At NYCC 2019, I had the pleasure of chatting with Daniel Warren Johnson (Murder Falcon, Extremity) about his upcoming project for DC’s Black Label Wonder Woman: Dead Earth.
Tito W. James: So your Wonder Woman story is post-apocalyptic. From your previous work on Extremity, can fans expect a desert-punk styled Wonder Woman?
Daniel Warren Johnson: It’s not so much like a Mad Max vibe, because I feel like that’s been done a lot. It’s more like post-Mad Max. Everything’s gone. There are no people except for one city that Wonder Woman interacts with. Wonder Woman is trying to convince these people that there’s a better way to live because she remembers life before the apocalypse.
In today’s society we have the benefits of industry, healthcare, art, and science. These allows us to rise above our baser instincts used for survival. Wonder Woman knows all of this and is also coming from the perspective of a god. So she’s inspiring these people who’ve regressed and forgotten mercy.
What I’m trying to do differently, is that I’m trying to find the fallibility of Wonder Woman so that I can relate to her better. Now this isn’t a dig on any Wonder Woman creator or anyone who’s worked on the character before, but I’ve honestly never had any interest in Wonder Woman. I feel that because of the way she’s been drawn that I’m supposed to look at her boobs rather than relate to her as a person. That’s just my personal opinion and people can disagree with me.
I wanted to make a book where I feel like I could share something with Wonder Woman. I’ve never worked on these god-level books before, where there are larger than life beings. One thing that I did is that I made Wonder Woman less powerful. Because of the nuclear fallout, she can no longer fly and she’s able to be hurt. I’m using this apocalyptic story to explore what makes Wonder Woman tick. She says she’s all about love and justice; but when humanity keeps screwing her over, at what point is humanity no longer worthy of a god’s love?
TWJ: While I am a fan of Wonder Woman, I concede that her rogues gallery isn’t as strong as characters like Batman or Spider-Man. Have you taken that into account with the obstacles she’ll face?
DWJ: It’s true her rogues gallery is pretty abysmal.
When looking at her rogues gallery I was trying to see if I could find a conflict for this story. But like you said, there’s not much to work with. Even if I took a silly villain and made them badass, it would feel cheap. The story is about Wonder Woman and I needed to centralize it around her. When it comes to Wonder Woman I think that her Mom has gone through some terrible things, and rightfully so, wants to protect her daughter from those things.
In my interpretation, Wonder Woman’s Mom, Hippolyta, has had such a bad experience with the gods of the universe that she imprints that outlook onto her daughter. We are still in a “man’s world” today; sexism is rampant, sadly so, but it’s true. And you have these archaic Greek gods and that’s the way they view the world. Sexism is their jam. So Hippolyta is telling Wonder Woman that she shouldn’t trust humanity because they are just like the gods. So Hippolyta’s translated this fear and mistrust of humanity to Wonder Woman and what happens when she’s proven to be right. So, instead of trying to find a badass villain from her existing rogue gallery, I tried to find the tension from her own personal relationships.
TWJ: Wonder Woman: Dead Earth is part of DC’s Black Label so you can explore more M-rated content. How dark is it going to be?
DWJ: I wouldn’t really consider my Wonder Woman to be a “mature” book. Monsters get cut up, but there’s no crazy human on human violence. There’s no swearing… I wanted to make it accessible to most people.
TWJ: It sounds to me more like Batman: Year 100. A stand-alone artist-focused story, that transports a popular character into an unfamiliar setting.
DWJ: DC originally approached me to do a Black Label Batman books. But there was already a writer attached and I really wanted to write and draw my own stuff. Also I felt that all the great Batman stories had already been done and I didn’t think I could top what was already out there. Wonder Woman was the only A-list character who never had a story that did it for me, so I wanted to create that story.
The more I researched Wonder Woman the more I discovered that I really liked her ultimate belief structure. She’s not from “man’s world,” so she almost has a childlike sensibility when she talks about caring for people. So in the first issue she has a line where the humans ask why she’s helping and she tells all the people “I love you.” I dig that. She’ll willing to get down and dirty and fight for humanity but she also has the audacity to tell perfect strangers that she loves them.
TWJ: Do you have a message to fans of your creator-owned work? How do readers know you haven’t sold out or gone mainstream?
Ok, let me put it this way. With Extremity and Murder Falcon I really opened up and put a piece of myself onto the page. I wanted to do that again but I just didn’t have any juice. I wasn’t burnt out, but I didn’t have anything to say that could fuel my own creations. I could draw something cool or badass but if it doesn’t have anything to say it’s not worth making or reading.
While the Wonder Woman stage is bigger, the stakes are lower. It’s not my character and I don’t have ownership over her in any way. So things are a little more chill in that regard. The DC Universe is a little sandbox and my brain is ready to accept the challenges that it brings. I’m bringing a piece of myself to the DCU. I’m instilling my questions about the world, about people, and about life. I honestly believe in this Wonder Woman story. It’s a challenge to work within the DC world and corporate structure. That being said, I’m fighting for the character. I’m fighting for the way that she looks and the way the book is presented. DC’s been a great partner so far and I look forward as to what happens in the future.
I’d like to thank Daniel Warren Johnson for taking the time to do this comprehensive interview. Look for Wonder Woman: Dead Earth from DC’s Black Label this December.