The heroes and villains of the DC Universe are about to face their deepest fears firsthand in the Summer 2023 crossover event Knight Terrors by Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter. As a mysterious new enemy targets the heroes by plunging each of them in deadly nightmares forcing them to step up in this esoteric dream world to survive and escape back to reality. Ahead of the event’s full launch this July, readers can get a sneak peek of Knight Terrors with a Free Comic Book Day prologue this May, providing a short story leading into the event, with Williamson and Porter joined by artist Chris Bachalo to set the terrifying stakes.
Dawn of DC: Knight Terrors Free Comic Book Day Special Edition #1 has Damian Wayne catch some well-deserved sleep after a busy night defending Gotham City only to find himself in a nightmare unlike any other. With Knight Terrors poised to be the biggest DC crossover event in years, the prologue is just a small taste of greater things to come, with no hero safe as they each take the time to fall asleep. With Williamson and Porter at the helm, horror is officially ruling the roost in the heart of the DCU this summer, with the all blockbuster scary fun one might expect from A Nightmare on Elm Street or The Conjuring with DC’s biggest icons front and center.
In an interview with Popverse, Joshua Williamson reveals the behind-the-scenes origins and inspirations of Knight Terrors, teases who some of the key players that’ll be stepping up for the crossover event will be, and shares a look at the FCBD special and its terrifying implications for the DCU.
Popverse: Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths saw the Justice League trapped in dream worlds of their idealized realities and you’re inverting that in Knight Terrors, trapping them in nightmares. How did this particular crossover event come together?
Joshua Williamson: Last spring, we started talking about some of our plans for 2023 and we knew that we had these pockets of things that we wanted to do and we were still in the midst of Dark Crisis. I think we started talking about this stuff before Dark Crisis even started coming out. As we were talking about what our plans were for 2023 and 2024, we wanted to do something really big this summer. I’m a big advocate for short events at this point, so I wanted to do something really big for the summer of 2023.
We had a lot of conversations, with different pitches and ideas – some were alternate realities and some were more multiverse stuff – but I wasn’t really feeling it. We were already in it with Dark Crisis, so I didn’t want to repeat that. I wanted to do something different and fun, that was a big part of this, in making sure it was still fun and would fit in with the tone of the 'Dawn of DC'. The first idea I had was “DC Comics is haunted,” that was my first initial thought. Following Dark Crisis, we’d learn something was haunting the heroes and what was that thing that was haunting them and why?
I started playing around with those ideas and one day I was driving to meet with [editor] Ben Abernathy last August and it just licked in my head. We had been talking about if it was a horror thing because we all love horror and horror with DC characters works really well, so what if it was a horror event. I’m driving to meet Ben and, all of sudden, it hit me, 'What if it’s about nightmares?'
I did think if we were already in this thing with Dark Crisis, where it’s about dream worlds but those are a little bit different because they’re created by Pariah and they’re alternate realities and worlds with different rules. This is not about alternate realities, this about these characters, what their nightmares are, that somebody is trying to take advantage of those nightmares and the idea that the heroes are haunted by somebody but they’re haunted because that person is looking for something and he lives it’s hidden inside of their nightmares. To find it, he has to unleash their nightmares
A lot of that stuff just came together in my mind on that drive, I met with Ben, sat down and went “I figured it out: Nightmares.” And he was like “Okay, yeah.” We started talking about it, like it was Freddy versus the DCU. We created a new villain and I thought we needed a new villain at that big a level that wasn’t connected to the multiverse and big cosmic stuff, that wasn’t a god. We needed someone who was extremely powerful and could be a new big bad for the DCU and what if they were a horror-themed villain?
All these thoughts came together and I started working on it and pitching it. It was a little more of a process, like every event is, but we started with those focus points. We knew we wanted it to be a horror event, to be about nightmares and it needed to be fun. It needed to have that dark humor, that kind of Sam Raimi dark humor that’s in Superman too. A lot of that went into this.
