Johns on JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA: Unlocking Hidden Potential


[UPDATE: According to Diamond's retailer website, Justice League of America #1, originally solicited to go on sale on February 6, now has an on-sale date of February 20].

It's not surprising that Justice League is one of DC's top-selling titles, with well-known heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and The Flash in its ranks.

But now DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns is setting his sights on writing a second Justice League title that features comparatively unknown characters. Launching on February 6th with art by superstar artist David Finch, Justice League of America will feature a team made up of Katana, Stargirl, Vibe, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, new Green Lantern Simon Baz, Hawkman, and Catwoman.

The formation of the team has been set in motion within the pages of Justice League, and Johns has revealed that the Justice League of America will include the involvement of Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor.

Although many of the characters aren't well known, Johns told us that's the point. He wants to build them into heroes as part of a story that will get a lot of eyes as it launches — and also because it presumably ties into this year's DC event "Trinity War."

Besides its superstar creative team, the title has also gotten a promotional push from DC as the publisher announced there will be 52 variant covers for Justice League of America #1.

As the release of the first issue nears, Newsarama talked with Johns about what readers will experience with Justice League of America and who these characters are in the relaunched universe,.

Newsarama: Geoff, I know you've said one of your goals is to turn these B-listers into A-listers. But is there an overall theme to this book that sets it apart from your other Justice League book?

Geoff Johns: Well, obviously, the question for me was, why do you need another Justice League book? What's the purpose of the team? I didn’t want to do another Justice League book unless it really had a purpose and a mission statement, both creatively for myself as something that was new and challenging and also within the world of the DC Universe – and when I was working on it early on, it hit for me and the overall story of 2013.


I know we only have one chance to hook people, we don’t have Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman, but David and I are extremely passionate about this book and these characters, and I’m trying to accomplish something very different than I’ve done before with this book, both on a writing level and the way I’ve been approaching serialized comic books. Our first issue is 32 pages long, which gave us the room to really put all we could in there. With both Justice League titles, I want to create a tapestry that goes from the big guys – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – to the lesser known and even unknown characters and corners of the DC Universe. And something I've always loved doing — and I've really believed in doing — is taking characters and unlocking their potential.

Nrama: No matter the character.

Johns: There's potential in every single character in comics. Every single one. Most of the most intriguing, and even major, characters in the DC Universe weren’t even introduced in their own books. They appeared somewhere first, be it Showcase or Strange Adventures or Brave and the Bold, and then the writers and artists tapped into them and created something mythic and wonderful.

I gravitate toward looking at a character and seeing what can be unlocked and how you can explore something that's never been explored. People love Batman and Superman and the other main heroes — and they're great. But I also really enjoy tackling characters that people will be surprised by, that people will find themselves drawn to for the first time.

When we first started Green Lantern, people were like, "I can't believe I read Green Lantern." I tried to do that with Justice Society of America and Hawkman and Aquaman — all the characters I've had the honor of working on that people haven't necessarily known or followed before.

So with Justice League of America, it's about unlocking potential. And that goes from both in-story — what the character's mission is — and then what our creative goals are, with David Finch. David is an artist that brings such power and energy and a stunning sense of story, but I don’t think people realize how emotional David’s art can be. He’s bringing out something you’ve never seen in these heroes – and villains.

Other people in the book might have a different idea of what the JLA is built for, and what the team is supposed to do, and why they exist. But Steve Trevor is the heart of the book, and he's the one saying, "These people are overlooked. These people have potential that others don't realize, including themselves." And he can relate to them in many ways. 


Nrama: We've seen so many hints about the "Trinity." How big a role does the JLA play in the Trinity War event? And how important is their role in Trinity War to your overall theme of them becoming the hero they were each meant to be?

Johns: Justice League of America has its own big storyline and its own big world its creating that starts right off with issue #1 and delves into a darker corner of the DC Universe that we have yet to explore.

And that's going to be villains. That's a big piece of what the JLA is.

It will play a big role in Trinity War, but a big role in the DC Universe after that as well. We've got it planned out through 2013 and beyond.

I’ve been working a lot of with Jeff Lemire on our Justice League Universe plans, so I’d really suggest checking out Justice League Dark too. It’s a great book.

