Willingham and Sturges Talk Justice Society of America
Willingham & Sturges Talk JSA
Justice Society of America fans didn't have to wait long to find out who's taking over the comic when Geoff Johns leaves next year. As announced here on Newsarama on Christmas Eve by DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio, JSA will be written by Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges beginning with Issue #26.
Along with DC titles like Shadowpact and Salvation Run, Willingham is best known as writer of the Eisner Award-winning series Fables, the Vertigo comic that topped Diamond's graphic novel sales chart last month and is being developed for television by ABC. While Sturges is also involved in the Fables universe as co-writer of the spin-off Vertigo series Jack of Fables, he's also writing the ongoing House of Mystery title and recently finished a run on Blue Beetle.
"They have this incredible story they're working on in Fables right now where they're crossing over all the Fables books, so we're just waiting for them to come free of their Fables schedule a little, and then they're going to be taking over Justice Society on a regular basis," DiDio said.
Although Justice Society of America was given a new #1 issue and title in 2006, the new series was written by Geoff Johns, who had been a writer on the former JSA title from 1999 through 2006. As a result, the comic has maintained a pretty constant tone for the last decade, while growing from reaching a group of loyal readers to becoming a Top 10 title for DC during the last year.
As DC makes the switch to new writers – with the new artist yet to be announced – Newsarama talked with Sturges and Willingham about their upcoming run on the series and what might come next for the Justice Society of America.
Newsarama: How did you guys end up hearing about this job? Was this something you've known for awhile?
Matt Sturges: Dan DiDio was walking past me in San Diego, at the hotel, and he puts his arm around my shoulder and he says, "Matt, how do you feel about the JSA?" And I said, "I like the JSA! I like them a lot!" And he says, "Good! I'll get back to you!"
Bill Willingham: I found out at breakfast with Dan and [DC Story Editor] Ian Sattler and [DC Coordinating Editor] Jann Jones in San Diego. In the midst of talking, Dan says, "Oh yeah! And we want you to write JSA." And I said, "Uh... OK!" Then later on, talking to Matt, he was saying, "Yeah! And I think I'm taking over JSA." And I was like, wait a minute, huh? So I talked to Dan about it and he said, "Oh! Yeah! You're writing it together!"
NRAMA: When he talked to you about the Justice Society, what were your first thoughts? Were you familiar with the Justice Society?
BW: Who's not familiar with the Justice Society? What self-respecting person in the comic book world is not familiar with the Justice Society? It's like being in the Olympic swimming world and not quite knowing what water is. You can't not know that.
MS: JSA has been one of my favorite books for a long time, and I've really enjoyed what Geoff has done on the book. And the new series that started just a couple years ago has really been a must-read, get-it-when-it-comes-out book for me.
NRAMA: Matt, this is a pretty big comic for somebody who's newly DC exclusive, isn't it?
MS: Oh yeah, it's a really big opportunity for me. And I think it will be one of those make-or-break things. I don't want to mess up a cornerstone of the DC Universe, but if I can pull this off – and I think I can pull this off – then it's an opportunity to shine. And an opportunity to work with some of the best characters in the DCU.
NRAMA: Although you've each done different things both inside and outside the DCU, comic book readers are probably most familiar with your work on Fables and Jack of Fables. People who are fans of those books – are they going to see some of that flavor in JSA? Or are you approaching it in a completely different way?
BW: Sure. Matt and I are slowly going to move some of the characters you're familiar with out of the book and replace them with talking ducks and cows and goats. And they will actually be legacy characters to some golden age or silver age character you've never heard of.
MS: [laughs] And we're changing the name of the book to the Justice Society of Animals.
NRAMA: They're joking, people. They're joking. But seriously, can you see the reason for a comparison between the comics? Justice Society has a mythology of its own, doesn't it?
BW: Well, the Justice Society is the Fables of the superhero world. It's a giant cast of legendary heroes from old that are being continuously updated. My god, now that I think of it, it's exactly like Fables.
MS: But without the talking animals.
