To say Marc Guggenheim is a busy man would be a bit of an understatement. Since taking over writing duties for DC Comics’ “Justice Society of America” he has adopted a city, destroyed a city, crippled Alan Scott, killed a Mayor, possibly killed Lightning, stolen Mr. Terrific’s mind and, oh yeah, added a whole extra 24-pages to April’s landmark “JSA” #50.
“It’s a big book!” Guggenheim told CBR News with a laugh. Though the current storyline shows the supergroup’s outlook as being somewhat bleak, Guggenheim confided that things are looking up for the JSA and promised the fiftieth issue will be a whirlwind tour of the team’s past, present and possible future. The always-entertaining Guggenheim spoke with us about what fans should expect from “JSA” #50, as well as which heroes (and villains) readers should pay extra-close attention to in his second upcoming “JSA” arc.
CBR News: You took over as “Justice Society of America’s” full-time writer with #44. Since it was so close, did you immediately start planning for #50?
Marc Guggenheim: Yes, my initial outline/pitch document/plan always included the fiftieth issue, because when you come on issue forty-four you go, “Oh my god, I’m only one arc away from the fiftieth issue!” I’m a sucker for anniversary issues, so I asked if we could get some extra pages and I gave them a list of unreasonable request for artists — and they were great! They gave me even more pages than I asked for! I asked for George Perez, thinking I’ll never get him in a million years, but Joey Cavalieri, the book’s editor, managed to get George and work it in with his schedule, as well as Howard Chaykin who I’ve done projects with before.
And it’s 46 pages! I’ve never done a 46-page book before, so I didn’t realize what I had got myself into. While writing this, I was like, “Oh my God, I’m not done with this issue yet! It’s still going on!” There are a lot of things crammed into those 46 pages. It is so incredible — it all came together nicely and we’re all really, really excited about it.
Will #50 be a standalone issue?
The first arc finishes with #49. The second arc officially begins with #51, so #50 is a stand-alone. But at the same time, it has parts that are ongoing in the book. If you are unfamiliar with or haven’t read #44 to #49 you can still pick up #50 and jump in, it exists as an interstitial between arcs. I don’t completely ignore the subplots, but at the same time they are not the focus of the book.
As readers have seen, the JSA has literally adopted the city of Monument Point. What’s the angle of #50? Will it continue on in your JSA society-building theme, or will it be more of a celebration of these legacy characters?
With 46 pages, I had room to do both of those things. There’s four stories — some relate very much to the legacy of the book and the heroes and others relate very specifically to Monument Point and introduce that society concept deeper into the series. We’re very mindful that we want it to feel like a milestone anniversary issue, and the stories in it are both forward thinking and reflective at the same time. I felt like I had enough space to do both and I think the whole issue is better for it.
According to the solicits, we’ve got the Challengers of the Unknown showing up —
First of all, I guess I should correct something in the solicits. We originally intended for the Challengers to be part of this issue, but in working the story out, you play around with different things and some things change and some things stay the same. One of the things I realized was, as much as I wanted to bring the Challengers in this issue, they really didn’t belong. I really wanted to keep it JSA-centered. So the Challengers will be appearing in the book with #52.
OK, with that cleared up, what can you tell us about the stories in this issue?
There are four different stories, but they all relate to each other. There’s interconnectivity in all of them. In some cases its subtle and others it’s very strong, but the goal was create a 46-page book where all the stories talk to each other. I feel like we’ve accomplished that, which is nice!
Let me tell you what the four stories are: we have George Perez leading us off with a story called “Cornerstone.” True to his title, it explains how the JSA is the cornerstone of the DC Universe. My hope is that we tell a story that expresses in a way you haven’t seen before, the relationship between the JSA and the rest of the DCU. George just turned in his final set of pages and they are really fantastic. I mean, it’s George Perez, so you sort of expect it to be fantastic, but these are really, really amazing and are a really fitting tribute story to the JSA.
