Dan Jurgens, creator of Booster Gold and the writer behind DC Comics’ new “Justice League International” series, accepted the task of putting together an international superhero team ready to defend the world from threats both terrestrial and alien — whether that team is ready for them or not.
Featuring art by Aaron Lopresti, Jurgens’ first arc introduced all the main characters as well as Peraxxus, a world-destroying scourge from the stars come to wreck havoc on Earth. While he was defeated by the efforts of the JLI, the United Nations-sponsored team still faces an uncertain future both in the book and as a team. Complicating matters further, “JLI” #7 features a shakeup that could rattle the group to its core.
With a new chapter about to start in the lives of the JLI, CBR News caught up with Jurgens to talk about the team’s current roster, his intentions for their future, and the black haired mystery woman who keeps showing up in the “JLI” solicits.
CBR News: In “JLI” readers saw the evil Peraxxus come into play and nearly end planet Earth. What was the inspiration for starting off your run with Peraxxus, and how does he fit as the very first villain the JLI tackle?
Dan Jurgens: I wanted to open up with a threat that was big and to open up with something that challenges the notions of a couple of these characters in terms of what can be out there. By that I mean, if we are dealing with a threat on [Peraxxus’] level, we know Batman had seen stuff like that before and we know that Booster has and obviously Guy Gardner has. But if we get into somebody like Godiva who has stated a couple of times she’s basically someone who’s dealt with street level crime, that’s new to her. I would say that even if we take August General In Iron, while he might have an origin that is linked to aliens that are off planet, it’s still a different thing for him. So it immediately takes a couple of these new characters, who barely even know each other, out of their comfort zone.
Last time we spoke about Booster Gold you said one of the things you liked about him as a character is that, unlike other heroes, when Booster goes to save a plane he tries to make a big spectacle of it, runs into a billboard, and bumbles around before actually saving the plane. Is that feeling something you wanted to capture with this team? That they all act Booster Gold-y, stumbling through adventures?
No, I don’t think all of them do. For example, Guy Gardner — he’s a Green Lantern, and as I had him say in either the first or second issue, he’s a highly decorated Green Lantern. Guy, aside from Batman, is probably the most capable one of the bunch. Even though by now Booster hasn’t dealt with stuff on this order quite this often he’s a little more capable than he was previously. As much as anything, what I wanted to do here is, you get these people together right away and they go off on a mission where they are basically looking for a missing United Nations research team. By the time it’s said and done they very quickly find themselves in a much bigger story, a much bigger threat, so it’s not so much that individually they lack capability but certainly in terms of working together as a team. That’s something that’s going to take time to come together.
Touching on those individual characters, to your mind, what role does Lady Godiva fulfill in the book, and what tension does she bring to the team?
In terms of her role, I’ll answer that two ways. To a certain extent she helps bring a sense of wonder to it. One of the things that I’ve always had trouble with in comics is that you’ll take characters and put them in outer space, you put them on another planet, you send them through time and they come up against whatever magnificent foe there might be, and it’s like, “Yeah, okay, now I’m going to deal with this!” What you lose is that you need somebody at some point to say, “Holy shit, what is this?” To have that sense of, “I can’t believe what I’m having to deal with here!” When you have that, to a certain extent, that character speaks for the readers a little bit. I think it helps humanize what with superheroes tends to be a very hard trait to humanize, which is just, “I’m a little bit afraid of what’s going to happen here!” If there’s this guy who is standing over me and he’s as big and powerful and he looks and he’s carrying this giant, big ass axe that can tear someone’s head off, that’s going to make me pause a little bit before I immediately leap into action and say, “OK crew, let’s go take them on!” So that’s what I like about Godiva, that kind of more human reaction of, “I’m at home jumping off a fire escape and taking out a couple of muggers, but this is way bigger than that.”
More so than the other characters, Vixen, Rocket Red and August General have the task of representing their countries as much as being superheroes. Has it been difficult to balance writing the characters’ personalities with the fact that they also need to represent their cultures in the DCU?
Yeah, it is to the extent that it does make you think a little bit differently about things. August General In Iron is really there out of a sense of duty. Well, why does he feel a sense of duty? He comes from China where he was in the military and things are less about the individual and much more about duty and commitment to the whole. So he is there out of that sense. If you take Vixen she’s there because someone explained to her, you know, it’s going to be important for someone from our region of the world, Africa, to have representation in this group. We’ll even go so far as to say it’s your skin color, it’s your background, it’s everything — you will serve as an inspiration to others who might be there. So I think that those are interesting traits to use to help define a character going into it, and at the same time it is part of what sets it apart from other books.
The original cover shown for the first issue featured a mysterious black haired woman who was pictured again mistakenly in a recent solicit. Is she going to play a part in the book? Are we going to learn her story, or see this mysterious character in action?
