Johns Prepares "Justice League" for Graves

Last week, Johns took some time out from his work schedule, be it for action figure shenanigans or comic writing, to talk to CBR News about what's next for DC's #1 title. While "Justice League" has earned a large readership in the hands of Johns and artist/Co-Publisher Jim Lee, the series that reintroduces the world's greatest superheroes remains steeped in mystery. For example, when can fans expect to see more members join the League as teased in the early life of DC's New 52 launch? And what ties does the just begun "Shazam" back-up serial have to the main "Justice League" narrative?

Below, Johns discusses all these topics in relation to "The Villain's Journey" -- a new four-part arc drawn by Lee which launches in May's "Justice League" #9 -- teasing who new villain David Graves really is and why he's turned against Superman and company, why the plans for this story go back to his and Lee's original series proposal, what fans can expect from Green Arrow's upcoming appearance in issue #8 and why DC's incoming "DC Comics -- The New 52 Free Comic Book Day Edition" story by the pair will be a lynchpin for DC's future.

CBR News: Geoff, "Justice League" #7 revealed that the writer we met in the opening arc who also wrote the back matter material isn't turning out to be quite the supporter of the Justice League as we thought he'd be. How will his dark side grow in full as we get into the new arc "The Villain's Journey" in issue #9?

Geoff Johns: I think that the next storyline turns everything on its head. The guy who wrote the book is named David Graves, and he's seen in issue #6 as an important part of our first arc. Jim and I had always planned on -- well, we were talking about doing this book before the New 52 started. And originally, "The Villain's Journey" was going to be our first storyline. It's all about introducing a new villain to the team and taking a look at the mythic "Hero's Journey" and turning that on its head. We explore what makes a villain and why a villain is born. It's kind of a dark reflection of that story that's the heartbeat of this new "Justice League" tale.

We see this guy who was probably the biggest advocate for the Justice League -- who technically named the Justice League -- and helped the public see them as "Gods Among Men" which was the subtitle for his book. He's an author who had written a lot of books like, do you remember those old Time Life Mystery books?

I had a lot of those as a kid. "Mysteries of the Pyramids and Aliens"!

Yeah! He's that kind of guy. That's what he's been writing about his whole life, but when the superheroes are born, he writes this book that becomes an international hit and a huge influence on the public at large and their acceptance and enthusiasm for the Justice League. He really perpetuated that, and so how he got here, why he got here and how he ever became a villain with the power to take on the Justice League let alone why he'd want to do it in the first place all comes out of this storyline.

You said you and Jim had been talking about this story since before the New 52 existed. Back then, what was the draw to starting a book with a brand-new villain? It's obvious why you'd want to work with these big characters all together, but what makes for a great challenge to that superhero cast? What do you need for a big time Justice League bad guy?

A villain who reflects a dimension of the team -- that challenges them in a way where they have to think about why they're doing what they're doing and how they're doing what they're doing. This encounter changes everything. For me, Graves and the appearance and conflict at the heart of this new villain have to be all about the flaws in this team and the issues this team has -- even if they won't admit it at first. It's also about the perception versus the reality of the Justice League. The villain reflects all that back on our heroes, so he really is different. Darkseid was a massive threat while Graves is much more of a personal threat. All that will become clear over the course of the story. But it all works to make a great Justice League villain.

And there's not a whole lot of them, are there? The Justice League's villains need to be personally tied to the team and really push the team in a new direction. They have to have a valid motivation. It's not just about revenge. There's a real valid reason behind why Graves is doing what he's doing.

We haven't seen the closest look at Graves when he becomes what he becomes, but we've got a glimpse of him on the cover to #10. How did you and Jim collaborate on bringing him from conception to his final form?

We'd talked about the character quite a bit, so Jim knew his history and backstory, and he created a design off of that. Once you see the final version of Graves, you'll have a clear picture of who he is, and what he can do will be seen in the book.

Let's talk about the plan for the book as a whole. The next issue we'll see is #8 which features Green Arrow, but it doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that ends with "Welcome to the team, Green Arrow!" In what way is this story indicative of that "perception versus reality" aspect of the book? Is there a bit of an antagonistic relationship between the big seven and the rest of the DCU heroes?

