DC VS VAMPIRES Co-Creator Matthew Rosenberg Has Surprising MANIAC(al) Horror Roots

Defining and exploring characters in the vampire universe.

By Daniel McMahon-Young · @danthemcmahon · July 20, 2022, 2:00 PM PDT
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DC VS VAMPIRES: CRYPT EDITION

DC Comics has never been a stranger to horror, with titles like Swamp Thing and Sandman dotting nearly all essential comic reading lists. But recently, they've turned to letting their biggest heroes dip into multiversal horror stories. After the huge success of DCeased, which starred zombified versions of your favorite heroes, James Tynion IV and Matthew Rosenberg decided to bring another invasion to the DC Universe with another classic monster, the vampire. In their series DC Vs Vampires with art by Otto Schmidt and letters by Tom Napolitano, we find the DC Universe besieged by a plague of Vampires slowly turning the world's strongest heroes into creatures of the night. We spoke with co-writer Matthew Rosenberg about his experiences with horror, monsters, and much more.

Where did your interest in horror begin?

I've always loved horror. As far back as I can remember, my two best friends growing up were big horror nerds as well. Every Friday night was us renting horror movies at the local video store and going home to watch them. It's such a sad thing that video stores like this don't exist anymore, or very rarely exist. It's one of those places where the staff was super knowledgeable, and they had the back catalog to really take a dive. What started out as watching your Nightmare on Elm Streets and your Halloween ended up watching the Dario Argento films when we're old enough to appreciate things like that. And we were really fortunate to have a place like that that really helped us.

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I also have a weird in with horror. When I was maybe 12 or 13, we rented an early '80s slasher movie called Maniac. I watched it, and it's a terrible film. But in the credits, I saw the movie was written by someone with my mom's initials and last name. So I went home, and I told my mom. I was like, 'This is so funny. We watched this horror movie and the writer had your initials and last name.' And my mom said, 'Okay, I guess we're gonna do this,' and sat me down and explained to me that in the early '80s, she wrote a famously misogynistic slasher film called Maniac that is sort of an iconic film. That was a big moment for me as I discovered this thing about my family and my mom. I felt this connection to it. And that sort of pushed me even further into being a horror fan.

So you didn't get the sex talk. You got the talk that your mom wrote a misogynistic horror film.

I got the talk like 'Yes, Mom wrote a movie about hunting women for sport,' which is not a talk that anyone should have to have. It's a much-beloved cult film. It's truly terrible. And the crown jewel of all of this is that my mom has never seen it because she doesn't like horror movies.

Was your mother a writer?

She was a writer and an editor. The opportunity came to my father, and he said, 'My wife is a writer.' And so she took it. But I never knew it. Partially because when they first tested the movie, the audience was just so appalled. People were saying how it's so sexist and misogynistic. The producers and director really wanted to lean into that. So they asked my mom if she cared if they changed her credit from her name to her initials, so people wouldn't know a woman wrote the movie. The '80s were a very different time.

Clearly you've been tied to horror for a long time. Do you find yourself more drawn to certain types of horror stories?

I'm sort of agnostic about all stories. I'm agnostic about horror, if it's good, then I want to watch it. I'm not super into gratuitous torture stuff. Well-made monster movies are really a thing of beauty. Unlike anything else, I really have a soft spot for a great werewolf story, a great vampire story. But no, I really kind of just go with whatever is good. I'm trying just to like the stories.

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With DC vs. Vampires, you get to work with the chattiest of the monsters, the vampire. What freedoms does this allow you that maybe another monster wouldn't have?

It's really a fun thing because there is sort of a template that we can look to in DC. Comics, I mean, there have obviously been DC vampire stories before. But I know, for James Tynion and I, who I co-wrote the book with, we looked at DCeased a bunch because it's zombies. Vampires are not technically zombies, but they're undead. We spent a lot of time figuring out 'what do we have that they don't?' and 'what do they have that we don't?' We thought about the things that really set us apart in a good way. We wanted to lean into the calculating nature of the vampire, the scheming, and the deception, and the intrigue. There really are elements that we have, like who's on our side and who's not. When you see a guy who's decomposing, running at you screaming, he's probably not on your side, but in our book, we're playing the guessing game. We're gonna keep playing that as the story goes on.

