After his run on DC Comics’ ongoing Batman series ended in 2019, writer Tom King has penned several limited series, miniseries, and one-shots for the company. In recent years he’s written Strange Adventures, Rorschach, Batman/Catwoman, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, Batman: Killing Time, The Human Target, and Gotham City: Year One, some of which have been nominated for and even won awards. For his next adventure, King dusts off a 1970s comic series and gives its characters new life with the upcoming 12-issue Danger Street.
Written by King and reuniting him with artist Jorge Fornés (Batman, Rorschach), Danger Street brings back characters featured in DC’s 1st Issue Special series that ran between 1975 and 1976, contributed to by various writers and artists, including Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Steve Ditko. Along with the Green Team, Lady Cop, and the Dingbats of Danger Street, some returning faces include Starman, Metamorpho, and Warlord, who come up with a plan to join the Justice League by defeating Darkseid. King sat down with CBR to discuss what is in store for DC fans with Danger Street and the influence that Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods had on the series. He also shared his thoughts on crafting 12-issue series, the canceled New Gods movie, Batman, and more.
CBR: Talk to me about Danger Street. What is this series about?
Tom King: This is maybe the craziest comic I’ve ever written, and I’ve written some very crazy comics. I wrote a Kamandi issue with the founder of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So there’s this old comic book called 1st Issue Special, way back in the mid-1970s, and it was the introduction of a bunch of new concepts from DC. It’s stuff they had thrown out, they put in a backroom, and they were just publishing to get it off their plates. It was just the absolute craziest characters. It was the Green Team, you know, billionaire teenagers. It was Lady Cop, which is exactly what it sounds like in its sexism and concept. It was Dingbats of Danger Street. It was some people you’ve heard of: Creeper, Warlord, Doctor Fate.
There are 24 different characters, and I wondered how all these people could exist in the same universe because the power sets were radically different. Some of them were cosmic, and some of them were street-level. I was like, “How in our industry, which is founded on the fact that we’re all playing with toys in the same world, can this ever work?” It just can’t, it doesn’t make any sense to me. So then, being a stupid, arrogant writer, I said, “Wait, I can do it,” and I said, “I want to see all of these people, all these insane concepts that make no sense, next to each other. I want to see them all next to each other. I want to see them banging off each other.” So I constructed this series, which is sort of a crime series, sort of a Coen brothers movie about these 24 characters and how their lives blast into each other.
The first issue is fairly grounded in the Modern Age but told like a Medieval tale of knights, ogres, and princesses. What prompted you to make this creative choice, and how much fun has it been?
It was two things. Number one, it was a tribute to when I was a kid. The idea of fairy tales, you know, they’re all inside us, and there was this musical, a Stephen Sondheim musical that’s very famous, called Into the Woods, where he had this idea that all these characters actually exist in one place. The forest that they’re always going through is the same. They could all go in at the same time, and then Cinderella would bump into Little Red Riding Hood, who would bump into Jack and the Beanstalk. Seeing this as a kid, it was the first thing I had seen that was playing with postmodern themes, but also funny and entertaining, and also a little bit dark, using all these childish concepts to tell very modernist themes. That was all the stuff I was trying to do with this book. So number one, it starts from that. It’s the same first thing as Into the Woods, you know, “Once upon a time in a far-off Kingdom…” That was part of it.
In our modern world — I’m like the billionth person to say this — our modern myths, our modern Greek gods, the things my kids learn before they learn about anything, [are] Spider-Man [and] Superman. They know comic books. They know what the Marvel Universe is. They know what the DC Universe is. So the idea [is that] these who are the lowest kind of knights and ogres in this world, they’re the modern myths. They’re the modern fairy tales, and bringing that out, connecting these — it’s a very bizarre thing with this ancient mythology.
In the series, Starman, Metamorpho, and Warlord’s goal is to defeat Darkseid and join the Justice League, but this mission takes a deadly turn by the end of Issue #1. What kind of consequences and challenges will these heroes face in Danger Street?
