Talking "Justice Society of America" #1 with Johns & Eaglesham

Thursday afternoon, DC Comics help a press conference to discuss the first issue of "Justice Society of America," the relaunched series from the mind of Geoff Johns and the pencil of Dale Eaglesham. The duo took questions for thirty minutes in a conference call moderated by DC's Publicity Manager Alex Segura.

Note, there are some spoilers in this conversation from "Justice Society of America" #1, so if you've not read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Geoff, what spurred you to restart "Justice Society of America?" What are the elements of this new series that had you thinking it merited a new #1?

Geoff: I had to take a break because of everything I was doing, but obviously I have a passion for the characters and the team and I had more stories to tell. I don't think I realized how much I learned in the last couple of years on writing and approaching story through everybody I've worked with like Alan, Brad, Brent, Mark and Greg and I've tried to apply everything I've learned and approach the series in a different way. That's what got me excited in the new characters I've created and Dale and Alex added a lot to that excitement.

As for restarting, it was just a matter of the fact that the team feels different and the book feels different. "Justice League of America" was restarting and we want to reach the biggest audience we can. This just seemed like opportune time to [launch a new #1,] even though I wanted to write JSA #100.

There's still time!

Geoff: Yeah! [laughs] I will say that this book is the one book I could see myself on for another 100 issues. I don't know that I could say that about any other book I'm working on.

Now, just to get the 600 lb gorilla out the way, let's talk about the words we see on the first page as we crack open "Justice Society of America" #1 - "World War III."

Geoff: That's a big event that takes place in "52" and the JSA will figure very prominently in the story. So, that kind of is a tease for that and coming out of that it explains why the JSA is approaching everything the way they are.

One of the elements that really strikes you when you read this issue is the introduction of all these new characters and old characters who've under gone some significant change.

Geoff: There's no point in coming back to the book and having time pass unless things actually happen. That was what my throught process was - how could these characters be different? I mean, Star Girl is actually a veteran now, which I find a lot of fun to write.

The exciting part is going to be the variety of personalities you get from this one single issue - for instance, it's rare that you see a hero [Starman] on a team that's clearly out of his mind.

Geoff: Yeah, I don't know that you've seen [a hero] before that's a little bit nuts. I think it's fun to see him and how he reacts. I think Starman's a really fun character, as is Maxine. They're all different and that was the goal - to push their personalities into places where they would all feel like very different characters. In "JSA," our previous series, it was much more plot driven and entrenched in continuity, and with "Justice Society of America" #1, I made it as accessible as I could.

Talk a bit about your collaboration with Dale Eaglesham as artist on "Justice Society of America." A big part of the appeal for you was the collaboration with someone like Dale, who has a great strength in relaying the emotions of the characters.

Geoff: He gets all the uniqueness and quirkiness of the characters that I'm trying to get through in the script. I really thought he broke out on "Hero" - I love that book. He's been fantastic. He's so into the characters and who they are and that's all he cares about - who these characters are. That moment with Starman where he said "Home, Sweet, Home" and did that twirl in his room, Dale did the twirl. That wasn't in the script. He really grabbed onto that character and figured out who he was. He plays with body language and you can see that in that spread in the first issue when Starman's leaning into Mr. Terrific and Hourman & Liberty Bell are drenched over each other and Damage is a little stand offish and Star Girl goes up in the air, ready to have a good time. Characters just standing in a room isn't going to satisfy Dale and he goes out of his way to make sure that no matter which character it is, they always have personality in everything they do.

That moment when Maxine is introduced to the team typifies each character so well.

Geoff: My favorite shot of Maxine is when she's screaming at Mr. Terrific and Power Girl saying, "I can't believe this is happening!" Dale just nailed that enthusiasm and crazy, unbridled joy for that shot.

Coming into the series, was there a lot of haggling when trying to decide who to include on the roster?

Geoff: Not really because we included everybody. We went through the roster and asked who don't we really like and we couldn't find any that we didn't want to use. There were a couple of characters we wanted to include that we couldn't, like Captain Marvel. There's a sketch out there somewhere and maybe we'll show it sometime, but Alex did this sketch when we first talked about this and we had the Spectre there, a new Dr. Fate, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel and a couple of other characters here and there. A few we couldn't use. The Ray was going to be on there, too. Anyway, it wasn't a matter of cutting anyone out of the team because we wanted this to be a big team and we wanted this to be a Society and we'll rotate the spotlight so that all the characters are properly served.

As for adding the new characters, it was a matter of what personalities we wanted on the team and then power.

In that promo image, you hit the high points of the series - legacy, love and death. I know legacy has always been a part of the Justice Society, but it seems like it's been brought more to the fore front with this first issue, where the goals have changed somewhat.

Geoff: Yeah, the goal is to make the Justice Society a real society. There are so many mystery men in comic books now and in the DC Universe that it really is like a society now. Like, what is it like to be somebody with powers and a uniform and the responsibility or the shredding of that responsibility? That's what this book is going to look at - the society of super heroes in the DC Universe.

