Marc Guggenheim is immersed in the world of DC Comics.
Not only is the writer co-writing film treatments for The Flash and Green Lantern 2, but DC has announced Guggenheim will be taking over the Justice Society of America comic in October.
With Justice Society of America, Guggenheim intends to turn the group into a true "society" over time, telling a story about how the team adopts a city and develops it into a place for superheroes. According to Guggenheim, this new direction will honor the idea of the JSA being a "tent" for superheroes, while doing something fresh and new with the comic.
And it's not surprising to find out that Guggenheim is choosing to focus on Jay Garrick, The Flash. He's currently working on a treatment for The Flash film with Michael Green and Greg Berlanti. The screenwriting trio last worked on the script for the Green Lantern movie that's now in production in New Orleans.
Known as the "JSA," the team has gone through some growing pains recently after the title was relaunched in 2006. Writer Geoff Johns and artist Dale Eaglesham introduced new characters to the team and brought back some old ones, swelling the team's numbers to the extent that DC eventually divided the team in two.
In 2009, co-writers Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges took over Justice Society and told the story of how the team was split, which launched a new title, JSA All-Stars. Willingham continued to write the main title, while Sturges began writing All-Stars. (According to Guggenheim, his new Justice Society of America stories don't affect JSA All-Stars.)
Newsarama talked to Guggenheim to find out more about his film treatment work, what happened to his Action Comics story, and what readers can expect from his upcoming run on Justice Society of America.
Newsarama: Marc, let's start with what feels like the elephant in the room. Most DC readers remember you being announced as the writer on Action Comics, with a run that was supposed to begin in June. That didn't come to fruition, and instead you're on JSA. What happened?
Marc Guggenheim: They're two independent things. With respect to Action Comics, no one is going to believe me, but I'll go with the truth. The truth is, it's pretty much what DC announced. When I came on Action Comics, I started working on Superman ideas, then found out Superman would be unavailable for 10 months. I started pitching things that were Lex Luthor-centered. The story evolved, as DC said, and it evolved into something that I thought was really cool, but very far outside my wheelhouse.
I just didn't think that I could do justice to the idea. It's funny, reading [Action Comics writer] Paul [Cornell]'s first issues, I immediately went, like, "See? My instincts were right. I would not have done this as well as Paul has."
And there's not anything behind it any more exciting than that. It was just me realizing that the story had evolved into something I wouldn't be able to write as well. They went off and talked to Paul, and the rest is history.
Nrama: So your project turned into Justice Society instead?
Guggenheim: They happened upon independent lines. What happened was, my very first project for DC has yet to see print. Because I'm not going to announce it here, I'll say it put me in touch with Mike Carlin.
Mike and I have had a relationship for several years now. We were always talking about things to do together, and over the years, he's pitched me different things. I've been unable to do them for any number of scheduling reasons.
A few months ago, he said, look, I'm looking to do an inventory arc for Justice Society. Would I be interested? And I said, yes, I would be interested. And we started talking. And while we were talking, Bill Willingham made the decision to leave. So Mike called me up and said, "Look, new development. Bill is leaving JSA. The inventory arc you were thinking of writing... any interest in making it a longer commitment?"
We started talking, and the idea that started developing was much bigger than just one little inventory arc, and it was incredibly compelling to me. Really, really interesting.
In many ways, it's a really good example when you compare it to what I just described with Action Comics. With that comic, it was discussions with the editors where the story evolved in a direction that was away from my skill set. And with JSA, the exact opposite thing happened, where Mike and I were talking and the story evolved in a way that was toward my skill set. So it's kind of ironic that both projects were developing at the same time, but evolved in completely different directions.
And Justice Society evolved closer to my comfort level.
Nrama: When you say this evolved in a way that made you comfortable, can you tell us where it evolved?
Guggenheim: Yeah. Let me start with what I didn't want to do.