These are huge consequences. Mostly everyone here has good intentions. They’re just trying to live their best lives and embrace their dreams. But in doing that, they’re not all making the best decisions. These three characters I modeled after Bull Durham, that old movie where people always live in the Minor Leagues and think of the Majors. These are sort of Minor League characters. “I want to play on the Justice League. I want to have the clubhouse.”
They’re willing to do anything and make some compromises for that, and they come up with a really stupid plan. They try to execute it, and it goes horribly wrong. Of course, that has wide echoing [consequences.] That’s the central crime that binds us all together. All these people are connected by a thread [that] goes back to this original sin, this original murder, this original explosion that happens at the end of Issue #1.
The consequences are incredibly wide-reaching for those characters going forward. A few characters die in the first issue. More characters are going to die throughout the whole thing, not just because it’s hard to write 24 characters. If we can narrow it down to like 19, it’s easier, but that’s why I love playing with D-list characters. We can have huge consequences. You know, I can’t kill off Batman in every issue. Apparently, I can kill off Alfred once, but that’s just a one-time thing. Here, with these smaller characters, I can have huge consequences and really change who they are. It can be like a real story you’d see in any movie theater in America, where these characters change throughout the whole thing, both in terms of how they live their lives and how they die their deaths.
You touched on some characters before, but aside from the three I just mentioned, Danger Street also dusts off some other DC characters, some rarely seen in comics, like Lady Cop. How did you go about picking the roster for the series, and who else may be making an appearance in the title?
I think everyone’s mentioned in the first issue. Some people are sort of off-stage, but they’re mentioned. The New Gods are mentioned in the concept and the Outsiders. There are 13 issues of this wonderful series [1st Issue Special.] All of those characters are in it. Let’s see if I can give you a list.
So, it’s Atlas the Great, the Green Team, Metamorpho, Lady Cop, Manhunter, the Dingbats of Danger Street, the Creeper, Warlord, Doctor Fate, Outsiders — not those Outsiders, but a more obscure Outsiders — Codename: Assassin, Starman — blue Starman, not original Star Man — and the New Gods. All of those characters will be in [Danger Street.]The only people who aren’t going to be in it — there’s no [Big] Barda and Scott [Free, aka Mister Miracle] because I didn’t want to touch them because I’ve done a lot of work with Mister Miracle.
Everyone else will be featured [and] have large roles. Some roles are larger than others. Non-Fat from the Dingbats is a big star, Lady Cop is a big star, and Creeper’s a big star. You’ll see Manhunter and Assassin are big stars. Some have bigger roles than others, but everyone gets mentioned. Everyone has an arc, which was a little difficult. Especially the Outsiders, who are just incredibly terrible comic concepts. No offense to the creator who created them. I’m sure even Joe Simon would admit that wasn’t his best work.
Speaking of creators, how does it feel to be working with Jorge Fornés again? How did you two update these classic characters for a modern audience?
Jorge and I have worked together for a long time. We started on Batman. I’m the lucky guy who got to bring him into DC Comics. Then we did a Rorschach series, which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. In looking at this project, I was looking for a Jorge project. I wasn’t looking for a project for me. I was looking for a project for us. Sometimes you get lucky, and you find a guy who’s raw, but he’s a genius, and he was fully formed, but he just hadn’t been in the industry for long. You know, a guy who can do what I love to do in comics, which is to take the spectacular and the amazing, ground it, make it real, and make it as if you can touch it.
Warlord is an absurd concept, but I feel like I know this guy when he wears that shirt. I feel like he looks like he’s my next-door neighbor. That’s the way Jorge draws. It’s very reminiscent of one of my other favorite collaborators, Lee Weeks, and it’s very reminiscent of one of our legends, [David] Mazzucchelli, both people who do that same thing of creating the human in the absurd. Jorge does that better than, I think, almost anyone in comics, in line with Mitch Gerads, my other partner in all of this stuff. I love comics that seem to be about humans, and Jorge draws humans who just happen to be superheroes.