One of the elements of this first issue that was a real surprise was that final teaser page where you see stuff that's going to happen almost a year out. What was the impetus behind that?

Geoff: I initially wanted the issue to end on a spread. We asked for more pages and got them and we had an extra page to play around with. [Editor] Steve Wacker and I were talking about all the great stuff we had coming up and he said, "Why don't you do a trailer of what's coming up for the first year - just show 'em." I loved that idea and came up with all the beats. Originally Dale drew the "Kingdom Come" Superman and we decided to go a step beyond that and Alex got involved and actually painted the "Kindgom Come" Superman.

Alex painting the interior of a mainstream DCU, an in continuity book, is a pretty big deal. That might have been his first work in a DCU book that's not "Kingdom Come" or "Justice."

Dale Eaglesham has joined the call. Dale, what made this a compelling project for you to come on board?

Dale: I like that there are so many different characters to play with on this book. It's a unique book and I think it's well suited to the approach I've had with comics over the years. I started out with "Conan The Barbarian" and went onto the "Punisher," a lot of characters with a harder edge to them. With these characters they're a little less conflicted than the others. Specifically, I think the way Geoff is writing the title right now, there's just so many different approaches we can take with the story material, whether it's really heavy drama or humor, and big action, too, which I really learned to enjoy while on "Vigil" at CrossGen. I think it's just the perfect playground for any artist to be in.

You also get a that sense not just in Geoff's script, but also in your art style throughout the issue where we see moments of elation, action and tense drama. It seems like you're getting a real wide pallet to work in.

Geoff: That's something Dale and I talked about. We wanted to hit the entire gamut of emotions. It wasn't just going to be one type of book - it would have moments of humor and fun and hardship and tragedy, birth, death - we wanted it to encompass everything and be as well rounded a book as it could be, while also being a little quirky.

Again, when we were designing all these characters, Dale and I talked about them for hours on end. Going into their personalities. That's why the scenes with Maxine Hunkel, I look at those scenes and the visuals and Dale captured exactly what the character is. That comes from all those discussions we've had.

Why don't we go through some of the new characters and the thought processes behind creating these characters. Let's start with Starman - he's such a departure from the last Starman and a very strong personality as well.

Geoff: That's obviously on purpose. If you're going to bring in a new Starman, why bring in one who's just a cookie cutter of a previous Starman? I think I found a hook in him and Dale found a great one, like I said before. The body language and visuals of that character allows the character to stand out as something very different than other super heroes you've seen. That's the kind of book we want to make. Maxine Hunkel is different than the typical teenaged girl that you see as a super hero and will continue to be.

Dale: I like that there's a real mystery behind Starman, too, and that's really reflected with how he moves through a scene. When I do my thumbnails, which are usually pretty complete, I don't draw him in. I wait for the very last second and wait for some sort of inspiration to hit me. Usually it's the dialogue speaking to me somehow. I like to leave it unpredictable because that's the way he is.

Geoff: He doesn't know either, which is part of the fun. He probably knows as much about himself as you do.

What about the Damage character? That's a guy a lot of people haven't seen for a long time.

Geoff: Yeah, he's a character from the '90s and had his own book for I think 18 issues. He's a direct descendent of the Atom. It just makes sense having him on the team, again exploring the legacy. He wears the mask for a very different reason and that'll play into the book, his character and his arc. Again, Atom Smasher filled the old Atom role and now you have a real descendent of the Atom coming in and coming to it with the exact opposite approach of Atom Smasher which is, "I don't want to have anything to do with this." If he really believed that, he wouldn't have agreed to come in the first place, so there's a piece of him that has allowed himself to go with the JSA, whether it be he wants help or needs help and is just afraid to ask for it. That's going to be something we'll explore as the series goes on. He's a character I really, really like. He's very dangerous. One of my favorite things about him is he can't enter the State of Georgia! He blew up a block in Atlanta and he's actually outlawed in the State, so when the JSA have to go into Atlanta, he can't go.

One of the flash backs shows the Earth 2 Robin. Will how much the JSA knows about the multiverse be addressed in this series?

Geoff: Yes. That will be a major storyline down the line. We'll be touching on it in the first year.

Let's talk about Ted Grant and the introduction of his son Tom in this first issue. Does this signify a major change in direction for Ted?

Geoff: Yes, it will. Ted Grant is one of the best characters in the DC Universe. I love the Thing from Marvel and he reminds me of him in a lot of ways. He's always kind of had an attitude about the JSA and what it means to him and once again I'm trying to push that bit of personality. He approaches it from the stand point, "Look, put them in a ring, I'll teach them how to throw a punch like I've taught Batman and all these other people. I don't want to get to know them, I'm not like you guys and won't talk with them about their day and their problems." With any of the legacy characters, the one that will have the most affect on the original members would be a son for Ted Grant, which is why we came up with Tom. And there's a lot to Tom. Tom's approach to Ted is going to be very different than what people will expect. Dale, you should talk about Tom a bit, too. Dale and I really worked on Tom's character a lot. Dale came up with a lot of his background.

