'Justice League': Behind the Comic Book Origins Of The Universe-Changing 'No Justice'

Writers James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson and artist Francis Manapul talk about the weekly series that will change the Justice League for good.
Francis Manapul/DC Entertainment

As discussed with Scott Snyder, the end of this week’s Dark Nights: Metal No. 6 sets up the future direction for DC Entertainment’s comic book universe. That future begins in May, with the four-part weekly series Justice League: No Justice, which redefines DC’s superhero teams from that point onwards.

Written by Snyder, Detective Comics’ James Tynion IV and The Flash’s Joshua Williamson, with art by Trinity and Justice League artist Francis Manapul, Justice League: No Justice picks up immediately where Metal leaves off, with the destruction of the Source Wall — a literal wall at the edge of space — and the redefinition of the entire universe that results from that. But what does that actually mean, and how does it lead into the three ongoing Justice League comic series that launch in June?

THR spoke to Tynion, Williamson and Manapul about creating the first step into the DC comic book universe of tomorrow.

The end of Dark Nights: Metal is clearly also a beginning; the Source Wall is broken, which concretely sets up Justice League: No Justice, but it also leaves the open question of, what actually is No Justice? Where does it go, how does it connect to not only Metal but the three new Justice League comics spinning out of it — and, for that matter, where did it come from?

Tynion: No Justice started, honestly, last fall. Josh and I were sort of working with Scott, and we were talking about Metal and what we wanted the shape of the summer to be, because we understood that this was going to be an opportunity — Scott was going to be taking the core Justice League book, and we knew that we were going to fill books ourselves as part of that. The conversation really started as, okay, to tie up the thread of the existing team books and launch this new wave of team books to embody the post-Metal spirit of what we’re trying to build, we would do this kind-of-event.

There are different ways to do these kinds of books — do we do the more political, boots-on-the-ground, with the characters, kind of thing? And it was like, ‘No, no, no. Let’s go deeply insane with this.’ We just broke the universe. What if we put Batman and Lex Luthor and Lobo on a team with Beast Boy? We started just one-upping each other with these conversations, laughing and enjoying the energy of it, and it was one of the first moments of sitting down and thinking, ‘Oh. This is what Metal opened the doors to.’

We wanted to do something huge and celebratory, that embraces every corner of the DC Universe, but also serves practical purposes. It’s going to set up these [future] books; it’s the next step in the story. What began in Metal continues in No Justice, and then blows up in the Justice League line. The setup is exactly as you said: The universe is broken, and the teams that we know and love in the DCU are not ready for what’s coming, and the figure who’s going to tell them that is Brainiac, who’s going to drag them off to change that.

The other part of the story is, Amanda Waller on Earth basically being like, ‘We didn’t even know there was a wall at the end of the universe, and now you’re telling me it’s broken? There are all these cosmic threats and people from our planet are causing this chaos, and we have no knowledge of what’s out there. We need that knowledge.’ Those are the two core threads that launch this story.

Williamson: We started talking about the fun stuff we could do with ‘What would happen if the Source Wall broke?’ Aquaman says at the end of Metal No. 6, ‘We’re just small fish in a small fishbowl, and now we’re poured out into the ocean.’ What does that mean to these characters? Is that scary, or is that fun? The universe is so much bigger than we thought it was! Do they embrace that idea, or do they react badly and feel smaller than ever, and react violently to that? And, what was the Source Wall, we get to explore that, and what’s on the other side of it? Is anything coming through that wall? Do we get to go through that wall? It’s been a lot of fun to explore these ideas.

Scott has had this really big vision he’s been talking about for years, especially with James, you’ve been talking Metal with Scott since he started working on Batman. James and I actually went out to Scott’s house last fall and we started talking about what it actually means for the DCU, the Source Wall breaking. That’s where No Justice came from — we create these four new epic space gods who, essentially, start to act because of the Source Wall breaking. They’re scared too; they’re not from beyond the Source Wall, they’re from our universe, and when the Source Wall breaks, they’re nervous. The same with Brainiac; he’s nervous and scared. That’s how much of a big deal it is — Brainiac has to come down here to Earth and say, ‘I need your help, but not in the forms you’re in right now. The forms I’m going to put you in? That’ll work.’

