In last week’s Word Balloons column, I talked to Oklahoma native Sterling Gates, who now lives in Los Angeles, about his “Villains Month” projects for DC Comics. With “Justice League of America 7.2: Killer Frost” hitting stands today, here’s a look at the entire Q&A with Gates, who talks about “Killer Frost,” his ongoing series “Justice League of America’s Vibe,” and his two other “Villains Month” comics, co-written with Geoff Johns: “Justice League of America 7.4: Black Adam” and “Justice League 23.4: Secret Society.”
Q: What can fans expect from Killer Frost?
Sterling Gates: The Killer Frost one-shot is an exploration of who Caitlin Snow was before she became the cryokinetic villainess named Killer Frost. Caitlin was a young, brilliant scientist who unfortunately got mixed up with the wrong scientific crowd, and things really, really didn’t work out for her. Now, as Killer Frost, she’s constantly seeking out the hero, Firestorm. Why she’s doing that has been sort of a mystery, but by the end of the issue, readers will know exactly why she’s always after DC’s favorite nuclear man!
Q: What do you think is the appeal of Villains Month?
Sterling Gates: I think we love to read about the things that scare us. We like getting a look at the dark and twisted corners of the world. There’s a thrill in it, and afterwards we can set the book down or turn off the movie and return to the relative safety of our normal lives.
The great thing about DC’s Villains Month event is that it allows us to peel back the layers — to peek behind the curtain — and see what makes these villains tick. See why they are the way they are. We can explore the events that lead each character down the path they’ve chosen, even as we demonstrate what makes them truly evil…or truly misunderstood, in some cases. As I explained to someone the other day, a hero in a story is selfless, after what’s “right” for the greater good, no matter the cost. A villain is selfish, but rarely wants to pay the cost themselves. It’s a basic — yet fundamental — difference between the two types of characters.
Q: What do you bring to the Killer Frost character?
Sterling Gates: I tried to make sure she was an extremely sympathetic and interesting human being before the accident. The original Killer Frost came to be the villain because she was a bad person in her regular life, so once she had powers, of course she was evil. In our update, Killer Frost starts out as a curious young scientist who tries to create something new. She tests the boundaries of the universe, and the universe strikes back in a way. Now she’s a terrifying force of nature, one of the more powerful villains of the DCU.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Black Adam.
Sterling Gates: Black Adam is Shazam’s greatest enemy, his arch-nemesis. He believes himself to be the protector of the unjustly persecuted. A hero-to-the-people. Our story is about a pair of siblings in the fictional country of Kahndaq. One of them is trying to effect change through peaceful means, the other tries to use magic to get what he wants. They get involved with Black Adam and…well, things don’t go very well for either of them! [laughs] Geoff and I have really tried to tell a story that’s topical to what’s going on in our world today, even as we deal with the ramifications of the story he and Gary Frank did in Shazam.
Q: Tell me a little bit about Secret Society of Super-Villains.
Sterling Gates: Longtime DC Comics fans know that the Secret Society has been building their elaborate plans across the Justice League books for the last two years. In this issue, Geoff and I are going to show how they went about doing a lot of that, as well as reveal the secret origin of their leader, the mystery man known as The Outsider. It’s drawn by Szymon Kudranski, who’s one of the darkest artists I’ve ever seen. Not dark in terms of gore or anything, but dark in terms of how much storytelling he can wring out of the high chiaroscuro techniques he employs. I find his work fascinating, and I’m really, really pleased that Geoff and I got him on this book. Thanks to our wonderful editors Brian Cunningham and Kate Stewart.
Q: Do you want to talk about your ongoing series, Vibe?
Sterling Gates: Vibe’s off on his next adventure! Issue 8 is a big romp through various famous DC Comics dimensions, and issues 9 and 10 pit Vibe against his greatest nightmare of an enemy, Rupture. Issue 11 will see Vibe square off against his own boss, Amanda Waller, in what’s going to be a massive emotional and physical confrontation…all within the confines of Waller’s office. Should be a fun story. [laughs]
Q: Anything else you want to add?
Sterling Gates: I hope people are checking out Vibe! I think it’s a good book and I feel like we’re really telling a wonderful story about a teenager who just wants to do good in the DC Universe. That’s almost a rare thing in comics these days, stories of heroes who just want to do what’s right. Hopefully people will check it out.