[Laughs] Yeah, well I’ve said a couple of things just in terms of this book, which is it’s going to have something of a rotating, evolving roster. I don’t know that I have ever said, “Here are the nine members and that’s who they are, period, end of story.” Because of the nature of it, it was always going to evolve and change a little bit. If you go back to our first cover what we were doing was we were getting covers done earlier than we normally would so we had some visuals to talk about when we went forward to talk about the New 52. This “mystery character,” if you will, was on that first cover. In terms of the solicitations, as the story evolved we realized we didn’t want to put her in the group yet, that’s something that is going to wait down the line. So we pulled her off the cover, we made some different changes and said, OK, this story instead of being our first five or six issues is going to wait, and that took care of that one. In terms of what happened on the cover of issue #5 here, I couldn’t tell you. I was as surprised as the next person to see where that came from! [Laughs]
Touching on that rotating character idea, in the solicits for #7 it looks like there’s going to be a substantial team and book shakeup. As much as you are changing the roster, in “JLI” #7 are you trying to tonally shake things up as well?
We dropped some hints in the first few issues about things that were in the works and were going to take place as this series unfolds, and now we’re going back and picking up on some of those. Because of the direction the story is going in I think it’s safe to say the tone of the book is going to change a bit just because we are definitely throwing a change-up at the readers and the characters themselves. That’s going to change how the characters react to the overall situation and that is going to change the tone of the book. But it’s all part of the natural progression of where this thing has been going.
It also gets back to, and we touched on this with “Superman” a little bit, this [New 52] DC Universe is different than what it was before in the way it views heroes. What I draw very much from is the world that we see just looking out the window right now, where as soon as anything comes out in terms of public policy or someone being inspirational we seem to have instantly polarized reactions that are just mind blowing sometimes. As soon as anything comes out there are people lined up to applaud it and there seems to be people lined up to throw tomatoes at it as well. The reaction of Americans right now, whether it be to government, whether it be to new ideas, whether it be to a whole lot of things, really is polarized. That was part of the backdrop in issue #1 and the formation of the group, and it will continue to be, and in a way it’s going to accelerate.
Because Booster Gold is a character dependent on outside confirmation, will the world’s opinion start weighing on him as he tries to wrangle the rest of the group into order?
Yeah, but not just because of that reason, it’s also what happens in the group itself. If you go back to when the team was put together, one of the things that was pretty clear is you’ve got the Justice League in terms of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and company. That is something that the United Nations has no control over. I think in this world we have now, if we had such a group there would be a lot of people who would be highly suspicious. The UN came together and said, “Let’s put together our own team, these are all people who are fairly public, they aren’t wearing masks, we know who they are, there’s some sense of accountability here.” If some of that starts to fall apart, if that group who was supposed to be trusted automatically finds itself not trusted anymore and you have public identity and you are a known commodity — what does it do to you at that point? What does it do to Booster who really depends on the public in order to play that advertising I-love-fame game? In these next issues it comes together.
Besides “JLI,” there was also the recent announcement that SyFy ordered a script for a potential Booster Gold TV series. What was your reaction when you heard about that?
As this whole thing evolved it was fun to think about and fun to hope for. Obviously if I go back to almost two years ago now, when Booster was on “Smallville” — and Geoff Johns wrote the episode and did a real great job of handling Booster — I think it’s a concept that works extraordinarily well for television. If you go back to when the character was first created in 1985, the idea of fame and wanting that attention and selling yourself to merchandising and all that — our world today has gone so much further down that track that, in many respects, Booster has more relevance today than the day he was created. So I think it’s just a natural. I mean, who better to put on TV than someone who always wants to be on TV?
Circling back to “JLI,” at this point the two heaviest hitters on the team are Guy and Batman. What keeps Guy with the team? What keeps Batman there?
Batman specifically, and his reasons for being there and his reasons for sticking around, will be dealt with in issue #7. Guy as well. Why these people stay around and why they continue to function as a group becomes very much part of the story that we kick off with issue #7.
In terms of what’s next for the team, you already dealt with one big, planet-destroying menace in Peraxxus in the very first arc. As a writer, where do you go from there? How do you top a guy who nearly destroys the Earth?
I think since the first arc was very much, for lack of a better term, plot-oriented or adventure oriented, I think what we want to do now is something that is more character oriented. Sort of like your question about Guy and Batman — why are they there? Obviously we saw how everybody was brought together and were really thrown into the deep end right away without having any real knowledge of how they function together. Booster kind of knew Fire, he kind of knew Guy; the idea is that they had met previously but certainly had not worked as a team previously. If you’ve never done that, why are you going to continue to hang out with these strangers? So the more character-driven aspect of it where they ask themselves these questions becomes much more part of where we’re going from here, and we see some of those things dealt with in issue #6, which comes out [next] month, and then really kicks off with #7.
Has there been a character that’s surprised you or that you found you really enjoyed writing more than you anticipated?
I think the surprise for me has been August General In Iron. I really enjoy the August General and getting under his skin — so to speak — to find out who he is and why he does the things he does, as well as Godiva. If someone would have told me that last May when I was first putting this together I would have been surprised, but I think that’s a good sign. It means the characters are starting to take on lives of their own a little bit, and as dumb and as corny as it sounds they help the writer find his way and their way through the series a little bit!
“Justice League International” #6 goes on sale February 1.