Since it was announced last year, a lot has been said and written about DC Comics’ “Justice League of America” title. The series extends one of the publisher’s biggest successes from its New 52 relaunch in a very direct way. But rounding out the book with an A-list creative team, 50-state variant cover program and unconventional cast members like soon to be solo starsVibe and Katana has added speculation as to what the full impact of the book will be from a creative and financial view.
Up to this point, one voice hasn’t spoken too much about the comics future: series writer Geoff Johns. The DC CCO packed the new “Justice League of America” team with some of his favorite characters, including Stargirl and Hawkman, but not until today did Johns fully explain how the massive cast of the book reflected his reasons for expanding the franchise beyond his already popular “Justice League” series with Ivan Reis.
CBR News spoke to Johns about “Justice League of America,” and below the writer goes into detail on every aspect of the series. From the hidden potential of every member of the cast to David Finch’s strengths as a character artist and from the villains who will be showing up in the series to how it all connects to the broader DCU, Johns explains all below.
CBR News: When it comes to “Justice League of America,” I’ve been thinking of issue #1 in terms of the “Justice Society of America” book you did with Dale Eaglesham a few years back. Then, you had people asking, “Why do we still have the Justice Society?” and you had to give a real mission statement on why the team and the book existed. Is there a similar mandate as you’re putting the new “JL of A” book together with David Finch?
Geoff Johns: Definitely. The idea of a second Justice League title was only interesting to me if it was part of a bigger story and a bigger purpose. It couldn’t just be another Justice League book. I have no interest in writing another Justice League title unless it has a very specific mission statement and characters that are very different. When I started thinking of a second title and what it could be, this series grew organically out of stories we were setting up in “Justice League.” This new book will be a real lightning rod throughout the DC Universe in 2013.
And the characters we’ve chosen are all in there for very specific reasons. I went through every member of every Justice League that’s ever been — and also to some people that have never been on the team — and I was looking for what I saw as potential. I’ve always loved the JSA or Hawkman or Aquaman or even Green Lantern back when we started. With all those books, we were looking to unlock the potential in the characters. We’ve got to let them just live and breath.
So with anyone on this new team from Green Arrow to Hawkman to Katana to Vibe to Stargirl, one of the things I think people will think about when they look at that line up is “Why are the hell are these people on this team? Why is Catwoman on this team? Why would they ever want her?” I went though all those questions that would be interesting to answer through story and character, and Catwoman in particular has a very specific reason to go on the team. I’m not spoiling anything when I say that she’s the kind of person that can get inside any place on Earth and get out with something she needs. She’s the best thief on the planet. There’s no one better. She’s better than Batman. She’s got the kind of stealth that’s better even than people with superpowers. Her personality clashes with Trevor and everyone on the group, but they still need her. She’s probably the most vital character in the first arc, but every character in there is chosen for a specific reason.
You’ve got a few tie-in series launching alongside this book like “Katana” and “Vibe.” With Catwoman, people may ask, “Why is she on the team?” but with Vibe, I feel like they’ll ask, “Why?” [Laughter] I remember you being very excited about his appearance in last year’s New 52 Free Comic Book Day release. Do you just get excited to try and prove people wrong?
I really wasn’t reading the book way back when Vibe was introduced, and he really wasn’t around long, so it felt like I never gave the character a lot of thought until I sat down to look at all these Justice League characters. I looked at Vibe and just started to think, “Who is this guy? Why don’t I know anything about him? What’s his story?” When I started to see who he was and what his powers were, I wanted to put him in a new context. I said, “Let me dig a little deeper. Let me open him up some and see if there’s anything here.” I got excited about the potential in the character — not just his personality and abilities but everything he brings to the team. He brings a lot of mystery and heart and a lot of humor.
Obviously, there aren’t a lot of people saying, “Bring Vibe back!” But I think that was the point. It was story driven. There’s something in him that David Finch and my editor Brian Cunningham and I talked about. Suddenly, we realized there was more to him than just being on the Justice League. He’s got a real mythology and character arc that I felt could build into something very special. So he’s on the team, and he’s a big part of that book, but having somebody who’s there that’s kind of a red shirt adds something.
You’ll see him do something in issue #1 that’s not very impressive, and his brother is there to tell him, “You stopped a liquor store robbery. And now you’re going to join the Justice League. You do see the disconnect in that, right?” Vibe sees no reason as to why he’s been picked for this team, but his brother says, “Maybe they see potential in you that I don’t see.” In some ways, he personifies the team and that idea that there’s potential in everybody. I believe that there’s potential in every character and in every human being for us to unlock. This book is really about unlocking that potential in these characters and us. How Amanda Waller thinks that this team is going to be built is very different from how Steve Trevor thinks it will be built or how it’s going to work as a team.
