DC is unleashing a horrifying double feature on October 26 with the twin debuts of Task Force Z #1 (opens in new tab) and DC vs. Vampires #1 (opens in new tab), just in time for Halloween. Writer Matthew Rosenberg pulls double duty himself as DC's resident 'horror host' for the pair of spooky titles, writing Task Force Z, and co-writing DC Vs. Vampires alongside James Tynion IV.(opens in new tab)
Task Force Z, created alongside artist Eddy Barrows, puts a new twist on the classic 'Suicide Squad' formula of convicts doing missions to earn their freedom, with Jason Todd - no stranger to dying and coming back to life - leading a squad of deceased 'zombie' villains working for the privilege of true resurrection. And despite how it may sound, Task Force Z is actually grounded directly in the main DC Universe.
"Looking at books like DCeased (opens in new tab) where you can really go wild and have a fate of the universe where you're challenging the audience's expectations at every step, that's something we're really trying to embrace," Rosenberg explains of Task Force Z in a press conference. "It's funny, because people talk about DCeased (opens in new tab) a lot, and it's obviously a book that we looked at a lot in both Task Force Z and DC vs. Vampires. But the big difference is that we're on the side of the zombies with Task Force Z, which is also in the main DC continuity."
Still, the undead anti-heroes of Task Force Z won't be as straightforward as traditional mindless horror movie zombies. These 'zombies' are created from a derivative of Ra's al-Ghul's Lazarus Pit - and despite all the drawbacks, being zombies will actually be of some benefit to the members of Task Force Z.
"The zombies are fascinating because they're not traditional zombies. They're people who died who could be brought to life using the Lazarus resin, but if you give it to them in pieces, it doesn't bring them fully back to life," Rosenberg states.
"So they are eating people and doing a lot of things that zombies do, and they don't want to get their heads destroyed, but they can regenerate parts because they are hooked into a rebirth serum," he continues. "It's funny because when you say zombies, people think they know what they're getting, but there are ground rules that won't all be revealed from the get-go."
Meanwhile, DC vs. Vampires is, well, exactly what it sounds like: a year-long event title that pits DC's greatest heroes against a cadre of vicious bloodsuckers in a story that takes place outside core DC continuity, drawn by Rosenberg's Hawkeye: Freefall (opens in new tab) collaborator Otto Schmidt.
"We want to keep people guessing and in shock and in awe of how crazy we're going to make it, because it is in its own separate universe," Rosenberg states of DC vs. Vampires.
"I feel like most vampire stuff you get somewhat the same rules, but maybe there are tweaks, but DC kinda had those well down for us."
DC vs. Vampires will also bring in two classic vampire characters from the publisher's history in Andrew Bennett, star of the cult title I...Vampire (opens in new tab), and his arch-enemy Mary, the Blood Queen.(opens in new tab)
"I think Mary is exciting because she's much more a DC character than what you get from a Dracula," Rosenberg states, elaborating on why DC vs. Vampires won't focus on DC's own semi-obscure take on the legendary Count Dracula. "I wouldn't rule out him appearing, but he wasn't the character we needed. Plus, a lot of people have Draculas and how many Draculas do you really need?"
With two titles focusing on different flavors of undead, both launching at the same time, some writers may run the risk of finding too much overlap in how the stories are told. But Rosenberg states that he's combatting that potential pitfall by ensuring that each title has its own distinct themes, plot points, and pacing.
"It's very easy to do books like these. I know what these books should be and I just do that. We're doing a team book with Task Force Z that feels like a team comic but a little off-kilter," he explains.
"And with DC vs Vampires, we have those big stakes in this but we have the time, we have the issues, and want to build it slowly to be this creeping dread. It's nice to be thoughtful and how you're approaching the horror elements and stakes, and coming from them at different places is a fun thing for me."
DC has often dabbled in mixing horror with superheroes over the years, with the Batman-adjacent Arkham Asylum even making our list of the best horror comics ever.