In September, as part of the recently announced relaunch of the entire DC Universe, DC Comics’ “Justice League International” is getting a new chance at life under the creative team of writer Dan Jurgens and artist Aaron Lopresti. Debuting as “Justice League” in 1987, the series, written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, quickly became known for its humor and quirky characters, from the egotistical Booster Gold and Guy Gardner, to the bumbling Blue Beetle, radically feminist Power Girl and a slew of other strange and off-beat DC heroes. Last year, the mainstays of the JLI team got a second shot at saving the world in the pages of writer Judd Winick’s “Justice League: Generation Lost,” stopping old team sponsor Max Lord from killing Wonder Woman. Releasing bi-weekly in conjunction with “Brightest Day,” it came as no surprise to fans when the last page of the popular series teased a new “Justice League International” comic.
But while the response to “Generation Lost” may have prompted the revival, the new “JLI” roster differs substantially from the “Gen Lost” roundup, shedding characters like Blue Beetle and Captain Atom (who will helm his own series), adding new faces like Vixen, old faces like Guy and Batman and introducing a mysterious female character whose unknown identity has set off rampant speculation among fans.
In light of the new team and series, CBR News spoke with Jurgens, discussing the new “JLI” as well as his work as the artist on the new “Green Arrow” series, written by returning scribe JT Krul. Jurgens talks about what the new members bring to “Justice League International,” the process of relaunching titles from an artist’s perspective and why fans should be excited about DC’s relaunch.
CBR News: From the fans’ perspective, the new “Justice League International” was announced on the last page of “Justice League: Generation Lost.” How far in advance did you know you would be writing “JLI?”
Dan Jurgens: It’s been several months, now. I don’t know when everything was planned and when it fell into sync for sure, but certainly by the time that final issue of “Generation Lost” appeared, I had already started working on it, so I’ve known for a while.
How can longtime readers expect this “Justice League International” differ from the ’80s “JLI?”
Without giving away too much of the story, one of the things that is important to recognize is that this is part of the overall effort of what DC is doing come September. So it isn’t just a question of what makes “JLI” different from before, it’s a question of what makes DC Comics different from before, and a lot of that will be reflected in the pages of “JLI.”
Just looking at the cover image of the new team, the series seems to be genuinely focused on the international part of “Justice League International.” Since you said you’re delving into what makes DC as a whole different, will this comic really explore this new relaunched DCU?
Oh yeah, I think it definitely will, and that’s something we’re trying to capitalize on. Obviously, if you look at the first issue cover art, you have Rocket Red; he’s from Russia. Fire is from Brazil. You have August General In Iron who is from China and Vixen is from Africa. We’re trying to build in more diversity in the DCU in general, and certainly in the case of “Justice League International,” we take a very literal approach to the word international, building that in as a main element within the book.
Now, the original “JLI” was almost a comic book sitcom. Is that sort of character interaction still going to be a big part of the new series?
I don’t think so. Everyone sort of refers to it as the “bwa-ha-ha” days, and the thing I want to emphasize is that we are going to try and bring a new sensibility to the book, to the cast and to the DCU in general. I think if you take the personalities of some of the individual characters — for example, if you have Booster in the book, he’s going to be the kind of guy who is going to make a wisecrack every now and then. You can’t get around it, and there will be some humor just because of that. If you look at the mix of characters I think it’s easy to imagine where some of the points of contention might be, as well. To me, it’s an idea of, if you take eight or nine people and put them in room and say, “Lets talk about life,” you are going to get humor and you are going to get tragedy and tales of woe. I think that should be reflected in a group like this, as well. I think there’s a little bit of room for everything.
Touching on the characters, you’ve got a team going into “JLI” that differs significantly from the “Generation Lost” crew. How did you go about settling on who would be on the team — were the characters your decision, or was it editorial’s?
That was an instance where, like many things for September, we sat down and looked at a lot of different possibilities. There might have been a case or two where a character was suggested that I didn’t necessarily feel quite comfortable with or didn’t feel the mix was quite right. I know I threw out a couple and they said, “We don’t want to go that way.” But it’s one of those situations that by the end, by the time the four or five of us sat down and talked about it and threw in the elements we thought would work, this is the team we came up with.
