When DC launched the new title “JSA Classified,” it got off to a rip roaring start. The series began last month with a story written by Geoff Johns that provided fans with the origin of Power Girl. That four issue story ends in October, to be followed up in November with “Honor Among Thieves,” a three-issue story that sees the return of the Injustice Society written by Jen Van Meter with art by Patrick Oliffe, as announced today at Wizard World Chicago. CBR News caught up with Jen Van Meter by phone earlier this week to find out what she has in store for this group of DC villains.
OK, let’s get the run down, Jen. What have you got planned for your run three issues of “JSA Classified?”
The title of the story is called “Honor Among Thieves.” It’s essentially a heist story from the point of view of a reunified Injustice Society as we put them together. Icicle is the primary narrator and it’s about these guys getting together to help a friend. In “JLA” #119, we find out the Wizard has a personal problem that he needs to solve and he’s going to put some friends together to help him fix it and they’re going to have an adventure! (laughs) I can’t say a whole lot more than that without giving away the store, but it involves a lot of the heist-themed tropes. They get to make a plan and execute it and deal with surprises they weren’t expecting and so forth.
It’s been a lot of fun to write because when they gave me the gig there wasn’t really a lot of background information on these people and their relationships. So, I kind of got to invent personalities for them that went beyond just standard hostility towards the JSA.
So, you’re getting a chance to evolve the characters a bit?
Yeah, I hope people like the way I’ve done it. I’ve gotten to really mess around with their histories and what I think that means to the way they’re going to talk to and engage each other. It’s fun to show them sort of backstage because when we see them in a “JSA” story and they appear and they’re the threat and pretty much all they do is go “Bwa-ha-ha” and then get the shit kicked out of them. (laughs) It’s exciting to me to kind of try to build up people behind that maneuver so that we see things from their point of view.
It kind of goes hand-in-hand with what you’ve written before, in that you’re very focused on characterization, as is seen with your work on “Hopeless Savages” at Oni. It sounds like you’re bringing that same feeling to this story.
Absolutely! In its own way, I take every group of people I write about and I think to myself, “To the degree that they are a family, what kind of family are they?” So, to the degree that the villains at large in the DCU are a family, who are the black sheep kids, who are the kids everybody loves and who are the ones that are parental figures to the others? What I’m trying to do is approach the three issue story the way anybody would writing a teen book about the heroes. You read something like the way Geoff writes “JSA” or “Teen Titans” or how Winnick is writing “The Outsiders” and you see that not only is there plot, but there’s also a lot of attention paid to which of these people are hooking up, which of these people care about each other, which are hostile towards each other, etc. We don’t usually see that kind of thing with the villains and for me, at least, they’re always more frightening when they’re credible as people. So, I’m hoping this adds another layer to them that other people can use and run with.
Let’s satisfy the fans out there. What’s the line up you’ve put together for this version of the Injustice Society?
They get Icicle, Tigress, Solomon Grundy, The Gentleman Ghost and the Thinker. Then there are a couple of people who are more part of the plot than they are the line-up, but I can’t talk about them yet! (laughs)
Fair enough. So, why the Injustice Society?
It’s funny because the very beginning of this project was a pitch I was making to Steve Whacker for “JSA Classified” for another story. I wanted to do this other story that Steve and I were talking about. We got all excited about it, but then he said there would be some things that would be even better if we could seed them earlier in another event. Initially, he was taking notes and seeing if he could pass them on to whoever was writing #5, #6 & #7. I asked what that was and he said they need a thing that uses the Injustice Society that sets them up again because we’ve got plans for them and want a story that does something for them. I asked who’s writing it, but no one was assigned yet. So, as we talked, we got more excited about the ideas I was throwing out at him and he asked if I wanted to do it. So, that became the gig.
As many things happened in the DCU– or any big, saga oriented line, I’m sure it happens at Marvel too– you have some small needs that need to be fulfilled. I think Geoff Johns has plans for the Injustice Society with this line-up for later. Then I was pretty much told if you can end it with this roster, see what you can come up with. A lot of comics stuff starts out as sort of a task assignment and then it becomes something else. For me, at least, this has become me making these characters really fleshy and less two-dimensional than villains usually are.
I came across an interview you did over on Ninth Art from a few years back in which you said, “One of the hardest things for me in working with either DC or Marvel is that most of the characters I’m interested in are not big sellers…” So, when I read the description of this book and that you’ll be working with the Injustice Society, it made a lot of sense that you’d be writing this story. Is this the kind of stuff at DC you’d more naturally gravitate towards?
In a lot of cases, yeah. You know, if somebody gave me a gig writing “Wonder Woman” or “Superman” or something like that, I would probably love it in theory and be intimidated as hell when it came to sit down and type. These people are so huge to me and their histories are so huge. It’s kind of a two-part thing. I tend to be fairly happy with problem solving tasks, where somebody gives me something and says, “Here’s this guy and nobody really thinks he’s interesting, so could you do something with him?” I take that as a huge challenge and I love that kind of thing. I also tend to be a fan of underdogs, so the characters that haven’t been used a lot or the ones that people seem to say snarky things about, they tend to kind of attract me! (laughs!) I would love to write for some of the bigger characters, but I’m not even sure that’s what I’d be best at because they get so well served.
And those bigger characters are also under tighter editorial control than the lesser known characters, which wouldn’t allow you to experiment quite as much.
Exactly. When you’re off to the side doing something with “Cinnamon,” for instance, you’re really free to just tell story and not worry too much about what someone else might be doing with Cinnamon.
Following up on that, DC has a very tight editorial vision for say the next year to 18 months. Did the rules that are set-up for this overall story they’re crafting interfere with anything you had planned for this story?
Not really and that’s really what a good editor is for. [DC Editor] Steve Wacker has been phenomenal about this kind of stuff, like sending me an e-mail saying, “It looks like the issue that hits the stands in November may be affected by events happening in this other book, so the line where somebody says this, we might want to strike because it might confuse people.” Things like that.
The story I’m doing is sort of woven in to the over arcing plan. I can’t say it’s so off to the side that it’s irrelevant, because obviously these characters are going to leave my story and go do something else, but it has been my good fortune to work with Steven who is doing a lot of the work to make sure I don’t go someplace I’m not supposed to go. It hasn’t been an intrusion at all. It’s actually been a lot of fun because it felt like you’re playing as part of a bigger team and, for me, that’s a lot of fun. It’s nice to kind of feel like I’m getting close to the center of the DCU because like with the “Cinnamon” story I did, which I loved writing, it’s so off to the side that, except for the fact that DC owns her, it doesn’t necessarily affect anything else going on in the DCU. So, I don’t really take that as an intrusion at all.
That makes a lot of sense. OK, let’s finish things up by finding out what else you’ve got coming in the months ahead.
I can’t say anything about what’s next for me at DC, but I have high hopes. I’ve got a graphic novel that I’m beginning to work on for Oni that’s called “The Last Little Woman,” which is a P.I./Noir story set in the 1950s. There will probably be another volume of “Hopeless Savages” sometime in the next year, I hope. We’re still trying to work out exactly what the plan is for using my time the best in getting things to the right artist. That’s it right now, but I hope there will be more to talk about in the near future.
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