Although only two issues deep in his run on “Justice Society of America,” writer Marc Guggenheim has already managed to paralyze Green Lantern Alan Scott, begin a progressive loss of Mr. Terrific’s intelligence and completely turn public sentiment against the JSA after a super villain battle destroyed an entire city. It really appears like the new writer plans on completely breaking apart the Justice Society, and while appearances can sometimes be deceiving, this time, they are not. Tearing down the JSA is exactly what Guggenheim plans on doing.
After all, as the writer himself puts it, if you want to rebuild something, you first must take it apart.
“In those first two issues, I’ve been making their lives pretty miserable, and honestly, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” Guggenheim told CBR News. “But the high concept of this run is building up to a literal Justice Society — an entire city of super heroes. For those people who thought the JSA was huge before, in terms of membership, just wait. You haven’t really seen anything yet.”
The oldest super hero team in the DC Universe, continuity-wise, the Justice Society of America formed during World War II with members including but not limited to the original Flash Jay Garrick, Green Lantern Alan Scott, the original Hourman and the then-incarnation of Hawkman. The JSA grew into one of the DCU’s most respected organizations, serving as the inspiration for many modern day heroes and the basis for the formation of the Justice League of America.
Following the events of “Infinite Crisis” and the “World War III” storyline from the pages of “52,” the Justice Society became a home to many legacy heroes and began a campaign of taking in and training the next generation of crime-fighters. The team’s roster expanded greatly, but a recent shift in philosophy caused the familial team to split. The adventures of the team’s youngest members can now be found in the pages of the newly launched “JSA All-Stars” written by Matt Sturges.
Like the actual team itself, the “Justice Society” series contains a deeply rich and complex history, with previous writers including James Robinson, Geoff Johns and Bill Willingham. When he accepted the assignment, Guggenheim very much respected what came before but decided that the best course of action involved keeping a bit of a distance from the past — mostly, he laughed, to save himself from embarrassment.
“I’m not going to be able to compete with [the other writers] on the legacy hero stories or the World War II stories or the Nazi villains that have traditionally been the fodder for JSA stories in the past. Number one, it was time for a change, and number two, if I were to try and work in those guys’ wheelhouse, I’m going to end up looking pretty bad by comparison,” Guggenheim explained. “My big mission statement for the book is to try and do some new things — introduce some new characters and some new villains. My focus really is to try to treat the JSA on its own terms rather than rely on its history. Not to say that their history won’t come into play.”
In fact, in “Justice Society of America” #45, Guggenheim’s second on the title, featured flashbacks to Jay Garrick and Alan Scott on a mission during World War II, but those scenes mainly served to compare the two friends’ relationship then and now. Thus, the writer plans to use flashbacks as a way to enhance his stories, not as a basis for them. Guggenheim plans to take the Society aspect of the team to a very literal level. However, the writer acknowledged that such a change cannot and will not happen overnight. Instead, he mapped out a six to twelve issue arc that eventually leads the team down that path, piece-by-piece and character-by-character.
“I definitely think I caught a lot of people off guard with my plans, which I wish I could say was my intent, but I’m not at all disappointed by that result,” said the writer. “I know there’s been a lot of reaction to a subplot that I started in my first issue, which is Mr. Terrific losing his intellect. My biggest surprise was that people were like, ‘Oh my god. He’s making Mr. Terrific stupid’ and thinking that was somehow a capricious or meaningless change on my part. The truth is that it’s laying the foundation for a much larger story with him.
“That’s one of my other goals: to give each of the characters their own personal storylines,” Guggenheim continued. “Jay and Alan take center stage in issue #44. Mr. Terrific’s problems start in #44 and deepen with each issue. #46 will be the start of a big problem with Lightning. Ted is going to get a chance to shine in a few issues. It really is an evolving storyline. I’ve got a huge cast and it is only going to get bigger. In those first two issues, there’s a huge amount of stories being told, but at the same time it’s a slow turn toward the ultimate vision I have for the book.”
As the writer himself said, that ultimate vision involves an expanding roster. New heroes begin joining the team with December’s issue #46, which sees the addition of Blue Devil. Guggenheim also teased the return of Mr. America, a character introduced in the title’s very first issue almost exactly four years ago. However, the biggest addition Guggenheim revealed involved “a cameo that will eventually expand” from vigilante and fan-favorite character Manhunter. “I don’t want to spoil everything,” laughed the writer. “I think I’ve already spoiled too much. One of the fun things about reading the book is seeing who is going to turn up in the pages. My hope is that by the end of the first arc, we’ll establish the ‘Justice Society of America’ as a book where anyone can appear and anyone can be a part of the book.”
As always, the good isn’t as good without the bad, and readers should expect many villains coming into the title as well. The JSA lays claim to a number of DCU villains, but Guggenheim decided an opportunity presented itself in coming onto the title to inject some villainous new blood into the DC lifeline. The writer already began this process with Scythe, whose battle with the JSA led to the aforementioned destruction of Monument City. With #46, Guggenheim introduces another new villain, but one whose modus operandi stands in contrast to the heavy hitting Scythe.
“With this new villain, called Dr. Chaos, I set an interesting goal with myself: How long can he go before he actually hits somebody? How much damage can this guy do without laying a finger on a single person? And the answer is quite a bit,” he explained. “He’s an incredible tactician. You’ll see that he is playing a game of chess while the JSA is playing checkers. In that sense, he’s a very, very different kind of villain than what you’ve seen in the book. He’s such a strategist and can think twenty moves ahead of everyone that it’s almost like he’s predicting the future. He’s been huge fun to write.”
Although the writer also has a five-issue “Batman Confidential” arc currently on the stands — a story he actually wrote five years ago — his work on “Justice Society” represents his only current ongoing work at DC. As such, he doesn’t look to leave the title anytime soon. “I’m very old school in the sense that I grew up in the days when runs where much longer than they are today. These days, when you do two years on a book, that’s a hugely long run,” said Guggenheim. “But being old school, whenever I take on a monthly book, it’s always with the commitment that I’ll stay on as long as the book will have me. In the past, that hasn’t been too long. But my hope is that fans will like what I’m doing on JSA enough to merit me sticking around. As with everything, I think the fans will vote with their dollars.”
Be sure to cast your vote this December 29 when “Justice Society of America” issue #46 hit comic shops everywhere