'Year of the Villain' Writers on Bringing DC Villains to the Forefront

DC's Year of the Villain - Greg Capullo DC - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Greg Capullo/DC
Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV explain how Lex Luthor plans on giving the bad guys the chance to win.

Things are about to get very bad for DC’s superheroes, starting tomorrow.

On Wednesday, DC will release DC’s Year of the Villain, a specially-priced — just 25 cents! — one-shot issue setting up the Year of the Villain storyline, which will unfold across the DC superhero universe from July through November, and see super villains get an offer they can’t refuse from Lex Luthor and his cosmic-powered patron, Perpetua.

The storyline spins out of Justice League, where Luthor’s mission has been slowly revealed across the last year, with writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV revealing the hidden history of DC’s very reality, and the possibility that — just maybe — the bad guys have been in the right all along. As Luthor prepares to turn evil into the dominant force of existence, Heat Vision caught up with Snyder and Tynion to get some background on what’s come before, and what’s about to happen.

Let's start with the basic gist of where things are as the Year of the Villain issue comes out. Everything in Justice League has been building to this at this point, and it's been a very ambitious book, doing something it's very bold in terms of DC mythology and yet Year of the Villain still feels like an unexpected turn. How much of this has been built into the idea from the get go?

Scott Snyder: I mean, all of it is built in from the get go, honestly. When we did Dark Nights: Metal, we pitched sort of a larger plan to DC about how that story would engender a bunch of books and storylines that would kind of go their separate ways for a while and set up kind of new, interesting, hopefully exciting, areas for DC — Justice League, Justice League Dark, Justice League Odyssey, some of the stuff that's about to be announced as well — and then we had a plan for how those things can come back together in an even bigger way and set up larger and larger. more concussive and communal, and collective giant story beats.

So, this is really where we get to say thank you to fans by having all of the different books and stories they've been following connect again, and come together only to sort of make something even bigger and more robust. All of this stuff about Luthor using what he's learned over the course of Justice League to be able to suddenly approach, in a mysterious way, every villain in the DCU to sort of engage them in the Legion of Doom — to do something bigger than he's ever tried before, and the heroes having to do sort of the opposite and say, "If we're going to fight this guy, we have to go even bigger," and the stuff that all of that begins — all of that really has been planned for quite a while and we're just excited for people to finally get to see it come to fruition, to reward them for all of the incredible support that they've shown across the line up to this point.

Justice League No. 22 just came out, and it's this new origin of the DC Multiverse! It's something that simultaneously changes everything and also fits in with everything that's already been put in place..

James Tynion IV: I will say that is probably one of the most intimidating issues I've ever written for DC. We had this larger superstructure that we wanted to [introduce] and we wanted to really bring [new villain] Perpetua front and center, and understand that she is the underlying cause that the Legion of Doom, and Luthor, and all of the villains, are fighting for. We needed to understand her story; we needed this cosmic entity — larger than life, larger than the multiverse, larger than history — to be understandable in this moment, especially at this turning point as things start to escalate in Justice League and across the entire line. We wanted to bring in all the mythology of the Crises, all of the mythology of the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor, the World Forger, who we've been building up into the current Sixth Dimension arc. I'm very relieved that issue is out, and that people really enjoy it, because I know it was a complicated one.

Snyder: I couldn't have written that issue at all. I can't tell you how amazed I was when I read that issue from James, and how grateful I am to have him as my creative partner on the series. Just to sort of dovetail off that for a second — the cleanest way I can kind of see what I said earlier to people, is really that, when we began Metal to this point now, we set out to tell a story that would recast the very origins of the DCU and bring it to its most dire and most exciting point ever. And that's really what we're trying to do that all this stuff — Year of the Villain really is going to build and build and build to something that I think will be he biggest culmination that we've tried in many many years.

Year of the Villain feels that the story is simultaneously growing bigger but also more personal. One of the primary focuses of Justice League so far is that you've been really doing interesting things with Lex Luthor as a character, and especially with his relationship to the Martian Manhunter, J'onn J'onzz.