Characters like Vibe and Katana and Catwoman bring a different energy to the book. I didn’t just want this to be Hawkman and Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter and Zatanna — everyone who’d been a member of the team before. There needs to be some new things that raise an eyebrow and cause some questions to be asked. I see that lineup, and I have a thousand questions. And the first one is “Why does this team exist?” I’d say the first issue answers that question very early.
Let’s flip the coin to those members we have seen in the League before. You mentioned Martian Manhunter, who has traditionally been part of the team but has been more mysterious since the launch of the New 52. How did you conceive him differently than he’s been in the past, and in what way will that conception play out in the backup stories you’re doing with Matt Kindt?
For me, Martian Manhunter is one of the most powerful and most mysterious characters in the DC Universe, and his place on the team is going to reflect that. You’ll know where he’s coming from and what he’s doing there at the start of issue #1. As we see what his role on the team is and really what his true role in the DCU is — how far-reaching his connections are and what he’s been up to. You’ll see that he’s kind of a one-man Illuminati. In the back-up stories, I wanted to reflect his role in the lead story and give a little more insight into what Martian Manhunter’s been doing. Matt and I have worked to connect those to the main story, and since Manhunter’s such and integral character to the book, it made sense that those would play off the main story.
It fleshes out a character like Martian Manhunter who really deserves it. I thought John Ostrander did a terrific job with the short series he did with Tom Mandrake after he did “The Spectre.” There was some terrific stuff there, but there’s still a lot of mining left for a character like Martian Manhunter. The psychology of who he is, what he’s doing and why is fascinating to explore. There are layers to that from his own personal viewpoint and the things he’s learned on earth. He’s kind of a chess player, but he’s a chess player with a soul — with a conscience and a heart. Sometimes he’s going to act a certain way just to get things done, but he believes what he’s doing is right.
We had a tease recently that, even though he wasn’t with the Justice League in their first adventure, Manhunter does had a history with the League. And it’s not a happy one. What are the odds we’ll be getting more on that in the immediate future?
That’ll be answered. For a time, he was on the Justice League. He battled Starro and all these other guys, and then there was a huge falling out. They’ve been on the outs ever since. We’ll discover what that was, what happened and why. They’ll meet again in the upcoming year — that was set up a long time ago.
Green Arrow and Hawkman are characters who not only have a history with the League in general but have a history with each other on the League. You even wrote a version of this relationship for “Smallville.” How are you approaching that pair now?
Green Arrow is very much a wild card. Steve Trevor is used to being the rogue agent — the guy who doesn’t listen to the boss and calls his own shots. Suddenly, he’s dealing with somebody like him where Green Arrow is calling Steve “the man.” And he’s like, “I’m not the man! I’m the guy that doesn’t listen!” [Laughs] There’s a lot of Oliver Queen in Steve, and vice versa, though I think Trevor is more authoritative. He’s not uptight, necessarily, but he’s more in control. Oliver has made a lot more mistakes. But because of their dynamic, Oliver is a little bit more loose on how he follows command and what orders he takes.
Hawkman is a whole ‘nother character that right now comes off as a brute force when you meet him. They point, and he goes. At first, Green Arrow is going to like that. All he needs is someone to help him out. But he does realize that Hawkman has his own mission and things he wants to accomplish, and those might conflict with what Green Arrow wants to do. Oliver always loves the spotlight, and when Hawkman gets it, he’s not real happy about it. That relationship is going to be central to the whole team, of course.
Stargirl is a character that has a special place for you as you created her and you’ve written her for so long. I assume the New 52 has to change part of that, because without the JSA, the legacy aspect of that character will be somewhat different. How are you approaching her this time around?
Stargirl is the eternal optimist. She was always the shining star of the Justice Society; she was always somebody who believed in what she was doing, who wasn’t cynical and didn’t want to believe that what she’d be confronted with would make her cynical. She’s definitely coming in here with as much enthusiasm and hope as anyone, and she brings that to a team that desperately needs it. What you learn about her background is that she’s had to fight to hold on to this optimism and hope because of things that she’s confronted in the past.
We will see aspects of that legacy built into her. You’ll learn about her connection with a Starman-type character, and her stepfather, Pat Dugan, will be a part of her story. A lot of the things that were there [before the New 52] are still there, and there are also some new facets to what she does. Her role on the team at first glance is something that she thinks is wonderful, but she quickly realizes that she’s got to do more than what they want her to do.
Steve Trevor is a character you got to do a lot with in a short time in “Justice League” — this idea that he met Wonder Woman, fell in love with her and then was left by the wayside. I would think taking him into this series should mean an extension of that arc. Are you playing the two off each other directly?