We have Howard Chaykin drawing a story from the JSA’s past, sort of a re-telling of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearing where the JSA was given the ultimatum to unmask and reveal their secret identities to Congress. As anyone who’s read my run on “JSA” knows, we’ve established that the congressmen leading the charge is a guy named Eagin, who has been playing a big role in “JSA” in recent issues. So we get to have the interaction between the JSA and Eagin through this flashback story, and I think Howard’s the perfect artist for it because it takes place in this 1950s-esque sort of period, which Howard captures so well. In telling the story, one of the things I went for was a dramatization of what makes JSA special and what makes the people in the JSA heroes. The way they work themselves through this dilemma, I think, is very indicative of who they are. It feels right that we have this major piece of history in the fiftieth issue that not only gives you more of an insight into what happens in this big moment in their story, but also it takes place in an anniversary issue where we’re spending a certain amount of time looking back on how these characters are important.
Freddie Williams is drawing a six-page story that does two things. First of all, it re-examines and re-launches the character Per Degaton. One of the things I wanted to do with the fiftieth issue was bring back a classic JSA villain. I wanted to pick an antagonist that was synonymous with the JSA and Per Degaton sprung to mind. Because Per Degaton is a time-traveling villain, we were able to use his story to explore a variety of different periods in JSA continuity.
And that leads into the present day story that Tom Derenick is drawing. Tom is the series new regular artist, so in keeping the issue special, we had the debut of the book’s new regular artist who is going to be penciling and inking and doing a cool grey tone style. In that story, we have the JSA versus Per Degaton set against the backdrop of Jay Garrick being sworn in as Mayor of Monument Point.
That leads us right into the ongoing series! When you first came on the book, you mentioned fleshing out Dr. Fate as a big priority for you. Is his realization he’s completely out of his depth when he takes Jennifer’s soul an attempt to do this?
Yes, it’s definitely part of fleshing it out and we’ll see a little bit of the consequences of his thing with Lightning in #50. So if you are a Dr. Fate fan and you are curious about Dr. Fate’s fate, if you will, you’ll definitely want to check out #50. And that leads directly into #51, which will resolve the subplot with what happens with Lightning.
In #51 we’ll also see Jay Garrick’s first day on the job as Mayor of Monument Point and several other JSA characters play a large role in the story.
Now that “JSA All-stars” is ending, do you have plans to reabsorb those characters back into the JSA?
Definitely. As you see with the end of #48, a good chunk of the JSA All-Stars are returning. We’re fully intergrading them into the book. So hopefully your favorite characters will be in issues in the months to come.
Let’s talk a little about the current characters and what’s going on with them. Is Blue Devil permanently part of the JSA roster?
He definitely will be sticking around — he plays a pretty large role in #51.
One of the things I hope #50 will provide is a little bit of explanation as to why characters like Blue Devil, who are not traditional legacy characters, are part of the JSA now. I know from reading the message boards a lot of people have been scratching their heads going, why do you have characters like Blue Devil who are non-legacy characters be part of the book? I saw #50 as a way to address this head-on. I also like Blue Devil — I like writing him, so he’ll be sticking around for a while!
You introduced new baddies like Scythe and Dr. Chaos in your last arc. Is the idea with these new guys that they’re not only villains for the JSA but nemeses to the very idea of their new society?
Yes, exactly. One of the things I wanted to do with the book was introduce new villains. I felt like the JSA rogues gallery was a little thin. I felt that they were also a little overused, because the characters that were there had been co-opted by other heroes in the DC Universe and weren’t JSA-specific, or they had been used a lot recently. So I wanted to put some new toys in the toy box. Dr. Chaos is certainly one of them. One of the ideas behind him was that he was a strategist, he thought two moves ahead — he’s the guy who plays three-dimensional chess when everyone else is playing checkers.
I have to say, he was a total blast to write! His sense of humor was fun, his ability to think ahead and move everyone around like chess pieces was a real fun thing to write. He has a cameo in #52 and my hope is that we’ll get a chance to see more and more of him.
Where did the idea of Mr. Terrific losing his intelligence come from?
I really, really like the character a great deal, and as I was thinking of the characters I wanted to focus on in my first couple of issues of “JSA,” Mr. Terrific really sprang to mind. I got to thinking, what’s the worst thing that you can do to him? Which is a strange thing to do to a character that you profess to love, but I’m a big believer that part of heroes being heroic is coming up against the worst things you can come up with. Certainly him losing his intelligence was at the top of my list of the worst thing that could happen to Mr. Terrific.