We sat there at Scott’s house, with a whiteboard and notepads, just talking about these characters and getting to play with — not to belittle it — all the toys. Talking about how they’d go up against each other, and some of them would break. One of the things that was really fun for us was getting to explore relationships that we haven’t really seem a lot of, like Beast Boy and Lobo, or Superman and Starfire — putting the characters in these different combinations and getting to see them react to each other. Brainiac when he comes in clearly thinks, ‘This is the best form you can be in, according to statistics.’ That’s what he’s looking at; he’s looking at power bases. He’s thinking, ‘With this person and that power, their powers will react this way,’ but he’s not looking at personalities. And in some cases, they’ll react negatively, in some cases, positively.

We keep coming back to Lobo and Beast Boy in that way. Like, Beast Boy is a fun-loving character, and Lobo is a fun-loving character too, in a different way —

Tynion: [Laughs] A different kind of fun!

Williamson: Yeah, definitely, but they become this odd pair and end up influencing each other in ways that are surprising and it becomes one of the more heartfelt moments of the book. Here’s what it comes down to: We had a lot of goals, and a lot of things we wanted to do with the book, and we knew with the Source Wall breaking and the fundamentals of the DCU changing in the way it was, we really needed a series to explore that. That’s really what No Justice is: showing the beginning of these ramifications, and showing how they splinter off into new books. The end of Metal has the Source Wall breaking, but something else really big happens in No Justice that is really major and affects a lot of the characters, not only why they go off into these new teams, but emotionally, going forward.

How does character influence your selection of the new teams? You talked about characters who’d embrace the new universe, versus those who’d be suspicious of it. You have a team that’s got Batman and Lex Luthor, that feels like they’re grouped in terms of attitude. Did that play into your idea of who these teams would be?

Williamson: Yeah. [Laughs]

Tynion: I was trying to figure out a longer way to say that, but Josh beat me to it. That’s absolutely core to what we did. The team line-ups was almost the longest part of the conversation, trying to figure out how each of them embodied what we were going for, with something new and exciting. We talked a lot about the energy of the characters together, and the series itself is about energy; we’re going to be talking about these four cosmic space gods who embody four particular life energies, and we’ll get into that in the series, how those energies related to sentient life, but they’re kind of how people relate to the universe. And we see how the four can be in conflict with each other, but also how they can come together in harmony. Even a force as chaotic as entropy — and that’s the force that the Batman, Lex Luthor, Deathstroke team embodies. It was kind of like coming up with our own Harry Potter houses.

How did Justice League and the two series you’re writing tie into No Justice, in terms of plotting and planning? Did you have the line-ups for the new series, and then you worked backwards to build that into No Justice? Or did No Justice inform the character line-ups for Justice League Dark and Justice League Odyssey?

Tynion: It was a bit of both, I’d say.

Williamson: Yeah.

Tynion: They came from No Justice, they came from the entire line, and what characters are where. The central mystery of each of the new series is, I’d say, instigated at the end of Metal, and filled out in No Justice. The core relationship between Zatanna and Wonder Woman, which is going to be the main relationship in Justice League Dark, is set up in No Justice. But also, the characters part of the team in No Justice, but aren’t in the Justice League Dark team — particularly Doctor Fate and the Demon — those two characters are going to play a major role in the Justice League Dark book, but there’s going to be a major reason they didn’t sign up with Wonder Woman and Zatanna.

Williamson: With Justice League Odyssey, we’d talked for a long time about wanting to have a Justice League Space book. For the last year, I think, we’d keep bouncing ideas back and forth about what that could be. It actually ended up coming together really organically, because when we were working on Metal, we started having this conversation about Cyborg and what his role was going to be, and where he’d be at the end of it. We knew that he’d be better connected to the multiverse, and the worlds around him, but wanting to explore that side of him — the Mother Box side, the Fourth World mythology — it’s been touched on, but never really played with. We started having these conversations about the Source Wall breaking, and it became more and more obvious there would be a Justice League Space book, and as we were working on No Justice, we started looking at the character interactions and who was going be going where and what was happening.

Back in November, we were in the DC offices, and we were talking about No Justice and one of the conversations was about ramifications, and what stories could come out of No Justice, and what stories would come out of Metal. And, at first, it was maybe one or two things, but then we just kept adding to it. The more we added, the more we were like, ‘Well, what about this,’ ‘No, what about this!’ Then it was, we have all these ramifications, we have all these stories, where is that going? It kept coming around to, ‘We’re going to have a team book in space, we don’t know what that’s going to be,’ and that eventually turned into Justice League Odyssey. It was very organic, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we have these characters, this line-up, we have to work backwards.’

