up to 'The Death of Superman' and then waiting in the rain for my copy of issue #75. I think one reason that story was so powerful was that after the 'Funeral for a Friend' story, there were no Superman comics for three months. That's part of what led us to make the decision that this is the last issue of Justice League. But then three months later, there's still not gonna be a Justice League comic. It's gonna be a while, and that's gonna be a major part of what the DCU looks like after this story: There is no Justice League."
For most of the past year, Justice League has been written by Brian Michael Bendis. But Williamson, who penned last year's Infinite Frontier event and the follow-up series Justice League Incarnate, is swooping in to bring this iteration of the comic to an explosive end that will take the epic over-story he's been building into its next chapter.
"Ever since Infinite Frontier #0, we've been building to this story," Williamson says. "Last year was a lot of fun and games, but when this story starts, it's the beginning of the third act. We're going to see things get darkest before the dawn. The Justice League gets called in to fight this Dark Army that's been building on the edge of the multiverse. They go up against this Dark Army and they lose."
The DC superhero universe has changed a lot in recent years, with several new, younger, more diverse heroes and sidekicks taking up the good fight. But while a veteran like Nightwing has seen crises come and go, what effect will the destruction of the Justice League have on newer recruits like Wonder Girl Yara Flor or Green Lantern Jessica Cruz?
"We'll get to see what the ramifications are of losing the Justice League," Williamson says. "You'll get to see how the new heroes react, how some of the heroes that have been around for a while react, you'll see how people on the ground react to this idea of the Justice League dying, and then you'll get to see how all the villains react. What happens when they know the Justice League is gone?"
That's all for the future, though. In and of itself, Justice League #75 will focus on the apocalyptic battle between the Justice League and the Dark Army in a dead multiverse. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Zatanna will embark on this mission — and only one will return to tell the rest of the universe what has happened.
Though Williamson is writing the scenes, it falls to artist Rafa Sandoval to actually depict these beloved superheroes dying in battle.
"My first reaction when I read this script was, 'Wow! This is going to be huge!' Right after that, I started thinking, 'how do I approach drawing this?' " Sandoval tells EW. "There is a big battle with lots of characters and also a very critical and sad moment, so I thought of some movies that I could use as a reference for this book. The Lord of the Rings helped me plan shots and how I could show the battle, as well as how to transition from the battle to the most critical moment, the death of the Justice League. I escalate the action by going from distant shots to close-ups and then suddenly do the opposite to force the reader to stop and take in what is happening on the page. Drawing such a painful death for these characters after they fought so hard was tough. As an artist, though, drawing such epic and emotional moments was a big challenge, and I love these challenges!"
Justice League #75 hits comic stores on April 19. Below, check out a host of variant covers.
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