If you’ve been following the biggest stories coming out of DC lately, then it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the name Joshua Williamson. As the writer of the Flash series for nearly five years, Barry Allen fans have been acquainted with his work for some time. But recently, Williamson has become what can only be considered a central architect of the DC Universe as we know it. Between Infinite Frontier, a recent run on Batman and an upcoming Justice League story which will change the team forever—by killing all of them—Williamson has already ensured that he’ll leave an impact on DC history. But after sitting down to talk about his many current projects, we were left with the impression that Joshua Williamson is only getting started.
You’re all over the DC Universe right now, but it wasn’t that long ago that you were strictly a Flash man. How does Rogues reflect on your previous work on the Central City beat?
It’s very different. When I relaunched The Flash, it was part of Rebirth. There was a very clear theme across the entire line that we were going for. So much of it was about going back to the core story of those characters. And so, with The Flash, it was very built-in to be a particular kind of Flash book. With Rogues, it’s a completely different experience. It’s a different way of telling the story, it’s a different version of Central City, and I feel like I’m a different writer than I was when I first started that. And I was also able to explore different sides of those characters that I couldn’t explore before. If you read my Flash run, I think you’ll still get something from this. But you might be surprised at how different tonally it is.
What do you think it is about Captain Cold and his crew that makes people want to root for them?
I think we all have this fantasy of “getting away with it.” I also think that you see them as this family unit. And they have a code, and they have a set of rules. And I think because they have that code of like, they don’t—I’m not going to say there’s no killing, but not killing for the sake of killing, right? It’s very much like, if it’s in self-defense, or if it’s us versus them.
But it’s really just a family that kind of needs each other. Because when you take a step back, you see this family that’s just trying desperately to be something bigger than they are. They all have these quirks, and they all have these, for lack of a better word, I’m going to say “problems.” But because they all have these challenges that they come with, I think it makes you sympathize with them, and then you start rooting for them. So, it’s interesting when they’re working against the Flash. When I was working on Flash, my thoughts on Barry were that Barry wishes they were better. Like, he actually respects them. He recognizes how smart they all are, and he’s not angry with them, he’s frustrated with them. It’s that thing that’s like, “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.” I feel that’s how Barry was with them, where he was like, “You could be so much more than this.”
I think when all that stuff is taken together, you just really want them to succeed. You relate to some of their challenges, and you really want them to either do better, or find a way to get away with it.
Rogues bills itself as a heist story on a superheroic scale. Everyone knows that the key to a great heist is assembling the right crew. What skills do each of the Rogues bring to the table?
I think Captain Cold’s real ability is not only manipulating people and getting everyone to do what he says, but his ability to see a few steps out. I always see Golden Glider as the heist master, right? Yes, she has the powers that she has, but for me, I think her ability to just plan out what they’re going to do is what I always saw as her skill. But she also grounds everyone. She grounds her brother. Leonard can be a little bit, you know, impulsive. It’s a weird mix, because he can be hot-headed sometimes, but then he can be extremely cold-blooded. And then Lisa’s there to find a way to balance that stuff out with him and keep him focused. I think in a lot of ways she’s the heart of the Rogues, and we explore that as the series goes on. When it hits the fan, they don’t look to Leonard because he’s probably the one who threw it in the fan to begin with. They look to Lisa.
With the rest of the crew, Leonard can’t get the same Rogues that he normally gets for reasons that we explore, so he reaches out to different people. Magenta, I think he picks her because he thinks that she can be manipulated. He sees her as their powerhouse because of her magnetic powers, but he also sees her as a tool. I don’t think he necessarily sees her as family. But we do play with some of that stuff… I’m not going to say that he cares about her, but he definitely is like, “It’s okay kid, you’re one of us now. Let me help you out a little bit.”
And then, with Tiger, I think he really just thought he needed a killer. But the thing is, as we see in the book, Bronze Tiger really doesn’t want to kill anymore. But Leonard still knows that if it comes down to a fight and he needs someone to do the hand-to-hand fighting, he knows Bronze Tiger is the best for that role.
Oh, man. I love Bronze Tiger! I’m really excited he’s part of this crew!
Yeah, me too! Did you know that Bronze Tiger is from Central City?
That was what made me pick him. I needed someone to replace Captain Boomerang who could be the assassin character. I was looking up different characters, and I thought it was really interesting that he was from Central City but never really connected with the Flash, and never really connected with the Rogues. So, I was like, “Oh, he slots in right here, perfect.” And I love writing him. He’s really fun to write, and he really brings something extra to the book.
And then there’s Trickster. I think Snart looks at Trickster as the guy who can hack stuff. If there’s something you need to get into, he’s the one who can help you get into it. But he also knows that part of creating a heist is a lot of times, it is like a magic trick. You want to make someone look over here while you’re doing something over there. And he knows that Trickster is the best at that, and that’s why he picks him.
I mean, with Heat Wave… I think we know Heat Wave can blow stuff up and cause a fire. But no matter what the job is, he was always going to pick his best friend to come with him. That was just a given for him.
