Building the Society

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They are the first, and to many, the greatest superhero team. But after their previous series ended with JSA #87, the Justice Society has been largely missing from the comics racks. Next month, that is about to change and the group is set to return with both new and familiar faces in Justice Society of America #1. Writer Geoff Johns talked with Broken Frontier about the new series and what the Justice Society means to him and to the DC Universe.

BROKEN FRONTIER: The Justice Society is re-launching with a much bigger lineup than ever before. What prompted such a dramatic expansion of the cast?

GEOFF JOHNS: It’s story-motivated, which means that after certain events in the DC Universe, the superhero community is just sprawling, there are new heroes emerging. The Justice Society—Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, etc.—really want this to be a real society, a presence for the new mystery men that are popping up and crossing paths with the JSA.

BF: With so many new characters being introduced, is there a danger of the existing members being pushed to the background?

GJ: Well, you know, it’s like Legion of Superheroes . We want to make this a big team. We want a lot of characters on it. We want this to be the center-point of the DC Universe where new heroes are appearing. The spotlight will always be rotating but it’s going to be very character-driven. It’s time for some new blood.

BF: Are there any characters that you came close to including but ultimately decided to pass on?

GJ: I can’t really say. There’s a certain character we wanted but there are plans for that character elsewhere.

BF: Aside from the larger team, are there other ways that this series will differ from JSA?

GJ: Yes. It’s tailored to be more accessible, despite the increasing roster. Issue 1 is extremely accessible. The stories are going to be a little bit more focused on character, where JSA was very heavy on plot. Hopefully, I’m taking everything I’ve learned from working with Grant [Morrison] and Mark [Waid] and the others on 52 and from working in comics the last few years. I’m trying to make Justice Society of America the best the book has been. But at the same time, it will be different from JSA and hopefully, a better book for it.

BF: The theme of legacy, which has been so important to the JSA, is appearing with increasing frequency around the DC Universe. Do you ever get concerned that the DCU could become too insular, recycling so many classic codenames and concepts?

GJ: Well, it’s not about recycling. The DC Universe has always been about history. Look at the current Mr. Terrific and the original Mr. Terrific. They’re vastly different characters. The only thing they share is a codename—different costume, different M.O., and so forth. There’s a core concept within that character that’s been passed on but it’s been modernized and taken in a new direction. And that’s really what it’s all about. For me, that’s the JSA legacy, what it means to be a legacy character. The DCU has a long, rich history and there’s no sense ignoring that.

BF: Occasionally, a jaded fan will accuse the JSA of being outdated or redundant among the various other super-teams. What defines this group to you and why are they so special?

GJ: They’re not outdated at all. Anyone who says the JSA is just old men hasn’t really given the book a chance. The team is full of younger heroes and adult heroes in there alongside the older guard—Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Wildcat—who have a place as well, right where they should be. The JSA differs from all teams in that it’s multi-generational. There’s no other team out there that has so many different generations represented.

And that’s incredibly important to me, that bond that the team shares. The JSA feels much more responsible than other teams in some ways because they don’t fight amongst themselves as much and they’re not hunted by the world or whatever. There’s too much cynicism in comics today and I see the JSA as a beacon against that. They still have those ups and downs and darkness and light but they’re a more well-rounded team.

Anyone who thinks that they’re outdated or that they have no role doesn’t really understand the importance of the responsibility they carry. You know, "Who watches the watchmen?"

BF: Moving on to some of the specifics of the characters—Very little has been revealed about the new Starman or Commander Steel or what may even be a new Sandman. What, if anything, can you tell us about them?

GJ: Umm…nothing.

BF: [laughs] Fair enough. Maintaining the element of surprise. I know you can’t reveal too much but could you speak a little about why you wanted some of the new members, what you feel they add to the group?

GJ: They all add something new, Starman, and Commander Steel, and the new Liberty Belle. And as for bringing Damage in—Damage is the son of the original Atom. Between his old book where he exploded and destroyed part of his hometown in Georgia and things he’s gone through in Titans, emotional ups and downs, to now coming full circle in Infinite Crisis, he’s just a very complex character. Perhaps a bit more heroic than he thought he would be. He’s one of the first characters who, you know, outright rejected his legacy. He’s going to be different than anything else that’s come before.