I felt like the exploration of the past, in terms of legacy characters, and in terms of Nazis, and in terms of World War II, was ground that was fairly well-traveled by the time I come upon the book.
I felt like, if I'm going to write the JSA, I need to come up with something that honors who the team is as an identity, especially in the latest volume, when Geoff Johns relaunched the book from JSA to Justice Society of America. He developed the notion that the Justice Society is about being a big tent for superheroes, honoring the past by servicing the future. The future being the legacy heroes and the next generation of superheroes.
As Mike and I were talking, one of the things that Mike threw out was evolving it from a team with a dozen characters to an actual society. And as we talked about that, which was Mike's notion, I thought it was really interesting. And as we talked about it, we hit upon the idea that, what if there's a city that the JSA becomes involved with?
From there, I started asking the question, why this city? What's special about this city? Why now? And what got me excited about writing this is, we had the makings of a story that honored the roots of the JSA, in terms of their mission statement, but wasn't so steeped in the past. It was fresh and new.
And the best part, I have never seen it done with a superhero team before.
I feel like the JSA would always be treated as a B+ version of the Justice League if they were always looking backward instead of looking forward. And what was exciting about this story was it really involves a forward-looking approach of, the team is going to actually adopt a city to rebuild.
That city will eventually become, will evolve into, a society of superheroes.
So we'll be breaking new ground in the DC Universe by the introduction of this city, the destruction of this city, and the JSA's adoption of this city. And all that happens in the first two issues.
Nrama: So the city gets destroyed within the first two issues, and the JSA decides to rebuild it, and somehow it becomes this city that is a society of superheroes.
Guggenheim: Correct. Now, the society part doesn't happen in the first two issues. That's something that's going to evolve over time. But by the end of the second issue, the JSA has decided to adopt this city as their own.
The city is destroyed as the result of a huge supervillain fight. Most supervillain fights end with the heroes flying off into the sunset, and you never really discuss what happens to a city after that. What about all the property damage? Who rebuilds all this stuff?
This time, the heroes wouldn't fly off into the sunset. This time, the city wouldn't be rebuilt between the panels, but would be rebuilt as part of a larger arc. And we'll see what happens when the JSA decides to adopt this city, and how that affects other superheroes in the DC Universe.
And that gets into the more long-range and long-term effects of those first two issues, and the length and breadth of the arc.
Nrama: You spoke before about your "skill set," and being very familiar with what you've written in the past, not only at DC and Marvel, but also in television, I'm formulating in my head that this is going to be a story with emotional overtones as well. It sounds like it starts out very dark, and it sounds like it's large in scale with this whole city, but does it evolve into something more personal and inspirational?
Guggenheim: Yeah, one of the things I do well, I think anyway, is combining different tones. The first issue is fairly dark, but there are still some really inspiring, emotional moments just within those first few pages. So you definitely have a few rays of sunshine. It's not all doom and gloom. It's very much in tone with the DC Universe. It's not a radical departure from what we've seen. It's not even a radical departure from what we've seen in the JSA books.
But what I'm trying to do is, by necessity, I've had to infuse it with a gravity and an immediacy that maybe hasn't been present before, simply because, like I said, the destruction of a city is usually another day at the office for superheroes.
If I'm going to take the important step of a city being adopted by a superhero team, I have answer the question, "Well, why doesn't this happen all the time?" And "why hasn't this happened before?"
I want to keep some of my cards close to the vest, because the answers to those questions are specific to the JSA. And they're a little bit of a mystery, so you'll need to read the second issue to discover what those answers are.
Nrama: One of the things that happened with Geoff relaunched the book was the JSA got very big. And that was cited as a reason the book split into two books. With you saying this is now a "society," does that make this team big again? And does the Justice Society of America book now affect the future of JSA All-Stars?