Dale: He's still so new to me. I need to work with these characters a lot to get to know them and Tom is really quite different than Ted and I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes.

You talked about the legacy here, but are you aiming this series at people who are familiar with the extensive background of the Justice Society or is this a more new reader friendly series?

Geoff: Well, we designed issue #1 to be the kind of issue that anyone can jump in on. I think we've succeeded on that point. With a team like the Justice Society of America, they have a lot of history behind them and I think sometimes readers get nervous about that history, but we've tried to introduce the basics, what you need to know and who the characters are in issue #1 and will continue to focus on it being a very accessible read for those who don't know who the JSA are.

Dale: It's an appropriate jumping on point for new readers, too, because we also have newer characters who are introducing themselves to older characters. It'll be revealing for everybody and the perfect stepping on point.

Geoff: We're focusing on the first storyline completely unfolding only once it's all over. Dale and I just talked about the last scene in the first arc and it really encapsulates what the JSA is and why it stands apart from any other team. Every single person has a family and they can relate in someway to how you interact with your family and what you do and don't get from your family. Some of these characters have fathers and mothers, some have step parents, like Star Girl, who brought her into this and I think that's what the hook is - being a family member. What your duty to family is and what their responsibility is to you. That's something we all deal with and can relate to. I love dusting off old characters, but this book is more about the ideals of family and the emotion that come with that, both good and bad.

How far ahead have you plotted or planned this title and what, if anything, would cause you to deviate from that plan?

Geoff: I always try to plan ahead, but organically things will just change and shift. Sometimes dramatically, sometimes not as much. I think we've roughly got 24 issues plotted already. The first year is pretty tight and then the next 12 are a little looser.

Those previews in that final teaser page, will we see all those events unfold in the first year?

Geoff: Yes. They will see the first one happen in issue #5 and the other ones will happen within the first year. I'm thinking we'll probably do the last page of issue #12 the same way, with a look at the second year in the "Justice Society of America." It's a really fun tool to use because it gives people a preview of what the book is.

Dale: The setup for that page was provided by Alex Ross.

Geoff: Alex did do kind of a sketch, a layout for the page when he first heard about it, I forgout about that, and then Dale went and did his thing.

Dale: It was a treat for me to draw that page, too, just the same as it's a treat for the readers.

We're pretty excited about Hourman and Liberty Bell. Will that wedding story be addressed in the future?

Geoff: We'll eventually hear more about the wedding. Again, the spotlight will rotate on the cast and we'll see more from them. We teased with some romance and we really wanted to have a married couple that was in sync and different than anything else you've seen in the DC Universe.

Coming up soon there'll be a cross-over with the JLA. Do you have any details to share?

Geoff: I can't say much yet, but I can say it's the next story line. Issues #5 and #6 will tie in with "Justice League of America." It will deal heavily with Starman and Sandman. I'm hoping it'll be a tradition we can do every year like they used to.

Who's your favorite new character you guys have created?

Dale: I think I'd have to pick Maxine. I think everyone can relate to her. She's a really poignant figure because of the way she is she sort of drives people away, but she can't help herself and we really like her as a result. A lot of her feelings of rejection are going to be shared not so much with the other members of the team, but between the reader and her. The way she is, she's meant to be a hero. As a hero that personality is going to serve her really well. We'll see her coming into her own as a hero, whereas maybe in life she didn't do as well. There's a lot to cover with her.

Geoff: I agree with Dale. Maxine's my favorite new character because she's very endearing to me and very real. Having a character that's kind of a fan girl, but more importantly someone who tries and tries even a little too hard, she might find a place where people will actually listen to her and give here a chance. Whereas in everyday life she's used to people not listening because she talks so much and gets all her ideas out too often. I love how Dale designed her - I think she's a keeper!

Geoff, you said this was the kind of book you could see yourself working on for 100 issues. Do you have long term goals with that in mind?

Geoff: Well, I went away from the book for a year after being on it for six years and I came back strictly because I thought I could make the book better. Otherwise there's no reason to come back because I was proud of the book as it was. As I come back into these characters lives again, it becomes very personal. I don't know why because I don't own the characters, but this is a very personal book to me. I love the characters and I do have long term plans. Dale and I talk and we're on this book for the long haul. I want the Justice Society of America to be a team in the DC Universe forever so that when I'm 50 years old I can keep reading it.

Dale, do you feel the same way?

Dale: Absolutely. I hope I'm here for 100 issues. I've never felt this comfortable or challenged or fulfilled with any other book. It's got everything I need. After 20 years in comics, it's got a little bit of every book I've ever worked on. I don't think it could ever get any better than this for me. I don't need to be anywhere else anymore.

Geoff: Yeah, I hope we have a good long run.

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