Inside the Nightwing, Starfire, and Cyborg reunion with Justice League and Death Metal

Writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV created the building blocks for Dark Nights: Death Metal in Snyder’s recent Justice League run, so it’s only fitting the event would tie back into the flagship series. 

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The Flash’s Joshua Williamson takes over the Justice League title for a Death Metal-dedicated arc, ‘Doom Metal,’ with artists Xermanico and Robson Rocha. A new roster is created with the likes of Nightwing, Starfire, Cyborg, Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter, Detective Chimp, and none other than….Lex Luthor. This wild team will go up against two brand new DC villains named Mindhunter and Omega Knight.

‘Doom Metal’ begins with September 15’s Justice League #53, and ahead of that, we spoke with Williamson about what fans can expect. We discuss the big Titans reunion, the creation of the title’s new villains, and if ‘Doom Metal’ will have any direct ties to the main event, Death Metal.

Newsarama: Joshua, what was it like jumping into a flagship title like Justice League as it ties into a big event with Death Metal?

Joshua Williamson: I feel like I’m so embedded in Death Metal, but I also wasn’t doing as much as I’ve done on some of the other crossovers in the last few years. I’ve worked on so many events in the DCU that when this opportunity came up and it was like, ‘Oh, well let’s tie Justice League back in.’ We had a lot of conversations about what that could be, what the story was, and what pieces we needed.

(Image credit: Xermanico (DC))

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One of the things that’s special about Death Metal is that we really wanted to make sure that everything counted, right? Like if it’s something that Wonder Woman says throughout the book, we wanted that to also be true in all the specials and crossovers. So, when you read any of these things, they all build to something else or adds to it. They’ll give something more to the story. And we wanted to make sure Justice League was like that as well.

With Justice League, we were like, ‘It’s going to be about them trying to free the Legion of Doom.’ Once I knew that part of it, I was like ‘Well, I have to write this. I know this story. It would be fun to do.’ 

I really like this cast of characters. There are certain things that I wanted to wrap up from – If you look at the roster, right? It’s Nightwing, Lex Luthor, Hawkgirl, Martian Mahunter, Cyborg, Starfire, and Detective Chimp. They have a lot of things in common dating back to ‘No Justice.’ (opens in new tab)

But then when you look at those characters like Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter, that was from Justice League, Starfire and Cyborg was from Justice League Odyssey, and there’s Detective Chimp from Justice League Dark. 

I was a little intimidated by [Justice League] because, it’s a big book, the dream book.

Joshua Williamson

So, all of those things are going back to ‘No Justice’ and the ‘New Justice’ stuff. We’re bringing pieces of those books together in this book. I was a little intimidated by it because, it’s a big book, the dream book. I’ve gotten to work on it a little bit here and there, and I’ve gotten to play with those characters.

Once I figured out that the point of view of the book was going to be Nightwing, and it was going to be part of his returning of Nightwing that actually helped me figure out what the book was going to be and to find my place in it. Once I find my place in a book and what I want to say – once I realized it was going to be from Nightwing’s point of view, it just made it so much easier. Then it started to take shape.  

It’s been a lot of fun. You’ll see, once you start the first few pages, you’re going to see how much it’s a Nightwing story. 

That’d being said, everybody in the book has an arc. Everybody has something they’re doing. 

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There’s also Lex Luthor in it with the stuff he’s tied into with Death Metal. You’ll see these parallels between Nightwing, trying to find himself again and trying to understand who Nightwing is now, and then Lex being the same way.

Both Nightwing and Lex both fell from grace in the last few years, right? Dick went through what he went through in his title, and now he’s on his way back. And then you look at Lex and the whole ‘Year of the Villain’ stuff – being rejected by Perpetua and is now trying to find his way in this new world. You have these two characters on these similar paths, which has made this book a lot of fun to write.

Nrama: This Justice League arc of yours will mark the first appearance of Mindhunter – a twisted version of Martian Manhunter. What makes him so twisted?

Williamson: When you look at Martian Manhunter’s powerset, he has Superman’s power set plus all this extra stuff. And that’s the thing that Mindhunter is aware of. He did the same thing Lex did.

He injected himself with Martian DNA to turn himself into apex Lex. Well, that’s what Bruce Wayne did in one of the multiverse worlds. He figured this out before Lex did and injected himself to turn himself into this Bruce Wayne/J’onn J’onzz hybrid. He figured out something really quickly because the mind powers, like the ability to read people’s minds and connect minds, and manipulate people that way. 

Imagine if someone like Batman had that skill? The ability to read people’s minds. What kind of horrors he would be up to?

Joshua Williamson

Imagine if someone like Batman had that skill? The ability to read people’s minds. What kind of horrors he would be up to? Especially this evil version and how he would use that to manipulate and hurt people.

That’s what Mindhunter really does and really wants. One of his goals in the series is that he is aware that Martian Manhunter has a mental connection to the rest of the Justice League. He connects to the team on a strategic level, but he also knows them well and they have that bond.

When you look at other runs of Justice League, Martian Manhunter uses his power to help them strategize and figure out what they need to do in a battle to win, and the Mindhunter knows that about Martian Manhunter. He wants to steal the connection because if he can get into Martian Mahunter’s head and steal that connection, he’ll be connected to the rest of the Justice League, and then he’ll know what they’re up to. He’ll know what Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman are up to and what they’re trying to do to take down the Batman Who Laughs and Perpetua. Then he can figure out a way to help himself win.