Nrama: We've talked to those guys recently about how the title will be more integrated into the DCU. But with the JLA, as the team comes together, are they a secret team at all? Is this something the other "Justice Leagues" doen't know about? That seems to be the way Green Arrow and Steve Trevor are functioning so far.

Johns: Steve Trevor and Green Arrow are working on things separately, and they made an agreement that we'll learn more about. But Justice League of America and forming a team like that is the last thing on their mind. And how this all comes about is front-and-center in issue #1.

But no, the team will not remain secret. It's actually going to be a pretty public event – they are the Justice League of America now, and this is what the Justice League of America does, and this is who's on it.

There's going to be a big push for a public awareness for who they JLA is, within the book.

Nrama: You had mentioned that Stargirl had played a role as a public face of the JLA? She's a celebrity?

Johns: She is. Stargirl is a celebrity. They picked her partly because of research. She's tested really well with audiences. And she's a perfect spokesman for the Justice League of America. So they bring her in under the guise that she's a hero that has this potential and is a part of this big team, but she soon finds out that they really just want her to be a figurehead, a symbol of the team in the public's eye, and someone who will justify the team to any naysayers out there.

Nrama: I bet she'll prove she's a little bit more than that.

Johns: Well, when they first tell her... they go off on a mission and someone tells her, "hey, no, no, no, little girl you're not going anywhere." And she says, "What are you talking about?" And they say, "you're just here for the cameras. So smile!" That drives her crazy. But we’ll also see another side to Stargirl we’ve never seen before. There’s more to her than what Amanda Waller believes. 


Nrama: We've seen you write Hawkman before. How different will this take on him be, or is it informed quite a bit by your time on that comic?

Johns: This Hawkman... you'll know clearly where Hawkman's coming from — why he's here, what he's doing, and a bit of a mystery about him in issue #1.

Then in issue #2, you'll see him interact with the team in a way that is extremely different than how we've ever seen Hawkman interact with a team before.

This Hawkman's a different Hawkman than the one I wrote in Justice Society of America, who was a little more regal, as the reincarnated warrior. But this is an extra-terrestrial from Thanagar, who's on Earth, and we’ll learn why. He's an incredible, brutal character, but an incredibly complex character. To say he’s a barbarian with wings is oversimplifying, but that’s what many see him as. He’s got a bit of a haunted past, and the people he ends up connecting the most with in the JLA will surprise even him.

Nrama: Vibe was surprising to see on the team when the book was announced, but having talked to Andrew Kreisberg and David Finch and you about this character, it sounds like you guys have some big plans for him. Does he embody the overall theme of Justice League of America? This idea of people finding their potential?

Johns: Yeah. David Finch and I talk a lot about Vibe. We recognize that the character is an extremely obscure character, extremely minor character, and a character that, quite honestly, didn't have a lot of fans the first time around – if any at all, but that's what intrigues us with something like this. You could have said the same thing about Mera, before we brought her in. People knew who she was but they didn't really have a sense of who she is. We're going to do that with a couple of characters and see what happens. I think everyone’s counting him out, and that’s okay. It’s consistent with who he is and it’s exactly the reaction we expected.

But I really love, again, taking these characters — there's a really exciting challenge in taking a character like Hawkman or Katana and look at them and explore them in a way that's never been done before and see if you can capture people's imaginations.

I thought about a lot of characters for this team. And I went through a lot of characters, considering what ones would work and why, and what would be interesting to explore. There was a huge list of potential recruits. There still is in my notebook.

I got to Vibe, who was on this big list because he’s a former member of the Justice League. And I looked at the character and started to think about what he can be and what he could connect to. And what his arc would be. And what drives him. What makes him afraid? What does he want? How have the experiences in his life built him to this point? And how will he fit in with the JLA? Because really, it's about that. At the end of the day, you know, you want great team dynamics and he brings something that’s different than anyone else.

He was just chosen because the concept grew organically. As soon as David and Brian Cunningham and I started talking about him, it became something bigger than I think any of us ever thought it would be. So he's earned a place on the team.

Nrama: You're writing the back-up stories about Martian Manhunter, and while we've seen him in Stormwatch, his character still feels like a mystery. How do you describe him and his role on the team?