And then there is Mirror Master. I think his thought process is that Mirror Master is their escape. But also, he works with the rest of the crew. He works with Trickster, he works with Lisa. His ability to use the Mirrorverse and the Mirror Gun is really crucial to the whole story for all four issues. But I think for Snart, again he was like, “This is someone I could manipulate, but I need him. He’s an expert in this one specific thing that we need for this heist.”
Let’s go on to Shadow War. Deathstroke is one of the most notorious villains in the DC Universe, but his motivations are often enigmatic. In Deathstroke Inc, Slade has taken control of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. But to what end? What is it that Deathstroke really wants?
I think, well, there’s two pieces here. There’s the one piece of him finally accepting who he is. I feel like Slade is kind of going through a mid-life crisis, in some ways. He’s always been like, “I’m not going to be bad, I’m not going to be good. I’m going to be in the middle.”
He was always trying to ride that fence, and he’s recognized that has not gotten him anywhere. And he makes a decision that everyone is going to see him as a bad guy, and he finally accepts that he is. You know? What does that do to a person, when they finally accept they’re a bad person? “But if I’m going to be a bad guy, I’m going to be the best bad guy, and I’m going to be in control.”
There’s a scene where Damian is talking about him, and saying we always see Slade as this kind of solo person, and he’s used people and manipulated people as tools over the course of his entire history, but we’ve never seen him with an army quite like this, where he’s using this many people. So, what does that mean? How do we deal with that differently when it’s not just one person, or a small group like he did during Priest’s run? It’s a different danger.
But to what end? He knows what’s happening. When he found out that T.R.U.S.T. was the Secret Society, he agreed with them on two things. In the past, these other villains have gotten power-hungry and have almost led to the destruction of the multiverse. Lex in a lot of ways sold them out to Perpetua. And I think Slade sees all that and is like, “That cannot happen again.” But he’s also aware that there is something coming. And that thing that’s coming, it scares him.
Let’s talk about the other side of this war. As the new leader of the League of Assassins, Talia’s first order of the day is revenge. But what does it mean to her to have control of this world-shaping force that her father created?
You know, I feel like she’s had control for a while. Because if you go back and you look at Batman, Inc., she had control of Leviathan. And throughout Robin, we were setting up the League of Shadows, which mostly worked for Ra’s, and then there was the League of Assassins, and then there was the League of Lazarus, which was mostly Mother Soul’s thing. I think for Talia, the idea was grabbing all three of them and consolidating them into one, which is what kind of happened in Robin. They sort of consolidated it all and it’s just the League of Shadows now.
In Shadow War, Ra’s makes the decision on his own that he’s actually going to turn himself and Talia into the DEO. That he’s just going to give up. He has reasons for doing it, which we explore, but he makes that decision for both of them. And when she’s like, “Are you out of your mind?,” he’s like, “I need you to trust me.”
And bad things come from that. She trusts him, in that moment. And for her, the realization that she was just following her father’s lead again really pisses her off. That she had just fallen back in this role of “My father leads, and I follow.” That makes her angry.
So, now this revenge is more about that in some ways. “Yes, my father is this bad person. Yes, my father is dead.” But you take all of that, and you take this person who feels like she needs to prove herself again, and this is how she’s going to do it.
That’s a long time coming. I know a lot of Talia fans are going to be excited about that.
There’s a lot going on with her, yeah. There’s some cool stuff coming with Talia.
I’ll be blunt. Why is this war between the League of Shadows and the Secret Society any of Batman’s business?
That comes up a few times! Where it’s like, “What are you doing? We can take care of this.” That’s part of the question. If you know that villains are in danger, not heroes, not regular people, and you are Batman and you find out that there are villains in danger…do you save those villains? Or do you step back and let it happen? And that’s part of the story. There’s a character saying, “We should just let this happen.”
“Let them fight.”
Yeah, exactly. And Batman is like, “No, no, no. This can only lead to bad things.” This could lead to other people getting hurt. Letting them fight has bad consequences, and Batman sees that.
Obviously, he has a relationship with Talia and a relationship with Damian, and because of Damian’s relationship with Ra’s going into this story, and how Ra’s is trying to change who he is. Ra’s has this awful backstory, this awful history, and he wants to change that. He wants to do something better. But he also recognizes he has to pay for all those previous sins. He understands that. Damian sees Ra’s trying to be something different and he relates to that. So, when he sees somebody like Ra’s, who’s done awful things, trying to change, trying to be better, he looks up to that. But then, that that gets taken away. For Damian, he sees that, and thinks, “Are they going to do the same thing to me? Am I not allowed to change? Am I not allowed to be better?”
Bruce understands that, and sees that, and that’s all the reason he needs to be involved.
Be sure to check out the second part of our interview with Joshua Williamson where has a few things to say about celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Death of Superman…by killing off the whole damn Justice League. Look for it next month!
Rogues #1 by Joshua Williamson, Leomacs and Matheus Lopes is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Shadow War: Alpha #1 by Joshua Williamson, Viktor Bogdanovic, Daniel Henriques and Mike Spicer is now available in print and as a digital comic book.