Snyder: It's a deeply personal story. Luthor in a lot of ways, for me, is almost the main character of the last year and a half for us. Him and J'onn, honestly, are the stars of Justice League for me. Kendra's, as well, Hawkgirl. But ultimately, this story kind of brings together all the emotional threads as well. There's tremendous plot and bombast — you're gonna see planets shattering and cosmic celestials fighting and the universe splitting open and all kinds of crazy stuff, but at the same time, what it really is about is that Lex Luthor believes in something in this zealotous way that he never has before, and that thing is that we are meant to be doing we are meant to be predatory, selfish creatures and that heroes have only been holding us back. If we just let it go, he'll be the greatest hero in humanity's history for helping us evolve into the thing we were meant to be that Perpetua created us as.

And J'onn believes the opposite. J'onn deeply believes that we're better than our biology, and that our purpose in life is to reach beyond what we think is possible because of our DNA and our anatomy and all of these things, and instead be something better and impossible, and collectively united. He's a character whose whole idea that it's an empath and telepathic speaks to this whole idea at his core, I think — that he believes that, together, we can be more than we're supposed to be.

And those two emotional throughlines are what, to me, make the series work even more than all of the crazy stuff that James and I get to do in terms of the kind of a huge cosmic soap opera plot elements of it. For fans that have been reading it up to this point, or even if you're just jumping on now, it's an intensely emotional story, Year of the Villain. This is Lex's leap of faith. He says, 'I see my endgame. I see that Perpetua is real. She is the God we should worship, she believes in mankind as this beautiful predatory animal. She's going to give us everything back — all our teeth and claws and all the stuff that we were supposed to have. And so all we have to do is just accept that, believe in it, and I'll show you that I believe more than everybody.'.

So in this 25 cent issue, you'll see him make a sacrifice that's beyond anything Lex has ever done, because for the first time in his life, he believes in something and that's believing in evil.

One of the things that surprised me about this the run so far — and the story so far — is that Lex's belief is infectious. There is an element, as a reader, where you almost start to think, 'Maybe he's not wrong,' or 'Maybe there's something there.' It's strangely seductive, what you're doing is you're doing for Perpetua throughout this book.

Tynion: This is something that we talked about going all the way back to the beginning. You know, for this to work, you need to be making an argument that feels real, that is seductive. It's not, "Let's just be bad to be bad," it's "Let's stop pretending to be good, and be what we should be. Because we kept trying to pretend we were better than who we are. Now, we're just going to accept what we are, and be the best possible version of what we are, and be this predatory animal — not an ideal at all." And there is an element of that that speaks to all of us.

Snyder: Especially in this moment! I mean, beyond the political dimension of it, it's a theme across all the work that James and I are doing in multiple books too, in ways that I hope is clear to people has a deep emotional vein.

For me, having kids — you know, the problems that we face everyday seem more and more monumental, more entrenched, more systemic — from global warming to all kinds of geopolitical issues, they seem insurmountable and huge. Every year, it seems worse in that way and less likely that we're all going to get along. And so, there is a deep selfish part, I think, in all of us that says 'Why should I try and be like Superman or Batman when the legacy or the reward of that is going to come when I'm dead? I'm giving to something so big that I don't even get the rewards of it. I don't see it. It's just a feeling that hopefully I've helped something larger than myself.'

Whereas Luthor is like, "Get yours now. Get your car, get your house and guess what else? I'll help you live forever. If you can help me worship Perpetua, she is going to make us live 300 years. Why not live you live your best life?" He's like, "Your best life is your villain life." That's what he's saying. That's his true belief, and it's very tempting, you know? How many times do you want to just be, "Why am I waiting in this traffic? Why I'm being good and doing this, I'm not rewarded."

And I think there's a lot of undercurrents in today's global political climate that speak to that too. You have a lot of people saying, "Don't worry about the rest of the world, worry about us," you know? Worry about yourself. I think that's a deeply frightening sentiment for its appeal, regardless of what side you're on politically. And that's what these heroes are here to teach us: To believe in things bigger than ourselves. And what the villains appeal to, if they're good villains, is our very very real and very vibrant selfish strength in us. They're equally valid.

This speaks to where I wanted to go next. What is it like creating this story, and creating this story now, at a time when there is an undercurrent around the world of, "What about us?" and the idea of getting yours above everything else, what is it like crafting this intentionally seductive message towards evil, essentially?