And what were the elements you looked for in the characters?
I think the biggest thing to actually look out for — and I think this applies to a lot of things, not just “JLI” — is that you don’t want to have too many personalities that duplicate each other. What I try to do is look for a combination of uniqueness among the individuals. What makes Rocket Red different from Guy Gardner? What makes August General In Iron different from Vixen? As you go down the list, its almost as if those people are all standing in front of you and you — I hate to say throw a pie at them, because that does hearken back to a previous time! [Laughs] But if you throw a pie at them, they are going to react. Batman, in theory, will have a different reaction than Vixen. I think whenever you build a group book, it’s important to try and get those things that separate the characters on the page as quickly as possible.
So far, the team has Rocket Red, Fire and Ice, all of whom were in “Generation Lost,” and you’re bringing back Guy Gardner and Batman, who were original members. Then there are three brand new members in Vixen, August General In Iron and the mysterious, black-haired woman. What do August General and Vixen bring to the team?
There’s a couple of different things. One of the things I like a great deal about August General is, if you look at the society he comes from — he comes from China and he has a very strong military background, as we’re going to approach this. I think what he brings is a little bit of an authoritarian attitude, certainly a military attitude. One might suggest, without giving anything away, if all of sudden he’s working with Booster Gold, a guy who is out there selling ads, he might have a problem with that! I think that becomes a point that we can build on. In terms of Vixen, obviously her background is different as well. I think, if we are all products of our backgrounds and we bring that to the table here, that builds in the differences among the characters that ultimately make this an interesting group.
Is the black-haired woman a brand new character created for the series?
By the time “JLI” issue one comes out, there will be a point of reference. We are trying to be, obviously, somewhat mysterious about that at present. We are comfortable saying that it’s not Donna Troy and it’s not Wonder Woman. But it’ll be there; it just takes a little time to unfold.
Talking about original “JLI” characters, you’ve done so much in recent years to develop a more serious Booster Gold. Will this new “JLI” see the continuation of his maturation?
In my mind, it will, to a certain extent. I think we have to bring a couple of new twists to it, but at the same time, I think this allows Booster to stay on the trajectory he’s been on for the last couple of years.
Is Max Lord going to figure in to the comic?
That’s one of those things that I’ll just respond to with, “Stay tuned!”
While you’re writing “JLI,” you’re also the artist for the new “Green Arrow.” Will this Oliver Queen differ substantially from the pre-DC relaunch version of the character?
If you take a look at the art that’s out so far, certainly there are some differences there. In terms of how radical it might be is somewhat up to the eye of the beholder. But I think that by the time people are more exposed to it, both in terms of art and story, they are certainly going to see some differences in Ollie as opposed to what was there before.
When working on multiple comics, do you try to emphasize the differences in the way you draw characters like Oliver Queen versus how you draw your other characters, like Booster Gold?
Oh, sure. Job One at any time you walk on a book as an artist is to figure out who are the main characters, not just what do they look like, but what is the visual personality that they have. I think for Oliver Queen, as we sort of get into the idea of reconfiguring “Green Arrow” a little bit and taking a look at what this new Green Arrow series is going to be, for me, [the question is], what is his visual language? What is his attitude that he carries in terms of body posture that’s going to come through? What is the art style that works in terms of relating the atmosphere of his adventures? That’s what I’m trying to focus on with “GA” right now.
Now, Jim Lee did the costume redesign for most of these characters. From your perspective as an artist, how does that work? Do you get a memo and stye guide with how the new characters look that you have to follow?
I don’t know that I can speak to how it’s working for everybody. I know in the case of “Green Arrow,” I took the first shot at it and came up with a couple of differences, then Jim took that and twisted and changed a few things a little bit. Then we bounced a few thoughts around and came up with the final design. So it was more of a back and forth effort on “Green Arrow.”