Danger Street adds to your bibliography of limited DC series, which has grown recently with titles like Gotham City: Year One and The Human Target.
This might be my last 12-issue series, maybe. I’m not sure.
It’s not my thinking. DC, it’s getting harder and harder, and not on the writer level. The art level is becoming hard because of that. We need to build a new model on how to do 12-issue series, something like the way [Greg] Smallwood and I are doing Human Target, where you take a six-month break. It’s just too hard for a modern artist in modern times to do 12 issues in a row, especially to do monthly. When I first started, Mitch and I did The Sheriff of Babylon monthly, and he did every single issue. I don’t think you could ever do that again. It’s just the way comics are made today. There’s just so much more detail, and so much more time is taken in the art, and it increases every year, which means the artists slow down a little bit every year. So these 12-issue series, you need a different model than 12 issues in 12 months. If we can form that, we can start doing these things again.
If I remember correctly, some of your series in the past, like Strange Adventures and Batman/Catwoman, have faced delays, and those were also 12-issue titles, right?
There’s no 12-issue series except for Sheriff of Babylon, and you can ask Mitch how he ever did it. There’s no 12-issue series by one artist that hasn’t faced delays. You almost can’t get that far ahead. The way budgets work with big companies and small companies, too. It’s hard to pay an artist to put eight things in a can without putting out an issue and making some money. If you want to get 12 issues on time, you’re talking seven, or eight issues in the can before you start rolling. So it’s difficult. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever done a 12-issue series where there hasn’t been a delay or a gap or something, and I always think it’s for the best. The only other option is to bring in a guest artist, and that’s tough. We did it very well on The Vision. We brought in Michael Walsh for one issue, and took a break from the series from what [Gabriel Hernandez] Walta did. But one issue out of 12 is asking a lot of the artist to do 11.
Number two, you need such good planning to get that done. That Michael Walsh issue [in The Vision] is a separate issue, where he didn’t tell you the story that Walta was telling. To create something at the end of the day, where you have a trade that’s 12 issues, that reads like a novel, that reads like literally a graphic novel — not the silly version that name has become, but what it is — where you can be like, “Okay, it’s Thursday night or Saturday night or whatever. I’m gonna sit down, and I’m gonna read a whole comic for the rest of this evening and have an incredible experience.” That’s my goal — to give you three or four hours of content where you can lay down and get lost or take it on a vacation and make it worth putting in your luggage. You want one artist for that whole thing, and it’s a challenge with how good people are drawing these days.
Do you prefer smaller, limited series as opposed to ongoing runs?
I do. It’s been four or five years since I’ve been on Batman, and we did 85 issues in a row on that, plus the annuals, and that was double ships. That was a separate challenge. I’ve only been doing miniseries since then, until Love Everlasting, my ongoing Image series. I like them for a few reasons.
Number one, I work for DC primarily. They’re wonderful. I love Jim Lee, and I love being there. The best of DC, when I look back on the history of that company, are their miniseries. I see Dark Knight Returns. I see Watchmen. I see Ronin. I see The New Frontier. I see All-Star Superman. My goal is to be one of those, to be the next trade in that collection. So that’s part of it.
The other part is the consistency in art. An ongoing series has to keep coming out. It can’t have consistent art, just the way deadlines are. So if you can find a fantastic artist and have consistent art through a longer story, I think it creates a better product and lasts longer. If you look at what Bilquis [Evely] and I did on Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, which was eight issues, if that had just been the normal Supergirl book, and it had just been coming out, and Bilquis had to take a break after Issue #4 because it had to come out every month, it wouldn’t be… It’s something special now. It’s something special in trade. It’s had a life in a trade like it never had as a periodical, and it has that because Bilquis was able to draw it all.