I’m glad you asked about Mr. Terrific, because he’s the focus of #52. What’s responsible for the loss of his intelligence and how he’ll overcome it is going to show up in that issue. So if you are a fan of Mr. Terrific and you are curious where I’m going with that plotline, you’ll want to pick up that issue.
Will we see the secrets about Monument Point that Eagin hints at in #48 coming into play in the next arc?
Let me put it to you this way: the title of the second arc of the book is called “The Secret History of Monument Point.” I think that title pretty much speaks to my intentions! [Laughs]
It sure does! While we’re on the subject of the city, is your plan to make Monument Point on par with the big mythic DC cities like Gotham or Metropolis?
That sets the bar very, very high. Honestly, whenever I introduce a new character or location my goal is always that the character or the place will grow in stature and importance and take on a life of it’s own so it becomes a go-to place like Metropolis. To a certain extent that’s always the intention that you can never really count on or plan on because to a very large extent what makes that happen is other writers taking that concept and running with it. My hope is that it won’t be just a footnote in the DC Universe but will become a major place. Part of my job is to tell really great stories with this location and make it exciting for writers and readers to see more and more done with it. My goal is always just tell the best stories possible and do what I can with the location or the character and see what happens.
Jay, Alan and Ted are three of the oldest characters in the DCU — does part of their social experiment in Monument Point come out of a superhero mid-life crisis?
I definitely think that is a theory some of the characters witnessing them might have. A lot of people think, “Hey, is this a midlife crisis on Jay’s part?” I think an equally valid explanation is that as the three oldest guys in the DC Universe they have the most experience and they’re also the most motivated to go, “You know what? The way we’ve been doing things need to change. We can’t have these big battles destroy the city and have someone else go clean up the mess.” Their age just gives them a different perspective and point of view to approach some old, familiar problems.
I always make room for the possibility of a good old-fashioned midlife crises, but the great part of having a large cast is that you can have all these different voices. And as with everything, there’s a little truth in all their talk.
In these last issues Jay is literally running himself into the ground — is the seriousness of his plan just now crashing down on him?
One of the things I said very early on was that I was tearing the team down in order to build them back up. That building back up starts to happen with #49. Starting with #49 and certainly with #50 you start to see a switch from the darker stories to the more inspirational stories and this is very much by design. It goes back to my original outline for the book. Everything is playing out very much according to plan, at least as far as the total changes as the book are concerned. I don’t write for the trades, but I certainly write with the trades in mind and the first six issues will be the first trade and then #50 to #54 will be the next trade and each will be interrelated but each trade will stand on their own, totally.
That’s a long-winded way of saying thins will start to lighten up with #50! As far as Jay’s reaction to being run ragged, we see him in #51 as the mayor for Monument Point and I use that as an opportunity for humor. So it doesn’t have to always be a doom and gloom feeling.
Does your work on “The Flash” movie influence your work on Jay and “JSA,” or vice versa?
That’s a great question. I wouldn’t say necessarily it was as specific as Jay, but I was certainly thinking in terms of speedsters. I had actually written a scene for #50 that overlapped with a scene in “The Flash” movie, but ended up changing it for a variety of reasons. I work on multiple projects at once and those projects always inform each other, sometimes in very subtle ways that only me as a writer is aware of and other times it’s more direct. Writing the Jay Garrick Flash in the comic books and the Barry Allen Flash in the screenplay and thinking about speedsters and the way those powers work that was definitely informing each other.
What is it about these iconic, legacy superhero characters that appeal to you as a writer?
I love the sense of history. These guys are the founding fathers of the DC Universe; they’ve been around the longest. To be able to write them with a little bit more wisdom and world-weariness is a nice perspective to write from. In many respects, how I view the JSA as both heroes and a legacy is very much running through all 46-pages of #50. That was one of the mission statements for the issue: how do we dramatize for the reader the reason the JSA is important, why I like writing them and why people like reading them? So in many respects the answer to the question is in issue 50!
“Justice Society of America” #50 hits stores April 27