The Bill Willingham Interview (part four of four)

Posted by on April 30th, 2010 at 12:06 AM


Originally recorded in 2006 for The Comics Journal #278.

Part OnePart TwoPart Three ♦ Part Four

James Jean art from the book Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall.


On Fixes and the Problems They Cause

DEPPEY: You’re talking about coordination in the various titles. That must have just totally gone into overdrive when you were doing the Infinite Crisis spinoff, the Day of Vengeance miniseries.

WILLINGHAM: Uh huh. It was hellish.

DEPPEY: [Laughs.] How much of that story was kind of handed to you and how much did you actually write?

WILLINGHAM: About 50/50. There was a long laundry list of things that needed to occur in Day of Vengeance. You needed to start from this point. The final scene had to be the death of the wizard Shazam. And various other things that had to occur. Within that, if there was any way you can make all these things happen and still tell the story you want, go to town. So it was this weird mix of several absolute things had to be done, and then almost complete freedom in the other aspects, which was pretty strange. But it made for interesting challenges. I enjoyed doing it because of that, I think, rather than in spite of it.

DEPPEY: It actually made a certain amount of sense as a story unto itself, which by and of itself is pretty impressive. I actually tried to follow all the various Infinite Crisis books and spin-offs and crossovers and whatnot and after a while, I just couldn’t figure it out. That’s not really a question. That’s more of a complaint, I suppose.

WILLINGHAM: Well, I think that’s part of the nature of the beast. I don’t know that I would want to be one of the driving forces in one of these mega-complex crossovers. The original Crisis on Infinite Earths was conceived as an attempt to fix all the continuity problems in DC. Coming out of that, no one knew what the new status quo was. I mean, it was just this big, complex mess. Even writers and editors were left unsure as to who was what any more. A teacher whom I loathed in high school and realized only after the fact that he was the best teacher I ever had, had his word of caution about — he was talking about politics, he was a political science teacher — but he talked about the tendency of nations or people or any size of group to recognize a problem, come up with a solution to that problem and fail to take that next step, which was to gauge what additional problems the solution creates. Often, especially in the political arena, fixes create many more vast problems than the one they were there to fix. I think that all of these Crisises and Secret Wars and all these big crossovers are exactly the comics poster-child for that attitude. You have a problem you need fixing, and the fix just creates so many more problems and difficulties that it’s probably, in the long run, not worth doing so much.

Detective Chimp and Nightshade II endeavor to save the Day of Vengeance #3, Art by Rob Wagner and Dexter Vines; ©2005 DC Comics.


DEPPEY: I gather that the principal purpose of Day of Vengeance, aside from killing Shazam, was to sort of reboot the concept of magic in the DC universe.

WILLINGHAM: Sure. That’s the part I got a lot of freedom with. I mean, that’s the part they kind of left me to come up with whatever I could.

DEPPEY: And boy, you had a grand old operatic time in destroying the old version of magic, but the series kind of ended before you established or anybody established what the new rules were or how it was going to work or whatever the purpose of the reboot was. You’re going to be doing a new Shadowpact series based around this, I believe.


DEPPEY: Are you just writing that? I seem to recall hearing that you were somehow involved with the illustration of that?

WILLINGHAM: I’m writing and drawing it, but by the time this comes out, I think it’s gonna be pretty obvious that I can’t keep up on the drawing end of things. I’ve just gotten so ridiculously slow at drawing that by the time this is out, my suspicion is that I’m writing it and someone else is drawing it.

DEPPEY: Is there a new definition or series of working standards of how magic is supposed to work in the DC universe now?

WILLINGHAM: There sort of is. Using that template as far as not coming up with solutions that make more problems than they fix, I used this as an excuse to get rid of one of my worst bugaboos about the DCU magic system, which is that it was run by these so-called Lords of Order and Chaos, and they were also representative of good and evil. I don’t quite follow that, because if Order is good and then Chaos is evil, then how do we explain things like the Third Reich, which was very orderly, that type of thing? So I’d never bought that equivalence. Also, the idea that there needs to be balance between these two forces in order for things to work — which is a very Eastern, yin-and-yang type of thing, I suppose — I never bought that either, especially in the sense of equating these to good and evil. I mean, in a city police force, you wouldn’t have the captain addressing the troops saying, “You know, we don’t have quite that balance between good and evil in town yet, and not enough of you are on the take, so I want the number of good cops and the number of bad cops to more equal each other in order to get this good balance we’re after.” It doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny once you start plugging in real, actual situations into it. I mean, I don’t mind… let’s say we’re talking about starvation as in lack of it being good. I wouldn’t mind a universe in which the goodness of no starvation is so completely overwhelming that there’s absolutely no balance on the bad side of people not getting enough to eat. So anyway, that bothered me. I never liked it, and that was the current template magic worked at DC, amongst various other things. So one of the things we got together to, and I’m surprised that DC agreed to let me do it, is just kill off the Lords of Order and Chaos and actually put an end to that sort of era of magic where that was the template. But the new template is, and this is a terrible, terrible admission, is “I don’t know.” My little note that went out to anyone that was doing magic books in the future is “Look, we’ve got a new way that magic works. I’m not sure what that is, other than if you wanna fix characters that you think are broken, here’s the excuse to do it. And that’s what I’ve got so far. Although, if you like the characters the way they are, just ignore this. Don’t make any changes.”

DEPPEY: Well, does it really need to be all that regimented?

WILLINGHAM: I think it stultifies creativity rather than enhances it. In the books I write, I know how my systems are gonna work and I think that any writer should. But I don’t really feel a great need to sort of regulate people writing books that I’m not involved with. So we’re gonna try and fake our way through this new age of magic, which is it works the way whatever it is you want it to work does.

DEPPEY: So you don’t need John Constantine and Zatanna set up so that they’re both doing the same type of magic?

WILLINGHAM: I don’t need to know a thing about how they’re doing what they’re doing. Unless, you know, I end up writing them, in which case I do. But… yeah.


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