While you are going strong with various limited series like Danger Street, you continue to step into the world of Batman with books like Batman/Catwoman and Batman: Killing Time. If asked, would you return to write the Batman ongoing title? If not Batman, what other character(s) would you want to write an ongoing for?
Who would ask me to come back to Batman? Who wants that kind of misery? [Laughs]
I think Batman is fantastic today. I want Chip Zdarsky to write it for another 85 [issues] to beat my record of 85 issues. I think it’s going to do well. Would I ever go back to Batman? It wouldn’t be my preference, but Batman is a wonderful book to be on. It’s wonderful to write that character. If, in the future, say Chip died of a heart attack because we all know he’s a very unhealthy man in how he lives his life — no [Laughs] — and nobody else was willing to take the job, and they’re like, “Tom, come on?” Yeah, sure. Why not? I feel like it’s arrogant to be like, “No, I’ve said all I need to say with Batman.” I don’t know, it sounds like I’m just bullshitting you, and I don’t want to bullshit you. If the opportunity arose and the circumstances were right, and I wasn’t stepping on someone else’s feet, then yeah, I’m sure it would be fun to go back on. Before you put me on it, put Scott Snyder back on. I’d love to see him come back to Batman. I think that would be a lot of fun. But don’t kick anybody off.
Who else might you want to do an ongoing with?
I’m always trying to weave. Whenever I get used to something, like even Danger Street. I’ve done so many series that are from one perspective. Mister Miracle, Strange Adventures has two perspectives, but it’s usually one person and their journey. Vision. Rorschach. [With] Danger Street, I was like, “I want to do 24 different perspectives.” Just to keep yourself on your toes, to never relax into anything, never repeat yourself, to not be a rerun of who you were.
In my new DC contract, I was like, “Alright, I’ve taken five years off doing these miniseries.” If I just keep doing miniseries for the rest of your life, you’re gonna get bored of, “Tom takes an obscure character and makes them sad.” That’s going to, at some point, wear off. So I did talk to DC about doing some ongoings, and they said, “Yes.” Yeah, there are some big ongoing announcements coming. I’m coming back to the ongoing eventually. It’s fun playing in the main DC Universe. It has its own challenges and fun, but it’s fun.
Danger Street is another title where you include Darkseid. Once upon a time, you co-wrote a New Gods movie before it was canceled. With the changes happening at DC Studios, do you have any hope that this project will be revived?
Ah, I mean, anything’s possible. I love that script. I loved working with Ava [DuVernay]. It was an absolute joy. She’s a genius storyteller. You absolutely never know. I don’t want to close any doors. Right now, I’m just so incredibly busy. I have so much on my plate. It’d be hard to see taking on a whole movie right now. But that script has never been read. The movie was taken off the docket because it conflicted with the plans they had at the time. So who knows? When new plans come, maybe new opportunities will arise. That’s complete speculation. I have absolutely no knowledge. I’d love to work with Ava again. She was a joy.
What are you most excited for fans to discover as Danger Street progresses?
I’ve written a lot of books that are like other books. The Omega Men was like a Watchmen clone. The basic idea of Mister Miracle is what you saw in All-Star Superman, sort of one man’s journey facing death. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a mainstream comic that’s like Danger Street. It’s completely different. It’s something new. This is not a superhero book. These aren’t people all on the same team. These are just people that exist and try to be people, and they sort of team up and bounce off of each other. I’ve never seen anything quite like that before, even in Watchmen. By the end, they formed a superhero team to take on Ozymandias. That’s not what this is. This is not a team. It’s not a team book, but it’s not a solo book. It’s some bizarre hybrid of the two. It’s a little bit like Howard Chaykin’s Twilight if I had to think of some example. But Danger Street is something brand new. These are characters you don’t know, and it’s a format you’ve never seen before, but it’s fun and crazy. It’s the Sunday HBO series you’re obsessed with in comic book form. That’s what it is.
Danger Street #1 goes on sale Dec. 13.