I’m catching A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors vibes from this.
I loved Dream Warriors when I was a kid. When I was a kid, that was probably my favorite Nightmare on Elm Street movie because I thought it was cool that they all got their powers, that was really fun. As an adult, the first movie is amazing and a genius work of art. It has influenced a lot of my work, a lot of the horror work I’ve done, in particular, has been influenced by that first movie. This is definitely influenced by that. [laughs]
What was it about having Damian Wayne be the point-of-view character for the FCBD issue?
There are two truths here. Truth #1 is that I just love writing Damian. I really love him as a character and taking any opportunity I can to write Damian. The other truth is that we knew, after Lazarus Planet, he wasn’t going to be anywhere until Batman & Robin and Batman & Robin isn’t coming out until September. From February to September, we didn’t know where he was, so I was like “Oh, he’s in Knight Terrors.”
This was really early on so, him being in Knight Terrors [meant] that Knight Terrors will connect to Batman & Robin. It was very much this fluid thing and it made sense for it to be Damian to be this midway point between the Lazarus Planet/Batman vs. Robin ending in February, this coming out in May, and then Batman & Robin coming out in September. It was a logistical thing and I also just love the character.
The solicits have revealed that Deadman plays a major role in Knight Terrors and we haven’t seen him in a minute. What was it about tying him so closely to the story?
The answer is kind of the same, I just really like Deadman. [laughs] We started talking about horror stuff and I’ve always wanted to do a Deadman book. When I was putting this together, I knew we needed a point-of-view. I think every event works better when you have a point-of-view and I also really wanted this event to be different from Dark Crisis. Dark Crisis was this giant, cosmic event with multiple points-of-view and emotional arcs across the story.
With this, I don’t want to say that I wanted to go smaller because this event is still fairly big and you can tell by all the minis, there are way more minis than there were for Dark Crisis. For this, I wanted to go with a character who didn’t have their book and that we hadn’t seen for a while. Having this be about Deadman’s emotional arc across the event just made sense to me.
There’s a scene in Knight Terrors: First Blood where he talks about where he’s at and about his own connection with the realm of death and realm of dreams. He’s the first person who realizes that the heroes are haunted and him trying to figure out why they’re haunted leads to him finding out that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are investigating the death of a major villain. It all just kind of worked because if anyone is going to figure out they’re haunted, it’s going to be Deadman; it all just lined up.
I just really like his character, I think he’s fascinating. He talks about it a little in the book, he’s this person that was a death-defying daredevil and always put on a show pretending he was about to die to scare people. In one of the Knight Terrors issues, he talks about how it was never about the applause. He loved the applause but what he really loved were the gasps he would hear because it meant that he got them, they thought he was going to die for a second and then he pulled out a fast one. He loved when they believed he could die and then he did die and, in some ways, it was the greatest show he ever did because no one saw that coming.
If you go back and look at Brightest Day that Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi did when they did the double-shipping book after Blackest Night, they dealt a lot with Deadman in that story. I always felt this was such an interesting character and more we could do with him. For forever I’ve been trying to figure out something to do with him and, when we were putting this together, he just fit the story.
With the FCBD issue, you’re working with both Howard Porter and Chris Bachalo.
Howard and I have worked together a lot and, with this issue and Chris Bachalo, I’ve loved his work forever. Part of my obsession with having wraparound covers started with him because he had a wraparound cover for Generation X way back in the day. I really love his work and he does a killer job on this. It’s his first time working with DC in, like, 20 years and it looks awesome.
Is he just doing this FCBD issue or are we going to see more of him with Knight Terrors down the line?
You’re not going to see more of him within Knight Terrors. I’ll just say there’s more stuff with him at DC, without spoiling anything else. [laughs]
The identity of this shadowy villain isn’t revealed quite yet in the FCBD issue, though I do have my suspicions on who it is.