What’s important to recognize overall with what we’re doing, and I don’t mean just on “JLI” and “Green Arrow,” is that it really is sort of a team effort with everybody at DC. I think everybody is welcome to have some input, and some comes from here and some comes from there. Sometimes in the process of creation, it’s hard to ascribe specific things to specific people. The idea is to keep talking and keep sharing ideas and moving towards that goal of finding something that works.
Do you feel DC is trying to emphasize artists working together to create an overall look for the new comics versus setting up a strict house style?
I think we are definitely, at this point, trying to encourage more discussion among writers and artists and editors and everybody involved. Sometimes, in terms of the absolute grind of trying to do a monthly book, it’s easy to put your head down at the keyboard or at the drawing table and focus so much on getting it done you don’t have that attitude of shared ideas. In the case of “Green Arrow,” JT Krul and I have been talking a lot. In the case of “JLI,” I’m trying to talk with Aaron [Lopresti] and work with editorial, too, because when everybody feels like they have a little bit of equity in the idea and a little bit of ownership over what appears in print, in terms of the whole creative process, it does make for a better experience. If the experience is better for the creators, I truly believe it is ultimately better for the readers as well.
From your perspective, do you think that with this relaunch DC is also stepping up in trying to get artists more involved in the overall writing process?
Whenever you have something like this — and it’s hard to say whenever you have something like this, because really, there hasn’t been anything quite like this before — but it’s an opportunity for everybody to open up the lines of communication and talk about what works and what doesn’t work. I mentioned that in the lineup for “JLI” we got together and said, “Who do we want to be in this book? What will work and what won’t?” And sometimes characters are suggested that aren’t a natural for the writer in question. But overall, I think there is a lot more communication going on and a greater effort to say, “Let’s talk about this, because if we talk about it and problems come up it’s a chance to solve it and get it taken care of before it hits the page.” It’s a very exciting time!
Talking about your art specifically, how do you personally sum up your art style? Do you have a name for it?
Good Lord, no! [Laughs] I am terrible at self-analysis! I never think of it that way! For me, when you are drawing a book, the first and most important thing you have to do is to communicate the story to the reader. That can happen in a lot of different ways. It’s just making the story and the flow of the story clear, for one thing, but it’s also making it visually exciting to pull the reader in. I don’t know I have a name for it. I just look at it and say — and part of this is because I am also a writer and write most of what I draw, at least in the past few years — and say, I’m a storyteller. When it comes down to drawing those 20 pages that make up a book, hopefully everybody will have understood what was happening, liked what was happening and gotten some level of entertainment out of it. I don’t think that’s changed.
You’ve talked before about your writing background, but what is your artistic background? Did comics influence you heavily as a kid?
Certainly, as a kid I was very interested in comics and very interested in trying to figure out what made them work visually. I would kind of draw my own comics. Obviously, as I got older and went to college, I lost interest in it, somewhat, but the thing I always appreciated whenever I looked back at comics before I got into the business, was it allowed for a tremendous sense of control over the art and expression. When you think about artistic jobs that might be out there, often it is to do one specific illustration or something like that. To be able to write and draw a comic, it allows for the individual doing that to have quite a great deal of control over the final product. To do so over the course of 20 pages, there’s not much else out there that compares with that. I got into the business knowing that I wanted to write, as well. I think I was always attracted to this whole notion of ,you can come up with the story, and if you are able to write it as well, it certainly allows you present this story as you visualize it. I think that’s what drew me to the idea of doing comics and kept me interested in it.
To switch back to “Green Arrow,” from the blurbs coming out, fans have gotten the idea that this is a darker “Green Arrow” than before. Is that something you are trying to push in the story and art?
I think it’s safe to say that what we are dealing with here is a different sort of Oliver Queen than we’ve seen in the past. I don’t know if I’d use the word “darker” to describe it. See, Oliver Queen to me has always been one of the more compelling, if not most compelling, characters in the DC Universe. Throughout his history, he’s been given a lot more personality than a lot of other characters have. I think that has defined him well. The idea is to find out what aspects of that personality are there to really capitalize on, and I think that’s what JT and I are trying to do. So I don’t know if “darker” is quite the right word to describe what we’re doing; I think what we’re trying to do is really isolate what is it that makes Oliver unique, what makes him work and then present that to the reader.