Yes, there is. There's a bit of a protective wall that they've built up around themselves as a unit, and that wall is explored. I think on first blush when you see the Green Arrow issue, there's a lot of fun and action to it and a lot of humor. There's a lot of personality dynamics that come into play. But there's also a hint of things to come. This is the issue that really does explore what the team's makeup is and why. #8 really builds on the foundation that was already laid, but it takes it onto the next level and into Jim's second arc. "The Villain's Journey" will run four issues, #9 through #12.

Early on you guys teased a lot of other characters that will play into the Justice League -- the Atom, Lady Luck, and so on. How will that team be built over the course of the book, and is the team being built up to combat a bigger threat? Does Graves' story set a situation where the Justice League needs to rebound?

It's a little bit of that, and none of that. [Laughs] I hate to get way ahead of us, but throughout the Graves arc, it does introduce some ideas that will change the team. You'll see -- I hate to say this, but you've got to read the Free Comic Book Day story. That'll give us so much more to talk about! In that story, we get into the issues you're asking about here.

Shifting gears to the Shazam half of the book, we saw a lot of teases before the first chapter hit -- a picture of the new Shazam, some news about his name change and your and Gary's hopes for the franchise -- but reading the first story, I was still struck by the very different take on Billy Batson. How much were you trying to play against the "Aw shucks/Holy Moley" expectation of what that character is supposed to be?

That's the whole point of that first chapter, I think. We introduce the world, and you can see the hint of an expanded mythology -- especially in the Rock of Eternity and with a very different Doctor Sivana. We get the story of Black Adam and the idea that the Rock of Eternity was this massive fortress that was run by a council of wizards and sorceresses. Then getting to Billy and meeting this kid who's not at all what you expect, that was very important to us. Gary and I wanted to tell a very character-oriented tale. These first ten pages are just a glimpse of who Billy Batson is, and I think starting by playing against expectations was very important for us, but also, his journey from here is central to the book. There's a very big new angle we're playing with Billy Batson and Shazam in particular, and some of that comes out in chapter two in "Justice League" #8, and even more of it will be seen over the first story. But obviously, we're playing totally against expectations to start because Billy Batson has this goodness inside him, but just like every hero has that, we wanted to explore a more multi-dimensional kid. He's had a rough go of it so far, and he's got a lot of road to travel and a lot to learn from here.

The one big tease we do get from the Rock of Eternity is that the statues everyone associates with the Shazam story -- Solomon and Hercules and on and on -- are broken to pieces and unrecognizable. And the wizard is much creepier than he's ever been to boot. As we move forward, are you looking to make that part of the story significantly different?

There's going to be significant expansion on the mythology of it. It's not just a cavern with a guy sitting at the end on a stone throne anymore. There's much more to it, and I think the idea behind Shazam and the Rock will really mean the return of magic. When Billy Batson speaks that word, it marks the return of magic to this world. His powers and the characters he interacts with and everything is pushed to a very different level than we've seen before. You'll see a lot of the familiar faces that you're used to seeing with Shazam, but even in the next month or two you'll see new characters and new stories and new pieces of the mythology that don't negate anything we know and love. They just build on top of it.

We know that the Shazam serial is in the "Justice League" book for a reason, but we've yet to see how the two link up. When you're talking about Billy ushering the return of magic, it automatically reminds me of how Superman's two weaknesses are Kryptonite and magic. The former we've seen in the New 52 but not the latter. Does the magic element of Shazam blow back into Justice League down the line?

Yes, it does!

Well, how do all your books link up in that respect? We saw Graves writing about Professor Shin and Atlantis in back matter. Can we expect all this to snowball in some ways?

David Graves writing about Atlantis and everything in there from before the Justice League was around and talking to Shin -- all that stuff being intertwined just makes sense. There would be scholars and scientists and writers exploring all these elements of the world while they were breaking out. That's a whole 'nother piece of connective tissue that's kind of invisible, but it's in there if you want to read all of it.

Finally, we saw the return of Pandora in "Justice League" #6 after her debut across the New 52 #1s. You and Jim aren't just the guys making DC's #1 book. You're also CCO and Co-Publisher, respectively. In what ways are you guys guiding bigger stories that stretch through the entire DCU with this Pandora story thread?

You know what? Let's talk about this after Free Comic Book Day. How's that sound?

Done and done.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on "Justice League" and what's next in the DCU!

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