How do you make it through a nightmare?

It’s a question being pondered by no less than Superman in the latest issue of DCeased, the Tom Taylor-written horror comic that sees the DC Universe being overrun by the undead. Both an effective zombie comic and an eye-opening look at how DC’s stable of superheroes react when confronted with a disaster that they can’t stop, DCeased has been the surprise of the summer, with each new issue being more shocking than the last.

Since its debut in May, Taylor’s miniseries has seen the death of several major heroes (RIP, Batman…again), the zombification of others (can undead Aquaman only communicate with undead fish?) and some truly disturbing scenes of zombie mayhem brought to life by artists Trevor Hairsine and Stefano Gaudiano. Yet, perhaps most surprisingly, it’s the quieter, more human moments in the series that truly stay with you, as the effects of the zombie outbreak spread and are felt close to home for heroes like Superman, Robin, Black Canary and Harley Quinn.

Recently, Taylor sat down with us to talk about the inspiration behind the series, how he decides which heroes will be zombiefied and what it’s like seeing Hairsine’s pages for the first time. As a bonus, he brought with him an exclusive preview of this week’s issue #4 in which yet another hero falls to the virus. Which one? Read on to find out!

DCeased really seemed to come out of nowhere, but we know that can’t be true. So where did the idea for it come from? How did it come together?

Ben Abernathy contacted me and asked if I’d like to write a horror book. I was apprehensive. It’s not really my thing and I wanted to think about it. But then, over the next week or so, my brain just started having all of these ideas—this could happen, then this, then this! It just spiraled from there as I thought of new and interesting ways to hurt my beloved heroes and the fans who love them.

The techno-virus that turns everyone into zombies in DCeased is spun out of Darkseid’s anti-life equation, which makes perfect sense. Was that your idea?

Yeah, it was. I didn’t want to just tell a zombie story. I actually wanted to be clear that these weren’t “zombies” in the traditional sense. Yeah, we’ll use that when it comes to selling the series, but it was important that DCeased was something that could only happen in the DC Universe, and that’s what we created. This is a horror story that could only happen in the DC Universe.

This started as an opportunity to tell a horror story. Did you immediately think zombies or did you consider other types of horror stories as well?

It was Ben’s idea to do something zombie-like. It was his idea to have the contagion spread through social media and I just ran with that. There was this idea of using the anti-life equation and having Darkseid take the Black Racer himself and inject blood into Cyborg, which corrupted the virus, and you saw the ramifications.

It’s been so much fun seeing the role each of these heroes or villains have to play in this story. How and at what point do you decide which characters are going to be zombiefied and which will be the survivors?

It hinges on moments and who I want to see survive. As soon as people started to hear about this, everyone just assumed that Batman would come and have some sort of plan to save the day. Sorry! We killed him at the end of issue #1. We wanted to destroy expectations with this book and have real shocks and stakes. We didn’t want to fall into any of those comfort zones that people may have seen in DC comics before. Even the Trinity isn’t safe. In this book, anyone can be taken off the table.

On top of all that, you’ve found these moments to inject real emotion. I’m thinking of issue #3’s final scene with Clark and his father, and his line about how his dad’s “not here anymore.” Is that what you look for? Opportunities to balance horror with humanity?

Absolutely. I’m not a horror guy, but I understand that horror doesn’t exist unless the characters feel it. What I am is a DC guy. I’m a massive DC fan, and I know these characters. Superman’s my favorite hero. Having grown up with these characters, I think I know how to tug on fans’ heartstrings. One of my favorite things as a comic book writer is making people cry in public. So, every time I hear I’ve done that, I rub my hands together and say, “Yes, I have achieved!”

After having worked on Injustice for so long, is it nice to go from having Superman be your villain to seemingly be the hero of the piece?

Yeah, though I won’t guarantee he’s the hero of the piece. I won’t guarantee he survives past the next issue. But it’s interesting putting such a powerful character into such a powerless position. There’s something really interesting about that. Everyone says that you hurt Superman through the people he loves, by doing things that he can’t control, or through kryptonite. But in this, you’re seeing him in a situation where I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it before. He’s a guy who knows everything that’s going on—he can hear the cries everyone who needs him. But he doesn’t know what to do.

You were talking about the end of issue #3 where he goes to Smallville and it takes him so long to get there because he can’t ignore all of the people along the way—even though it’s his mom and dad. That’s so Superman. And possibly because of that, he doesn’t make it to save his dad.

You’ve had a couple of artists on this book, but are Trevor Hairsine and Stefano Gaudiano your guys going forward?

Yeah, that’s it.

They certainly know how to draw decayed, bloody, terrifying zombies.

Well, Stefano was the inker of Walking Dead, so he’s been there before, and Trevor certainly knows how to bring the horror.

As the writer, when you see these pages coming in, what’s your reaction?

I’m horrified! I’m like, I don’t want to look at this! Have you seen it? It’s gross! I’m not reading this comic!

I mean, you’re not pulling any punches here—these characters are scary when they’re zombies. I think there’s a page where one of them gets infected and stars tearing his own face off.

Yeah, lots of tearing faces, and that was my idea. That was how I changed them from being zombies—the idea being that once they feel the anti-life equation in their heads, they try to tear it out. I wrote that down and just thought, I’m the worst. But that gives them a very distinctive look that’s different to anything we’ve seen before.

As you mentioned earlier, this is a techno-virus that spreads through social media. Social media itself has become something of a horror. Is that something you wanted to comment on with DCeased?

Certainly, the symbolism is there. The theme is there, but we don’t want to talk about it too much. We want this to be a character piece. The statement is there, but it’s really about the heroes. Yes, one of the things they have to do is destroy the internet to save the world, which sometimes feels like that’s about right. But that’s secondary.

Honestly, this is a book that I hope will sell forever and that engages a lot of people. The sales have been insane, which isn’t a surprise to us, I have to say. I told my wife three months out that we’d sell a lot of this, and I was right. I just thought there was something about this that would capture people’s imaginations.

So, what can we expect in future issues? Is there anything in particular that’s going to blow our minds?

Well, I can certainly tell you that a mind is blown. It’s a very big one! You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when you read that page. It’s possibly the most horrific image of the entire book. We’re also going to see some more heroes coming up. We haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, but she’s coming. We haven’t seen any Flashes. You’ll get to see Green Canary in action. There’s going to be some more heroes and more big moments.

DCeased #4 by Tom Taylor, Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano and Rain Beredo is in stores Wednesday