Raising the young ones properly can be a difficult task – especially when those tiny titans wield powers like the ability to create mini-tornados at will or blow things up simply by pointing. However, writer Matt Sturges seems to be doing a pretty good job thus far as the figurative den pappy to the DC Universe’s newest team of super-powered youngsters in the recently launched ongoing series “JSA All-Stars” along with artist Freddie E. Williams II from DC Comics.
Spinning out of last year’s “Justice Society of America” #33 – co-written by Sturges and author Bill Willingham – the new ongoing title centers around a separate branch of the JSA populated by its newest and youngest members, as well as a few veterans including Power Girl, Hourman and Stargirl. Original Hourman Rex Tyler’s Star-K Ranch currently serves as the team’s headquarters and in their opening arc, the group defeated not only classic JSA villain Johnny Sorrow but also his Injustice Society gang and the godlike being known as the King of Tears. Needless to say, Sturges and artist Freddie Williams II have been putting the new team through the paces – quite literally in some cases – over the title’s first six issues.
With the opening salvo fired and the second arc about to begin, Sturges took some time out of training the super-powered youth of tomorrow to speak with CBR News about the events of the book thus far, creating new character Anna Fortune and what lies ahead in the months to come for the “All-Stars.”
Before launching the new series, Sturges previously co-wrote the “Bad Seed” arc of “Justice Society” with Willingham and knew in advance of that gig he would be penning a new ongoing focused on the lives of the younger members of the team. The events of “Bad Seed” paved the way for “All-Stars,” however the writer admitted he originally felt more nervous about writing “Justice Society” than launching the new title.
“Geoff Johns’ ‘JSA’ run was one of my favorite books for a long time, so I went into it as not just a reader, but an avid fan. That made it pretty intimidating, and at first I was afraid to ‘touch’ things because I didn’t want to break them,” Sturges told CBR. “But when I started ‘All-Stars’ I told myself that these were just characters, and that in order to tell a good story I had to do new things with them and make them suffer and all that. So, in a way, it took some of the shine off of the characters because I had to take them off their pedestals in order to write them; especially Power Girl. I really wanted to do her justice.”
In fact, Sturges confessed that Power Girl ended up being one of his two favorite characters to write. The writer said he really enjoys two big things about PG – her brassiness and toughness, but with “a touch of vulnerability underneath.” Additionally, as a big fan of the House of El, Sturges said writing Power Girl serves as the closest he’s come to writing the Man of Steel himself. “Any Kryptonian is a good Kryptonian, even if they are leftovers from a universe that doesn’t exist anymore,” he joked.
As for his other favorite character to write, it should come as no surprise he selected everyone’s favorite fast-talking theater geek, Maxine Hunkel. “With Cyclone, it’s just fun to write her little tirades,” laughed the writer. “She’s adorable.”
However, not every character came easy to the writer. One particular JSA member took some getting used to. “[Judomaster] was the one that I never had a sense of, the one that was a complete cipher to me. And you can tell in the first few issues, where she’s just kind of there in the background, that I was sort of avoiding her,” he said. “But I realized when Damage died that she’s the one who was going to be the most affected by it, and that meant I had to confront her seriously. And so that’s what I did in issue # 7, which is the ‘Damage’ issue. Now I’m really quite fond of her.”
Character always played a big part in the JSA title, with the super group often compared more to a family than a regular team. Sturges said that when he launched “All-Stars,” one of the biggest goals for the opening arc was to show how despite being born from dysfunction, these characters still lived together like a family. “I really wanted to convey a sense of team spirit, and show these young heroes learning and growing,” explained the writer. “The training aspect is something that’s really important to me. Somehow the label ‘proactive’ got applied to the book and it gave the impression that this was a take-no-prisoners, go round up the bad guys and punish them, sort of book, but that was never my intent. I wanted to show young heroes learning how to be badasses.”
The idea of learning began to play a very important role in the book, and the first issue even featured a sequence showing the older generation showing the younger heroes a thing or two about fighting without powers. “That’s kind of the spirit of the book. If I had my druthers there’d probably be less ‘fighting the bad guys’ and more of that sort of stuff,” confessed Sturges. “I always liked the episodes of ‘Star Trek’ where the obligatory space screw-up was relegated to the B-plot. But I think 20 pages of these guys standing around practicing jiu-jitsu would probably get old after a while.”
But one only learns so much before putting that knowledge to the test. For super heroes, that usually involves saving the world through face punching some super villains. The first arc employed the use of longtime JSA baddie Johnny Sorrow, and this choice came not only from Sturges’ own personal love of the villain, but also a premonition of sorts. “I envisioned the scene with King Chimera and Johnny Sorrow a long, long time ago, so that was part of it, too,” he said. “Johnny’s great because he’s big and theatrical, and he has a good reason to be. He was a silent film star and, one assumes, probably a vaudeville performer as well. And he can kill you with his face. I thought it would be interesting if this horrible character would do all of these evil things in order to, essentially, stop being evil. It’s sort of a twisted morality play, from his point of view.”
Sturges also introduced a brand new character in the title’s opening storyline: the magic-wielding, steampunk-like Anna Fortune. “Anna Fortune has a pretty cool back story that will come out at some point in the near future,” teased the scribe. “Suffice to say that a) she’s friends with the new Dr. Fate, and b) she is indeed related to Amos Fortune, but not in the way you’d expect. I initially came up with her as a sidekick for Dr. Fate, with sort of a complementary costume, and then Freddie Williams got a hold of her and went this very different way with her look, which I immediately loved more than my original, derivative idea.”
Sturges added that along with designing Anna and providing beautiful art, penciller Freddie Williams II also contributes a great deal to the stories themselves. “We have long conversations where I try to explain my fevered ideas for the next story or the next issue, and he sort of makes sense of it all and adds in his own ideas. It’s by far the most collaborative I’ve ever been with an artist,” admitted Sturges. “We’ve actually started working recently in a modified Marvel style, where I write up the plot, then Freddie does the rough art, then I go back and dialog over that. It’s a lot of work, but the interactivity between [us] really makes things sing. You start to see that in issue #7, which is the first issue we created that way.”
The upcoming #7 focuses on the death of Damage seen in the pages of the Blackest Night tie-in, “Blackest Night: JSA.” The story centers around Judomaster and the affect of Damage’s death on her personally, as the two were previously dating. Following the stand-alone issue, Sturges kicks off the “Glory Days” arc with #8. “It’s about how we romanticize the past, remembering the good and overlooking the bad. This arc has a quartet of completely original villains, but it also features the return of a character that we haven’t seen in a long while,” he hinted. “Part of the story takes place in Los Angeles, so Infinity Inc. fans can look for a few Easter eggs there. There’s a scene in which Power Girl gets the ever-loving crap beaten out of her, which almost kind of made me wince to write.”
Sturges also hinted at more character spotlights in issues to come. Cyclone gets her chance to fly in “Glory Days,” while Wildcat II gets his own solo issue in the future. The writer also mentioned a focus on King Chimera as well as Atom Smasher. As a final tease, Sturges hinted at a back story for the new artificial AI system Roxy. “The Roxy story is the one I think I’m most excited about at the moment,” said Sturges. “It’s something that’s been in the works since issue #1, and it will involve an old JSA character that we haven’t seen in quite some time.”
Join the “JSA All-Stars” on June 2 for their latest adventure from Sturges and Williams II