Johns: Martian Manhunter is the biggest secret, I think. He's the biggest secret, I think for the JLA as a team, and within the DC Universe. He has more ties to more things in the DC Universe than you could ever imagine, and those are going to be explored heavily within JLA and also within the back-up series he has.

The reason that Martian Manhunter is in the back-up is because of the role he'll be playing. Just like Shazam will play an integral role to Justice League as that continues on, Martian Manhunter is central to Justice League of America and the bigger DC Universe.

And his back-ups that I'm doing with Matt Kindt — and Matt's a terrific writer — are going to really build off what's happening in the series. So you'll see it from a different point of view. You'll see it from his point of view and some of the mystery surrounding Martian Manhunter will be explored in those back-ups and revealed, and how that affects the JLA.

Nrama: With Katana and Catwoman, it feels like they're more helpful with the ground-level missions for the team. But why is Catwoman there if they're looking for good PR?

Johns: Well, not everybody will stand on the stage. There's a very strategic reason Catwoman is on the team. And she's somebody that doesn't want to be a part of this team. Obviously Catwoman wouldn't want to be part of the JLA. But there's something that's offered to her that reveals a little bit more about her that makes her decide to agree to this.

She is not in the public spotlight for the team. She's a member that's off to the side. Yet she's actually the most integral character to the first arc of the series.

Nrama: But you know how readers analyze the team make-up, and I'm sure you thought about it. Katana and Catwoman aren't as powerful as Martian Manhunter, so they're kind of the street-level team members. No?

Johns: This team is not built so much by... well, you'll see why the team's built the way it is. And there's a specific reason Katana's on the team.

That soul sword of hers is extremely powerful. It can cut through anything. And it’s said to imprison any soul it takes within it.

And Catwoman was able to break into A.R.G.U.S.'s black room in her book and escape. And they need somebody like that on this team. Catwoman can get anywhere and get out before anyone knows it.

That's not something Katana does often. She leaves a string of bodies wherever she goes. But sometimes you want to leave a string of bodies where you go to prove a point. At least, according to Amanda Waller. 

Nrama: We've seen how you write Simon Baz as Green Lantern. But what about Green Arrow? How will his interaction with Green Lantern evolve? And can you describe how these characters play into the team?

Johns: Sure. We're going to have some fun with Green Arrow, and we saw him join the Justice League in issue #8. He didn't, but then things kind of came around and he and Steve Trevor have kind of a working agreement. As I said before, they're investigating something on the side. And Green Arrow isn't someone that Steve Trevor necessarily trusts. I think he believes in him as a hero more than Oliver might believe in himself at this point. But those two characters have a lot in common and that relationship's going to be central to the team.

Green Arrow's motivations for being with the team and his role on the team are going to change over the first arc.

I think Green Lantern and how he gets involved in the team, and why he's on the team, is probably going to be the most antagonistic — not necessarily for him, but for the people trying to manipulate him.

This JLA is not a team that is just set up and they're off and running and punching Despero in the face. They have their orders and they have their missions and people are trying to control them. And that's something that Simon Baz doesn't respond well to. Neither do any of the other members. Waller will have her hands full.

Nrama: I know you've said with the Justice League book that the team make-up will change as the book continues, and it will become more of a "league." Is the Justice League of America a "league" in that sense, where the line-up changes? Or are these the characters who will be on the team for awhile?

Johns: This is the team for awhile.

I wouldn't want to get too far ahead of us. There are more characters involved, but they just aren't on the cover.

Nrama: You've talked a lot about how you and David Finch have discussed characters. To finish up the interview, how has it been working with David Finch?

Johns: I absolutely love working with him. As I said, he’s bringing such amazing work to this book, it’s truly the work of his career. The discussions we’ve had on character and story, he’s unbelievably thoughtful about every line he puts on the page. This is the first time David and I are working together after talking about it for so long and we’re determined to make it the best book we can possibly make it.

It’s not every day you get a shot at working with one of the best artists in comics and I want to give him, the characters and the readers the best work I possibly can. Often readers say, “I’ll give the book four issues.” Give us one. Only one. That’s all David and I want and I think that’s all we’ll need.

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