Tynion: I think it makes the story feel much more immediate, it keeps us in the moment. There are things that happen week in week out that draw me back to the core argument of Luthor. No place more than Twitter. [Laughs] Twitter definitely makes me want to give in to my true Luthor, Legion of Doom, self.

Honestly, there are moments that it's frightening, because I'm putting myself in the heads of all these terrifying villains, who see things so simply and so directly in such an effective way that, sometimes, it's hard not to not convince myself. But then, I need to go right back around and write a scene with the heroes making the argument back. It makes the day-to-day world feel much more alive in each individual script I write.

Snyder: And just to piggyback on that, I've been at this a long time. This is my tenth year now, and I've told a lot of stories. But I feel the reason that I go to work more excited than ever at DC — between The Batman Who Laughs or Batman: Last Knight on Earth, and especially what we're doing in Justice League and Year of the Villain realm with James — is that I feel like I'm writing this story for my kid, who's going to be born in two weeks.

This matters to me, and it matters to James, and the psychology behind the villains and the psychology behind the heroes is, to us, I think rich and complicated and appealing and also repulsive at times and all of it. We want it to feel like a real drama that feels immediate and resonant and relevant to this moment. Even if you're talking about, you know, huge celestial cosmic beings with DNA crowns on their head and Source Walls or Hawkpeople, you know? Every crazy thing — psychic starfish from other planets, all of that stuff, is huge fun and transportative and all of it, but it doesn't mean anything, ultimately, if it's not about the things to keep you up at night.

For us, I think we're really trying to make this a story that shows why these heroes, and these villains, matter. Why we get to tell these incredible, compelling and, I think, relevant, stories through these folk heroes and folk villains. Why they're enduring. Because they speak to the things that I think that you know a lot of us feel many times, and especially what we're all feeling now, in different ways. It's a huge honor and thrill, and I really think this is the best work I've done in DC, what I've gotten to do with James and our incredible team of artists. Both because I love the story itself, but I also just love what it's about.

Year of the Villain running forward — how does this play out in the other books? Lex is going to make an offer to all of the villains in the DC Universe and it's going to play out across four months in all of the different series in the line?

Tynion: This sets up the entire DC Universe of moving forward this year, and then that sets up where it's going next. This is something where we're showing you the directive of Justice League echoing across the line, but we wanted this to open the door for everyone in their titles to be able to tell people personal stories that do lean on their biggest villains, and give those villains a opportunity to make the same kind of arguments against their hero that Luthor and the Legion of Doom is getting to make in Justice League.

Everyone loves a good villain story, and DC villains are the best in comic books. And now we're going to see them spotlit all over the line. I'm deeply excited; as well as working on Justice League, I'm also doing this in Justice League Dark, so I'm getting to play with this from two different fronts. It's good.

Snyder: On a really pragmatic level, if you're looking for the schedule build: In May, Luthor makes an offer to villains that we don't see. He starts reaching out to all the villains in the DCU to offer something that's going to start the story. In July, you're going to see what that offer is to each villain, and you're going to see what the villain says in response. That's where the story ratchets up across the entire DCU line. In November, you're going to see who wins. And depending on who wins, that may lead to the biggest fight between our heroes and villains.

What I'd say is this, if I could communicate anything to people reading across the line: Our goal was to take a look at DC's comics, and comics in general, and ask, "What do we have that other mediums don't?" We know that it's a time when there's a lot of things you can spend your money on, and the thing that I kept coming back to with James that we remember from being kids, is the immersive collective storytelling tapestry quality of comics.

I think that to be honest — not to step across the aisle — but that's what the MCU has done so incredibly well with their films — this cumulative build. And so, here it was, if you're reading anything that I'm working on, or James was working on, or Josh Williamson is working on — the people that have been involved and what we've been doing — are working on, then all those stories will pay off through Year of the Villain, and into the next stages of the super story as well. Batman Who Laughs counts, what Josh is about to do [in Batman/Superman] counts. Justice League Dark, Justice League Odyssey. All this stuff starts playing into this bigger narrative.

May is the beginning. July is the offer. Between July and November is the battle, and whether the heroes or villains win, you'll find out in November. That will lead to the biggest fight ever, if need be, and all the books you're reading on the side hopefully will give you more payoff than you expected.


DC’s Year of the Villain No. 1 will be released on May 1.