The New Horror, Part 3: “I love the idea of having a place within the DCU where monsters dwell.”
The bogeyman. The monster in the closet. The things that go bump in the night. They show up, sometimes, in a good spooky story. But what gives us nightmares, what really keeps us up late at night, can't always be named.
With today being Halloween, we sent thirteen questions about horror to some of the smartest writers in the comic book industry to get to the heart of why we love horror. Scott Snyder, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are all currently writing characters traditionally associated with horror. Paul Cornell's writing a dark fantasy book chock full of fear and the supernatural. Brian Azzarello, J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman are injecting horror into superhero epics. They all took time out to share their thoughts on what we're calling the New Horror in DC COMICS-THE NEW 52. Their answers will run here on the SOURCE in three parts, but you can keep the conversation going on Twitter with the hashtag #thenewhorror.
What sets the Dark titles apart from the other books in DC COMICS-THE NEW 52?
BRIAN AZZARELLO: There's a palpable creepiness in these books. The threats are relatable.
DAN ABNETT: These are supernatural or pseudo-supernatural books that fit very neatly into the new DC Universe. Genre borders are dissolving in other media, and it’s nice to have comics that can blend styles and flavors. RESURRECTION MAN is, basically, a superhero book, but he doesn’t wear a costume and he spends most of his time actively NOT being a superhero... and plenty of time engaging with horror/supernatural/dark science-fiction themes.
J.H. WILLIAMS III: There seems to be this unique blend of heroics and creepy ideas mixing together. My favorite thing to do is cross genres in unexpected ways to produce interesting results. Even though Batwoman isn't really a "DC Dark" title, we do sort of fit that vein. But with a nice twist of her not actually having powers of her own, just a normal human being dealing with things that defy the natural order in the only ways she knows how.
PAUL CORNELL: The qualities of one's peers, for a start. They're lovely chaps to be on a panel with. And I think the line has something of that wonderful moment just before Vertigo launched, when the weird horror characters were still part of the DC universe about it.
SCOTT SNYDER: I think the sensibility. We're allowed to explore the more horrible villains, in monsters and all that, but those things sort of demand a darker emotional material to work, too, you know? Meaning, for the kinds of monsters and gross things we write about in our plots to be scary, they have to be functions of stories that are equally scary and disturbing.
W. HADEN BLACKMAN: I feel like BATWOMAN has its own unique place in the New 52. While it's sometimes a traditional vigilante comic book and somewhat connected to the Batman books, it has very strong supernatural and metaphysical undercurrents. Batman generally fights psychopaths (some quite horrific), but many of Batwoman's cases and villains will have a much more supernatural flavor.
ANDY LANNING: When we wrote RESURRECTION MAN first time 'round, it was commented that the book was a kind of bridging title between the DC Universe and the Vertigo titles which was something new at the time. The Dark Line as a whole now is well and truly treading the ground between the overt superhero titles of the DC Universe and Vertigo books and it’s very fertile ground that seems to have struck a chord with readers.
JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV: First off, the folks in our group are just the best of the best. I can't believe how amazing each of them are, and how great their books are. Second, this is something that each of us have a genuine heart felt passion for. These aren't just jobs, they aren't just doing a book for the sake of a paycheck. Each of us came to our books from a place of pure passion, and I think that bleeds from every page.
How important is it for horror and magic to have a place in the DC universe?
J.H. WILLIAMS III: I think it’s an element that has been sorely lacking in the DCU for a long time, and I'm glad to see it being embraced much more fully. It just adds even more fantastical aspects to an already tantalizing universe of ideas. It’s so important to DC that it really shouldn't ever be put back in the box again.
ANDY LANNING: Comics reflect all the main genres and as such magic and horror have always been a staple, along with westerns, war stories and sci-fi.
JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV: I'd take that question bigger. Horror is such a key literary genre that, for me, it's part of our job to show our existing readers that there's more to genre storytelling than men in tights and science adventures. Horror has such a beautiful tradition in comics, and, I feel like it's my duty to present that to a whole new generation.
W. HADEN BLACKMAN: I personally think it's hugely important. It provides a great deal of diversity to the universe. And some of my favorite moments in comics have been when characters from different "worlds" or backgrounds try to interact or understand one another. The tension between magic and science is great fodder for story-telling and character development.
DAN ABNETT: Vital. They are two of the fundamental (and contrasting) sources of wonder.
SCOTT SNYDER: To me, incredibly. I grew up on horror comics - my favorite Batman comics when I was a kid were the horror ones - from Arkham Asylum and DKR to Red Rain and Gotham by Gaslight. But mostly things like Swamp Thing, House of Mystery, the reprints of Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow... I love the idea of having a place within the DCU where monsters dwell - a place anyone can visit but only some can endure.
PAUL CORNELL: One of the joys of a super hero universe is that all the genres that shouldn't exist together get thrown in to bounce off each other. Just like in real life.
