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Sometimes, Jeff Parker Has to Call in the Bad Guys for “Justice League United.”

by  in Comic News Comment
Sometimes, Jeff Parker Has to Call in the Bad Guys for “Justice League United.”

With DC Comics“Justice League United,” Jeff Parker seeks to tear down the idea of upper- and lower-tier characters.

As the latest issue opens, a quest to protect Earth from celestial catastrophe has disconnected Swamp Thing from the Green, running the risk of obliterating for eternity. Only an unlikely team of champions and rogues, guided by Poison Ivy, have the power to navigate conflicting realities and protect the world’s plant elemental from the threat of non-existence.

Unlike the typical Justice League, this lineup is more fluid, and through its ever-shifting roster, Parker tells CBR News he aims to explore the diverse team personalities. As they set about putting to rest the concept of A-, B- and C-list characters, Parker and artist Travel Foreman pit both heroes and villains against the Breakers, a unique cosmic-level threat that much of the planet isn’t even aware they’re facing.

CBR News: Do you believe that in a team dynamic like “Justice League United,” any hero can become a pivotal figure depending on the situation?

Jeff Parker: Yes, that is the core idea of the whole book now. I seriously want to destroy the idea of upper- and lower-tier characters in these books. All that matters is how interesting and how much potential a character has. We’re not making fighting games, these are stories.

The Breakers are our space-time anomalies that level the playing field by making their own rules wherever they touch down. So while you might think, “Send in Superman, problem solved,” we can have one anomaly that easily possesses any character without special mental defenses — then, sending in Superman makes the situation a thousand times worse. Instead, you might want to recruit a bad guy, like Hector Hammond or Gorilla Grodd.

Do you relish the opportunity to write such a strong cast with diverse personalities?

Yes — it makes things more interesting, right out the gate. Typically with a team book, you have your line-up, and then you get a sense of the dynamic based on those personalities. But this is more fluid. It’s just like in real life, the way different people bring out various sides of your own personality. I want to play that up here.

In our latest issue, Poison Ivy comes in and is immediately put off her game — she’s around a much more take-charge figure like Mera, and also present is Swamp Thing, who she nearly reveres as a plant elemental. She can’t even begin to figure why she’s needed here, but she turns out to be pivotal.

Conversely, Swamp Thing is brought in and assumes he’ll just deal with this threat by himself, wondering why everyone else is even here — and he’s taken out almost immediately. I want the book to be like that often, so you have to throw out your usual expectations.

What kind of storytelling assets does Travel Foreman bring to the narrative?

Travel is the guy who shakes the Etch-A-Sketch clear and then, when you turn the knob, it doesn’t work the same anymore. He always imagines a scene so differently than I guess he might show it, and it’s exciting to experience. I can see how it works on readers — they feel like they’re being sailed into uncharted territory by Travel. If it’s fun for me, and I know the story, it must be even better for someone coming in fresh.

One of my favorite things is how he shows Alanna Strange. In many ways, she’s the driving force of the book. He gives he such presence and makes her feel real as a person.

How did you score the legendary Tony Harris for covers?

I think [Editor] Andy Khouri sent him some candy or something, whatever it takes. He’s doing such cool stuff! Those covers are rich and intriguing.

In terms of the collaborative process, how critical are [Group Editor] Brian Cunningham and Khouri to you?

I hate to admit it, but they come up with some really good ideas. They floated something by me that I worked into Issue 16 — it was kind of a status quo thing for one character, and it was quickly obvious we could get a great reveal out of it.

This book is a lot to coordinate since we bring in so many different characters of the DCU, and Andy and Brian probably have to do God knows how much wheeling and dealing to get all the ones I request. I like to think they have to win the use of some in poker games at the Burbank offices.

I really appreciated the narrative voice in the Zeta Space, in terms of layout for issue #11.

Steve Wands is really putting the extra time into how he treats the lettering for such stuff, and that’s invaluable. He’s following Travel’s design lead there, and it works beautifully — thanks for pointing it out.

You learn more about what’s going on with Adam Strange in later issues, but I think those narrative bits suggest more levels to the story. Adam is drifting through the universe as it connects at points we can’t perceive, and as such, he has a vast perspective on things — maybe not omniscient, but able to grasp it all in a way the other characters can’t.

What was the deciding factor in working Etrigan into the cast?

Like with many of the deciding factors, it hinged heavily on “I like The Demon.” Jason Blood 4 Life, is what I’m saying.

Am I correct in assuming that when Steel enters the fray in Issue #12 he helps bring some order to the chaos — or is that wishful thinking on my part?

Steel hits a lot of things with that hammer is the quick take on things. But yes, his deep analytical mind gets a real workout in this story.

Any chance you can elaborate on this tweet, especially, “want to dispel this age old notion of how Marvel’s heroes are ‘different’ from DC’s stoic”?

Sure! I’ve had to hear for years the repeated canard about there being some difference between Marvel heroes and DC heroes once the Silver Age kicked in, usually pointing to tragic roots for Marvel ones like Spider-Man. So — does Batman not have tragic roots? Was Superman’s planet not wiped out? Of course the “stoic take” tries to paint them as stodgy, etc., which of course depends entirely on how you choose to portray anyone and isn’t essential to a character. They may have seemed fresher during the ’60s because they were new, but now they’re all over half a century old, for the most part.

The real distinction at the time, as it seems to me — DC’s editorial then was pushing mostly single-issue stories at a time the readership was craving ongoing ones that veered towards big arcs with high stakes for the characters. Marvel was still doing the same thing, largely — X-Men still wasn’t anywhere near a hit — but longer, more personal stories became a focus, and by ’66, ’67, [Jack] Kirby and [Stan] Lee are full steam going into the Galactus story.

At that point, a cover that asks “Why Is Superman Crying?” was not going to be enough of a draw. Spider-Man is throwing his costume in a trashcan, and you know that it’s bigger than one issue. It was clear that everything wasn’t going to be put back in place by the end of the issue, and the creative teams weren’t interchangeable; their names started to matter. That’s the real zeitgeist that was being tapped into, where it starts to become modern mythology. DC’s later editorial staff got that, and of course brought Kirby into the fold and we got some of the coolest new titles from it. [Denny] O’Neil and [Neal] Adams start busting out amazing Batman stories.

Of course, I think at all the companies’ continuity became too important later, but that’s a whole other discussion. But in short, I think keeping the spirit of the characters is way more valuable than the stats and old story details.

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