Bringing the Entire Team Together: An interview with Justice League Beyond co-writer and inker Derek Fridolfs
Derek Fridolfs is a writer and inker for DC Comics. He is best known for his work on Detective Comics, Batman: Streets of Gotham and Batman: Arkham Unhinged. His most recent project has been Justice League Beyond, and he was kind enough to speak with us about the book.
TZ: How did you come to be involved with the book?
DF: When Batman Streets Of Gotham was nearing the end of its run, we had been discussing with DC what we might like to do next. We were interested in co-writing and doing the art together, and being fans of the DC animated universe (with Dustin already involved doing covers for Batman Beyond), we were interested in doing something with Batman Beyond. Eventually that turned into launching Justice League Beyond.
TZ: Did you both want to specifically do Justice League Beyond or were you interested in one of the other stories?
DF: I think our main thing was we were interested as long as it had Batman Beyond in it. Whether that was a solo title, a team-up title, or the League title with him on the team. We were interested in Terry, Bruce, and whatever supporting cast would be built up around them.
TZ: You seem to be real fans of the original series as the story you are crafting is heavily tied into the series and Justice League. What are your thoughts on the original series?
DF: Absolutely am a huge fan of the entire DC animated universe and the continuity they were able to establish over the various series all tying in together. I imagine when they started out; their goal was just to tell great stories for Batman. And as each series ended and they moved onto another, they realized it could all tie-in and be one large universe and story they were telling. That they were able to figure this out as they went and still make it all fit and work together, is something we as fans appreciate. And which is the reason why we choose to refer back to those series as the comics move forward. I like to think of the comics as extensions of those shows. Moments and episodes that we’re fans of, can find ways to influence and relate to the stories we’re doing.
TZ: What informed your decision to use a lot of the previous continuity?
DF: I think there’s always been the question or the concern from the fans about where or how the comics take place. In what universe or what continuity. And by referring back to past episodes of the various animated series, I hope they’ve found their answer. That we’re trying to have this be as referential to those shows, while also having a chance to expand and introduce new things. So it’s definitely tied into the DCAU, and not to be mistaken for what is going on in the new52.
TZ: How did you adjust your artwork for the book? It seems to be a bit different than your work on previous Bat-books….
DF: Dustin probably can answer this best. But from an inker’s point-of-view, since I’ve been inking him as long as I have now, I really didn’t see much of a change or adjustment. Maybe his pencils are a little more streamlined or looser for Justice League Beyond, but only because we’ve got a working shorthand to what each of us can bring to the art together. And the Beyond universe is pretty futuristic, slick, and clean; so less gritty as his art has looked on the previous Batman books or American Vampire.
TZ: How do you both approach plotting a book?
DF: It’d be easy to say there’s some distinct fascinating approach to how we handle it. But really, it’s just a lot of conversing back and forth between each other. We’ve tended to keep late working hours into the early morning, and have been known to spend time instant messaging thoughts back and forth through the night. Also when we’ve traveled to conventions together, is an opportunity to sit down and brainstorm stories. This has gone on for years, and then it’s just putting all the thoughts down on file, sending them back and forth until the stories form.
TZ: Now moving to the current narrative, what attracted you to using Kobra as the main villain? They always seemed like a large threat but the reader really gets a sense of that in this book…..
DF: I always felt that they were a huge threat that got introduced towards the end of Batman Beyond before the show stopped. That they never reached their full potential on the show, and maybe they could’ve if they had continued into another season. And since they’re not often used in the regular DC titles, they’d make for an interesting threat to the Justice League. Anytime you do a team book, you’re looking for a big threat that would need a League to come together to face. Kobra has the numbers and the history of Batman (Terry) fighting them in the past, so I thought they’d make for a global threat.
TZ: As the issues went on, you reminded your readers this book was definitely tied into the past with a lot of flashbacks and surprise guests. What made you decide to do that? For new readers?
DF: As much as I tend to preach the approach of trying to tell good stories instead of worrying what universe or reality the comics need to be placed in…the Justice League Beyond book ended up being one that did have a lot of previous continuity that newer fans might be unaware of. It rewards those that know the Batman Beyond show as well as all the previous DCAU shows, so there’s something there for the hardcore fans. But hopefully it’s still engaging and interesting enough for those that might be new to the title or the characters. And maybe nudge them in the direction of finding the old episodes to expand their interests.
TZ: I was also curious about the surprise guests. Some of them such as Amanda Waller did not stick around too long….. what made you decide to include them?
DF: Actually she’s still around. She hasn’t left just yet and you’ll be seeing more with her. But yeah, this title has an opportunity to have a lot of characters come and go throughout this story, as well as others coming up. And it’s also one of the draws on working on a title like Justice League Beyond. You’re working in a future universe. There’s all sorts of new and old characters to get introduced to or catch up with.
DF: As the book moves on, Kobra’s true plans are revealed…… how did you decide to enhance the threat beyond just earth? It almost reminds me of Justice League #1…….
I tend to relate Kobra much like fanatical terrorists of today. They’re not your casual villain that is in it for monetary reasons. This is an organization that is willing to sacrifice themselves, as well as the world, in order to achieve their goals. And I see that as no greater threat. Once you’re no longer worried about your own survival or others, then there’s no way to win through reasoning. And in order to do so, it would allow for our story to stretch outside of Gotham or Metropolis, to the galaxy and alternate universes. It’s also one of the things that will continue to be addressed in later Beyond stories. We’ll be exploring as many other areas as we can.