Steve Trevor is definitely the through line from “Justice League” to “Justice League of America.” I actually think — and I know he’s a supporting cast member normally, but I think he’s grown into a really great character in his own right. His viewpoint is that when he crashed on that island and met Diana, they shared something special, and when they came back to this world, he felt very protective but she can look out for herself. Now, he’s got a complexity. He’s not used to this kind of relationship or this tension. It causes a lot of stress, and eventually it just broke. Imagine if you had a shot with Wonder Woman and it didn’t work out. It would be devastating. I think someone says, “You’re only going to go down from there.” He really believes that. Why bother with anyone else?
So he’s thrown himself into his work and the mission. When Amanda Waller came into his office and offered him this chance, at first he said no. But there’s something that draws him into this. Why would he want to do this? Right now, the last thing he’d want to do is work on another Justice League team that doesn’t have Diana on it. A big part of what people say is that the reason he was working with A.R.G.U.S. and with the Justice League was to have a tie to Diana still. That’s partly true, and part of it is that he’s trying to do his job. He’s trying to be the best solider he can for his country.
What’s the collaborative process with David Finch on this series been like?
I can’t say enough about David and how fantastic he is. People really respond to his art and how it’s heroic — the aggression and the grit and the power — but for me, it’s how he deals with the body language and the depth of these characters. We spend more time talking about these people and who they are and what they want than we do talking about plot. If we both know who Vibe is — somebody who’s not really sure why he’s there. Somebody who’s desperately and struggling to hold onto his morals in front of all this other stuff. He’s trying not to be afraid when he’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter. That’s very hard for him. But David and I talk about that, and it affects who he is.
When you look at the cover of “Justice League of America” #2, you’ll see everyone coming at you except for Vibe. He’s looking back over his shoulder as if he’s a little behind or a little reluctant to join them. Things like that, people may never really notice it or see it, but subconsciously, David got it all in there.
When you talk about him like that, it reminds me of when you worked with Scott Kolins on “Flash.” People had known his work before that, but his style and your collaboration recontextualized what he could do. Do you hope for a similar reappraisal of David?
I’m hoping that David and I working in conjunction lets him bring something people aren’t expecting. You look at that team lineup, and it’s very unexpected. I like that. I want people not to know what to expect from the book. Now, we’ve got a lot of the story broken, and when it’s out there, I want these cliffhangers to be the craziest cliffhangers in comic books. I really want this to feel like something special.
I’ve said this before, but I love the big characters like Batman and Superman. I also absolutely love taking characters that people won’t give a second thought to, like Aquaman, Sinestro or the Rogues — characters who people have written off already — and elevating them. I want to say, “There’s actually a lot here to get involved with and get excited about or intrigued by. That’s why this team is so exciting to work with, especially when I’m working with David Finch, whose drawings legitimize them almost immediately. It’s all about unlocking potential, and for me as a creative endeavor — why I’m excited by this book and want to work on this book — and also within the team and the story itself.
We’ll see who this team really is, and not everyone is going to make it. That’s part of the story of the book, too. Just because you’re on the Justice League of America doesn’t mean you’ll forever be on the Justice League.
When you launched “Justice League” with Jim Lee, you got to do a slow boil where the team was introduced over a full arc with Darkseid as the hidden big villain. With this book and this team, do you have to do that differently from issue #1?
All our chips are on the table in issue #1. It’s an extra-sized, 30-page issue, and I put everything I could into it. Once you read issue #1, you’ll know why all the characters are there, what they can do and what this team’s all about. All it takes is one issue for you to understand what the book is. Hopefully, that’s a book people will get excited by and characters they’ll want to follow. I just wanted to start as hot as I could on this thing, because I know the characters aren’t the ones fans normally gravitate towards. They gravitate towards Batman and Superman and Green Lantern to an extent — the characters they already know.
If you give us one chance, one issue to prove how cool this is to you, that’s great. We’re fighting to make this one issue the best possible issue we can make. This series is going to crackle, and we’re giving our everything to it. Unless it’s going to be fantastic, there’s no reason to do another Justice League book. But working with David Finch on this, I get what the book’s really about. And some of that you won’t see until you’ve read issue #1.
Lastly, is there anything to be said about the villains in the series?
Just like there’s potential in all these characters that you’ve seen but never really delved into, it’s the same with the villains. I love working with villains from Black Adam and Sinestro to Captain Cold and Black Manta, villains are a sweet spot for me. So they’ll be a massive part of this story, and that’s all I can really say right now.
“Justice League of America” #1 ships February 20 from DC Comics.