Tynion: I have to give DC a lot of credit for working with us on this, not only the bosses, but also our editor overseeing the line, Rebecca Taylor, who’s really shaped this with us. Giving us the responsibility of, ‘You do have access to the entire toybox, nothing is off limits,’ it’s such a freeing association, but it’s also something that DC, if they’d been nervous, could have shut down on 20 different levels. What we’re doing is going to have massive ramifications for every corner, but I think they saw we had a plan for every corner, that there were stories we were desperate to tell — that there were too many stories to tell, more than could fit into our books — and they thought, ‘We have to let them go for it.’ I’m really appreciative for it.

Francis, I wanted to ask about working on this from a visual standpoint, and getting to play with all the toys, as James and Josh put it. What’s it been like for you?

Manapul: It’s been an incredibly fun new challenge for me. I’m used to tackling solo books, or at least a trio, like in Trinity, so getting to draw basically every character in the DC Universe has been insane. It’s insane. The way Scott, Josh and James have written the story, each character gets a moment to shine, so it gets, at times, difficult to focus on who to pour the love into. I end up trying to push as much love into as many characters as I can. I remember reading one of the scripts really early on, and it referenced a scene from a George Perez book, and as soon as I read that, I thought, ‘Oh boy.’ [Laughs] That was one of those, ‘Oh, I’d better go and expose myself to all those old classic Justice League stories’ moments… In a lot of ways, there’s something about this that feels very ‘modern vintage,’ in the way that stories were a lot of fun and very bombastic in the ‘80s, you know? It feels like a fan’s dream. If you’re a fantasy sports guy, like I am, it feels like the comics version of that; getting the chance to put different characters in different spots and different combinations.

And you get to redesign the characters, as well! All the familiar characters get redesigns based on what I assume is Brainiac’s technology.

Manapul: The first things I designed weren’t even the new costumes for the characters, it was the Omega Titans, and the setting. When they told me what this story was about, it was this big epic DC Universe story, it was a massive thing. The first things I actually drew were the four new villains, getting the feel and vibe for the book, the colors — we really wanted to go for something that wasn’t dark, but was really fun and in your face. A celebration of the entire DC Universe. A lot of it was influenced by Jack Kirby, especially with the Source Wall and all the gods and things — there’s really nobody who can draw epic like Jack. Really early on, that was a huge influence on me.

Williamson: I remember when we started developing this, it was last year around the summer, when there was all this stuff about Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday, and I think all that big Kirby fun and that feeling of epicness was in all our heads. You really pulled it off. That two page spread of the Source Wall at the start of the first issue is one of my favorite pieces that Francis has ever done. I remember when we first got it, I lost my mind. I couldn’t even believe it, and then we start texting it to each other; everyone was losing their minds at the same time. It’s a beautiful, beautiful two-page spread that really says, this is huge. This is a big story.

Manapul: That was actually a key moment for the book. I remember we had gone through a few versions of that moment, and when you’re doing a double-page spread, the natural inclination is to have the characters front and center. It’s kind of like a money shot, the people are there to see a big shot of the Green Lanterns. But in this case, in that spread, when you’re seeing the Source Wall breaking open, you have to draw them as little dots. You can barely see the Green Lanterns, but I think that spread is an indication of how big the story is.

Something that’s coming across talking to you about No Justice, and what follows, is that it seems obvious that you guys are having fun, both with this book and working on Justice League in general. Despite the literally universe-shaking scale of the story, it seems — I don’t want to say like a caper — but certainly it seems fun.

Williamson: That was 100% the goal. Metal has ups and downs like an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s very big and fun and has that bonkers energy; when we were talking with Scott last fall, we were like, ‘Let’s keep this going. How can we have something that’s got an emotional hook, an emotional tether, and has drama and ramifications, but has fun?’ It’s saying, ‘We know you love the DCU, and so do we!’ In many ways, this is like a thank you for the fans for the last couple of years; the last two years that we’ve been working on Rebirth, all this different stuff, the fans have been there with us. Part of No Justice is, ‘You guys stuck with us and we’re really grateful for that, let’s have some fun. Let’s have a party.’

Tynion: But it’s also, worlds might explode during it! [Laughs] It’s meant to be fun; we want to capture the creative energy of sitting down with a whiteboard where everything’s possible and the only reason not to do something is if it’s boring. We wanted to do something in the biggest, craziest, most fun way. We don’t want to do the small version.

Williamson: We don’t want to downplay the drama, though. Some really major things happen in No Justice, some characters are left changed… emotionally.

Tynion: But there are actually giant explosions and giant robots that Lobo throws Beast Boy through. [Laughs]

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