|Cover to “JSA #78” by Alex Ross|
Above all else, DC Comics‘ Justice Society Of America has stood for legacy and family amid a sea of superhero comics where characters are constantly in danger of losing both. On a creative level, the same has been true, as writer Geoff Johns first began as co-writer of “JSA” after its first story arc and became full time writer when David Goyer left. Now longtime inker Keith Champagne inherits the writer mantle for an upcoming “JSA” story arc (from #78-#80) that will change the titular team forever… before writer Geoff Johns comes back to do it again. CBR News spoke with Champagne about his run and his perspective on the Justice Society themselves.
“The JSA is the super team that every other team wants to grow up to become,” explained Champagne. “By comparison, they’re not the most powerful group of characters, although they more than hold their own. They are the most respected, though, and have the most experience and history.”
Don’t call Champagne’s story a fill-in, because to the writer, his tale is more than some script meant to fill the space between Johns’ writing of the series. “Like every story, these issues of ‘JSA’ were inspired by something personal in my life. One of the themes running underneath this arc is having a friendship or relationship go horribly, unexpectedly wrong, so that you’re looking around in the aftermath with your head spinning, trying to make sense of what, when, and why and if it can possibly be saved. Starting from there, I multiplied by a thousand and grafted strange, costumed characters onto it. The end result is a giant, cosmic level story that hopefully resonates…because it springs from a very intimate, true place.”
To some, Champagne’s name will be new and to others, they probably think of him as an inker, in spite of a well-received issue of “Legion,” which he wrote, and the creator owned series “Armor X,” written by Champagne. With all the “big names” writing DC Comics premier titles these days, Champagne’s selection may seem odd, but the scribe has his own belief. “I think I got the gig because I’ve been on the book forever and know the characters fairly well. I’ve also been plugging away on the writing side of things with ‘Armor X’ and that may have helped to get the job. I never really asked why Peter Tomasi let me write the book, I just said ‘yes, thank you sir!’ and started pitching ideas and angles before he could change his mind.
“Editorially, there was a subplot presented to me that needed to be resolved in these three issues. I was told which team members were available and the villain to use and went from there. It was very generous of Geoff to tag me in, let me take the reigns and drive the cart any direction I saw fit. As a result, I worked extra hard to give this storyline the same ‘feel’ the book has, month in and month out. It’s the same great recipe served up from a different chef. From all accounts, everyone is genuinely happy and I’m excited for the books to hit the stands.
“It’s really important to note that these aren’t fill-ins. If someone skips out because it’s a different writer, they’re going to miss out on huge changes to the status quo.”
While Champagne will give you that piece of advice, he’s not at liberty to even mention which characters star in his tale, beyond those already known to the public. “I don’t really want to give away which characters were available to use because the lack of some of the regular cast might cause speculation into other big events around the DCU. The entire team is pretty well fleshed out in terms of how they interact already though. I will say that I got pretty deep into a character that has been largely unexplored and hinted at a deeper, possibly darker history than anyone really would expect for that character.
“Solicitation info has already revealed that Thunderbolt and Jakeem play a big part of this storyline so it’s probably safe to list them.”
Like many DC Comics set in the DCU (the main superhero universe), Champagne’s story ties into the upcoming “Infinite Crisis” event and for some readers, it seems like it’s impossible to escape the crossover and “enjoy” their favorite series. “It impacted the story in the sense that one character in particular had to be moved to a certain square on the chessboard. I didn’t mind at all!” said Champagne. “I took it as a challenge to integrate that editorial need seamlessly into the story. In fact, it really made me feel like I was a part of all these huge events in the DCU, contributing in my own way which was very, very cool. These aren’t filler issues at all. If people who read ‘JSA’ skip these books, they’re missing out on huge, permanent changes to the team. And it’s all my fault!”
As mentioned earlier, Champagne started doing the writing thing with recent gigs and says they prepared him for writing “JSA,” though there were still some issues to overcome. “Well, I guess it’s the old ‘learn by doing’ thing. Every issue of whatever book I’ve written has helped me to grow in its own way. I’m proud of that ‘Legion’ issue, I think it’s a good, solid comic book with great Steve Lightle art. ‘Armor X’ went under the radar a bit but really helped me to work out some kinks in a trial and error sort of way. By the end of that series, Andy Smith and myself were really hitting on all cylinders and surprised a lot of people with the big curveball at the end. We’re both anxious to hit Volume 2 hard next year and get really hardcore with that story.
“These ‘JSA’ issues had their own challenges. He’s way too grounded to admit it, but Geoff Johns leaves big shoes to fill. So that was nervewracking. There were editorial needs and logistics that needed to be filled. That was tough. It was a challenge to match the flavor of the book and still bring something of whatever voice I’m developing to it.
“When Peter Tomasi (the best editor in comics, bar none!) read the first one, he called me and told me it was a homerun. The second and third issues were even better.”
With all this writing being done, some have speculated that this may be a pre-cursor to bigger things for Champagne- which is exactly what he’s hoping as well. “I sure as hell hope so! My dream job is just to keep writing, inking, growing creatively and working in comics.
“Of course, my dream with these ‘JSA’ issues is just that they lead to other, solicited writing work. I crave opportunity more than anything and it’s very hard to come by in an industry increasingly dominated by contract players and moonlighting Hollywood writers. But slowly, I’m trying to open the door a little more and build the career I’ve always dreamed of. I think these issues are a really strong calling card and hope they open some eyes for me.”
|Cover to “JSA #79” by Alex Ross|
Pencilling this “JSA” story is Don Kramer, the series regular artist, and someone Champagne has worked closely with as an inker on the series. Working with Kramer as a penciller has changed Champagne’s view on his friend and he explains that it’s something he could have only learned as a writer. “It’s definitely helped me to see into Don’s storytelling process and understand how and why he approaches building a page. I appreciate him a lot more as I’ve seen him visually edit my scripts and tighten some things up. He doesn’t lay out pages the way I see them in my head or the way I thumbnail them when I write but he makes really good, interesting choices and it’s fascinating and educational to see how something that is so clear in my mind can be construed so differently by someone else’s interpretation.
“Don is a stud, a future superstar, and might be the only guy in comics better looking than me!”
In the near future, expect to see more work from Champagne and more of his “Armor X” series. “The two definite projects I have lined up are creator-owned series, ‘Armor X vol. 2’ and a book called ‘Butterfly Samurai,’ that I’m writing for next year. The artists on those are Andy Smith and Tom Nguyen, respectively and the books are being produced by Across The Pond Studios.
“I found out last week myself that ‘Armor X’ was moving to Speakeasy. Honestly, I really don’t know the underlying reasons why, it’s actually none of my business and as long as I get to write the book, that’s the most important thing to me. I do think it’s a good business move. Speakeasy seems very hungry and aggressive and I think it’s a very canny choice from Stephan Nilson at Across the Pond. He’s a really smart guy and I trust his judgment and vision for his company.”
If you’re still not sure if you want to jump onboard for Champagne’s “JSA” story, the self proclaimed “best looking man in comic books” has one final recommendation. “The is the JSA’s absolute, final battle with their greatest foe. We’re going to see a much deeper side to a longstanding character. We’re going to precisely three worlds the team has never been. Maybe ‘realities’ is a better word than ‘worlds’. And at the end of the day, two members of the team will never, ever be seen again. Let the speculation and the funeral march begin!!
“Thanks! Hope you all think this story is SO COOL!!”
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