And Then The Universe Ends: Landry Q. Walker And Eric Jones On The Return Of ‘Danger Club’ [Interview]
Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones's Danger Club was one of the most promising new comics of 2013. A brutally violent story about the sidekicks left on Earth after the world's superheroes died fighting a cosmic threat in space, it was astonishingly bloody and phenomenally clever -- and absolutely nothing like their previous work, the cheery, all-ages Supergirl's Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. Unfortunately, after the fifth of eight issues, the series vanished from the stands, and I just sort of assumed it had an exceptionally down ending.
In January, however, Danger Club returned with the long-awaited 6th issue, setting a schedule to finish the series in its entirety in March, so I took the opportunity to talk to Walker and Jones about the unexpected hiatus, the influence of Teen Titans, and what it was like to build a universe that felt like it had been there for 50 years in only a few pages.
This interview contains spoilers for Danger Club and one graphic image.
ComicsAlliance: I remember thinking when Danger Club came out that it was a four or five-issue miniseries. Obviously there's more to it, but when it stopped coming out in 2013, I just thought "Oh, right, I guess that was the end."
Eric Jones: That was a real point of confusion for a lot of people, actually. It was always intended to be finite, but a lot of people, for whatever reason, interpreted it as an ongoing.
Landry Q. Walker: Well, we were vague about it on purpose.
EJ: That's true.
LW: We're jerks. We're not good people. How about that?
CA: I guess the obvious question then is, why did it stop after #5 and come back two years later with #6?
LW: I do wish that we had stopped at #4 with a "to be continued" sort of vibe and then brought it back. #6 just came out January 28, #7 comes out the last Wednesday of February, and #8 comes out the last Wednesday of March. The delay basically was sparked initially when our colorist's son was hit by a car.
CA: Oh no!
LW: He's fine, but Rusty Drake had to take a little time to deal with it. I can't say that's the only reason, it was a spark that pushed us in the wrong direction. Everyone had a very small window to do this creator-owned book, and we don't know what we'll make on any issue, if anything, when we're working on it. Rusty has five kids. He can't just go, "Well, I'm gonna gamble my family on this book and nothing else," and he's working 'til 10 o'clock at night on the job that he has. He's already working full-time, and he spends the time when he gets home coloring this. So anything that throws you off of that really locked-in schedule is potentially disastrous.
It's one of the perils of working on creator-owned titles. If this was a DC book, we'd have the backing of a lot of money behind us, where we could go, "This is our job and we're making money on this." That's what we're competing against. We had a descision to make with my schedule, Eric's schedule, Rusty's schedule. We're all old friends from high school age, there was no way we weren't going to be doing this book together. There's no question of bringing someone in to replace any of us.
EJ: No, absolutely not.
LW: We just decided that this book is important to us, so let's step back and deal with it and not worry about the schedule. Let's make it the best book we can, and rather than adhere to a monthly schedule, let's make it happen as best we can.
EJ: So that's what we did. We took forever and got the rest of the issues done.
LW: The funny thing is that it doesn't seem like forever to us at all, because we've never stopped working on it. "What do you mean it went away? We see this every day!"
EJ: I've literally been full-time on Danger Club this whole time, actually. I've taken a couple of small gigs here and there, but in the last couple years, it's been almost all Danger Club for me, which says a lot about how much time I'm spending drawing it, I guess. There were projects that I was working on before we stopped releasing the book that I had commitments to, but again, it was just a matter of being committed to other things and not having a proper window to get Danger Club out on the schedule that we'd originally planned.
LW: That's basically the reasons.
CA: It's funny, because I was, and am, a huge fan of the book from when it started, and I remember thinking, "Man, what a downer of a book." I just assumed that #5 was the end of it. If you get the paperback, it ends with Kid Vigilante getting shot in the head, and the issue that comes after that, everything's miserable and it ends with that big Crisis on Infinite Earths kind of fade-out. Since it had been so long, I just assumed that was how you ended it, with that kind of ambiguous ending.
LW: We totally should've done that. That would've been much easier.
EJ: We tossed the idea around, like "Maybe that's the ending," but realized that would be unsatisfying.