Guggenheim: No, nothing I'm doing is affecting JSA All-Stars. I think it's all in the kind of book this is becoming. It's going to become a very different kind of book than it was when Geoff was writing it. What Geoff was doing that was very cool was, he was doing a traditional superhero story, you know, where they fight a supervillain, and he was doing it with this very large team. And I thought that was incredibly ambitious and far beyond my capabilities. It really takes a writer like Geoff who writes these sort of operatic stories. He's able to paint on a much larger canvas.
If I'm going to do something with so many characters, I need to change the focus a little bit. There are still a lot of characters in my book, with it being this "society" concept, but I would almost draw comparisons not so much to Geoff's run on JSA with all those characters, but more like Matt Fraction's run on Uncanny X-Men, where he's got so many X-Men to service, and he's come up with various different ways for us to constantly be shifting our focus. That's something along the lines of what I'm going to do with Justice Society of America.
Nrama: Are you going to be starting with the same basic cast of characters that Bill Willingham was using?
Guggenheim: Believe it or not, I'm starting with even a slightly smaller cast of characters. In my first issue, I'll tell you who's appearing: It's Dr. Fate, Lightning, Flash, Green Lantern, Wildcat and Mr. Terrific. So it's six characters. That's as many characters as I can service in one issue, semi-comfortably.
It's not like you're going to pick up a subsequent issue and suddenly there are a million other characters. It will be an evolution.
Nrama: A lot of people think of Flash, Green Lantern and Wildcat being the core of the JSA, since they're the old guard, so to speak. So are they still at the core of this book?
Guggenheim: Yes. Specifically, you'll see Green Lantern and the Flash and their relationship, which I'm developing as the nucleus for the new book.
In particular, I've got big plans for Jay. And in many senses, the new approach and the new status quo of the book is really seen through his eyes. He's a big driving force behind the adoption of this city. Jay is someone I have a real connection to.
Nrama: You know, it's interesting that you're focusing on Jay Garrick, because there's also a treatment being done by you and your cohorts that focuses on the Flash mythology. Since you're also among the folks behind the Green Lantern film, are you enjoying getting to work with Alan Scott in our first issue of Justice Society?
Guggenheim: Yes, and I'll tease that something's going to happen to Green Lantern in the first issue. And it'll be an opportunity for the Internet to say, this is not the first time he's ruined Green Lantern.
Nrama: Are you saying something bad is going to happen to Alan Scott in the first issue?
Guggenheim: I didn't say that. I said something's going to happen to Green Lantern.
Nrama: And just to clarify, you do mean Alan Scott.
Guggenheim: Yes. Alan Scott.
Nrama: Well, that's very cryptic. I guess we'll leave it at that.
Guggenheim: I can't spoil it. It's always tricky because you want people to pick up the book, but you don't want to spoil it. And I'm probably playing things closer to the vest than I should to sell books.
It's funny, I like being surprised as a reader, so it's difficult for me to spoil my own stuff.
Nrama: Are you a long-time JSA fan?
Guggenheim: Oh yeah. My introduction to the JSA was in the Justice League, and the old JLA/JSA crossovers. Those were my favorite books to read when I was a kid. I used to love the JSA adventures that were in Adventure Comics. That was my introduction to the JSA, and I've followed them pretty much ever since.
Nrama: You said you originally came on board for a story arc and it evolved into something larger. Do you have a specific time period for this story you're telling? Is your commitment long-term?
Guggenheim: I like to say it's open-ended, because in comic books, who knows what "long-term" means anymore? "Long-term" nowadays could mean just a year.
I have a plan for this arc and the next arc. I'm not like Jonathan Hickman, who's able to sort of plot out three years of a book ahead of time. I'm much more of a guy who plots out an arc or two at a time. I have long-term plans in my head. Places I would ultimately like to go to. But they're, right now, pie-in-the-sky notions. One thing I've learned is, you can make all these plans but something will invariable happen that will change them.
So I try to keep my focus on making each individual arc the best arc possible. And to the extent I can plan ahead, I try to. But that's tricky.