Comic book crossovers tend to follow a standard formula: a cataclysmic event or an alliance between villains draws two characters from different universes together, they fight for a bit, then put aside their differences and join forces to save the world. Black Hammer/Justice League, a joint effort between DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics, is looking to subvert those tropes. I spoke to writer Jeff Lemire and artist Michael Walsh about how the story came to be and the joy of making crossovers.
But Why Tho: How exactly did this project come about?
Jeff Lemire: I’ve been doing the Black Hammer books at Dark Horse for about three years and kind of built out a universe of my own…and I guess at some point Dark Horse and DC were discussing potential crossover properties they could do. I think this one came up as a pretty natural fit of taking the Black Hammer characters and mixing them up with all the DC characters that I loved growing up. And as soon as I heard about it, I obviously embraced the idea because it was a lot of fun and hopefully it’ll bring a lot of readers to Black Hammer. And I got the chance to work with Michael [Walsh] which is great…it was just good fortune and good timing.
Michael Walsh: I was approached after the project was already underway. They were looking for an artist to draw this book, and Jeff had already written a few scripts, and they asked me if I would be interested and I came on board. Ever since it’s just been a dream job!
But Why Tho: Comic book crossovers have certain tropes they adhere to: heroes meet, misunderstanding, they punch the crap out of each other, then punch the crap out of the villains. How does Black Hammer/Justice League differ from other crossovers?
Lemire: We kind of inverted it so that the heroes don’t actually meet for a while. They switch places instead and get caught in each other’s universes. They don’t actually encounter each other until the very end of the story and I won’t say what happens there…we kind of took that trope and basically put it upside down.
But Why Tho: [Addressed to Walsh] Do you have a favorite character you like to draw?
Walsh: Probably Colonel Weird, [he] is the one I’m having the most fun with from the Black Hammer universe. He’s a blast to draw and I get to do a lot of weird particle effects on him and draw him upside down most of the time.
But Why Tho: [Addressed to Lemire] You’re no stranger to the DC Universe-you wrote Green Arrow for a while. What was it like writing characters such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman?
Lemire: It’s cool! I did a lot of writing over at DC for four or five years, but the most significant work I did there was on the secondary and third-tier characters, which I excel at. To be honest, I prefer those when I’m doing longer runs because you get more freedom with the characters…I never really had the chance to do the big guns, the big iconic characters, so this is a fun way to scratch that itch but to also do something kind of unique and to mix them up with my own creations. It was fun to write some Batman scenes and some Superman scenes because I hadn’t done much of that yet.
But Why Tho: If you could both describe this series in one word, what would it be?
Lemire: I’d say fun, I think any superhero crossover has to be fun to read. If I’m not having fun writing it and Michael’s not having fun drawing it, it’s not going to be fun to read. So I just tried to give him stuff that was super fun to draw and that I enjoyed writing, and I tried to embrace everything that’s fun about these big crossovers and the tropes of them…just embrace it and have as much fun with it as you can, but also put kind of a twist of it so it’s not the same thing you read in the past and that there’s something special and unique about it as well.
Walsh: I probably would have said the same word! I guess I’ll just say “exciting.” There’s a lot of exciting action, there’s a lot of exciting character moments, there’s a lot of exciting interactions between characters you would never expect to meet.
But Why Tho: What would you say to a new reader to convince them to pick up this series?
Lemire: I think if you haven’t read any Black Hammer books, this is a great introduction…you don’t need to have read the previous books to kind of understand what’s going on. It’s a good intro to that universe. If you’re already familiar with the DC characters, I think this is a way to see them in a completely new light-we put them in a situation that is really unfamiliar to them and to the readers and you see them react to that and it brings us something new with them.
Walsh: Yeah, I think fish out of water stories are always interesting because they tell you something about the characters that you may not have seen before or may not have known before or an aspect of their personality that hasn’t been depicted…it’s cool to see these characters that you know and love in unfamiliar territory.
Black Hammer/Justice League #1 is available wherever comics are sold.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.