The Seven Super-Samurai: Ben Raab on 'JLA: Shogun of Steel'

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Mix one part wuxia story, and one part Justice League and what do you get?

If you're Ben Raab, you get the new Elseworlds special, "JLA: Shogun of Steel" coming from DC Comics on February 6.

"Instead of landing in 20th century Smallville, Kansas, Superman's rocket lands several centuries earlier in ancient Japan during a time of civil unrest," Raab told CBR News. "But he's not the only Kryptonian who arrives ... Years later, after one of them -- the 'Shogun of Steel' -- has dominated the land of the rising sun, the other must help a group of rebels to take back the divided nation and unite it under the banner of a NEW Shogun ..."

There was a time when nearly all Elseworld tales were Batman books, and the few that weren't were Superman books. "Shogun of Steel" may have "JLA" in the title, but there's no question as to who's the star.

"Actually, this started out as a Superman Elseworlds, but it was later decided to drape it in the 'JLA' banner because of some of the other characters that appear in the book. And, of course, because of the high interest in JLA projects, these days. And if that's what it takes to draw people's attention to it, then I'm behind it completely. Superman is still the central figure around which 90 percent of the plot revolves, but this isn't just his story so it makes sense to share the billing, so to speak."

As to who those other characters are, Raab is staying tight-lipped.

"Well, let's just say there are analogs to some of the current DCU heroes ... but not all of them are immediately recognizable. People will just have to check it out to see who turns up ... and in what form ..."

"Shogun of Steel" was born in part because the name worked for Raab, and partly out of a fascination with the Pacific Rim.

"I don't know if it's because of some innate fascination with that part of the world, or the fact that I grew up on Godzilla movies and cartoons like G-Force, but Asian motifs seem to keep sneaking into a lot of my work lately. Whether it be Hong Kong action flicks like the movies of John Woo, or modern Chinese fables like 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' or just about any Akira Kurosawa film, I'm drawn to Eastern stories. They always seem so epic, so mystical and so tragic. Which is exactly what we were going for with 'Shogun of Steel.' It has all that, and more."

With manga-influenced comics still popular with many fans, some Asia-themed projects might have gone that route artistically, but Raab left the decision in Justiniano's hands, and he ended up with a more Western comics look to the work.

"I trust Josue's artistic vision implicitly. Whichever direction he wanted to go with the look of the book, I supported 150 percent. I think readers will be really amazed at what he's done with this story. The art is simply breathtaking."

Beyond "Shogun of Steel," Raab is keeping busy for the next few months.

"First up is my contribution to DC's 9/11 Benefit book ... A 4-page story entitled 'A Tale of Two Americans' drawn by Roger Robinson. It was a real honor to be included in this project, alongside some of the industry's greatest creators. I sincerely hope people will check it out, as it's all for a great cause.

"Then there's 'The Phantom: The Ghost Killer,' due out sometime this February. It's a 48-page one shot featuring the Ghost Who Walks, drawn by Spanish artist Fernando Blanco. It's the first in a series of self-contained, prestige format graphic novels being published by Moonstone Books. Future stories of mine which should be out sometime later this year include 'The Singh Web' (also drawn by Fernando) and 'The Hunt' (drawn by Lou Manna). What makes this series of Phantom adventures so exciting is the fact that because each issue is its own story, every single one is a great jumping on point for readers both new and old. I'm also one of the contributing writers to Egmont's 'Fantomen' series in Scandinavia, and will have a couple more stories out overseas this year, as well.

"On the heels of that comes 'Cryptopia,' my creator-owned book with artist Pat Quinn that's debuting as part of the 'Image Introduces' series by Image Comics. It's the story of Dr. Shannon Palmer, a cryptozoologist looking to prove the existence of creatures ranging from Bigfoot to the Loch Ness Monster to dozens of other hidden species we don't even know about ... yet. The first issue is a 22-page prologue to a much larger 'murder mystery adventure' that's part Jurassic Park, part Usual Suspects. Although the book debuts on April 3rd, we're already in the process of selling the option to develop Cryptopia into films and a possible television series to Goodman/Rosen productions here in Hollywood.

"I've also completed a couple of Green Lantern-related stories. One is the lead story for the upcoming 'Green Lantern Secret Files & Origins.' The other is this year's 'Green Lantern' annual. And then there's the fill-in issue I did for the Superman office which I believe will be appearing in the May issue of 'Action Comics.'

"I'm also helping develop a new comic magazine entitled 'Comiculture' alongside industry vets like Klaus Janson, Steve Buccellato, Don Hudson, Marc Siry and Rob Tokar. It's an anthology series featuring a wide variety of stories that highlight just how diverse comic books can be. We're shooting to have the first issue out at San Diego Con. There'll also be a Web site showcasing the projects that will act as a complement to the book. More on this as things develop.

"And finally, to bring things full circle, there's a project Josue and I are working on for DC which I'm not sure if I'm at liberty to discuss right now, so let's just leave it at that and tell your readers to stay tuned!

"So, yeah, I'm keepin' busy ..."

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