But I think that’s what really makes this scary and deadly in this series is that ability to read minds and connect to people on a mental level – then manipulating that. So, like read Hawkgirl’s mind and be like, Oh, you’re super pissed at Lex. Like you totally want to kill Lex. You blame Lex for what happened and that’s justified. You should totally do that and manipulate her in that way.

Or with Nightwing and be like ‘You’re still feeling like you messed up and lost your memory for a while.’

Then he has the ability to shapeshift too. So, that’s a whole other problem. 

The artists have done some cool stuff with him – kind of trippy into your head at some point, which is really cool.

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Then later on Robson Rocha’s work on the shape-shifting is really neat. Like shape-shifting on purpose to become scary. He’s a mean villain. He does a lot of scary stuff in the story, but most of it is just about getting in their head, trying to mess with them to get what he wants.

Nrama: The run will also mark the first appearance of Omega Knight – a Frankenstein monster version of Omega Titans. What made him the perfect villain for this arc?

Williamson: Because it ties back to ‘No Justice.’ The idea that Perpetua was in prison in the Source Wall and she chooses to protect her thrown and who she picks are those Omega Titans. She basically creates a Frankenstein version of them, who is the Omega Knight. 

She had this galactic, powerful, cosmic being protecting her throne and the Legion of Doom, making sure they don’t escape. Then you have this sort of ragtag Justice League group that has to go up against this giant Omega Knight that doesn’t care about anything.

You’re not going to reason with it. You’re not going to go up and try to talk to it. It’s just going to destroy you. It can destroy the world if it felt like it needed to. It’s this giant space God they have to go up against. It’s very imposing. It really isn’t our main villain. The Mindhunter is really the big deal throughout, but the Omega Knight really is a big challenge for them to try to overcome.  

Nrama: The long-awaited reunion of Cyborg, Starfire, and Nightwing is finally coming to life with Justice League. What made ‘Doom Metal’ the perfect story arc for this to happen?

Williamson: It was a long time coming. They haven’t been around each other for so long. I feel like getting them together in this twisted world – like getting them into Metal and they finally get back together, but it’s in this horrible situation added to the fun of it.

Some of my favorite parts… there’s a scene in issue two where the team go across this thing called the Valley of Starros and trying not to wake up all of these Starros and they’re just trying to make their way through. To do that, they have to be quiet and have to kind of just make their way through. They can’t be flying and blasting.

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Then in the story, they actually have a gift from Wonder Woman. That’s a robot horse named Comet that you actually learn little bits of and there are some secrets too. But at the beginning of the story, Dick is actually riding this horse because Nightwing riding a horse is just so awesome to me, and now it’s a robot horse. I don’t know I thought it was a fun visual and it would be fun to do.

There’s a scene where it’s the team that they’re crossing the Valley of Starros, and it gives an opportunity for Cyborg, Nightwing, and Starfire to just talk for a moment, to catch up with each other. They’ve all gone into these crazy changes. If you think about what they’ve all gone through. All the things Cyborg and Starfire went through in Justice League Odyssey, and all the things that Nightwing went through in his own book.

All these really big changes and I wanted all of them to come together and talk about that and realize that about each other. 

Like Starfire looking at Nightwing and be like, ‘Oh, this thing happened to you. I can tell you’re different because of this,’ and him say the same thing to them. 

And then having Cyborg have a different attitude. 

It was just a fun opportunity to bring them together in a unique way, which definitely still presents a challenge to them.

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Nrama: The solicits say that ‘Doom Metal’ will directly impact Death Metal – what can you tease about that impact?

Williamson: It leads right into it. The last part goes right into it. It ties into Death Metal #5. The mission is for this Justice League team to help Lex Luthor save the Legion of Doom. And you have to imagine Lex with the Legion of Doom again, what that means for the rest of the story.

Lex and the Legion of Doom were a major driving force into Death Metal. If you look at every issue of Justice League and with the cliffhanger that led into Death Metal. They’re a huge piece of that puzzle, and to have them reunited – what does that mean for rest of Death Metal? You have the biggest supervillains suddenly come back together. How does that impact everything else? And that leads right back into Death Metal.

Nrama: This arc is filled with unlikely dynamics. The solicits tease that Hawkgirl must save the soul of the man she loves – Martian Manhunter. What can you tell us about this unlikely romance?

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Williamson: It’s interesting how they found each other, right? You have these two characters who are from arguably different worlds. To have this unique pairing, I think the work that Scott and James did in Justice League was really interesting, and I wanted to explore that more and to show what they’re like post-Justice League. That story doesn’t end here, the connection between them doesn’t end here, but I definitely wanted to show what’s going on with them.

I’m trying to not give too much away. They’re an interesting couple and it’s always nice to get these couple mashups that we normally don’t see and you get to see that grow in a very interesting way. You see how they’re both approaching this problem differently because they both have a lot of problems with Lex.

If you were reading Justice League with what Scott and James were doing, there issues with Lex, which was what happened to Shayne, which was their son from the other dimension. There’s a lot of anger towards Lex, and they both handle it in different ways and what that does to their relationship. But in the end, you get to see with them coming back together and how they are able to overcome a lot of the stuff, and then that goes back into Death Metal as well.

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