But the other thing that is baked into vampires in a really fun way is just the sort of alluring, seductive nature of them. They're intriguing, charismatic, and they're super powerful. That plays a big role going forward. We really have a chance to play with what people expect and who people expect to be charmed by. We're playing a lot with the expectations of the relationships and what it means for relationships to get there. We played with that a little bit with Hal Jordan and The Flash, we played with it with Batman and his family, and it's going to just become a much bigger thing. Just the way that their charm and their charisma are as much of a weapon as anything they have in their stable.

You brought up DCeased and I wasn't going to because I do see the similarities to the same universe. Would you ever consider doing like a DCeased versus Vampires? Would you do the whole Freddy vs. Jason thing?

I think I think it'd be super fun. I love DCeased. Tom Taylor and us share the same editor, Ben Abernathy, who oversees both books. I've actually said to Ben, 'when we get to take them on, I want to go up against the DCeased.' I've teased Tom about it, too. I think there's a lot of fun there for sure. What they've done with DCeased is so big and all-encompassing, and we're just getting started with where we are. So it's sort of a hard comparison to see because Tom has really done an amazing job of telling an enormous story and maybe doesn't have more to tell. Although I really hope he does. I would love to get there at some point. That would be really fun.

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How do you balance having the action horror elements with telling a character-driven story?

I think at the end of the day, more than anything, that our job is to tell character-driven stories about these characters, your big concepts, your big fights, your action, all of that is secondary to character in a lot of ways. We have a great opportunity with books like DC vs Vampires or Task Force Z to explore the characters even more because you're seeing them in situations you haven't seen before. You're seeing them deal with stuff that they don't normally do. That's where character is defined, all of these things like heroism, cowardice, and all these things that inform your heroes and your villains. All these are so heightened by the horror and the action. Anyone who doesn't see that this is a great showcase for really putting character first and showcasing how amazing these characters are, are missing out. We are elevating characters that you don't normally get, like Jaina from the Wonder Twins is not an A-Lister. I really want to explore Jayna because I really want to spend more time with her. I want more Green Arrow in this. We're bringing in characters that we think will shine in this scenario, and that's why they're there. We know what Batman is about. But you know I am more interested in things like what is Mary Marvel like in the vampire universe? What is Booster Gold? This is just that, it's a chance to really explore character more than anything.

DC vs Vampires takes place in more of an alternate universe type setting, but your other series Task Force Z has zombies in the main DC universe. How do you write a story like that in a world where Superman is across the galaxy battling aliens, the Batgirls are just palling around in Gotham, and there are so many big characters roaming around? How do you tell a zombie story in that world?

People are always like, 'Oh, that's a crazy twist,' but it doesn't feel that way to me because all the elements are there. Anything you want to do in a story exists in some pocket of the DC Universe. We have Paul Kaminsky and Dave Wielgosz, our editors, who came to me and asked if I wanted to do a zombie book. They had Lazarus Resin which was going to be a big part of Future State. It just became so apparent that it fits right into the puzzle of Gotham. It's no different than a guy like The Penguin, who's just a crime boss, and then he's hanging out with Man-Bat, the giant bat monster. We just spread the universe out in every direction. And from that, you can just really do whatever you want if you commit to it and believe in it. When we announced the book, I think a lot of people were like, 'Jason's leading a team of zombies like this is goofy.' And it's so rewarding to me because so many of those fans have come back to be like, 'this is a great Red Hood book.' I think that there's something fun about pushing to new corners and expanding the boundaries of things while keeping true to who these characters in the universe are. It's just another thing that strengthens what DC is.

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Both DC vs Vampires and Task Force Z blend horror and humor. Where do you find the balance between humor and drama? Do you think they strengthen one another?

The best stories always work like a roller coaster. You need peaks to have valleys. You need high points to have the drops work and vice versa. The more moments someone is laughing with their guard lowered for a moment, and then you rip it away from them… it's much more horrific. If DC vs. Vampires was just brutal the entire time, you'd expect brutality. It works the other way, too. I want to make people laugh. I want people to enjoy the book. And so an unexpected laugh from a very dark moment is really much more powerful than a laugh in a comedy book. You're caught off guard by it. I think it's worth more, if that makes sense. Any story should have every element of the human condition in some way. I think you should be feeling sorrow, joy, horror, revulsion, humor, love, and all these things in your stories. Leaving a story on the table and not mining it for what it's worth is a missed opportunity.

What thoughts went into which heroes would be vampires and who would not be vampires? Do you think any characters were going to be stronger as a human rather than a vampire or vice versa?