TZ: Why did you decide to include characters like Darkseid and Orion? They are very DCU characters, and Kobra was really just a threat limited to the Beyond-universe…..?
DF: Of course you have to keep in mind that Kobra, Darkseid, and Orion, have all shown up throughout the DCAU (as well as the DCU comics). Kobra might be more limited in their animated appearance to just the Batman Beyond series, but elements from the New Gods and Apokolips have shown up in the Superman series as well as the Justice League shows. But really it comes down to…I’m a huge Kirby fan and all the characters he helped create and work on during his run at DC. This was a chance to do a story that brought in a lot of Kirby elements, and we’re still not done showing all of them at this stage. Just like Kobra has a history with Terry, Darkseid and Orion have tangled with Superman (and Bruce). So it’s a chance to bring in some larger elements into the story in new and interesting ways, that might not usually be affiliated with the Beyond universe.
TZ: What informed your decision to bring Darkseid back? He seemed to have been gone after the final episode of Justice League Unlimited……
DF: I’ve just been wanting to write the character. And thought it would be interesting to see what happened to him after the end of the Justice League Unlimited series. And if Darkseid were in the story, it would bring in all sorts of New Gods elements that go hand-in-hand.
TZ: With Orion’s current status as of late in the recent issue of Wonder Woman, how are you approaching the character going forward?
DF: The Beyond universe isn’t tied in with the New 52. We’re our own separate universe and continuity, so we have nothing to do with their approach; just like they have nothing to do with ours. I’m just as curious as anyone else to see what they plan to do with him. As far as what happens with Orion in our story going forward, we’ll just have to wait and see.
TZ: Has there been any interaction between Brian Azzarello and your team?
DF: No. Our first story arc was already written and completed before the New 52 launched, not that it would’ve mattered.
TZ: Who is your favorite character to work on in the series? While all the characters are spotlighted, you guys seem to like both Terry and Superman the most……
DF: The answer when working on team books, is that they’re all one family of characters, and hard to pick favorites. And while it’s always a lot of fun writing anything with Terry and Old Bruce (since Batman Beyond was the show and comic that Justice League Beyond was able to spin out of), I still have fun writing every single character on the team. They all have unique personalities and different ways each of them interact with each other. It’s always fascinating seeing how they’ll respond in any given situation.
TZ: Going back to the story, what sort of threat does Kobra bring to the team?
DF: They bring numbers, determination, and resolve. They want nothing less than to destroy the earth to achieve their goals. And that will always be a great threat to the League and to the world. It’s up to the League to find a way to stop them with what limited resources they have. This isn’t the large Justice League Unlimited team from the show. It’s a much smaller League that still hasn’t found a way to stop Kobra, and time is running out.
TZ: What made you want to have the team join forces with Apokolips….?
DF: It was a way to get the League away from the familiar cities in the Beyond universe. And to show how great a threat Kobra poses that they were able to force the New Gods and the forces of Apokolips to team-up, and it still resulted in the destruction of New Genesis. And it would make for an interesting visual. It’s not often you have to set conflict aside, join forces with your enemy, to fight an even greater threat.
TZ: With the last page of the recent issue, the conflict between Superman and Darkseid seems to be brewing up again…. How much of that will be coming into the future issues?
DF: Darkseid isn’t done in our story, but fans might be surprised how we see him next.
TZ: How do you balance all the characters in the story? It seems pretty difficult but you both seem to manage that quite well…..
DF: That’s the real juggle of a team book. Finding ways to use as many of the characters and give them enough screen time. I’m always amazed how other comics with teams are able to do it. You just have to plan how to feature the characters the best in the limited space they have. And just because some might not be in the story a lot at the moment, doesn’t mean they won’t have bigger roles later.
TZ: Speaking of balancing character, you have opened up new backstories for Warhawk and Aquagirl? What made you want to look into the past of these two characters?
DF: The Beyond: Origins was something introduced by our previous editor. It was a way to introduce (or re-introduce) the members of the League to the fans, in back stories. It just happened that a lot of their origins could tie-in with what was going on in the current Kobra story. And it’s a chance to answer questions about how each of the members joined the team or what their lives were like before the League. Most of them also have a very parental theme to them, as we get to see how their parents shaped who they are.
TZ: Are you going to continue exploring backstories like that with more characters?
DF: Definitely. We still have origins for Micron, Barda, and Kai-Ro. And after that…more…
TZ: Will Aquaman be showing up? With your emphasis on Marina, it seems to be possible?
DF: He’s definitely not dead after his last appearance in the comic. He and the armies of Atlantis weren’t able to stop the giant snake from surfacing. Where we see him next, we’ll have to wait and see.
TZ: Will their romance be explored as the main Justice League Beyond story continues?
DF: Various relationships will be seen as the comic moves forward.
TZ: How much collaboration goes on between you and the other writers and artists? Will there be any future crossovers?
DF: We’re each working on our individual titles and corners of the Beyond universe. But that doesn’t leave out the possibility of ways for things to crossover.
TZ: Finally, what’s coming up in the book? What do want readers to take away from it?
DF: I’d say one of the big things that fans seem to have the most question about, is why the League isn’t larger. And that will be the next focus as we move forward.
Thanks Mr. Fridolfs, and stay tuned soon for an interview with the artist and co-writer behind the series Dustin Nguyen!