WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, available on digital HD now.
Across fifteen films over the past six years, the DC Animated Movie Universe has starred publisher’s extensive catalogue of iconic superheroes and villains, with the overarching core being the Justice League’s conflict with Darkseid. The conflict and entire shared animated cinematic universe comes to an end with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, as the surviving heroes of the DCAMU band together for one last desperate attempt to save the world from the evil New God.
In an interview with CBR, screenwriter Mairghread Scott discusses crafting the finale to the DCAMU, the most bittersweet moments of the film for her personally and why she decided to have John Constantine get together with King Shark.
With so much talk about this, I wanted to get the big question out of the way first: Where did the idea of John Constantine and King Shark come about?
Mairghread Scott: Yeah, I didn’t expect that to be quite such a thing. I knew that movie was going to have Suicide Squad in it and I have always loved Gail Simone’s work and she had King Shark work with Suicide Squad for awhile and I thought “That’s really fun, let’s have King Shark because he has the ‘I’m a shark! I’m a shark’ though I changed it to ‘King Shark is a shark.'”
And I thought it’d be really funny, since Constantine is such a disaster, if he slept with someone on the Suicide Squad. And there was a draft that kind alluded to that idea, as they’re going to the Suicide Squad, he’s worried because he’s going to run into his ex, so the idea is that everyone assumes it’s Harley but then you find out it’s King Shark because, obviously, Constantine is a little crazy but he’s not that crazy. Which is nice because Constantine has always been about Zatanna, this shows Constantine is bi. People think he dated Harley but, it turns out, he dated one of the dudes and I just thought it was really funny. There was a draft where we got into why their relationship worked because Constantine is magic, he could understand what King Shark was trying to say and that’s why they had a relationship, but that sort of got cut for time.
Was there ever a sort of “I Am Groot” draft of King Shark’s dialogue so you knew what he was saying at a given time or was it always just “King Shark is a shark”?
It’s funny because I was one of the writers on the Guardians of the Galaxy cartoon and we would put what Groot was roughly saying when we would write Groot but, with King Shark, yeah, it was just “King Shark is a shark.”
There’s a lot of moving pieces and extensive cast as you bring the DC Animated Movie Universe to a close here. Is there a moment or character you wished you spent more time with but maybe didn’t have the opportunity because of all the moving pieces?
Oh man, yeah, a million of them [laughs]. I would’ve really loved to spend a little more time with Lois and Lex together because they are just such fun characters to have trapped in a room together. And I’m always up for writing more Sad Dad Superman but I think, in general, we hit everyone that I wanted to hit. Honestly, I see things where people are like “Oh no, they were mean to my favorite hero!” and I’m like “I feel that way too! I also love Dick Grayson but someone had to go in the Lazarus Pit!”
To that point, what was the most heartbreaking thing to write for this movie because it is pretty full of them.
Yeah, so many of them are really heartbreaking. It was really hard to put so much on Clark’s shoulders, so much failure, and he struggles with it and overcomes and that’s nice but it’s really hard to be mean to Clark Kent even when your job is to be professionally mean to Clark Kent; you feel bad [laughs].
Before this, you had done Wonder Woman: Bloodlines and Justice League Action. What character here was a surprise to be a good creative fit or just such a joy to write?
Oh! I was really surprised how much I liked Damian. As a fan, he wasn’t always my favorite Robin all the time but he ended up being a really fun character to write and a really great foil to everyone else. It’s really fun to have that character go “Oh, this plan is going to fail and we’re all going to die, I guess I’m here too.”
You mentioned Constantine and Sad Dad Clark but you’ve also got Raven as a kind of P.O.V. character. Was that to tie in more to the Titans and Justice League Dark aspect of the story?