A lot of the book was built by James before I was on it. It's a bunch of things that you want to play with, people obviously want to see some of the big powerhouses as vampires. That's a good twist since you want to invert some things and see the opposite of what people expect. Some of it serves as fan service, but some of it is the opposite of a fan service since you're trying to undermine what the fans expect. You're trying to upend it. I have a whole spreadsheet of who's where and what they're doing because you want to be organic about it. We don't want anything to feel forced. We also want to make sure that we have characters left to tell a story that we love and care about. We're both huge Green Arrow fans, but for James but it was much more a Barbara Gordon story for a while. When I came on, I said I needed Oliver [Green Arrow] to come in and do more.

In the upcoming spin-off DC vs Vampires: All Out War, I picked the team, and Alex Paknadel, my co-writer, really wanted to do Azrael. I had Azrael someplace else and moved him around to make room for him. So there are personal preferences too. This is the same as fantasy football, where you're drafting things, and the fun is who ends up where?

This series reunited you with Otto Schmidt, your partner from Hawkeye: Freefall. Did you both feel that you had a little more freedom to go off the rails?

I feel like we definitely do. I love Otto. He's amazing. He's just one of the best artists in comics. I don't think that's debatable. He's a genius. It's a confined story that goes to a certain place. I said, 'What's the craziest thing you wanted to read?' Otto said he wanted to redesign these characters. Our sort of motto on the book is we can do whatever we want. I think the story starts very small, and we're just expanding it in every direction as we go. At the end of issue six, I think people realize that the book isn't what they thought it would be. And at the start of issue seven, they're going to realize that it's much bigger and crazier than they were led to believe. So I'm really trying to take advantage of just driving without a guardrail, and Otto is really doing the same.

[Warning: SPOILERS BELOW! Proceed with caution.]

At the end of Issue #6, we get a huge reveal and twist that Nightwing is the king of the vampires just before he straight up murders Batman. Why, out of all of the characters, was it Nightwing?

Why was it Nightwing? I think, for a lot of reasons. In many senses, I think Nightwing is one of the purest characters in the DC universe. He has the most family to interact with and deal with. So it sets up a lot of different dramas and a lot of different directions. Mostly I think it's a chance to elevate Nightwing, who was one of the best characters in DC, to see him in a new light and push him in a new direction. It made a lot of people really sad and angry. And that's the job! To really be pushing buttons and shocking people. He's sort of a perfect choice for that. There's a bunch of gods and superheroes who become vampires in positions of power. But seeing Nightwing, a kid from Gotham that you grew up with, ascending is much more tragic and so much darker. Nightwing isn't scary because he's a good guy. And when you take that away, he's a scary dude, and that's really fun to be able to play with it.

There are two one-shots with the DC vs Vampires: Hunters starring Robin, Damian Wayne, and DC vs Vampires: Killers, which stars Harley Quinn. What about these two characters made you want to pursue stories with them as the leads?

They're two of my favorites so it was sort of obvious. But more than that, they both have bigger roles coming up in the main story that are very unique. What Harley's role is going to be and what Damian's role is going to be are unlike what anyone else is doing in the book. We really wanted to make sure we had time to set those up and focus on them. Seeing how Damian and Harley end up where they are is more story than we could tell in the main book without overcrowding. Damian especially is in a very strange place at the end of Issue #6, which will inform his entire journey. We made the two issues to be standalone. So if you haven't been reading the book, you can pick them up and enjoy them. They're very fun, and the art is gorgeous in both issues. But if you are reading the book, they do inform much of what is going to come in small and big ways. So I hope fans of the series will grab the one-shots too.

Are there any big upcoming things in the series that you're excited about?

I think what's going to happen starting in issue #7 of DC vs Vampires, is that you're going to see John Constantine sending a lot of people into motion in different directions. So you split off into all these groups that before were very bat family-focused to start because we were going to be ripping the universe apart from inside the bat family. But now we're going to be following these different groups on very different missions and very different journeys to very different places. Green Arrow's quest is really heartbreaking and sad, while Super Girl's quest is really exciting, fun, and crazy. Then there are the Birds of Prey and Batgirl kind of stuff that's going to be wild. That's sort of the heart of this as to where Barbara goes, but it's all big and huge. It all feels very different, which is what I'm really excited about.

DC vs Vampires Issues 1 - 7 are now available.

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