LW: [Laughs] We originally had it planned as a six-issue miniseries, and we expanded it partway through to eight. The schedule had already gone off the rails and we decided to add two issues, because that makes sense. #6 would've actually come out about a year ago, we've been sittng on it for a year because Image wanted to make sure #6, #7 and #8 would come out monthly. #6 would've come out a year ago, #7 about six months ago, and then #8 would be out right around now, which I still personally would have preferred, but I understand why Image chose to have it that way.
EJ: Oh, absolutely.
LW: They've got very good reasons for running their business the way they do, and we've kind of been chaotic with it because we don't run a publishing company. I'd have very different feelings about it if I ran a publishing company, I'm sure.
CA: So can you tell me if #8 is going to have as much of a downer ending as I thought the book did? For anyone who hasn't read it, it's a book where all of the superheroes and many of the supervillains went off to space to fight some big cosmic evil and died, leaving the sidekicks on Earth, dealing with the aftermath of a world that suddenly doesn't have superheroes anymore.
LW: The thing that I'd say in this case is that darkness is relative. It can go one of two ways: We can go dark, or darker. In the end, it is a heroic tale, so we'll just see how it all comes together.
EJ: I think that's the best way to put it.
CA: With #6 coming out last week, you're back on track with the final three issues, so that's very exciting.
EJ: Believe me, we're excited.
CA: I was really attracted to the cleverness of the book, that you used the Silver Age style pages to imply a long history for these characters that gets explored in the rest of the book. You basically do what DC comics did over the course of 30 years in a single issue, going from the poppy, optimistic Silver Age to the grim and depressing '80s and '90s.
EJ: I think that's exactly what we were shooting for. We wanted to imply that there are decades and decades of stories with these characters, and explore an analogue to what you see in a lot of DC and Marvel comics these days, as it compares to how they worked thirty, forty, fifty years ago.
CA: What got me in the latest issue is that there's a reveal of what's out there, and I assume this was completely intentional. The world of Danger Club is very analogous to DC Comics, and you end with Chronos, which is when I realized that it's the Teen Titans versus the Titans of Greek mythology. I was almost mad, but I slow-clapped alone in my apartment for it.
EJ: [Laughs] Mission accomplished.
LW: There was definitely some intent there. Eric and I both come from a background of the George Perez/Marv Wolfman Teen Titans, and I was always fascinated when they get into the Greek mythology. I was like 12 years old, and I'd sit there reading it. I think they actually did an issue about how they assumed the name of the Titans, but maybe I'm misremembering. It was a long time ago. But yeah, I always liked that aspect, so there's a bit of a nod there.
CA: Was that the core idea when it started? I know very serious stories can come from jokes.
LW: Yes. That's been there from the start. I'm a huge reader of Greek mythology. I know very little of any other mythology, but Greek mythology is kind of my jam, and incorporating that into a superhero universe in general is something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and that Eric and I have talked about doing for a long time. You look at what we call the Retro Page, the Silver Agey page of #6, combined with the inside front cover of #6, we tell a lot about the origin of superheroes in this universe.
It's all tied to this concept of the Greek gods coming to Earth, and we all know what Zeus did when he came to Earth. He got around. So yeah.
CA: You've got the indication that the entire superheroic population of the Earth is descended from gods and demigods, which is really interesting to me. I like the idea that this is a universe with that level of architecture to it that comes through on two pages, and all through this issue, especially with the conversation between Red Vengeance and Kid Vigilante, there's so much discussion of it. You even throw in a bit about how it's been rebuilt "at least 51" times.
LW: I'm so glad you caught that.
EJ: The book is just loaded with references every which way, and some of them are subtle and some of them are not so subtle, but yeah. We've spent so much time talking about this and working on it and developing it, going back and going over what we've established already and figuring out where the story's going and the smaller details, we've been able to go, "We can get this in there! We can get that in there!" We've managed to layer it, I think, with a lot of things that people find.
LW: We started working on this a solid two years before the first issue hit the stands -- at least two years, if not three. We did Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, we did Batman: The Brave and the Bold, I'm currently writing Red Lanterns for DC. All of these things, you're stepping into a pre-existing mythology where everyone who's reading it understands the shortcuts in this way where you can cheat so much.