Well, she served a really strong structural purpose because of the Trigon angle because, at the end of the day, you’ve got to figure out a way to beat Darkseid other than Batman will do it because he’s Batman. So, having that sort of unreliable heavy artillery was really important structurally. Also, she also is a nice bridge because she’s a Titan but she’s also magic, she could bring in that storyline as well as interact with Constantine on his level. And lastly, it was interesting to pair her up as a kid, who has this heavy burden, among these adults. I felt that was a really fun emotional angle, she could talk a bit more about what the everyman of the universe was feeling, like, she could talk about Superman suffering when he wouldn’t and she could voice everyone thinks Constantine is a jerk when no one else would. So, she became a little bit more of the barometer for the audience: How she felt about characters was kind of how we would feel about characters.
With something this dark, how did you manage to balance the violence while making the proceedings a little more palpable?
I don’t know if this is okay to say but let’s say it anyway: My feeling as a writer is that violence without a message is pornographic because then the violence in it of itself becomes the enjoyment. If you’re going to be writing a really violent, dark story, the point of the really violent, dark story is to show there’s light in that darkness and to show that it’s really hard to do the right thing even if things had gone to Hell in a handbasket.
I thought, with this story, it was really important to just hurt everyone as much as I could so you really felt the stakes. They might not win, they didn’t win! This is the end of the road, the last chance. I didn’t want anyone to feel safe, I didn’t want anyone to feel like “Oh, of course they’re going to save the day, this is what they do.” And by sweeping that off the table, I felt like you really got to see who these characters were when their backs were up entirely against the wall. And that’s really the point, to show that these characters aren’t just heroes when they’re winning but that they’re still heroes when they’ve lost everything.
The example through adversity.
Yeah! Because it’s hard to do the right thing and it’s really, really hard to do the right thing when you’ve screwed up.
To that point, do you see them having a degree of culpability on the heroes the way the movie opens with Darkseid?
That’s not something I want to answer as a writer but, as a fan, it was important, if you’ve watched all fifteen movies, Darkseid’s already attacked twice and he gets better every time he does. And so, even for me, it was important to write Superman in a way that his actions were justifiable. Whether or not I personally agree with them or think it was the right call, it was important you could see at least where they were coming from. Like, he was killed! And if every time Darkseid strikes at Earth he gets better, there’s an argument to decide “We can’t wait until he decides that today’s the day he’s going to come at us again.”
I really like the idea that some people watch that and think Superman just jumped the gun and got too emotional or too personal, is there an element of revenge in this decision or not; were they too confident or cocky or not. It’s not my goal as a writer to decide how the audience needs to feel about that but it’s my role to see why they would feel about that that doesn’t seem crazy or totally out of left field.
You’ve got to work on two films in the DCAMU now. What are you most proud of in leaving your own personal stamp on these characters and on this shared universe as you close it out?
It’s hard to talk about a sense of pride because these characters really feel like they have an element of reality to them. Like, I’m not inventing Batman but kind of expressing Batman, if that makes any sense. So, I don’t really think about putting my personal stamp on these characters but the one thing I’m proud of is being able to hash out a little bit Damian’s relationship with Bruce from the beginning. Damian has a really traumatic origin story for Bruce, Damian’s origin story is really problematic. And that’s fine, the League of Assassins aren’t necessarily the world’s best people involved, but it’s nice to feel like that’s something Batman recognized and took him in anyway instead of just glossing over, like “Whatever, I guess you’re here now.”
It made the relationship feel a little more realistic to me and I wanted to acknowledge that Damian showing up on Bruce’s doorstep was more than just another of the many orphans that have shown up on Bruce’s doorstep [laughs].
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War stars Matt Ryan as John Constantine, Jerry O’Connell as Superman, Taissa Farmiga as Raven, Stuart Allan as Robin, Tony Todd as Darkseid, Jason O’Mara as Batman, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Shemar Moore as Cyborg, Christopher Gorham as the Flash, Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane and Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor. The film is available now digitally and on Blu-ray May 19.
Screenwriter Mairghread Scott discusses bringing the DC Animated Movie Universe to a close with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.