And someone like Maxine Hunkel is a completely different character but I really wanted to bring a new face to the team. We have older men and older women but she’s kind of the new fresh face, a big fangirl that’s come on board. And then Starman and Liberty Belle and Commander Steel—it’s all just injecting new blood and new feeling. All were brought in to push personality to its fullest. These guys are all going to really contrast with the others.

BF: New member Obsidian was recently revealed as being gay. As his father, Green Lantern Alan Scott, is from an earlier, more conservative generation, will this be a source of conflict?

GJ: Alan’s been around. He’s seen a lot. Maybe he didn’t expect it necessarily but he can accept it. If he can accept The Spectre as an avenging ghost, I think he can accept a gay son.

BF: Mr. Terrific is now a big part of the Checkmate series, as that organization’s White King. Does being on a team with "America" in its name present a conflict of interest with his new political role?

GJ: You will be seeing that throughout Checkmate in the coming months.

BF: In the wake of Infinite Crisis, Power Girl is the last survivor of Earth-2. Will we be learning why she survived when the rest of her world faded to nothingness?

GJ: Yes. You’ll see her in the first issue and yes, that will be a story down the line with her. Power Girl’s going to be a big player in the first year of Justice Society of America.

BF: When Jakeem Thunder was introduced, he was said to be the seventh son of a seventh son. He met one of his lost brothers in Paul Levitz’s JSA run. Are there any plans to explore Jakeem’s family further?

GJ: Down the line most likely, though not in the immediate future.

BF: Stargirl is a character that’s very important to you, obviously. Can you give us some thoughts on how far this character has come and how she has changed in the past few years?

GJ: Yeah, she’s obviously the most important character to me on the team, as I created her. I’ve really just loved seeing her grow up. And the fact that she was on Justice League Unlimited was awesome. It’s been fun to see that character grow from an inexperienced teenager who kind of took the mantle up for the wrong reasons to being one of the JSA’s mainstays. She’s kind of the cheerleader, the embodiment of the spirit of the group. That’s pretty evident in how she deals with some of the characters in the first couple issues, especially issue 2.

BF: One of the dangling plot threads of the previous series is The Crimson Avenger. We’ve gotten a few hints about her history but will we be seeing a full origin story eventually?

GJ: There’ve been talks about doing that. I’d love to write a Crimson Avenger miniseries and I know some fans even want an ongoing. She’s a different kind of character, a darker character, and I know her entire history in my head. I’d like to do that at some point but not just yet. I like maintaining a bit of mystery about the character.

BF: You’ve been writing the JSA for around seven years now. What are some of the highlights of that time that stick out in your mind?

GJ: I was really happy with the Injustice Society storyline, "The Return of Hawkman," "Black Reign"…I just love working with the characters. I think they’re some of the best and most original characters in comics. They’re just fantastic characters so, I don’t know, highlights? The whole thing. I love the Justice Society of America.

BF: In your opinion, what does new penciller Dale Eaglesham bring to the series?

GJ: Emotion. He never uses stock emotions. He has probably the most original take on body language, from humor to fear to tragedy, he knows it all so well. He captures the quirkiness of some of the characters just remarkably. He really brings sort of a real world grounding and humanizing effect to the cast. I think he captures a sense of personality that hasn’t been captured before. There’s a subtlety to it. The best thing about Dale is that I can have a character just standing around and he draws it in such a great and surprising way.

BF: Can you talk briefly about Alex Ross’ role in the new Justice Society book?

GJ: Alex has been a big fan of the book. He came on [as cover artist] before I left JSA. We always talked about bringing in more people and doing something together. He’s not only coming on with covers and giving his input but also we’re going to be co-plotting an arc in the last half of the year. He’s been just terrific, coming out with a lot of character designs and some exceptional things. It’s been fun to build towards our story. You’ll get a hint of that story in issue 1.

BF: Finally, to end on a lighter note— Ma Hunkel is still as spry as ever despite being in her eighties. What’s her secret?

GJ: Wearing a pot on her head for so long. It protects her from the sun’s rays. She’s a fun character. She fills that great Jarvis role [as the team’s caretaker] but almost in a better way, a warmer way. That’s really so representative of the Justice Society.

Justice Society of America #1 is set to be released December 6. For a preview of the issue, click here.

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