Each of you writes scary characters. But what frightens these, well, monsters? What phobias might these characters have?
W. HADEN BLACKMAN: In our first arc, the "monster" is consumed by emotion. She's driven by anguish and guilt, and terrified of living out a cursed existence alone. In upcoming issues, we start introducing some other monstrous villains -- one fears being discovered for what he truly is; one fears failure; another fears losing power; yet another fears getting old. And on some level, they all fear Batwoman.
PAUL CORNELL: Etrigan is living his nightmare every day, being trapped inside Jason o'the Blood, and vice versa. Xanadu's life, balancing those two against each other, is also a life of fear. The Shining Knight is afraid of dying without ever finding what she (sorry, he) is looking for. The Horsewoman fears confinement, as will become obvious. Al Jabr and Exoristos' fears we'll discover. And Vandal Savage fears nothing. Actually, that's not true, as we'll see.
DAN ABNETT: Mitch Shelley probably has a thing about coffins that are hard to open from the inside.
ANDY LANNING: Yup, enclosed spaces, oh and rats! He gets to see a lot of rats!
JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV: That, to me, is the drive behind I, VAMPIRE. The sheer fear that Andrew has that his one mistake will lead to the absolute destruction of mankind. And, y'know, that's the plan. Don't tell my editor, Matt Idelson, yeah? He specifically told me I couldn't wipe out all of mankind.
J.H. WILLIAMS III: I think on some level that what all human based monstrous characters fear the most is losing their humanity beyond where they may currently find themselves. And if there is some outside force that does scare them, I don't think I want to meet it.
SCOTT SNYDER: Well for Alec, I think the big fear we're dealing with is the creeping suspicion that deep down, he has always known that he was meant to be a monster - Swamp Thing. The fear that this creature is - and always was - his destiny and he knew it, even as a child, and now it's here.
What's the scariest scene you've written so far in DC COMICS-THE NEW 52? you on Halloween? Can you tease at something in an upcoming issue that might frighten readers?
BRIAN AZZARELLO: There's gonna be a birth. Nothing scares me more.
DAN ABNETT: There’s a sequence in Resurrection Man 3 where Mitch’s powers have deserted him, and he finds that the hellish things that have been chasing him are nothing to do with the REAL Hell at all...
J.H. WILLIAMS III: I think it’s a toss up between a scene in issue 3 or another in issue 4. The one in issue 3 touches on deep emotional context and the meaning of loss, and how that loss relates to who we are, what are we now that we've lost something important in our lives. While the other in issue 4 is very beastly and grotesque and raises some provoking thoughts about different roles we play in society, all through subtext and symbolic characterization.
SCOTT SNYDER: I think a scene coming up in Batman - involving a dead person, a slowly cracking open mouth and an owl - that's all I can say though!
W. HADEN BLACKMAN: I think Issue 3 has some truly terrifying moments for Batwoman as she faces the Weeping Woman and starts to discover the scope of the villain's powers. It all impacts Kate on a very emotional level. And in Arc 2, without giving too much away, we have a villain who literally drools blood, and her first appearance creeps me out.
JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV: There's a moment in issue 4 when Andrew meets another vampire, and he unlocks something in that vampire almost accidentally that creates, well, a monster. It's one of those moments that to me, speaks to the devil inside us all. All it would take is a tiny push and a good many of us would switch sides, no problem.
PAUL CORNELL: I think the cliffhanger to Demon Knights #3 is something that might be rather tough to read. Everyone's going 'oh, it's such a *jolly* title!' I hope by now readers have worked out what I do. My wife calls it 'ha ha bang.'
ANDY LANNING: Issue #4 gives us a glimpse into Mitch’s past and there’s some really gruesome stuff there but that’s nothing to where he finds himself at the end of that issue, it’s a shocker for sure!
So far, who do you think is the scariest character (that you’re not writing) to emerge out of DC COMICS-THE NEW 52?
ANDY LANNING: I really like what Jeff and Scott are doing with the concepts of the Red and the Green, real creepy stuff there that’s only getting creepier!
JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV: It'd have to be Jeff Lemire's Maxine Baker from Animal Man. That kid scares the crap out of me.
SCOTT SNYDER: I think Strife in Wonder Woman is one of the creepiest characters I've ever encountered. But the Hunters in Animal Man freaked me out, too! Lots of scary characters in the new DCU! It's my kind of place.
W. HADEN BLACKMAN: It's scary how good Swamp Thing is...
BRIAN AZZARELLO: Dan DiDio. Makes Darksied look like a piker.
DAN ABNETT: The centaurs in Wonder Woman. Proper horror, at its best.
J.H. WILLIAMS III: I think John Constantine has the potential to be the most profound. In Vertigo's Hellblazer, he has shown to be a very scary personality when you examine some of things he has done.
PAUL CORNELL: Those skeletal pets in Animal Man freak me out. And Wonder Woman's aptly alien gods.