We don't get that option, so we tried to find a way to emulate that sense of cheating. You recognize who these characters are, but they aren't. You recognize the rules of this universe because, if you read comics for years, you know how it operates. All we have to do then is tell people in as natural a way as possible; "Now here's the history."
We want you to feel like you've been reading this for fifty years, that you didn't pick up Teen Titans West, you picked up Danger Club Reserves. We want it to feel like you've been reading about this world the whole time, and now we're coming onto this massive endgame. Again, the Perez/Wolfman Teen TItans was so influential, and that puts us right at the right age for Crisis on Infinite Earths. The influence is clear, I think.
CA: So you wanted to give people the sense that you were ruining their childhood, but with characters they'd never read before.
EJ: Somebody's gotta do it.
LW: There's a lot of childhoods out there that have yet to be ruined...
EJ: And we're just the guys to do it.
LW: At the same time, if you read through it, you see that there are certain elements here and there of an amount of self-awareness. "What happened to us? How did we end up here? This is not what we were." More and more, as the series progresses, we'll be exploring some aspect of that. There's a lot yet to be revealed about what this book is, about a cathartic sort of commentary on the industry, all that kind of stuff.
CA: Is that why the theme shifts in #4, 5 and 6 to the idea of apocatastasis, trying to fix the universe and start over? Or is that just one of those things where that's what comics -- particularly DC comics -- do, and that's why they're going to try it?
LW: Trying not to give away too much on that, there are some interesting connections between aspects of Greek mythology and how the universe was believed to work, parallel to how superhero comics have worked, and their cyclical nature. There's probably nothing in that book that we didn't spend a week talking about, and in the case of that concept, probably months went into that one. I'm just going to leave it at, "it's all really intentional."
CA: So with #8 as the end of Danger Club, do you have a follow-up project already in the works?
EJ: We always have multiple follow-up projects in the works! There's nothing we can really talk about, I guess, but we have several things in various stages of development.
LW: We've been asked to pitch a couple things to a few different companies, we've got a few creator-owned projects that we're developing. It's the same way that we started with Danger Club, we had several going on then after Supergirl's Cosmic Adventures, and we just throw a dart at a board and that's the one we pick. We've been doing comics together for over 20 years, and our Little Gloomy series is now a cartoon across the world called Scary Larry, although it's not airing in the US yet. We've done that, I'm working with Sideshow doing freelance writing for them.
EJ: We're doing lots of stuff, and I wish there was more that we could name right now, but there's definitely things in the wings.
LW: We've got lots of stuff coming, and it'll probably be as different from Danger Club as Danger Club was from Supergirl's Cosmic Adventures, as Supergirl was from Little Gloomy, as Little Gloomy was from Kid Gravity...
EJ: We tend to change it up a lot.
LW: We get bored.
CA: You talked about the references that are littered throughout Danger Club. Do you have a favorite reference or a favorite piece of the universe that you slipped in there?
LW: There's so much. I will say that there are a few things that came up by happenstance. The Jack Fearless character is one that's kind of funny how it worked out, because neither Eric nor myself have been very good at following modern comic books. I knew that Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting had brought back Bucky, but I hadn't read any of it. I wasn't a Marvel kid, I don't read a lot of that material now, and so when we designed our Jack Fearless character, who's a little bit Bucky-esque, we gave him these robot arms, having no freaking idea that the Winter Soldier was this character with a robot arm who was Bucky. We saw it when we were developing it, and I was like, "Well what the hell are we going to do now?" So we went further with it.
CA: You gave him two robot arms and a robot eye. You Cable'd him up!
LW: We went even further. The Retro Page in #4, you see that the only thing that's original is his brain and his eye. That actually came up because in #4, Eric drew Jack Fearless getting beaten to hell! He took what I'd put in the script and went gruesome with it.
EJ: I just ruined the guy.
LW: I was like, "Well now I have to figure out how that works." I had to throw away a script and rewrite it.
EJ: I like to make Landry work really hard.
LW: And that's why I have panel descriptions that are, "And then the Universe ends."
EJ: That's true. That's an actual description from one of the scripts.
LW: "Draw that one, you bastard."
EJ: [Laughs] I think I pulled it off.