BW: I may have to turn this down now, simply because, now that you've drawn these comparisons, why write the same thing twice? No, but hopefully, we'll bring the same moments of drama and terrible loss and jeopardy punctuated by inappropriate bathroom humor that inform the Fables/Jack of Fables kind of work.
MS: [laughs] JSA does have a similarly epic feel and ensemble cast. But you know, there's also the elements of lightheartedness and charm that Bill does so well in Fables and that I think has always been a cornerstone of what the JSA is about. It goes beyond people in tights beating people up. There's this notion of continuity and family and genuine feeling.
BW: It's an actual society. They aren't the Justice Club or the Justice Machine. They're the Justice Society with all that name implies.
NRAMA: You're following a long run on Justice Society by Geoff Johns. And talking to other writers, there seem to be two schools of thought on following a run like that: You either try your best to continue that run, or you just go in a completely different direction and don't worry about trying to match what the last guy did. What are your thoughts on that as you start on Justice Society?
MS: Well, Geoff's a tough act to follow. And this is something that I also experienced coming in after John Rogers on Blue Beetle – because that was a very beloved run with a strong fan base – and I think what I did then, and what we're going to do in this case, is we're not going to think in terms of what Geoff did vs. what we're doing. We're just going to come up with the stories we want to tell, and we're going to tell them the best way we know how.
BW: I for one am not going to attempt to be Geoff Johns-like because, what a silly thing that would be to even attempt. It's going to be about the stories and the characters. It's going to be a grand, sweeping, exciting book. We have lots of interesting things planned.
NRAMA: Let's talk about the characters. Will the characters on this team stay the same as you come on board? The team is pretty large right now...
MS: It is pretty big. And we will be addressing that.
BW: In a way that will be profound and exciting.
MS: Yes! It takes two writers to write this book now.
BW: You can tell we're not going to say anything related to who's on the team. You'll just have to wait and find out.
NRAMA: But are there any characters that are just a "given" that will be sticking around? Characters that are necessary for it to still be called the Justice Society?
BW: See, now, that's a dirty reporter trick. We didn't answer the first question, so she comes back another way, thinking that by process of elimination, if we say who is definitely on the team, then she can figure out who is and isn't on the team.
NRAMA: [laughs] I'm busted! But surely you can understand the interest from JSA fans in what might be changing as you take over.
BW: Well, there are some things that aren't going to change – the idea that this is a home for legacy characters of DC's past. That will not change. And the idea that they consider themselves a family as much as a superhero team. That will not change. Why mess with things like that? What else are we not changing, Matt?
MS: We're not changing the line-up in a substantial way, at least not at first. Readers will very much recognize the cast of this book. There's not going to be a wild departure from what's come before.
BW: Ah, see? You answered her question. I wanted to be vague and obscure about that.
MS: Oh, then I take it back. We're changing everything. Now you can decide which one of my statements is true.
NRAMA: I'm banking on the former. As I'm sure you know, there are a lot of long-time fans of the Justice Society who've been reading everything related to this team for years – for decades, really – so to finish up the interview, I'd just ask: Is there anything you want to tell JSA fans as they react to the news that you're the new writers?
BW: In all seriousness, I just want to reassure everyone that these characters are beloved to me. And to Matt as well. We're not going to do the new, dark Golden Age Flash or things like that. All of the standard stuff that people will sometimes do to inject some "life" back into an old property? That's ridiculous. That's not going to happen here. The life of these Justice Society stories comes from just constructing good stories and characters that are both interesting and, in most cases, people you would want to consider friends.
MS: And in this book, maybe more than any other in the DC Universe, this is a book where you want to be true to the these characters. You don't want to mess with them. You don't want to mess with success. So our goal is that long-term readers of the book are going to see the characters that they're familiar with.
Like Bill said, there are going to be a lot of sweeping, epic things happening with the book, and the conclusion of the first sweeping thing is, I think, pretty startling. But it will still be the characters you know and love, because we care about them just like all of you do.