With both “JLI” and “Green Arrow,” you are getting a chance to re-write and re-draw characters you’ve worked with before. Do you think, looking back at your own art and writing, there are substantial differences in how you approach these characters now versus the ’80s and ’90s?
Yes! I think all of us, whether artist or writer, change over time. Part of it is wanting to say something different about the characters. In the case of “JLI,” when you get down to it, if you look at the characters on the cover, most of them I really haven’t done much with before, so it’s going to be different just because of that. Certainly with “Green Arrow,” as we re-imagine the character and try to figure out a way to re-present him here, there are obvious differences that are going to come through in my work visually, in terms of how I handle the character.
Is there anything that surprised you while writing “JLI” or drawing “Green Arrow” so far?
One of the things I found was when I started to pull together the characters for “JLI,” as I started to write August General In Iron, it amazed me how fast he went from being a character I was trying to come to terms with and grasp to becoming almost my favorite character in the book. He brings a different dynamic to it. As a writer, oftentimes you’ll spend a couple of days wrestling with an idea and all of a sudden it just falls into place. That’s what that character represents for me. He has elevated himself within the ranks of the books really quickly! I talk to a lot of guys who, as they work on [the relaunch], are finding a lot of surprises like that in what they are doing. That’s part of the fun and magic of the creative efforts that you put into it. As you work with new characters, there are surprises that come up where you are like, “Oh yeah, that’s great, let’s run with that!”
And for “Green Arrow,” the biggest thing has been just finding new stuff to say visually with Green Arrow/Oliver Queen. When you get a chance to re-imagine these guys and say, “You know, let’s do this and lets give him this sense of flair or panache,” I think that’s the artistic element that is so fun. Certainly, that’s happening with Oliver.
With all of these changes being made for the September relaunch, how do you think fans are going to respond overall?
I think the best way I can approach that is how I’m responding. Earlier I mentioned that this is a very exciting time to be working at DC. As I talk to other writers and artists about the stuff we’re trying to do and pull off — and obviously this extends to the folks working in the office as well — it really is an exciting time for us to be trying to pull this together. I have always believed that, in terms of doing comics, if the writer excites the artist in the script, the artist will pick up on that and elevate the work, and that excites the inker, the colorist and so on down the line, and that excites the reader. So to answer your question, if we are able to take this sense of excitement we all have and translate that to the page — and I think we are doing that — then I think fans are going to be just as excited as we are.
OK, we’ve heard about fan excitement, but what are you looking forward to most in September?
What I look forward to most is this basic idea that what we’re giving everybody, in terms of readers, is the chance to say, “We’re having a party. Come on into the party, we have some food there’s the bar — we hope you hang around for a couple of hours and meet a lot of fun people and have a good time!” I think that’s what we’re doing here. It gives readers a chance to take a look at some new material and find what they like and it’s important to note that there will be surprises in that material. There will be things that make it new and fun and fresh and exciting.
And it’s not just September. It is also looking to say, “Hang with us!” Because we’re talking about September right now, but we’re also talking about what we’re going to have out there in January, what are we going to do to continue to build on September to have for you guys in March and beyond. I think that’s the key. As we build this, so much is a conversation about these first issues, which I think is appropriate, but as writers and creators what we are trying to build are concepts that go well beyond September. So if you are coming to the party, I want you to say, “I don’t want to leave the party! I want to be the last one out the door and hang around until you kick me out!” Which of course, we won’t do! [Laughs] There’s a lot of talk about those initial issues. From a creative standpoint, yeah, it’s about the first issues. But we’re trying to build something that goes far beyond that. I think that’s what exciting. I look forward to that reaction.
So to sum up — party at Dan Jurgens’ house, bring beer and comics.
[Laughs] There are plenty of both here!
“Justice League International” #1 debuts in September