He’s a new villain! The villain for Knight Terrors, his name is Insomnia and his first appearance will be in the First Blood issue. He’s definitely connected to other things but he’s a new villain. What was your suspicion?
If we’re talking about a villain connected to dreams and a grudge against the Justice League, Doctor Destiny would be at the top of the list.
Just read First Blood. [laughs]
Dan Mora’s designs for the Knight Terrors variations on some of the characters have started to come out. How was it working with him to figure out how the heroes would operate and look in the dream world?
With Dan Mora, Ben Abernathy went to Dan and was like “Are you interested in this?” and we started sending him ideas and documents. I think the biggest challenge was going to be Bruce because I’ve seen Nightmare Bruce and wanted to do something different. I wanted to see a version of Bruce we haven’t really seen before and Dan Mora and I talked it out and then Dan pushed it even further by having this young version of Bruce that has this gross bat with a gun for a head that crawls out of Bruce’s mouth and that actually happens in one of the minis.
We just talked with him about that and then it was a matter of me writing up a very long document that was given to editorial and then was given to the creators and then they could play. It’s Nightmare on DC Street, it’s Freddy Krueger versus DC; let’s just have fun, be scary, and find ways to connect it to the bigger stories we’re doing in our books and what’s going to happen on the other side.
We were having a lot of conversations about that and there are pieces of Knight Terrors that lead to other big stories that we’re doing later this year. This isn’t even the midway point in the Dawn of DC storyline but this is one of the bigger touchstones because the events of this will impact other things later in the year.
With Dan Mora, we just gave him a bunch of ideas and he just cut loose. A lot of the artists, once they just started having fun with designing covers, characters, talking to people about doing this and that – you could tell people were just having fun and you can see it with the covers. I think all the covers for this event are great and just fun, horror film covers.
Not just with the opening arc to your Superman run but with the early issues of your Flash run, adding characters like Godspeed and Bloodwork, you’ve added distinct horror elements to DCU. How has it been adding those sensibilities to this universe?
I think it’s really easy, to be honest with you. I think there’s a place for it and maybe it’s because of the fact that DC is such a bright, shiny universe and the opposite side of that is horror. There are so many cool horror characters in the DCU, like Constantine, Swamp Thing, and Justice League Dark. There’s just a lot you can do with it and, for me, it just feels second nature and is really interesting. I really love horror and I just try to find a place for it in the comics and it’s really fun.
What else can you hype up about Knight Terrors as we get closer to the summer?
Get scared! [laughs] I think there will be some surprises for people and it’s not a thing you can skip. It’ll definitely impact things on the other side in ways that will really surprise you. There will be some major stuff, especially once we get closer to the ending. That’ll connect it with bigger stuff that we have planned for DC.
When we talked about Dark Crisis, you mentioned you finding yourself needing more pages. How is it working with fewer issues this time around?
I just thought of them as one long issue. [laughs] I try not to do too much but the first issue, First Blood, that issue was oversized anyway and that made it easier. With the actual miniseries, I think because I wasn’t going to have a gazillion characters in it, it made it easier.
One last tease for Dan Mora is that we still haven’t seen all the designs. There is actually a group of characters in this event and we haven’t seen them yet but I think you’ll see them fairly soon. They’re called the Sleepless Knights and they work with Insomnia. The designs that Dan Mora did for them are insane and they’re very cool. I’m not sure when we’re going to start showing those off but they look really awesome.
Dawn of DC: Knight Terrors Free Comic Book Day Special Edition #1 is written by Joshua Williamson, penciled by Chris Bachalo and Howard Porter, inked by Bachalo, Porter, Jamie Mendoza, and Danny Miki, colored by Bachalo and Brad Anderson, and lettered by Troy Peteri. The issue will be available as part of DC’s Free Comic Book Day titles on May 6.
Learn more about this summer superhero horror event with our comprehensive Knight Terrors guide.